Sounding more like a dessert buffet than taplist, May the Short’s Be With You at The Pyramid Scheme highlighted some of the best Michigan beer has to offer with 15 unique brews from Short’s Brewing Company.

Arguably the most innovative brewery in the state, Short’s never fails to flex its creative muscles. Although the Elk Rapids-based brewery boasts an impressive series of year-round and seasonal brews, what really draws many beer geeks — myself included — is its one-off, experimental beers.

Between its Bellaire brewpub and several Michigan beer festivals, I have been fortunate enough to try many of these unique offerings. Wednesday’s event provided an opportunity to experience even more Short’s creativity. These are not your “typical” beers. And, even between the three of us at the table, opinions varied widely. Note: All beers were poured into a standard shaker pint glass.

Mamma’s Strawberry Milk

  • Appearance: Pours a dense, hazy reddish-brown hue with no head. Strawberries dominate with a dark fruit, malty sweetness.
  • Not your typical fruit beer — lacks the overpowering sugary sweetness you might be expecting. Instead, the brew presents a strong, pleasant fruit aroma and taste with a heavier, syrupy mouthfeel. It’s not something you can sit and drink four of, but a wonderful, unique offering that is definitely worth trying. The milk sugar and malt body with mild carbonation rounds out this beer nicely.

’08 Chocolate Raspberry Shorter

  • Appearance: Deep, opaque chocolate brown body, revealing a bright mahogany hue towards the edge of the glass. Thin, sparse layer of tan head.
  • Initially, it has a confusing alcohol aroma, which fades over time. Tart raspberries predominate the initial taste, but transitions to a sweeter raspberry with a bit chocolate malt on the end. With a lighter mouthfeel than expected for beer this dark, it has a moderate, slightly prickly carbonation. Not as much chocolate malt as the name may imply, but still present. A lighter beer than the deep color might lead you to think, but definitely something you could drink a few of.

Another Caucasian Gary

  • Appearance: Opaque, orange/amber with a thin white head.
  • The beer that I was perhaps most excited to try,  as I missed my chance during the Winter Beer Fest and it received rave reviews on Beeradvocate.com. Its aroma is unpleasant — smells of spent coffee grounds, not the nice roasted malt flavor you would find in a bigger stout — and carries over in the taste with a slightly sour, milky sweetness to it.  With a heavier mouthfeel (a little syrupy), ACG has good carbonation. But it’s not at all what I hoped for — this beer was just plain bad. Granted, it was brewed several months ago, and with the components of this beer I have to think that the aging process did not treat it well. Wish I could have tried this one months ago, as I get the sneaking suspicion it was an entirely different when it was fresh.

The Gambler

  • Appearance: Cloudy golden brown, thin layer of cream-colored head.
  • A bourbon-barreled IPA brewed with tea leaves, lending a tobacco quality to the beer, it has hints of smoke with a leather- tobacco scent that is apparent but not overpowering and capped with subtle bourbon notes. The taste brings a bright sweetness upfront, met with pleasant earthy hop bitterness.  A little more of the bourbon comes through towards the end, and it feels like an IPA in the mouth with a little lighter carbonation. Not my cup of tea, but very interesting — lots of flavors you wouldn’t encounter elsewhere.

Key Lime Pie

  • Appearance: Pours a bright orange/amber with no head.
  • Bright citrus, predominated by the scent of sweet limes carries into the taste with initial lime sweetness that transitions to a milky, malt sweetness.  It feels heavier than it looks and definitely has a chewier, syrupy quality to it. Overall, the sweet lime flavor balanced very well with the creamy body. Really, it’s a great beer — key lime pie in a glass.  On that note, it’s not something I could sit a drink all night, but a must-try for sweet, fruity beer lovers.

Carrot Cake

  • Appearance: No head whatsoever, completely opaque with a dark copper, earthy hue.
  • Based on scent alone, they weren’t kidding when they said Carrot Cake. Similar to the smell, the creamy frosting taste gives way to a smooth, bready malt sweetness. You can definitely pick up on the carrots as you would in a real carrot cake, but it takes the back seat to the sweetness of this beer (the point of carrot cake is to hide the veggies, right?). It has a creamy, heavier body that balances well. Much like the key lime pie, Carrot Cake hits the nail on the head. Liquid carrot cake.

The Pyramid Scheme is located at 68 Commerce SW in downtown Grand Rapids.

Sometimes simple is good.

The ingredients listed in Schmohz Brewery’s Zingiberene Ale are water, malted barley, ginger root and yeast. While some beer enthusiasts might consider it bland, it’s one of the more refreshing craft brews around.

Zingiberene is incredibly crisp and the carbonation comes as a surprise. The simple ingredients do actually mean simple taste, which is perhaps why I find it so refreshing. The first time I tried it I had just finished two-plus hours of playing Ultimate Frisbee. So, for certain, I chose the right beer.

