Right Brain Brewery (Traverse City, MI)

With 13 beers available, and flavor combinations like parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, grapefruit, beets, lemon, maple, chocolate, ancho chili, vanilla, bourbon, cherries, and oranges, who wouldn’t be happy at Right Brain Brewery? I’m so glad this is where we chose to end the night. It’s a pub that, from a visitor’s perspective, gets overlooked by the very awesome Shorts Brewing in Bellaire. Granted, Shorts has a menu of delicious sandwiches and bottles for take-out, and they are pretty creative themselves (with 20 taps to choose from!) but Right Brain still wins for creativity.

We just missed a pale ale brewed with grilled asparagus and lemon peel, but we go the ancho chili dutch double chocolate porter, the Scarborough Fair spiced ale (brewed with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme), a cream stout brewed with orange marmalade and peel, a wheat brewed with oven-roasted beets, an amber brewed with chocolate malt and cherry juice, a cream ale with maple syrup, barleywine aged seven months on Madagascar vanilla beans in Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels…it just goes on!

Right Brain Beer List

A staff member told us that the brewer has produced approximately 90 different beers in the year-and-a-half they’ve been open! For instance, the Pale Ale is a new recipe every time – practically every two weeks!

Right Brain is in the warehouse district of Traverse City, MI and located behind Salon Saloon, where “you sip, we snip”.  It’s non-smoking, and the menu is limited to popcorn, tortilla chips and hummus. You are encouraged to bring your own food from outside, and sit at the bar, at one of the tables, or in a barber chair. There is no television, but they play music and have darts. There is a mug club, and the mugs are colorfully displayed on the wall. Windows also overlook the Salon Saloon.

Right Brain always has one beer on cask, and will serve Pints for $4.75 and half-pints for $3.25. Also, there are sample trays of six 8-oz pours for $15. Happy Hour on Monday – Friday from 3-6 PM means $3 pints, and there are growlers to go (and they will fill ANY growler – not just their own!)

If you find yourself anywhere near Traverse City, this place is absolutely worth the stop for rare and creative beers!


Original Gravity Brewing Co. (Milan, MI)

It’s the beginning of a “beer-cation”, and we travelled straight to Michigan for the start. There’s a little brewpub in Milan, Michigan that we have missed out on so many times coming through this area. We made it a point to get here today, and Original Gravity does not disappoint!

One block off what appears to be a “town square” (or maybe it was my sleepy-eyed perspective), at 440 County Street, is a little brick building with a packed parking lot. Arrive between 3 and 11 on Monday, and it will be Happy Hour all day. On Tuesday through Friday, it goes from 3 PM – 6 PM (and they remain open until 11.) Happy hour means a tall (20 oz) for the price of a small (10 oz.) We missed that, but it’s okay because neither of us needed talls…there are so many good beers to choose from!  BTW – Original Gravity also keeps Saturday hours from 11:30 AM to 11 PM, and the owner/brewer told us he will often “open” when he’s here other hours.

Original Gravity (Milan, MI)

Brad Sancho is the owner/brewer, and he was fairly quick to come and greet us. He seems to be friendly with all of the customers, and willing to make recommendations up and down the bar.  The bar seats about 15 people, and wraps around the taps with the brewing area behind. A larger L-shaped dining room wraps around the bar, and some of the tables stick out as being unique – doors refurbished as tables. A shelf of games gives the impression that you are welcome to come and stay awhile, and outdoor seating to the back of the place looks welcoming on a warm, dry day.

Original Gravity (inside!)Currently on tap are seven beers, and so far, not a bad one among them! We’re finding the following (I’m stealing some of the descriptive language from the web site):

