bay tour

“Up north is sacred,” a phrase uttered quite a few times throughout the day. Indeed, a Michigander grows up well-conditioned to survive and thrive on road trips. Children learn at a young age that rest stops (bathroom opportunities) can be fifty miles apart and parents learn to ignore the violence that occurs in the backseat between siblings. It is a sacred tradition, and with the rising craft industry in the state, the art of the road trip has evolved into something even more special.

Wintertime in Michigan is glorious. And although the winter dangers can hinder some, it should not take away from visiting some of the best regions in the state. With this in mind, MittenBrew decided to go on a day trip with friends and family through the northern bays of Michigan to explore the craft universe.

Petoskey, a lovely year-round town neighboring Little Traverse Bay, hails as the starting point for our adventure. I go into town alone (my crew was still waking up) and grab a cozy booth at Dripworks Coffee, beginning my adventure with one of their delicious frittatas. Also famous for their pastries—the owner is a classically trained French pastry chef—I grab a myriad of breakfast treats for my group back home.

With our snacks packed and our winter boots equipped, the group heads out, enjoying the scenic drive on southbound US-31 to Traverse City. The group includes my younger brother, my best friend and her sister, and my friend Kaitlyn, our Traverse City guide. To review our game plan, we duck into Brew, a coffeehouse and tap room located in the heart of downtown.

“There are almost too many!” Sami exclaims, pointing at all of the things she wants to order.

Too many coffees. Too many beers. Too many ridiculously delicious-looking muffins. Clearly, there are no bad choices here. For my brother, the hot chocolate with the homemade whipped cream and chocolate sauce is the obvious winner, perfectly suitable for today’s chilly weather.

On a sidenote for new Brew-goers, they do a super-cool dollar coffee stand inside with a pay-by-honesty policy. A great tidbit to know if someone’s on the run and needs coffee fast!

A light snow starts to fall as we head further north, our next destination puts us at Hop Lot Brewing Company in Suttons Bay. Opened last summer, HLBC boasts an indoor pub as well as an outdoor beer garden. A beautiful green space (that is currently snowy white) framed by a towering forest surrounds the pub. Large, Viking-style tables frame cozy bonfires and make for an excellent drinking atmosphere.

We grab our sampler flights and brave the crisp weather for a seat outside. Some beer highlights include: the Trail’s Edge Brown IPA, a nicely bitter brew with an excellent roasty aroma, and the Leelanau Exchange, a Bourbon Espresso Stout that is gloriously smooth and creamy with just the right amount of espresso kick at the end. Paired with perfectly melted grilled cheese sandwiches and steaming bowls of tomato bisque, we are all in a winter wonderland craft heaven.

On our way out, we run into a group of people emerging from the woods dressed in cold weather gear, looking like winter explorers.

“We’re hitting the trails around here, but beer first!” says one of the group.

I file that idea away for the next adventure as we all pile into the car, onwards to the next stop: Northport.

Nestled in Northport Bay, Northport Brewing operates in the center of town—a perfect drinking beacon for the surrounding community. The pub space is cozy rather than small, and they have a lovely outdoor space centered around a beautiful stone fireplace. A true definition of a quiet small town, Northport has become a destination on the trail north through the bays, inviting friends and family into a welcoming atmosphere.

In the middle of our flights, one of the owners, Scott Cain makes an appearance with his son. Alongside the pubtender, we all discuss the merits of microbreweries in Michigan.

“They are small spaces, but the beer still has big flavor and aroma,” said Kaitlyn.

“Our goal is to feed the thirsty!” said the pubtender.

The majority winner at Northport Brewing is their Northern Queen Stout, an easy-drinking pour that does not compromise in flavor, aroma, or mouthfeel.

With the sudden snowstorm rolling across Northport Bay, we head back towards our home base in Petoskey. Ending the day at Beards Brewery with imperial pints of Serendipity Porter and fresh, delicatessen charcuterie from Symon’s General Store on the corner, we toast the day and reflect on our adventures. Our bellies are full of quality beer and food, and we can’t help but plot the next trip around the state.