In the second week of October, I embarked on a journey with my buddy Rob to the great state of Michigan. While I went to UM for college, I never had the chance to make a trip to any of Michigan’s top notch breweries.
Dark Horse Brewing Co
The first stop on our journey was Dark Horse Brewing Co. Dark Horse. Dark Horse, which is a small local brewery in the town of Marshall has recently become a well- known name in the craft beer world due to their show Dark Horse Nation on the History channel.
Despite the show, it didn’t appear Dark Horse’s time in the spotlight had any impact on the brewery’s atmosphere. The pub at the brewery was filled of locals, prices were cheap, and the walls and ceilings were covered with mugs and photos to commemorate the local Dark Horse Nation Supporters.
Since this was the first stop of a long day, Rob and I decided to be selective and try only one beer here. Since many of the beers recently have begun to show up in NYC, we decided to go with the one we had not seen, their Oktoberfest. I have had my share of Oktoberfest beers in the past, and to be honest I have constantly been let down. The style is always a little watery, there is very little nose, and overall there really isn’t anything there that makes you want to say “I can’t wait till October.” This beer however, was completely different. It poured a dark brown color, it had the nose, and everything you would want from an Oktoberfest beer, and the flavor was rich. At 7.5%, this beer really brought everything together and was just solid all around. I really hope this is something that makes it out in bottles to NYC.
Our second stop was Bells’ Eccentric Cafe in Kalamazoo. Like Dark Horse, the Eccentric cafe was filled with locals; however it was built like a cathedral. Everything in the cafe was built with new woo, and the windows were stained glass. Sitting down at the bar, Rob and I were overwhelmed with the tap list. The options were endless, and there were so many options we wanted to try. Our first strategy was to get 5oz pours, however after the first beer; we had to quickly change this strategy. We decided to divide and conquer, and split 5oz pour so this wasn’t our last stop.
While just about everything we tried there was excellent, the beers that really stood out was the Quince Love which was aged in quince fruit, the Rye Stout (never knew this existed), and some of Larry’s experimental IPAs. Really there wasn’t a bad beer in the house. I even was able to get a pour of their Sweet Potato Stout. There wasn’t really much on the nose, as it poured a dark reddish color, and had a sweet, candy-like taste. The beer was just a little watery and not enough body to be something I could drink on the regular; however it was nice to try.
Founders Brewing Co.
Our last stop of the evening was Founders in Grand Rapids. Now the atmosphere at Founders was very different from our previous two stops. The brewery was more than three times the size of Bells, with a large indoor seating area with numerous wooden tables, which was packed, a kitchen area, and a stage for live music. Outdoors, there were more tables, a bar area with TVs, and even a fire pit. Founders didn’t emulate the same “local” feel I got at the other breweries. Founders was the “going out for the night” type of place. Beer wise, it had a much more commercial feel. There were very few beers that weren’t a regularly distributed beer, and those were special, were not very appealing. I tried their session stout, which was a decent stout, nothing special.
We were able to grab some sandwiches from the kitchen, which were excellent, and actually made up for the lackluster beer options. By that time we finished up, it was 9pm, and we had a 2.5 hour journey ahead of us back to my buddies place in Ferndale, so we cut our losses and called it a day.
After a very successful first day, we spent the majority of Friday recovering and prepping ourselves for what laid ahead of us, Kuhnhenn’s annual Oktoberfest weekend. We spent the day lounging around the house, and made a few trips to local beer stores to see if we could find any local goodies to being back home.
At 6 PM we called our ride, and made the 15 minute ride over to the town of Warren. When we walked in, I immediately got the local feel, similar to Dark Horse. The crowd was almost all locals, and many of them were rocking their best Kuhnhenn gear. We sat down and looked to the right of us, at their towering draft list.
Knowing what beers laid ahead of us, we decided we better share a flight. We knew we would need every bit of our bodies to make it through this night in one piece.
DRIPA— This is Kuhnhenn’s Double Rice IPA, and something I have had many times before, but it’s always a must have. It’s extremely well-balanced, and it’s about as clear a pour as your going to find anywhere. The aroma and taste from the rice and hops combo is excellent, and the rice makes this beer truly unique, and a style you won’t find anywhere else.
TRIPA– The Triple Rice IPA was something I had not seen before, and let me tell you this beer is one fucking kick in the pants. While it’s every much as clean as it’s younger brother DRIPA, TRIPA doesn’t exhibit the same balance. The alcohol is really there on this one, and you really notice this, as TRIPA lets you know he isn’t something you can fuck around with. At the end of the day, it was one hell of a beer, just not a beer I would want to be sipping on to start my night.