Since then, I’ve gone back to it several times. And now sitting at home sipping on a bottle of it, I still have it on my list of regulars. It’s kind of like a less sweet version of a ginger ale pop (pop means “soda” or “coke” in the Mitten — this is a Michigan website, right?) with some malty, beery undertones.

Schmohz does not pasteurize its brews, so they have a fresher and fuller taste (but it also means you have to keep them cold).

There is certainly a “Zing,” to the overall feel of Zingiberene on the tongue, making the name fitting. I highly recommend using this beer to introduce friends to craft beer. It’s ideal because it is light and the flavor is not too overpowering. And, if you know a friend who likes ginger ale, Zingiberene is sure to be a hit with them.

Another good reason to introduce it to craft beer neophytes is the unique process used to make this brew — ginger is used instead of hops. Hoppy beers tend to be overpowering to those who curl up their nose at certain craft brews, especially IPAs. Ginger is a little more familiar taste to most, so the bite doesn’t seem so overpowering.

For as light as it is, you wouldn’t guess it’s 5.3 percent ABU (even if it is a craft brew), but Schmohz has quite a few beers like this. Certainly, Schmohz is worth grab off the store shelf (my other favorites are Valley City Cream Ale and Pickle Tink Ale) or at any pub serving it.

You can find a retailer or restaurant/bar by going to Schmohz’s distribution index here, but the index is a bit impractical in that you need to wait for it to scroll through various locations on its own at a slow pace. You can also visit the Grand Rapids brewery, located at 2600 Patterson SE.

All in all, I am hooked on the simple taste and zing of Zingiberene Ale.

Sometimes simple is good.
The ingredients listed in Schmohz Brewery’s Zingiberene Ale are water, malted barley, ginger root and yeast. While some beer enthusiasts might consider it bland, it’s one of the more refreshing craft brews around.
Zingiberene is incredibly crisp and the carbonation comes as a surprise. The simple ingredients do actually mean simple taste, which is perhaps why I find it so refreshing. The first time I tried it I had just finished two-plus hours of playing Ultimate Frisbee. So, for certain, I chose the right beer.
Since then, I’ve gone back to it several times. And now sitting at home sipping on a bottle of it, I still have it on my list of regulars. It’s kind of like a less sweet version of a ginger ale pop (pop means “soda” or “coke” in the Mitten — this is a Michigan website, right?) with some malty, beery undertones.
Schmohz does not pasteurize its brews, so they have a fresher and fuller taste (but it also means you have to keep them cold).
There is certainly a “Zing,” to the overall feel of Zingiberene on the tongue, making the name fitting. I highly recommend using this beer to introduce friends to craft beer. It’s ideal because it is light and the flavor is not too overpowering. And, if you know a friend who likes ginger ale, Zingiberene is sure to be a hit with them.
Another good reason to introduce it to craft beer neophytes is the unique process used to make this brew — ginger is used instead of hops. Hoppy beers tend to be overpowering to those who curl up their nose at certain craft brews, especially IPAs. Ginger is a little more familiar taste to most, so the bite doesn’t seem so overpowering.
For as light as it is, you wouldn’t guess it’s 5.3 percent ABU (even if it is a craft brew), but Schmohz has quite a few beers like this. Certainly, Schmohz is worth grab off the store shelf (my other favorites are Valley City Cream Ale and Pickle Tink Ale) or at any pub serving it.
You can find a retailer or restaurant/bar by going to Schmohz’s distribution index here, but the index is a bit impractical in that you need to wait for it to scroll through various locations on its own at a slow pace. You can also visit the Grand Rapids brewery, located at 2600 Patterson SE.
All in all, I am hooked on the simple taste and zing of Zingiberene Ale.

Voted the number three beer bar in the world, HopCat knows how to serve beer.  And part of the experience is the glassware used to serve it.

At the Grand Rapids pub, you’ll get your Imperial IPA in a snifter and your stout in a pint glass. But does it truly make any difference? While the glassware might not ruin your experience of the beer, a glass that matches the beer can only enhance things, as HopCat manager Steve Smith explains.

“Do you have to ‘enhance’ it? You don’t have to,” Smith says. “It’s a hold to tradition and gives more definition within the styles.”

According to Smith, HopCat’s effort to serve in glassware that matches the brews is part of the overall experience for its patrons.

“You want to be able to feel like each beer is special,” he says.

But you don’t have to go to HopCat or your neighborhood pub to enjoy beer in ideal glassware. You can enjoy it right at home with a little investing.

To begin your education, click the photo slideshow to the right of this article to learn which beers are paired with various glasses. We’ll focus on the glassware used at HopCat, which represents those typically used by most beer connoisseurs — flute, pilsner, pint, snifter, tulip and Weizen.

Really, this is just a sampling, as the number of different beer glasses in existence is perhaps immeasurable (some beers have special glasses made just for them).