  • Southpaw IPA (O.G = 1.064; ABV 6.6%) has a pronounced hop flavor and aroma. It’s deliciously citrusy from tons of Cascade and Amarillo hops.
  • Belgian Training Wheels (O.G. = 1.054; ABV 5.7%) is a Belgian Golden Ale brewed with Belgian candi sugar, wheat, and pilsner malt. The unique Belgian yeast strain gives this beer a citrusy and slight tart finish.
  • Mason Brewer (O.G = 1.050; AVB 5.2%) is an English style Special Bitter named after Brad’s son. It is brewed with a variety of English malts, including wheat and rye.
  • County Street Amber (O.G. = 1.054; ABV 5.5%) is a roasty Red Ale with caramel notes, balanced with loads of Cascade and Amarillo hops. With OG’s opening during the hops shortage, this was his substitute for an IPA for some time, and it holds up the hops!
  • Primordial Porter (O.G = 1.058; ABV 5.3%) was the very first beer brewed here, and it is a robust porter! Almost black in color with a complex malt profile, it balances chocolate and coffee roastiness.
  • Orange Peel Wheels(O.G. = 1.054; ABV 5.7%) is the Belgian Training Wheels infused with dried orange peel. It has a delicate citrus flavor and aroma, lending to a delicious starter beer for the evening.
  • Vanilla Java Porter(O.G = 1.05O8; ABV 5.3%) has a description of “beer, coffee, vanilla… Mmm” on the board, menu and web site. It is a slightly aromatic and sweet porter, so dark that not a speck of light comes through. The roasty quality of the porter is strong enough to keep this from being a sugar-coated girly beer.

There is a nice menu of sandwiches, and fortunately we were attracted to the same thing. Not only did they let us share, but served the halves in separate baskets with a pickle for each of us (no fighting!) Our mesquite-smoked turkey with guacamole and Vermont cheddar was served on panini bread with a bag of Brickman’s Original Kettle Crunch chips (made in Grand Rapids.) On the side, we shared a Landjaeger* Sausage (yummm!)

Original Gravity beers range from $3 to $3.50 for a 10-oz pour and a $4.50 – $5 for a 20-oz.  In addition to the sandwich menu (which includes deli and veggie combos, grilled cheese and PB&J), there are peanuts, pretzels and chips with salsa. Additionally there are Sprecher sodas available (root beer, cream soda, cherry cola (Dain, I think you owe me one of these!) and orange cream.

We had a really nice time at OG – the bartender, Stephanos (sp?), took great care of us and the locals were all chatty. It’s down on our list of places that “if I lived here, I would come here all the time!” I hope if you are reading this and you live there, you go often. It’s worth it!

* pork and beef, garlic, coarse ground, semi-dried German Hunter sausage from Usunger’s summer sausage collection, served in bite-sized slices for $2.50.

Raspberry Beer Run

A major theme on our departure from Madison was seeking out raspberry beers – specifically New Glarus Raspberry Tart, and with the same passion, but not nearly the concern, Founder’s Rübæus.

New Glarus is busy working on an expansion project, and already brewing at the new facility, but I am speculating that they haven’t been producing Raspberry Tart lately. Even at the facility, there were apologetic signs to explain that it can not be purchased on site. This is a unique framboise – a lambic brewed with “Wisconsin farmed wheat and year old Hallertau hops” that is refermented with Brettanomyces yeast found on the Oregon-grown berries – that weighs in at 4% and is found in wax-sealed 22-ounce bombers.

D and Dain went to Steve’s Liquors to get some, but Steve’s didn’t have any. The employee at Steve’s referred them to another store, even calling ahead to confirm five cases were available (but not placing a reservation.) In the interest of kindness, our crew allowed some guys from Colorado to go first in Steve’s checkout line. Don’t you know, those “Coloradans” (we called them something different, but it’s not a nice word to use here) overheard the conversation, drove ahead, and bought ALL FIVE CASES?!?!  We just wanted a few bottles and they bought every last one… At $8. a bottle, who would have thought they would get all 5 cases right out from under us?

So we searched and searched, finally finding success in McFarland, WI – two bottles tucked in the cooler at Bob’s McFarland Liquor, and ten more after a tense search at J & B Liquor (when he figured out what we were asking for, the guy at J & B was so excited to sell so much to us, he threw in a bottle of New Glarus Belgian Red Cherry Ale!) We celebrated our finds by stopping at Culver’s for cheese curds before hitting the road to have lunch,  buy some fudge and cheese, and a take brewery tour in New Glarus.

As for Rübæus, the problem is a little different. We really didn’t look very far at first – we get this in PA, an we were planning to go to Founder’s on this trip. Our hunt for NG Raspberry Tart changed that plan, but we still felt confident we could get this along on our way. At the Great Taste, however, we learned differently. Rübæus, the brewers told us, will be removed from the line-up due to the overwhelmingly increased cost of raspberries. They are brewing a Cherry Ale (not currently described on the website, but now available at the brewery; they were available side-by-side at the Michigan Brewer’s Guild Summer Festival.)

