2 Days, 7 brewpubs, 1000+ miles, and still not enough beer!

Glasses each representing the brewpubs/taprooms I made it to (hopcat is missing)

Ok so I am warning everyone ahead of time this might be the longest beer post ever. If you dare click “more…” below to read what went down on my beer marathon; complete with pictures.

My girlfriend never ever gets off Saturdays (she is an Optometrist), but she had this Saturday off so we decided to do this very last minute on Friday around 2:00pm. I never have been one for planning things. I kind of like doing things spur of the moment as random thoughts run through my mind. It drives my girlfriend nuts usually. So anyways I jumped onto Beer Mapping to get together some Addresses and websites of some breweries between Pittsburgh and Chicago. Unfortunately our blackberries couldn’t pull up the map so I had to put together a quick spreadsheet.

With the list sent to our blackberries we threw together some clothes for a couple days andhurried out the door towards Cleveland to hopefully sample some Great Lakes/Hopping Frog/Thirsty Dog. All three were closed for New Years Day. Didn’t really think the fact through that most places might be closed today before we left, but oh well we are committed at this point. Luckily after a few calls we found out that Jolly Pumpkin Cafe was open tonight. Three and a half hours later we pull into Ann Arbor Michigan.

Jolly Pumpkin Cafe – Ann Arbor MI

This is actually the outside of the brewery in Dexter, but they do not give tours to the public

Jolly Pumpkin is relatively new as far as craft breweries go. It was started in 2004 by Ron Jeffries, and has taken off pretty quickly. Anyways I decided not to lug my big Nikon d90 into the Cafe so I didn’t get any decent pictures from The Pumpkin. You walk in and its very well put together. A lot of stained wood, leather padded seats, and Hawaiian decor all over. Apparently Ron’s favorite destination is Hawaii.

We were pretty hungry so we split a Chicken/Red Pepper Pizza, and this Peppered Pork sandwich with sauerkraut that was just plain awesome. Had to start the new year off with some pork right? As far as beer I like to try and sample stuff that you can only get at the Brewpub so I went for a Tortuga Chocolate Stout, and honestly it was watery and lacking flavor (read full review Here). My girlfriend Cara got a Noel de Calabaza and it was really good. Tasted a lot like the Oro de Calabaza but with dark fruit flavors added in. Picked up a La Parcela (pumpkin flavored ale) for the road since I have never seen it at any bottleshop near me. Apparently the joke for years was that Jolly Pumpkin didn’t have a pumpkin flavored beer.

Decided to go see Avatar in 3d at a theater just down the road. Sidenote the special effects are amazing but the story line is very meh. Ended up calling it a night and getting a hotel at this point.

Dark Horse – Marshall MI

The brewery was in a semi-country setting, and looked the part from the outside

The company spawned in a college dormroom in 1997 when Aaron Morse decided to start toying around with brewing beer, and has been very successful as of late. This was our first stop early Saturday. You walk into the bar and it is about the size of a double wide, and the floors are dusty and unfinished. A lot of funny and somewhat liberal bumper stickers throughout the bar. The ceiling and walls are COVERED with these hand-made mugs.

There were literally over 2000 of these in this tiny room

A view of the actual bar, notice the mugs all over

This setting is much more my speed compared to Jolly Pumpkin. Sometimes I like a fancy place, but when I am drinking beer I like to be in a place that is a bit more laid back like Dark Horse.

I am a big fan off coffee so I opted for a Perkulator Coffee Dopplebock (review here), and Cara ordered the Reserve Special Black Bier Ale. The Dopplebock has so much clean coffee flavor and was the best coffee beer I have EVER had, while the Black Bier was above average with a nice balance of caramel/hops/roast flavor.

After we finish our beer we ask if we can take a quick tour of the brewery, and the bartender said just to poke our head into the door in the back and Bryan would show us around real quick. So we walk out around the corner outside behind the bar and see an outdoor bar with the top torso of a mannequin that taps running out of its appendages. Very cool.

A view of the inside of the brewery

We met one of the head brewers Bryan. Very cool laid back guy probably in his late 20’s early 30’s. Gave us a quick once over of the facility and went on to explain how he loved working there because of how laid back it was compared to Arcadia (where he was brewmaster before he came to Dark Horse). Proof of how laid back and “off the beaten path” Dark Horse is can be seen below.

A leaf blower is used as a bottle dryer, and Bryan said the guy in the background is the breweries electrician

I could have hung out at this place all day. You have to love a brewery with the balls to name some of their beers “Smells like weed, Scotty Karate, and Richard in mouth w/Kumquat.” We decided to grab one more beer and split a Tres Blueberry Stout real quick before we left. Very smooth and creamy, smells like blueberry oatmeal, and just enough blueberry taste. Very very good. Time to move on to the next brewery.

