New Cheerry-O

5.4% ABV  •  18 IBU •  “Light, clean, and crisp brewed with real MI cherries”

Before me sits a clear brew that is burnt orange to reddish amber in color with a full and resistant light pink head. Quite pretty in fact!

A whiff of tart cherries hits me initially, but the overall scent is that of cherry scones because of the mild malt character. It almost has a rye grain like spiciness to it, though I don’t believe rye was used in any portion of the grain bill.

The flavor follows the nose lending a bread forward tasting beer, with again that tart but very much balanced cherry character. As was described by the brewer, this beverage is a pleasant balance of basic light bodied malt forward beer with a defining but not cloying tart cherry essence.

I think the New Cheerry-O would be exceptional for many occasions. It can work as a mild palate cleanser, as a session beer to throw back with friends or even as a light bodied dessert for the summer.

Munich Helles Lager

4.7% ABV  •  24 IBU  •  “Clean, crisp summer session brew”

Indeed this is a clean and crisp summer session brew. The beer has no frills and no excuses to be less than expected because it is a lager.

So, what do we know about lagers? They don’t like to hide anything. Lagers are brewed to display the four core ingredients of a beer in all its glory, and they can be oh so delightful in their simple nature. Therefore, we must be generous when drinking them because while they may not be as robust as some of our ales, they should be appreciated for their simplicity. Let’s keep in mind, too, that because of this simplicity, they will also enhance off flavors if any are present.

That being said, this particular beer has a distinct but not necessarily abrasive musty note in both the flavor and aroma. My guess is that this was not intentional and that it has been subjected to the normal stresses of oxidation, but is also deemed as being an “off-flavor” in beer. Oxidation happens with every beer and is a natural part of the aging process. Should you ever notice this, just let your friendly server or bartender know just so they can be aware of the state of their product. It shouldn’t deter you from ever drinking that beer again, but just understand what is happening. Knowledge is key.

Now, I’ll move on from there. The Helles is clear and burnished gold in color with a pillowy white head. In the aroma it displays subtle notes of dried hay and a hint of bread dough. Earthy hops, in this case of the German noble hop variety, linger in the background. As the beer warms up I pick up on an aroma of cracker as well.

Flavor-wise this beer has very similar notes to the aroma but with more sweet hay and this time with bread crust notes and a touch more spice forward hops. The finish is crisp and has only a twinge of hop bitterness to create an overall balance.

This is a friendly and delicate beer to enhance and cut through fried foods, white fish and delicate pasta dishes.

Big In Japan Session IPA

4.7% ABV  •  70 IBU  •  “Citrus notes and aromatics with a clean, crisp hoppy finish”

What a refreshing beer! The crystal clear and light amber beverage that sits in front of me has a pungent nose of sweet orange, tangerine and grapefruit skin with a touch of flowers. Sucking it down, I taste all of these same notes and enjoy a light acidity as well that only ramps up the refreshing nature.
The mouthfeel is silky and smooth. It just glides across my tongue but it also has a crack of balancing bitterness from the hops that lends a prickly feeling. The beer finishes with a juicy punch and then with a lingering dryness.

This is a balanced and beautiful beverage that is begging for some tacos, a cold cucumber soup or a fruit tart for dessert. I’m also thankful that it’s a session brew because, man, it gets drained from my glass pretty quick.

Precision Porter

6.3% ABV — In a world with breweries spreading their brewing time and abilities across a wide range of styles, The Gallery took a refreshing view on the classic Porter. Easily the best beer on the tap list, the Porter is led by a strong roasted barley presence. The brewery is hamstrung by having only two fermentors, necessitating the ability to produce a solid beer every time in and out, or risk serving no beers.

Baroque Brown

4.9% ABV — The Gallery’s brown ale is one of its most straightforward beers — but that doesn’t mean it’s not tasty. The Baroque Brown features a slight caramel, toffee and raisin flavor, with a strong bread finish that lingers. While this might not be a very creative brew, it’s exactly what you’d expect — a beer that’s a great easy drinking, entry-level brown ale.

Shock Spice

7.9% ABV — The most surprising beer on Gallery’s menu, this is simply defined as “Christmas in a glass.” Cinnamon, vanilla, allspice and nutmeg flavors round out this brew, which is finished with a minor amount of smokiness. To say this is a “shock” for a beer would be an understatement. While easy drinking, Shock Spice is heavy on the aroma and flavor, making for a unique, winter-themed brew that you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.

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Pat Evans contributed to this report.