UGH! This news broke my heart, especially because I really didn’t care for the Cherry Ale. I love the 7% beer brewed with raspberry puree, served from a bottle with the prettiest label ever (the only thing better than a Rübæus is Rübæus on tap mixed with Founder’s Imperial Stout!) Unfortunately, it just doesn’t cellar well, so while we did get a case as soon as we got home, and I will savor every bottle, it won’t last long.

This sad news came on the heels of hearing that Founder’s will also no longer brew Devil Dancer. Norman Miller shared the story with Massachusetts readers, and it’s centered around that darn hops shortage.

Well, as far as I know, there is still Raspberry Eisbock from Kuhnhenn in our cellar. If you’ve never had it, you must read the description at this blog (why not read all of the fruit beer descriptions while you’re there – they are terrific reading!)

I’ve now got plenty of raspberry beers to get me through the summer…

Michigan Breweries – Far East and Far West

Circumstances created a delay in our leaving PA until Thursday morning, so we arrived in Eastern Michigan (Warren, which is north of Detroit) later in the day than we had hoped – but that was a good thing, as we forgot that Dragonmead doesn’t open on weekdays before 3 PM. It’s great that Dragonmead can offer half-pints and creative in-house sodas, so our driver could be conservative while the rest of us enjoyed as many as we could of the 35 or so craft brewed beers.

Three of us had sampler trays with the potential of knocking out half of the inventory. I don’t recall having this option on my first visit We received a card with five blank spaces where we could choose our beers. And when she filled them, they fit perfectly into a little wooden stand in an arc arrangement around a raised Dragonmead seal. The card slid perfectly into the back of the wooden stand to remind us which five we had chosen from the massive wall of taps.

I apparently chose wisely, as I really enjoyed all five of my selections. I had small sips from Brandi’s tray and Dain’s as well, and can’t say that anything was less than good, but I loved my selections:

  • Andromeda Heather Ale – 4.6% ABV, and much darker in color than I anticipated and host to an array of herbal notes
  • Woody’s Perfect Porter – 5.0% ABV and served on nitro; this English-style Brown Porter was perfect, as stated in the name; mild and hinting of chocolate
  • Crown Jewel’s IPA – 7.0% ABV; a beer I had on my last visit and found highly favorable
  • Juggernaut Double Red – 8.0%; If we understood correctly, this was their greatest mistake – a blended recipe of the Crown Jewels and Final Absolution (a Belgian ale), and it was the best beer of the lot.
  • Reverend Fred’s Oatmeal Stout – 5.5% ABV and served on nitro.

I didn’t write down things that I tasted from Dain’s tray or either of the things Deuane had, but Brandi’s selections were:

  • Kaiser’s Kolsch – 4.6% ABV
  • Erik the Red (Irish-style amber ale) – 4.5% ABV
  • Wench Water (Belgian pale ale) – 5.2% ABV
  • Bill’s Witbier – 4.9% ABV
  • Redwing Raspberry Wheat – 4.7% ABV

(and yes, Ffej, Brandi tried the Crown Jewels and really liked it!!)

After a leisurely visit there, we took off across town for Kuhnhenn Brewing Co. On my last visit, I thought it looked a lot like a bingo hall, and was hopeful renovations were taking place. Improvements are being made – flooring, paint and a beautiful ceiling, and obviously larger restroom facilities are being installed. The bingo tables are gone, and there are many more high bar tables. A local played at the piano with his buddy drumming up business for him. Basically, if we could hum a few bars, he could play it – just about anything (except Blackbird by the Beatles.) And he wouldn’t accept tips or let us buy him a beer. Apparently he just loves the music.

It didn’t take much for me at Kuhnhenn. A six-ounce glass of Tenacious Cassis at 16.5% ABV was all I could handle. The black and red current beverage was sweet, tart, thick and (obviously) high in alcohol. It paired perfectly with the dried tomato and basil goat cheese that Brandi chose, and with those powerful flavors, I didn’t desire a second beer.