Arcadia – Battle Creek MI

A view from the back of the Arcadia Restaurant

Arcadia was started in 1996 under the leadership and guidance of entrepreneur Tim Surprise. They have produced many award winning beers over the years, some of which were created by Bryan from Dark Horse (Obviously he was employed by Arcadia at the time). Arcadia is right down the road from Dark Horse, which is a good thing because we were both ready for lunch. We walk in and its a similar setting to Jolly Pumpkin Cafe, but not quite as fancy. Very open and clean with a brick oven in the front corner.

We ordered a Cuban Reuben Sandwich, London Porter, and Sky High Rye (full review Here). The porter had a light mouthfeel with a Smoked Bittersweet Chocolate taste, while the Rye had a nice citrusy hop to it. While Cara and I were eating our meal, we noticed this lady at the bar just staring at us, so I decided to introduce her to the intarwebz via my Nikon.

You gon’ eat all that? A-hyuck!

The restaurant was attached to the actual brewery, but it was closed for tours. It was dimly lit so we could see a little bit through the windows of the restaurant, but not enough to get a picture. It looked very well organized and clean, almost too clean. I can see why Bryan said Dark Horse was more laid back than Arcadia. On to the next stop!

Bells – Kalamazoo MI

The actual brewery does not do tours, and does not have the pub attached

Little did we tourists know that the brewery was not near the Brewpub. We still stopped by to peek through the windows and take a couple pictures. Obviously this was by far the biggest operation we have visited thus far. Bell’s started off as a homebrew shop run by Larry Bell in 1985. From humble beginnings they now sell 91k barrels a year. Lets just say I am sure Larry is not hard up for money.

We find out the Eccentric Cafe is the tap-house for the brewery. So we navigate our way about ten minutes down the road, only to drive past the place twice. Very weird how the building is set up because the entrance is in the back of the building, and the sign isn’t even close to the lot you park in.

No idea what the crazy African theme has to do with Bell’s, but it was a pretty nice setup

Got a weird vibe as soon as we walked into the bar. No hostess to point you in the right direction, and no waitresses; its all self serve from the bar. So we go to the bar to order (cash only and of course I was down to $2), and the bartender was an absolute bitch. I’m not trying to act all high and mighty as I use to work as a waiter, but Jesus your income DEPENDS on being just a little bit nice. So note to self if you ever visit Bell’s: Avoid the chubby bartender with the lip ring, but if you can’t avoid her please smack her right in the junk for me. Besides how can you be miserable working behind the bar of one of the best craft brewers in the country? Overall the bar had some cool decor, but it seemed a little bit empty because the tables were just sort of scattered throughout the room.

Anyways we end up getting Bell’s Apple Ale (Full review Here), and Bell’s Best Brown. The apple ale was very different, almost an apple vinegar taste to it, and the brown ale was malty. Similar to New Castle minus the hops. Kind of let down overall with this place as it was one of the ones I was REALLY looking forward to. After we finish our beers we end up leaving because the atmosphere was just off to us. Time to hike it up to West-Central Michigan!

HopCat – Grand Rapids MI

Our next destination was Founders, but there was a super long line so while the line died down we decided to hit up HopCat thanks to one of my readers recommendations (Thanks Rob). We walk in and get one of the last tables available. The place is very cool inside. A lot of beer art and brewery flags around, but still classy. Mixed crowd of 20 somethings all the way up to the mid-life crisis crowd. Forgot to grab my camera from the car so unfortunately no shots of this bar.

The beer list on this place is amazing, probably the most extensive tap list I have seen in person. They also recently started brewing their own beer recently so I went for the Bumbles Bounce Spiced Porter (Full review Here), and Cara tried the Shorts Uber Goober Oatmeal Stout. Bumbles Bounce was awesome; very smooth and smelled like cinnamon oatmeal with an all spice and cinnamon kick to the taste. The Goober was brewed with peanuts which gave the beer a very unique taste (very good stuff). We also got some kind of Hippie turkey burger, and some chorizo mac and cheese, both were really good. All the food I have ordered at these brewpubs so far have been excellent.

So damn full of beer and food by now that I need a bit to digest. At this point we wanted to hit up a 6 pack shop to pick up some bottles to bring back. Found Sicilianos Market thanks to BeerFly on BeerAdvocate.com. The two people on staff were super super helpful in making suggestions, and the girl on staff even checked in the back to see what else they might not have on the shelves. So much beer we cannot get back in PA. I had a hard time not spending hundreds of dollars. I settled for some Short’s, Goose Island, and a few others not found in PA. Totaled up to 3 six packs and a few bombers. If you live in the area I am sure you already know about this place, but if you don’t you NEED to stop here.