ABV: 6%

Appearance: Atwater’s Traverse City Cherry Wheat pours faintly red with a fluffy, white head. Although the beer has a noticeable amount of wheat in it, the beer is remarkably clear. Wheat has a much higher protein content than malted barley, which leaves a memorable haziness in most cases (think Oberon). The beer’s abnormal clarity could indicate a filtering process, or perhaps just a high enough wheat content that the proteins clump together and drop out during a lagering, or chilling process. Although filtered beer is often associated with your classic urine-lagers of America’s yesteryear, it’s important to note that plenty of great craft breweries filter in some way or another, and it is almost never an indicator of quality.

Aroma: Very crisp, clean American Wheat style aroma. There’s a slight citrus character, as well as a vague fruitiness that suggests the beer label’s claims, however I wouldn’t say it’s distinctively cherry.

Taste: Surprisingly pleasant, and subtly balanced. If you’ve read many of my other beer reviews, you’ll know that I am often skeptical of fruited beers, especially when it comes to cherry. In this case, I expected a hint of NyQuil character, or at best, kiddie cocktail. Instead, what I found was a rather sublte, and distinctly red cherry flavor. For me, this has quickly become a classic scenario of judging the beer by its cover. Atwater has struck a truly artful balance between the summery, American wheat character that all of us Michiganders crave come spring (don’t worry, it’s only a few more months away!), and the intense fruit flavors that the northern portion of this top-shelf peninsula provides every year.

Mouthfeel: Thanks to that nice, fluffy head and those wheat proteins I mentioned earlier, the mouthfeel in this beer is right on par. Thanks to the rather non-aggressive cherry additions, the beer remains fairly dry, which helps to maintain the crispness, while still feeling soft on the tongue.

Overall: Atwater’s Traverse City Cherry Wheat is a well-executed American fruit beer that exceeded my expectations. Frankly, I think it’s a bit insulting to this great, multi-continental tradition to produce a fruited beer that looks and feels like the syrup that comes out of the fountain soda machines at Burger King. Yes, it’s certainly a fermented product, but then again, so is soy sauce. Atwater successfully combined age-old traditions and ingredients with new brewing techniques to create an respectfully delicious beverage made distinctively for beer drinkers.

Imperial Mud

12.5% ABV — Imperial Mud is an imperial stout with all of the qualities you would expect from the style. With a high ABV at 12.5%, Imperial Mud is the same recipe base as Kuhnhenn’s famous Michigan Mud. Brewed with Michigan malt and hops, the aroma is dominated by combination of them. The vanilla beans and cocoa nibs ease the bitter chocolate found in the brew.

As the beer warms, the bitterness calms and the chocolate notes come through. The taste is thrown back and forth from bitter to sweet and finishes with slight bitter chocolate on the tongue with a tingle. This imperial milk stout is huge and by the time you’re finished, the lace on the glass will be nothing but a reminder of the heat provided.

Michigan Hops Loonie Kuhnie Pale Ale

5.8% ABV — This limited-release batch of Loonie Kuhnie Pale Ale is brewed with exclusively with Michigan-grown hops from Top Hops in Goodrich. The brew is golden in color with very minimal head. The nose is sweet and very inviting.

There are a ton of fruity notes throughout this beer. Much like the aroma, the palate of this brew is outstanding and enjoyable. The taste is very clean and crisp and the finish is also smooth, making it very dangerous for a near 6% beer.

Samoa Nut Brown

6.7% ABV —  Who doesn’t like Girl Scout Cookies? Samoa Nut Brown is rich brown in appearance. At first waft, the nose is full of all the goodness that comes with a brown ale. It’s laced with a slight coconut aroma and a hint of yeast. The taste is purely nut, caramel and coconut. The body is medium and not too thick or thin. The finish will leave your palate full of sweetness that will linger with coconut.

Samoa is a very smooth brown ale in a world of overpowering IPAs and barrel aged brews, and tastes just like your favorite cookie.

Fluffer Session IPA

4.5% ABV — Typical to the modern day family structure, Fluffer Session IPA is often overshadowed by its big brother DRIPA. While it’s elder clocks in a 9.5% ABV, little brother Fluffer is concocted with all of the same ingredients and about half the alcohol with a 4.5% ABV tag.

This is a true session beer. The brew is clear as day and as golden as a sunrise. Citrusy hops dominate the nose and palate. Your first and last sips will be smooth as all get out and refreshing as can be. The body is light but filled with character, but not too sharp. Fluffer is clean and crisp with no blemishes on its resume.

 

ABV: 5.8%
IBUs: 48

Aroma: Rapunzel has let really her hair down here (this pun doesn’t even work that well in this instance, but I wanted to get it out of the way early). The aroma is pretty notable with very forward wheat character, balanced nice and tall with citrus and tropical fruit from the Michigan-grown hops.

The aroma is fantastically on par with many of the wheat IPAs out there, and I’ll be the first to say that the style isn’t used nearly often enough. The plush malt character provided by wheat generally works really well with American hop bitterness in a moderately dry beer.