1) Tulip – Smith says the tulip captures carbonation, supporting a foamy head. The open rim allows more upfront aroma. Used for IPAs, lambics, ales and some lagers.

2) Weizen – This glass “captures a nice head” that lasts, Smith says, adding that the aromatics, usually banana-like and quasi-fruity, are best in this glass. Hefeweizen and weizenbock have “a lot of flavor from spices traditional to Germany,” but the glass is also used for wheat ales.

3) Flute – Colors are presented beautifully by the flute glass, but Smith says it also enhances carbonation and offers intense aroma. Used for fruity beers and brews with wine-type feel, i.e.ciders, framboise lambics and meads.

4) Pilsner/Lager – The straight-walled design optimizes carbonation, Smith explains. “Lagers are meant to be very crisp and clean with not a lot of aroma,” Smith says, adding this glass is best for pilsners, bock and both American and European lagers.

5) Pint – This is used for the base-style of beers, i.e. ambers, browns, porters, stouts and lagers. Smith says most lagers and ales are served in pint glasses and any “base” beers.

6) Snifter – According to Smith, snifters are typically reserved for brews with high alcohol by volume as it “captures” volatiles and the aromatic essence that usually goes “hand-in-hand” with high ABU beers. Typically used for porter, imperial porter/IPA, double IPA, double/imperial stout, belgian ale and barleywine (pretty much anything “double” or “imperial,” Smith says).

As you enjoy your favorite craft brew (I won’t tattle tale if it’s not Michigan-brewed), consider enhancing the experience with the ideal glassware. Finding beer glasses is a Google search away — well worth the few minutes it’ll take to find a store that sells them nearby, or have them shipped to your home.

It comes down to whether you want to just drink beer or experience beer.

HopCat is located in downtown Grand Rapids at 25 Ionia SW.

 

There’s something almost sacred about walking into Brewery Vivant. And it’s not just because the Grand Rapids brewery is a former church.

Since opening in December 2010, the Belgian-style, European-influenced brewery is already attracting beer-goers in cult-like fashion — the 10 unique beers on tap are reason enough.

“People were ready for us,” co-owner Jason Spaulding said. “We got nicely welcomed by the neighborhood.”

Situated on Cherry Street in Grand Rapids’ East Hills neighborhood, Brewery Vivant is the brainchild of Jason Spaulding and his wife Kris. The couple fell in love with the “personal, artistic interpretation” of French and Belgian brews during a soccer trip to Europe.

The Spauldings subsequently returned to brewing school in Munich for a short course at Doemens Academy. Afterward, they took a tour of Belgium.

“We liked the attitude — local ingredients dominated by yeast strains,” Spaulding said, adding they enjoyed the “controlled, wild character” of French- and Belgian-style beers.

During his time in Europe, Spaulding recalled visiting many barnyard and Trappist breweries, which inspired a number of Vivant’s brews. It was the same influence that made the building housing the pub the right choice. A former funeral chapel, it reminded Spaulding of a French monastery.

“It felt very European,” Spaulding said. “That’s one of the reasons I really like this building.”

Brewery Vivant is not Spaulding’s first trek into craft brewing sales. He previously started New Holland Brewing Company with Hope College classmate Brett VanderKamp in 1997. The Holland-based brewery has a favorable reputation in the microbrewery scene with much-loved concoctions like Mad Hatter IPA, Dragon’s Milk Ale, The Poet and Ichabod Ale.

“Anyone who home brews talks about opening their own brewery — it’s part of the equation,” Spaulding said. “We were young enough and excited enough to do it.”

Spaulding’s interest in the beer culture began during a ski trip to Colorado as a college student. Soon after, he and friends were homebrewing. The 39-year-old brewer fondly remembers some of New Holland’s early brews, such as Palooza and Courage. Such brews were discontinued because, as Spaulding says, the brewers were ahead of their time.

“At the time, dark beers just didn’t sell very well,” he said. “We had to explain to people what pale ale is. We were ahead of the curve. It took the market 10 years to catch up. The microbrewery business is still picking up steam.”

Spaulding remained with New Holland as co-owner until 2005 before selling his half.

Once again, Spaulding is taking a stab at brewing something unique in offering primarily Belgian- and French-influenced brews.

“There are a lot of breweries that make a Belgian-style beer — not a lot are doing it as their main beer,” he says. “It’s a smaller niche, but it makes it interesting.”

Ultimately, Spaulding credits Larry Bell of Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo for the craft beer boom in Michigan.

“Michigan beer is very highly respected outside of Michigan. I think Larry Bell set the bar for that. He influenced the Midwest about what Michigan beer is like.”

As with each brewery MittenBrew visits, we sampled each beer on tap. Later this week, we will give you the full story about Vivant’s brews. We also have a video tour of the brewery, which you can visit here.

Brewery Vivant is located at 925 Cherry St. SE in Grand Rapids.