Time to head back to Founders to see if the line has died down.

Founder’s – Grand Rapids MI

From the outside of the bar/brewery

Finally able to get into Founders without standing in line and freezing our asses off. They still had a $5 cover but this place was top on my list to check out. I knew the place was going to be super busy so I left the camera behind. Theres a good bit of pictures on their website here.

The brewery was started by Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers right out of college in 1990. Apparently they both had full time jobs, but decided to drop them and pursue brewing full time. They struggled at first but obviously are doing very well for themselves now.

The inside of this place was very cool. Huge stage at the far end, with a bar that ran almost the distance of the building on the right. I like that they ONLY serve beer at this bar, very cool. So so so many beers I wanted to try, but only so little room left in the stomach. A lot of hard to find Founder’s beers on tap, black biscuit was one, and many I have never heard of. I haven’t had a good wheat beer in a long time and the Honey Wheat sounded perfect. Strong honey taste but not too much, very solid beer. At this point we were both pooped and so full of beer that we decided to hit the road towards New Holland and Three Floyds. Ended up getting a hotel in SW Michgican near Benton Harbor at about 1:30am. Gotta catch a little sleep then only time for one, maybe two more breweries!

Goose Island – Chicago IL

From the outside of the bar

Ended up checking out of the hotel at 10am. Initially we wanted to go to Three Floyds from here but turns out they cannot sell take-out beer on Sundays. So i made some calls and found out that it was sold in Chicago, so we had even more reason to hoof it the 1.5 hours from Benton Harbor. We had just enough time to take the drive to Chicago, stop at Goose Island Clybourn, stop at a 6 pack shop, and lastly grab a quick bite to eat (maybe some deep dish?).

As you walk into Goose Island there is a large rectangular bar in the middle, with some tables on an elevated area to the left. Very upscale feel to this place. The bar was packed because of the Bears game. We Ended up getting the last bar table along the left side of the bar.

A view of the bar from our seat

We really didn’t have anytime to pussyfoot around (I always wanted to type that) so we had to pick a beer from the menu relatively quick. I love smoked beers so I went for the Smoked Dunkelweizenbock (Full review Here), and the lady friend ordered a dopplebock. The weizenbock was for sure one of the better smoked beers I have had, and the dopplebock was pretty solid as well.

A picture of the girlfriend, the bar, and the beer.

Just enough time left to hit up a six pack shop before grabbing a bite to eat. Found some hard to find Two Brothers stuff, Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch, The Lost Abbey, Floosmoor station, more Goose Island etc. Now time to grab some grub before heading back to the burgh.

Mmmmmmmm Pizza – Fattytown USA

Heart attack in a pan

I will let the picture do the talking on this one. This is a sausage and mushroom deep dish pizza from Lou Malnati’s in Chi-town. If you have never had Chicago deep-dish, you haven’t lived. We woof the food down and get ready for the 6.5 hour drive back to the burgh. With a trunk full of beer we jumped onto 80 to head home. The roads on the way back were snowy as hell, and it took us until 1:30am Monday morning to get back, but it was all worth it.

In closing I have to say this was an awesome trip. At the end of it all I almost feel like I ran a marathon, and had a keg of beer thrown right to my sternum as a reward. I tried a ton of new beer, brought a bunch home, and met a few cool beer heads along the way. As many of you would agree beer advocacy is just as much about the comradery as it is the beer itself, and driving around to random beer establishments was an awesome way to experience a bit of both. If you have a string of breweries/brewpubs near you I would suggest taking a weekend and hoofing it out to see as many of you can. Thanks for reading and please post your thoughts in the comments section below. Cheers!

Published in: on January 5, 2010 at 11:24 am  Comments (21)  
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  1. […] I picked this up wayyyy back on New Years Day at the Jolly Pumpkin Cafe during my Michigan Brewery Tour. I am a sucker for any beer thats in these little grenade looking bottles. I’m sure this is […]

  2. […] setting of their brewery/brewpub. If you haven’t seen what it looks like check out my brewery tour write up for some […]

  3. […] from the great beer state of Michigan. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it there on my Michigan Brewery Tour, but next time I am going to stop by for sure. They are known for their raspberry eisbock, which I […]

  4. […] my 365. Even more shocked that this is my first New Holland beer. I tried to make it there on my Michigan Beer Tour, but ran out of time and energy. I plan on driving through Michigan again in the near future, and I […]

  5. You missed Kuhnhenn Brewery in Warren MI…..Award winning beer!

  6. […] memorable experiences from your adventure with the blog? I think the most memorable was probably my weekend road trip through Michigan and to Chicago. My girlfriend at the time never had weekends off, and she happened […]

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