Michigan: Kentucky’s Beer Mentor?

Brew on Premise at Saugatuck

Brew on Premise at Saugatuck

Michigan is one hell of a beer lovin’ state. I think it sets a good example of what Kentucky’s beer industry can be in the foreseeable future. Let’s find out why, shall we?

My family just took a week-long vacation in Southwest Michigan and I was blown away by how important their beer culture is, not only to a handful of beer geeks, but it’s embedded in their DNA. The minute we crossed the state line, there were billboards advertising breweries and craft beer bars. It made me want to plan another trip up that would focus on brewery tours.

The Michigan Guild of Brewers (which is comprised of over 120 breweries) publishes a 72 page annual “guide” with maps of all the breweries, articles, list of beer festivals and listings of all the brewers that belong to this strong Guild. I hope to see our own Kentucky Guild of Brewers follow in their footsteps and get to this point someday. There is power in numbers, and I think with all of the new Kentucky breweries in various planning stages, the KGB could get to this, sooner than we all think.

I only had time to stop into a few breweries and one liquor store during the week. My first stop was only 15 minutes from our rental house: Saugatuck Brewing Company. The brewery sits next to an antique store in an unassuming industrial building, which I knew would keep the family busy while I “worked”. There is a wonderful patio out front, and when you walked in the doors, you are taken away to a large brewpub, complete with a large meeting room (for rentals – wedding receptions, etc…) and a large brewhouse that’s under construction for yet another expansion. They have already taken part of the meeting room out to make room for a larger cooler. This place is booming. I sampled a few beers at the bar and got the contact info for their head brewer so that I could setup my podcast interview. Plus, I knew I’d have to come back to try more beers. This first trip I tried:

  1. Darker Than Your Soul – A roasty stout that truly is darker than my soul – which is hard to imagine. Not a bad beer!
  2. Bonfire Brown – This is a great brown ale that they told me has won quite a few awards through the years. I can see why.
  3. Double Black Singapore IPA – This one won my heart and I took a growler back with me. A really good black IPA with a great balance of dark roastiness with a few hops peeking their little heads  through.

That’s root beer in the bottom right photo, honest!

The one that I was really looking forward to, the Neapolitan Milk Stout, wasn’t on tap. This is a chocolate milk stout with hints of strawberry that they usually have year-round on Nitro (my mouth’s watering just thinking about this beer). I came back later in the week to get a tour and to interview Head Brewer, Ron Conklin. Ron was awesome and he told me that he had a beard before it was cool. So, he wins. Sorry, Phil.Next stop was in picturesque Holland, Michigan: a little brewery you might have heard of, something called New Holland Brewing Company? Hmm…sounds interesting. All 11 of us (my parents, wife, kids, sister, bro-in-law and their 2 kids) decided to eat dinner at the brewpub, which had a great vibe, very family friendly, and they had a TON of merch available. It was hard to pass up the New Holland frisbee. That would have been fun at the beach.

Everyone in my party could not stop raving about how good the food was. My sister and I split the Cellarman’s Plate, a charcuterie plate with cheeses, cured meats, and the craziest, albeit delicious, beer cheese (made with not only beer, but bourbon as well – why didn’t Kentucky think of that?). I got the BBQ Chicken Pizza (off my diet, but this is vacation, damnit!) and it was off-the-chizzle, as the children today say. As far as beers go, it’s sad, really…my sister, nor my mom and dad don’t drink beer (although my parents will usually taste what I order if I really like it). My wife went with The Poet, their amazing Oatmeal Stout, Bro-in-law chose the Twisted Cedar English Pale, and I got the flight to try all the brewpub-only special stuff:

  1. Rustiek Barrel Aged Belgian Amber Ale – Ehhh…not necessarily my cup of tea (or beer – get it???) but wanted to try it. Not mad that I did, but…
  2. Twisted Cedar English Pale (Cask) – Damn fine Pale Ale.
  3. Czeched Out Doppelbock (Cask) – Probably my favorite of the bunch
  4. The Poet – I wasted this one, since my wife ordered one, but oh well, solid-ass Oatmeal Stout. But mine was on cask, hers was draught. Mine won.
  5. Our New Lake – This was a collaboration between Our Brewing Company (conveniently located next door), New Holland, and Big Lake Brewing. It’s an English Mild Ale and it was delish.
  6. Dragon’s Milk – I couldn’t go to New Holland and not order one of my all-time favorite beers. It was better than I hoped. Just like it always is.

Bellies full, I bought a bottle of their Beer Barrel Bourbon and we headed back.

Cool wall

Cool wall

Later in the week, I hit up Our Brewing Company for some mobile podcasting. I missed interviewing the owner, Trevor Doublestein, and after seeing all the old Powell-Peralta skateboards hanging in his office, I think I missed a new bromance. Shit. Luckily, John King and Scott are safe and won’t get all jealous. You know how they get. Anna, Michigan’s Greatest Bartender (according to LouisvilleBeer.com), stepped in for the podcast and did a bang-up job. The beers at Our Brewing Company really intrigued me. I like crazy-ass, out-of-the-box beers, and based on their website, they were chock full of them: Root Beer Brown? Pecan Pie Porter? Ginger Peach Hard Cider? Toasted Coconut Porter? Bourbon Barrel Hard Cider? Ron Burgundy It’s Kind Of A Big Deal Scottish Red? Oatmeal Cookie Ale? Peanut Butter Cup Milk Stout?  Toffee Coffee Stout? Circus Peanut Belgian Strong Ale? Glazed Donut Ale? Pumpkin Pie Milk Stout? Two of each, please!

Alas, the only crazy one they had on tap the day I dropped in was the Coconut Porter, which isn’t that crazy, but surely was delicious. I walked out with a growler of that after our interview. Yum! I also got a growler each of the amazing Clove Cider and the delicious Sour Mash Old Bruin.

To prepare for the podcast, I went for a flight of:

  1. Toasted Coconut Porter – As good, if not a little better, than I had hoped
  2. Cursed Kettle Quad
  3. Half Cab Saison (Aged in Cabernet barrels) – Just by the name of this beer, I knew this place was cool. SK8 or die, bitches! Not a huge Saison fan, but this was a great one.
  4. Careless Whisper IPA – WHAM! What a goodun.
  5. Wrath of the Ripper Double IPA – Perfect in every way. Great hoppy 8 percenter (a bit low for a Double IPA, but still).
  6. Sour Mash Old Bruin – LOVED this one.

I interviewed Anna for a bit, then she showed me the brewery which is in the basement (!!). It was almost like that basement was meant for a brewhouse. Everything fit perfectly. Super cool place with wonderfully-designed graphics and beers.

After I wrapped up, I met my wife and kids next door at New Holland to eat and enjoy some more brews (wife got the Dragon’s Milk and I had the lager, and two Paleoozas). After another terrific dinner, I caught up with and interviewed my ol’ buddy Richard Atnip (former Sales Rep for New Albanian Brewing Company). Thanks for the beers and camaraderie, Richard! See you soon…

Tune in to Episode 40.5 of the Louisville Beer Podcast to hear my interviews with Ron Conklin, Head Brewer at Saugatuck Brewing Company, Anna from Our Brewing Company, and our old pal, Richard Atnip of New Holland Brewing.

Listen to the podcast

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