Other beers around the table included American IPA (a boring name, but an awesome beer – fabulous aroma and full balanced sweet hops flavoring; 6.5%), Strawberry Panty Dropper (5%), Loonie Kuhnie Pale Ale (consumed in honor of Dain’s wife, Jill; 5.8%), and Simcoe Silly (a golden ale with sweet hops flavor; 8.5%).

We stayed way too long, eating popcorn, cheese and crackers, talking to the owners and singing with “piano man”, but eventually got on the road around 7:30 PM. We waved to Dark Horse at the Marshall exit, and to Bell’s at the K-Zoo exit, and grumbled at the traffic build up where the highway closed, but making our own detour, we arrived in Benton Harbor before The Livery closed (whew!)

Mikey G. was our bartender, and he was a lot of fun, to say the least! He took great care of us, even without the offering of cask ale (they closed those lines just before we arrived.) I loved the Double Paw IPA (8%), which I was able to get in a 10-oz glass, and the 555 IPA (6.5%), which D and I shared in a pint. We also enjoyed Hoppelbock (10%), Kilt Tilter Scotch Ale (9% – the last drops from the cask), Paris Roubaix (5.5%) and Barrel Aged Apple Cider (6% – we compared this to the Crown Royal!)

Hopefully we will get a chance to stop back in on our way home for a growler fill. The Livery is such a great place…

D and Zeno’s BrewFest

The most frequently asked question of me at Dark Lord Day was, “Where’s D?” Several of the men commented that their wives wouldn’t go to DLD for them… 

Honey, I didn’t go FOR him – I went in spite of him! I went for myself (although the truth is I probably wouldn’t have gone if Heath and Kim hadn’t included me in their ride.)

Anyway, he had to work all weekend, but did get the day off on Saturday to attend Heather & Jake’s wedding. And since he was in State College, that provided an opportunity to attend Zeno’s Belgian Brew Fest, which ran from 3-8 PM on April 26.

Looking at the full list of 70 bottles and 6 taps of Flemish, Wallonian, Trappist and Farmhouse beers, it does sound like a good time!  Here is what he enjoyed:

  • De Dolle Dulle Teve
  • De Rank XX Bitter
  • Duchesse de Bourgogne
  • Gulden Draak
  • Melbourne Cherry
  • Petrus Aged Ale
  • Piraat

Am I jealous?  Absolutely not… That same night, I was drinking Hoppy Chick IPA on cask at The Livery, and I had both a Vanilla Porter and a blended glass of Rubaeus/Imperial Stout at the new Founder’s location.

The new Founders Brewing

Derek, Heath and Kim also introduced me to Culver’s that day, where we got the family-sized order of Dairyland Cheese Curds. My life is forever changed (and my cholesterol is forever high!)Yummy Curds!

Real dairy-fresh white and yellow cheddar cheese curds breaded and cooked to a gooey, cheesy golden brown. These curds are made in Wisconsin just for Culver’s!



Pilgrimage to DarkLord Day

Just a brief note before getting a good night’s rest for DarkLord Day…  Our road trip has taken us from Harrisburg to Cleveland last night, and through Michigan and Indiana today. Stops included Great Lakes Brewing Company, Kuhnnan, Dragonmead, Dark Horse Brewing, Bell’s and Three Floyds.

They have been brief stops, but enough to enjoy many new brews, and a few old favorites.  For instance, last night I started at Great Lakes with the Grassroots Ale. At 4.8% and only 20 IBUs, it was a light, refreshing treat on a warm spring evening. The ginger and lemongrass give this beer an interesting complexity, and I remembered why I liked it so much the last time. I followed that up with a Blackout Stout, which was served in a snifter glass. In contrast to the first beer, this Russian Imperial Stout is 9% ABV and 85 IBUs. It has a rich, roasty flavor that coats the top of the mouth, but the hops come through nicely and the alcohol is subtle.