Creme brûlée Stout–the nose on this beer was outstanding, very similar to the version brewed by Southern Tier. Every ingredient of a crème brûlée was there on the nose. The taste however didn’t follow. It was a little watery for 8% and there just wasn’t much there that would make me want to try this again.
Oktoberfest–this beer continued the redemption of Oktoberfest beers for me on this trip. This wasn’t on the Dark Horse level, but this still had more flavor than most Oktoberfest beers I have tried, and it was still was very enjoyable.
Mud— I had received this beer as an extra a few months ago and I remember being pleasantly surprised by how solid it was. The draft version didn’t disappoint either. I got the chocolate aroma, and the taste followed. It was rich, complex, with a full body. You could get the dark chocolate taste, and it was dangerously drinkable, would never expect this would be a 10% beer.
Now it was time for the main event. To make this event a true Oktoberfest, Kuhnhenn set up a tent with live music outside the brewery. On top of this, Kuhnhenn was tapping a rare keg from their cellar every hour starting at 6 PM.
Since I wasn’t a big a barley-wine fan, and seeing what was on tap starting at 7 PM, we decided to forgo the 6 PM tapping.
7 PM–BA Fourth Dementia
I have had this beer several times before in bottle format, and have always been impressed. This beer is truly one of the top BA beers out there. Since it’s an old ale, you get that boozy, molasses combo. After that however, it’s just a blitzkrieg assault on the nose. Raisin, figs, caramel, toffee, bourbon, it’s all there. The taste follows suit, molasses, toffee, raisin, marshmallow, bourbon, vanilla, the list goes on and on. This is truly an incredible, unique beer. This is something I’m gonna have to get more of.
8 PM-Solstice Stout
Now this is a beer I have never actually tried. I’ve seen some photos of older bottles, but I rarely heard anything about it. When we sat down, we made friends with two dude from the area named Dave and Chris. They both said to make sure we stayed for the 8 PM tapping of Solstice Stout. Chris explained that Solstice Stout is a blend of 2010 Solar Eclipse and Fourth Dementia, aged together. Then came the unfortunate part. The brewer who made Solar Eclipse left the brewery soon after, and the brewery has not been able to successfully recreate his masterpiece, so what’s left is it.
Solstice pours like a cup of black coffee. The smell is just amazing, very similar to the nose to TG’s Morning Delight. I got the notes of toffee, burnt brown sugar, caramel, and marshmallow. The taste, wow, wtf, this one follows on cue, and is just out of this world. All the smells are there on the mouth, super malty, rich, sweet, taste of bourbon barrels. This was just awesome. I had to go back again and again, until 9 PM came, and then I had to get some more later that night until they finally ran out. Behind MD, this was the best beer I have ever had, just brilliant. Sadly, I highly doubt I will ever get my hands on this again.
This was last beer of the night. Well to be honest, there were two more Solstice Stouts after this and a barley-wine I was too intoxicated to remember. This was a beer I was actually trying to trade for at the time, so I wanted to see what all the hype was about before I took that plunge…and a plunge it was at 3x the price of all the other special releases that night. The beer poured a crimson red color, with notes of fresh raspberries and marshmallow. At over 15%abv, this was dangerously drinkable as I basically chugged my 5oz pour, wanting to change back to Solstice Stout. It was definitely something a little different, and I was glad I tried it, but not something I would want to sip on normally.
Around 11 PM, when there was no more Solstice Stout left, Rob and I made our exit from what will be one of the best brewery experiences I’m sure I will ever had.
The following day, Rob and I tried to once again recover, as we had tickets for the Michigan vs. Penn State “Under the Lights” game. We arrived in Ann Arbor around 4 PM, and stopped in the new “World of Beer” on South University Street. At W.O.B. I was able to try Green Flash’s Session Citra, which I have to say was really good, coming from someone who normally doesn’t care for session IPAs (I’m looking at you Founders and Stone). You really got the Citra on the nose and while the ABV isn’t there, it wasn’t as watery and tasteless as most sessions are. I also got to give Mayan Mocha Stout from Odd Sides a second try. I had tried this beer two days before in a bottle and the beer was all over the place. One sip would be a sweet cinnamon, one watery, one burnt my tongue. This time, it was much more of a well-balanced, much more enjoyable. I got the heat, but not too much, and I also got the cinnamon and nutmeg on the nose this time. You’re forgiven this time Odd Sides, well done. This was better than Stone’s recent release, but not as good as Mexican Cake as far as the style goes, but at $13-14 a six pack, it’s a steal.
The following day we had to make our way back to NYC. Luckily I had taken Monday off, Rob wasn’t as lucky. Until next time dudes…