Appearance: Just as one should suspect, this beer pours with a bright white and rather dense foam atop a distinctively golden ale. I presume this is where the name of the beer comes from, and I’ll give it to them — it’s quite golden. (I may have spent a solid minute or two just watching the bubbles travel through the ever-so-slightly hazy beverage.)

Taste: The Michigan-grown hops are surprisingly subtle in bitterness and flavor. Although still quite forward, it’s a bit refreshing to get an IPA that has a truly careful balance of IBUs to its slightly malty body. The domestic wheat character is pretty forward on the tongue, but still leaves the body a bit on the lighter side.

Mouthfeel: This is where the wheat really shines. Because of the way the proteins in wheat are developed during the mash (or steeping of the grains to convert starches into fermentable sugars), the final product ends up with a distinctive creaminess. Proteins have certain stickiness, and it just so happens that wheat provides an especially high number of these.

When the final, carbonated product has this elevated elasticity, the bubbles rise to the top of the beer and stay there much longer than they would in a liquid that is not so sticky.

Hopefully, you’re wondering how this relates to mouthfeel, and this is the exciting part. When we pull this tasty libation into our mouths, the liquefied and dissolved carbon dioxide (carbonation) is agitated, and exits the solution as a gas, creating — you guessed it — foam.

What many of us don’t realize is that the foam builds up in our mouths, but not in the same way that drinking off the top of a poorly served beverage does.

In this case, the foam is more adequately mixed with the liquid and ultra dense, which provides a sensation similar to sipping on a properly steamed latte or hot chocolate. Wheat has an incredibly long history in beer, dating back to when people thought beer was fermented by spiritual activity, and even then they understood the importance of wheat in our ales and lagers.

ABV: 6%
IBUs: 30

I have a feeling that the folks at Blackrocks know a thing or two about surviving Michigan winters.

Located in Marquette in the U.P., winter starts sooner and ends later than most places in the country below 5,000 feet above sea level. I figured that if I were looking for a winter beer to review, then Blackrocks Brewery would be a good place to start.

It seems as though Blackrocks took a slightly different approach to this winter ale. What one expects from most winter seasonals probably involves a boozier ABV, baking spices and considerable sweetness. North Third Stout feels as though it’s the younger sibling to all those characteristics.

Appearance: North Third Stout pours black with a dark tan head. There’s plenty of foam to go around, and it sticks around for as much time as you could spend drinking it. This makes for some festive lacing, as though it should be hung on your Christmas tree (or perhaps you can just use the can to build your Festivus pole).

Aroma: Notes of heavy black malt and chocolate are forward. Behind those you can look for some faint sweetness and a pure, roasted malt aroma. Although some people might anticipate more of a holiday spice, or dessert feel, I have no complaints about the simplicity here.

Taste: The Taste pretty well lines up with the aroma. It’s simple, clean and roasty. Dark chocolate notes are heavy, and the highly roasted malt character comes through quite a bit more here. Thankfully, the roast character is far from seeming ashy or burnt.

Mouthfeel: This might be the only surprising part about the beer, in my opinion. There’s a bitterness that lingers a good handful of seconds longer than you’d imagine, which I find quite pleasant. The bitterness really doesn’t present itself on the tongue initially, which adds just enough complexity to keep this beer interesting, yet very drinkable.

Overall: Just as the can suggests, this beer is to be enjoyed after a day of skiing or snowboarding, next to a roaring fireplace. It’s a perfect beer to grab a six pack of, and throw back in a long weekend, or less. No surprises, no fatigued palate and no falling asleep in the middle of a conversation with your friends or significant other. Just remember to start drinking them after you’re done crushing slopes for the day!

Style: Kombucha Beer
ABV: 8.0%

I think I speak for many beer drinkers when I say that one of the best parts about the craft beer industry is the overwhelming variety of beers on the shelf.

We’ve come a very long way from the German beer purity law from 1487, The Reinheitsgebot. It simplifies beer quite drastically, and it states that beer may only contain barley, hops, water and yeast — the last of which was only included 400 years after the law originated. Prior to our good friend, Louis Pasteur’s research, we had no idea what yeast was!

Somewhere along the way, our beloved beverage evolved into innumerable variations. I have to guess that when the folks at Unity Vibration got started, they often daydreamed about doing unspeakable things to original, hand-written copies of the Reinheitsgebot.

Unity Vibration’s kombucha beers combine a fermented tea beverage that has a 2000-year-old history with organic cane sugar, fruit sugars and organic hops. The result is a rather interesting, gluten free and moderately high-ABV fermented beverage.

The Bourbon Peach American Wild Ale came with a few surprises, as well as a few familiarities.