At Kuhnhen (Warren, MI), we intended to have lunch, but the menu wasn’t really appealing so we only drank. This was a strange little place – half of it is a pretty decent bar with seating for 14 and the brewing equipment all located behind and beside it; approximately 12 high wooden tables with chairs in that room. The other half looks like the wall was knocked out and a warehouse converted into a bingo hall serves as the seating area. A piano sits along the wall, boxes are stored under plastic, and the ceiling is either going up or being taken down.  Kuhnhen had 11 different taps, most served in 12-oz glasses, some available in bottles and sample glasses available for a small fee.  I had a 10-oz glass of Simcoe Silly (8.5% ABV) which was more Belgian in nature than hoppy. I’m a big fan of the Simcoe, but there was such banana in the nose, and as they describe, bubble gum flavor, to this one that I was not impressed. My 3-tablespoon sample of Tenacious Cassis (16.5%) was plenty – this is a very sweet and highly alcoholic concoction, which I later learned we have at home in bottles. And finally, the Crème Brule Java Stout in a 12-oz glass. This was the first thing Derek had, and Heath and I followed suit. It was so lovely with vanilla flavor – it made me incredibly happy!

Dragonmead (Warren, MI)was a lot of fun, and certainly a place to which I must return. Unfortunately, the fryer was out of commission, so most of the menu was unavailable, but Kim picked out a lovely roasted red pepper Jack cheese for us, served with a sleeve of crackers, which the four of us could share. I had a nice conversation with Larry Channel – one of the owners – and enjoyed the beers I had and those I tasted from my friends. Dragonmead does offer half-pint options, which was great because there were so many different types! There were approximately 37 beers on tap (12 on nitro, but nothing on either of the handpumps), and four house soda pops available as well. My beers were the Honey Porter, served on nitro (which was spot on and delicious!) and Broken Paddle IPA (which paled in comparison to their Crowning Jewels IPA; both are American IPAs, but mine was simple, while Derek’s was fragrant and full of flavor.) Dragonmead looks totally boring and industrial on the outside, but inside it is colorful with flags and awards, stained glass (made by one of the owners) and lots of locals stopping by, many maintaining their passports. We sat in front of the doors to the brewery, and because they had the back entrance open, the wind blew a constant Grape-Nut breeze of fragrant wort through the place.

We made a short stop at Tim Horton’s, and then headed of to Marshall, MI for dinner at Dark Horse Brewing Co. The place still looks very much the same – like a double-wide trailer holding a yard sale inside – but it was so much more pleasant with a new non-smoking rule. There were only five beers on tap, so I stuck with an old favorite – Crooked Tree IPA. And while the menu is simply, I really enjoyed my toasted sub, and Kim’s pizza looked terrific. Dark Horse is such a great place, so we had to go into the new gift shop across the parking lot to buy a few souvenirs.

The merch shop was our first stop at Bell’s in Kalamazoo, MI. We stocked up on t-shirts before going in for a beer. I was really excited to find Wild One – a Belgian-style fruited beer made especially for Eccentric Day. They have a few extra barrels left over, and will roll them out periodically. I was glad this was one of the days! Wild One comes in at 6% ABV, and is served in 12-oz glasses for $4 and 16-oz glasses for $5. It was very similar to the Kriek made by Selin’s Grove Brewing, but lighter in flavor and lacking the color – this was more of a dark amber with an orange aura. Most beers at Bell’s are available in 12, 16 and 20-oz pours, but we all had smalls. Derek got the Poolside– a cherry wheat that was outstanding (this is saying a lot coming from me – I don’t generally care for the cherry wheats!) It was 5% ABV, which is a little high for a session beer, but I could see myself drinking lots of it on a hot summer day. It was unfortunate that we couldn’t stay, because a funk/fusion band called Spare Parts was playing – three keyboards, a bass guitar, drums, trumpet and simple vocals – and I was enjoying watching the bass player. But we needed to get to Indiana in reasonable time.

So here we are…  we made it to Three Floyd’s, and all of the excitement for Dark Lord Day is building.  We won’t get in the door tomorrow, I am sure, so I was glad to get in tonight for a Topless Wytch Baltic Porter. It was rich with coffee and chocolate, and a nice way to end the night. I need to get some sleep now so I can sample like crazy tomorrow at the festival and still have the strength to enjoy The Livery and Founders in it’s new location.

Founder’s Brewing Company (Grand Rapids, MI)

For Friday night in Grand Rapids, we had a reservation at the Raddison – the only hotel downtown that could take us, and it was a disappointing place to stay (the wireless connection and the air conditioning didn’t work…)  But what we liked about it was that we could walk (approximately 1.7 miles) to Founder’s Brewing Company (we planned it that way, and it was a nice evening for walking!), which is in the Brass Works Building and right along the Grand River on Monroe Street.

