Ok, Michigan, I get it, you have a lot of freaking awesome breweries and beer cities. As my trip is winding down, it is apparent that places like Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, and Kalamazoo are must-stops when it comes to brewery cities. However, Traverse City is in a class all its own when it comes to beer and tourism. Even on the way up to Traverse City, I found a gem that epitomizes why Michigan’s craft beer culture is relevant despite being alive and well since the 80s.
Old Nation Brewing Company
After spending five minutes online researching the Michigan craft beer scene it became painfully obvious that Old Nation Brewing Company has mastered the East Coast IPA process. The hype and online feverishness behind Old Nation are due mostly to a beer called M-43. No, the beer is not named for the interpreter droid that went rogue and pantsed Alec Guinness during the filming of the first Star Wars. Yes, it is named for the highway the goes right by the brewery.
I stopped in during lunchtime but had a short allotment of time to stay. I ordered up a foursome of Old Nation’s hazy, hoppy goodness and began to lose myself in a euphoria of juicy aromas and flavors. Boss Tweed, M-43, The Boxer, and Greenstone are all excellent beers. Visually, they are difficult to tell apart, but flavor and mouthfeel vary from beer to beer. I do recommend doing a side-by-side comparison to get a sense of how different hops can change a beer made by the same process. The M-43 is as advertised, a phenomenal beer that made me feel like I was right back in Vermont drinking Heady Topper.
However, NEIPAs are not the only beers that Old Nation brews with aplomb. Their Detroit Dwarf Altbier is a malty delight and one of the better iterations of the style I have ever enjoyed. Their Sanders Chocolate Stout is the perfect amount of sweetness in a stout. Tons of rich, chocolate notes all in a beer that is extremely sessionable at 4.8%. Finally, the Over Privileged Imperial Stout drinks smooth and with just a hint of booze.
I am sad that I cannot stay longer, but I have to get up to Traverse City and check into my Airbnb. I am impressed wholeheartedly by Old Nation. A great atmosphere to enjoy beer, friendly staff, and killer craft beer all make it a place I will try to visit again someday.
There are beer cities and there are beer cities. Traverse City will make you shake your fist in the air at the embarrassment of craft beer riches alive and well in this tourist town. The city has kayak tours where you can visit six breweries all via amphibious ale assault. The waterfront and marina area are beautiful and there are plenty of cool spots to grab food in this quaint town.
Luckily for me, I found a jewel of an Airbnb with some of the nicest hosts this side of the Mississippi. The listing is called the Zen Den. The couple who runs it is the epitome of hospitality. They even made me a fantastic breakfast on Saturday morning which made me feel like a member of their family. All of this comfort and relaxation allows me to really get the most out of the beer that this city has to offer.
Hop Lot Brewing
Hop Lot Brewing is about 20 minutes north of Traverse City and the drive alone is worth your time. When you arrive, you smell campfires and hear the invigorating buzz of laughter and conversation. Is this beer summer camp? The outdoor seating area is reminiscent of the summer camps of my youth. I half expected someone to come out with a guitar and lead us all in a round of “I Like to Eat Apples and Bananas.”
Despite the fact that it just got done raining, the crowd is sizable and thirsty. I order a taster flight and get to work. Their Rocket Power IPA is kind of a west coast version with citrus up front and a resiny finish. The Bayshore Brown is another in a series of Michigan brown ales that rekindle my love for this style. Lots of great roast and body in this one. Hop Lot’s I Hate White Rabbits is a refreshing summer beer, but nothing worthy of its own paragraph in your letter home from beer summer camp. My favorite of the offerings is the Kittywampus Oatmeal Stout. The mouthfeel of this beer is excellent-velvety, chewy, and robust. Great flavors of dark and roasted malts are all balanced out by a tad bit of chocolate sweetness.
I would love to stay for the smoked meats that become available later in the afternoon, but I have quite the to-drink list and I cannot dilly dally. When I come back to Traverse City, I will be visiting this place again and bringing some foil packs for the fire and a paper bag for a snipe hunt.
With beer names like Ball Peen Hammer and Uncapper, you would think I wandered into an S & M-themed auto body shop started by Cooter from Dukes of Hazzard. However, Workshop Brewing Company is anything but rough around the edges. The drink ordering instructions posted prominently remind me of the “Soup Nazi” episode of Seinfeld-grab a menu, order at the bar, grab the beer, and move aside. I am a little disappointed that there is no Al Pacino look-alike bartender yelling at me. Instead, a helpful, young, and friendly staff are pulling pints for a broad continuum of drinkers. Locals are drinking full pours of their favorites like Plumb Bob, a heavy stout. One customer apologetically explains to the bartender that she always has to have a glass of ice with her beer. Rather than an eye roll, the bartender happily procures the glass of ice and the customer looks at me and smiles.
The Workshop Brewing Company came highly recommended to me by several people who are immersed in the local Traverse City beer scene. The ascetics scream Moscow 1983. However, the clientele is an eclectic mix of families out for a pre-dinner drink and friends gathering together for happy hour. The beer culture in Michigan is much more family-oriented than in Minnesota. Traverse City is especially family-centric as both taprooms I have visited so far have been more than half-filled with families.
I order 4 8 oz. pours correctly and then step aside. The calming and amiable sounds of the string quartet playing a hybrid of Dixie and Cajun music provide a perfect backdrop to relax and drink. The beers at Workshop Brewing Company are well-made and clean. The Ball Peen ESB is my favorite. Such a wonderful malt profile in this beer-biscuit, cracker, and slight caramel-this beer is a treat. Sometimes the KISS-Keep It Simple, Stupid-is the way to go. The Pry Bar porter is also a malty sensation with a wonderful mouthfeel. The Plumb Bob oatmeal stout is the roastier brother from another mother of the Pry Bar porter. Still a nice and chewy mouthfeel, but a lot less sweet than the porter. Consider renting a party bus in Las Vegas and enjoy the beer tasting party with your friends.
Rare Bird Brewpub
My last stop of the day brings me to Rare Bird Brewpub. It is quite the place to be given that there is barely a place at the bar to sit. I jam my way in between a group of what appear to be sorority sisters celebrating getting pinned and some locals who are on their way to an Abercrombie and Fitch calendar shoot. Judging by the subtle eye-rolls from the bartenders, I am not the only one who thinks that the sorority sisters should have gone to an Applebee’s instead. However, I remain undeterred and steadfast in my quest for delicious beer and won’t let a few noisy Barbies take away from my good time.
Amidst a plethora of guest taps highlighting the sensational craft beer culture in this great state, I choose a few of Rare Bird’s own to quaff. After tasting my way through a few things, I like what Rarebird has. They have a session IPA on that I found to be pleasant and non-astringent. Usually, for me, that is not the case with a session IPA. On the other end of the scale, their Russian Imperial Stout is superb. Roasty, boozy, velvety, pretty much the craft beer equivalent to Shaka Khan.
As I am sipping away, the sorority sisters leave to go re-apply their lipstick and shallowness. They are replaced by a super nice couple who go by the nicknames, Buffy and Jug. Their real names are Mike and Laura and they are a hoot. Mike does a lot of work with the Michigan Brewer’s Guild and is a wealth of information. Laura is also a huge craft beer fan and it is easy to see why they are together. They kind of remind me of a Midwest version of Frank and Estelle Costanza. As we are talking and enjoying the beer, a party bus rolls in and I read this as a sign from the universe telling me it is time to go grab dinner elsewhere. I say goodbye to my barstool buddies and hit the road.
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