Long time readers might recall that it was in Michigan that I first came across good beer. I think it was during my second visit in 2005 that I came across Oberon from a brewery called Bells (you may have heard of it). I have been to Michigan a few times since then and while I always find interesting beer to drink, I have never actually visited any of the breweries. That had to change with this trip.
Unlike any other trip to Michigan, this time it was incredibly hot. I usually went in winter (Christmas) or spring and while there were some pretty warm days in spring in the 20's, this time we arrived during a heatwave and it was 40c and above at some times.
We started with the closest to home called New Holland on the site of an old hardware store in downtown Holland. This place turned out to be a real gem and a firm favourite of mine. The beers are exceptional, especially the oak aged Hatter (IPA) and Dragon's Milk, especially the oak aged version. The regular Mad Hatter on Cask was phenomenal and not to be overlooked. I visited twice. First with my wife and her brother's family for lunch and some drinks. The food is also worth a mention and getting a table can sometimes involve a wait. The pulled pork flat-bread is fantastic.
The second time I brought my brother in law for some drinks. It's about 30 - 40 mins walk from his house so we worked up quite a thirst by the time we got there. While Holland Michigan might not be anyone's idea of an ideal city to live in, I would live there happily if I was walking distance to New Holland. They brew enough beer for it to be available in other states in 6 packs. I saw some as far away as Colorado.
They also run a distillery which by all accounts is very good, though I stuck to beer.
Next we visited Grand Rapids and headed to the Founders tap room which is in a large old warehouse style building with the brewery in a newer building behind it.
The beer itself is understandably excellent. Red's Rye for instance is just so drinkable it should be illegal and Dirty Bastard is just beautiful.
I really like the large layout of the bar. It would make an awesome function room and indeed they do hold gigs there.
Next we popped in to Brewery Vivant which is in an old church and specialises in Belgian and French style beers.
The tasting tray arrived and I had a very pleasant time here. Most were excellent but the one that stood out was Zaison, an imperial type Saison. This is what I got a 4 pack (cans) of when leaving.
The next day we headed to Kalamazoo as I wanted to go to Bells. My sat nav brought me to Bells and as I approached I wondered is it even open? It was a Sunday after all. Turns out it was closed and not wanting to waste nearly an hours drive, we headed downtown and found a brewpub called Olde Peninsula and had some beer and dips. I used Wi-Fi and recalled that Bells Brewery is not open to the public so I got the address of the old brewery or Eccentric Café as it's called and would head there next.
Don't overlook Olde Peninsula though, it's a pretty cool place with some good beer and food.
Their IPA is pretty damn good. The stout is lovely and smooth, very tasty, almost milky.
Raspberry wheat is what I expected and was undrinkable to me but my wife enjoyed it.
Finally I got to Bells Eccentric Café which is a fantastic building. When you walk in you enter a corridor with the main bar to the left, an outdoor area to the immediate right and then further down another outdoor area consisting of a garden and outdoor venue area. The only downside is that no glass is allowed outside so you have to transfer to plastic cups.
I was amazed at the tap list as the only Bells beers I have had before are Oberon (the beer that introduced me to American craft beer) and Two Hearted. My problem was this. I was stuffed! I was completely full of food and beer and there was no way I was going to be able to drink too much so I only had time for one beer. I made it count and got a two hearted. I have only had it in bottle before. If anything it was better than the bottled version but there was a lack of enjoyment as I had to force myself to finish it. This was the one regret of my trip that after missing out on Bells so many times, when I finally get there I am too full to enjoy it.
Not to worry, when I went in to the shop around the corner I got a mixed 6 pack of their other beers. That said, there are a lot more than 6 taps in the bar so I certainly missed out. I may be back in Michigan next year so I will remedy that then.
The next day we had nothing to do and did not plan on visiting a brewery so we went to Grand Haven which is just north of Holland. I was musing that Grand Haven could do with a brewpub. We had some lunch at a little bar with some nice beers on tap such as some Founders IPA etc and then I decided to look for a pharmacy and get something for the horrendous mosquito bites I had all over me. We went in to an old warehouse like building that I know contains a little mall with various shops because there was nothing on the main street. As soon as I walked in I announced "it smells like a brewery in here". I followed my nose and discovered Odd Side Ales.
The bar is quite large and spacious with the fermenters sitting up front by the window. There is no toilet in the bar itself, you need to head down the corridor to the mall toilets. The heat off the brewery was intense, especially considering it was about 38c outside but the smell was beautiful.
There are board games as well as traditional bar games like pool and darts. There are also wooden barrels around the place which seem to be ageing beer. I love the old warehouse feel to it.
A number of brewpubs have clubs where they keep your own glass and you get discounts etc. Odd side ales on the other hand has a deal with a pottery shop in town where you go and decorate your own ceramic beer mug. There are some beautiful and funny designs as well as boring ones but it's very colourful.
The beers were excellent, not one of them was bad although the fruity wheat beer might not be to my liking. I did have their Berlinner Weisse and opted for it plain without syrup. At 3% it's the ultimate session beer but there was enough flavour and sourness to keep me interested.
The main beer of note was the Mayan Mocha stout. It's exactly as you might think, a coffee infused stout full of coffee and to top it all off, infused with habanero chili. It's a work of art and I got a growler to bring back and share with my brother in law.
One last thing, there is another brewpub in Grand Haven but it's pretty far from the town and I never had any plans on visiting it but if in the area, and there is time, check it out and see if it's any good.
And lastly the brewpub that never was. We went to South Haven for the day to meet up with family. South Haven is another lakeside town that is even cuter than Grand Haven. We had some time to kill so we headed to Benton Harbor to check out the Livery for lunch. The place was closed... Huh? The Livery has a reputation for good beer and good food by all accounts and it doesn't open till 4pm? No lunch time trade? It may have something to do with the fact that Benton Harbor is a ghost town. There is so much stuff shut down and falling apart that I'm surprised The Livery survives at all.
It was not all bad news though, we headed back to South Haven and had a very enjoyable time on a boat / bar drinking Founders and New Holland beers and then when we met up with family we headed to a seafood bar where they actually had Livery IPA on tap. It went down very well with my Oysters.