Appearance: Pours with a hazy straw color, and almost no head. Since there are no sticky glutens and proteins to help keep the foam around, this wasn’t too surprising. The last bit from the bottle poured extremely hazy, indicating that yeast had settled to the bottom of the bottle after some fermentation and carbonation in the bottle.

Aroma: Like it or not, the beer is very aromatic. There are some peach and light fruit notes in the aroma, but the acids created from the wild fermentation dominate. Frankly, I wasn’t a huge fan of the heavily acetic aroma, but a kombucha drinker should be no stranger to this.

Taste: This is where the fruit flavors come out to play. The acid character is much better balanced with a decent forwardness from the peach. There’s also plenty of light fruit and white grape notes present. The acids feel much more reminiscent of a lambic-style beer, which is certainly fine by me.

The beer feels medium-bodied, but it’s a complex relationship between the acidity, carbonation and actual sweetness. Additionally, the 8.0% ABV is slightly detectable as a faint booze character, but unfortunately, bourbon and oak were almost completely undetectable, which I was a disappointed with.

Mouthfeel: This is perhaps one of the more interesting parts of the beer. The acidity, the carbonation and the sweetness have a really delicate balance that allows forwardness from all three, without feeling syrupy, or overly dry.

Overall: The Bourbon Peach American Wild Ale is definitely worth trying at some point, although I would encourage its drinkers to approach it without even the slightest expectation, unless you’re familiar with Unity Vibration’s fermented anarchy. There are plenty of unique, new flavors going on and it’s worth it to taste and break down its components, even if you’re not a fan of the forward acidity.

There’s very few occasions where I would instinctively grab a bottle of something as complex as a dark beer with coffee, chocolate, cinnamon, nutmeg and habanero peppers. However, Odd Side Ales has time and again surprised me with some less-than-common additions to their beer.

Since the late 90’s or so, home brewing has been steadily growing popularity. But for whatever reason, it doesn’t seem to attract your average, play-by-the-rules hobbyists. Sure, there are some of us who will spend a good chunk of a Saturday crafting a perfectly balanced American Blonde Ale, but for every one of those types of homebrewers, you’ve got someone putting bacon, vegetables, or even hemp into the fermenter.

Enter Odd Side Ales. Born from homebrewers in an old piano factory on the beach, Odd Side has made an impressively fast entrance to the beer industry, and partly because the beers they produce are startlingly interesting and consistently well balanced.

Sometime last year, I got a chance to try the Barrel Aged Mayan Mocha Stout when a friend of mine ordered it on our visit. She hadn’t heard about it, but saw the word “barrel” and “stout” in the name, and somewhat blindly ordered. I had a bit of hesitation about tasting that beer once she realized it was peppered and spiced. Regardless, I can’t recall ever turning down a sip of beer based on how it was made. The results were remarkably pleasant.

Around a year later, I’m finally getting around to the non-barrel aged version, and it is indeed on par with what I remembered about my previous run-in with its cousin.

Aroma: In my opinion, the most exciting part about this beer. It has an incredibly distinct Mexican hot chocolate aroma. Which, (believe it or not) was the exact goal of the brewers. However, to land this closely to said goal is impressive just by itself. The cinnamon and nutmeg separate themselves and have a wonderful clarity, while notes of vanilla and clove show up to the party with a little more subtlety. The cocoa tends to seem mellow behind the intense spices, and the pepper is represented as a slightly refreshing crispness, although not distinctly peppery.

Appearance: Mayan Mocha Stout is surprisingly dark. I figured the beer would be black as night, but what surprised me a bit was that the head poors with such a dark tan color. Unfortunately, the head didn’t stick around very long for me to drool over it.

Taste: The beer starts to lose me here, unfortunately. Although the aroma was sufficiently mind-blowing, the taste feels quite aggressive, and there’s quite a bit of heat on the back of the throat. Although I’d buy this beer a second time, it would mostly be for the aroma. I didn’t remember the barrel-aged version being quite as hot, so I have to wonder if the beer just mellows out over time. Notes of chocolate cake and black pepper are detectable prior to the heat taking over, which is sufficient to keep me drinking. The good news about the heat is that it seems to mellow out as you finish the poor.

Mouthfeel: A surprisingly high level of perceived carbonation, which I suspect could be a bit of trickery from the habanero’s heat. Additionally, the beer doesn’t feel intensely sweet like I would have suspected, probably for the same reason.

Aftertaste: Like you may have guessed, the finish pretty much comes down to a lingering heat on the back of the throat. I wish I could say there was anything else going on here, but it’s a pretty simple finale.

Overall: If there was one thing I’d change about this beer, it’s the intensity of the habanero. If you specifically like pepper beers, then this is positively one to get your hands on. If you don’t like pepper beers, I would recommend it anyway. If you decide that you can’t take the heat, it’s just about worth it to sit there with your nose stuffed down the glass, taking in the outrageous aroma.


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