Grand Rapids has some revitalization going on – warehouses along the river being remodeled into fashionable living quarters, improved buildings and roads emerging from the downtown area – we only saw a small part of it, but it looks like they are using their resources to create a livable city.

Founders Brewing Company consists of almost nothing, which was everything we expected!  Approximately 16 identical steel-topped tables line the floor of this brick warehouse.  There are darts on the wall, a pool table, and a small bar in the far corner (an Apple computer that doesn’t work is placed in the opposite corner.)  Huge windows reminiscent of factory lighting line the front wall, and two other walls give a fish-tank view of the brewing operations. Continue reading

Bilbo’s Pizza & Brewing (Kalamazoo, MI)

On a whim, we stopped in at Bilbo’s Pizza and Brewing – we were driving down out of town and saw it across the street from Western Michigan University.  Voted best pizza in Kalamazoo, our parting thought was, “it’s a good thing they have great pizza and guest taps!” (Read no more if you are interested in learning about their beers!)

The very nice guy behind the bar talked to us about the beers they make at Bilbo, and gave us samples of the three available that day (we were there at Happy Hour, so all pints of Bilbo’s brews were only $2.)  The choices were Wizard Wheat (an American Wheat), Dragon Red and Sledgehammer – in my opinion, they all tasted pretty much the same, but D was a good sport and ordered a pint of the Sledgehammer.I was moments away from ordering a “pop”, but D recognized New Holland’s Mad Hatter and suggested I try that (bartender-guy served it to me saying it is his favorite!)  It was excellent – so much better than anything Bilbo was making – but I knew that both of us finishing beers would be a bad idea, so I passed most of it off to D so I could drive us on to Grand Rapids.

Bell’s Brewing, Inc. (Kalamazoo, MI)

Just a short drive away from Battle Creek, it was easy to find Bell’s Eccentric Cafe, home of Bell’s Brewery, Inc. (formerly Kalamazoo Brewing Company.)    At the junction of multiple train tracks, this building doesn’t boast much at all from the outside.  Once inside, our first experience was the restroom…I really liked the restroom, and it was just a sign of things to come!

Stepping down into the brick-walled, warehouse-style building, it was obvious why they call the place “eccentric cafe”!  The bar area was lined with items that ranged from beautiful to strange.  Most of it looked like African art with a little bit of everything in between.  In retrospect, I would call the Dark Horse MORE eccentric, but there was plenty to enjoy at Bell’s.

The menu was impressive – mostly vegetarian, and anyone wishing otherwise would have to search.  Everything was pretty informal here.  No table service – so we sat at the bar – and for those wishing food, you order at the window, pay at the bar and receive a pager, then pick up at the window.  Beers were served in 12 oz glasses, 16 oz plastic cups or 20 oz glasses (glass snifters in some cases), and only plastic was allowed in the beer garden.  Locals would actually order by saying, “I’ll have a plastic of [insert beer here]!” Continue reading

Arcadia Brewing Company (Battle Creek, MI)

As a special treat for our fourth wedding anniversary, we stayed at the Rose Hill Inn in Marshall, MI, which is an elegant Victorian home built in 1860.  The grounds were spacious and well-groomed. The pool looked inviting (heated using a solar system!) and they thought of everything for the guests – cold drinks, fresh-baked cookies, chocolate and salty snacks, antiques to view and purchase, common rooms with TV and DVD, wireless (which we couldn’t access) and a house cat.

After a hearty breakfast of coffee, fresh fruit, yogurt, freshly baked cinnamon-chocolate rolls, toast, and scrambled eggs with cream cheese, chives and ham, I was ready to do the Marshall Riverwalk!  We found an elaborate trail that mixed concrete and composite plastic, and it gave plenty of shaded walking areas with multiple river overlooks.  Our out-and-back trek was 2.1 miles with a nice mix of flora and fauna to observe along the waterway.

We returned to checkout at the Rose Hill and Jerry, the innkeeper, asked if we were headed to Battle Creek for Arcadia Brewing.  It hadn’t been in our plans, but after looking at a map, it was directly on the way, so we took on the challenge. How nice that we did! Continue reading