ernie richards

“What good is sanity?!”

That was the first thing out of Ernie Richards’ mouth when I showed up to interview him, after having commented about how impressive Grand Rapids Brewing Co.’s draft list looked. He laughed from his belly partially in self-reflection and part exhaustion, which made his salt and (heavier on the) pepper beard move, just a little. His eyes, although caught under the shade of his flat-brimmed baseball hat, gleamed with kindness behind the glare from his black-rimmed glasses. He offered me a beer, poured one for himself, and then pulled back the curtain to expose the methods behind his playful madness.

ernie richards

Ernie Richards

Before taking over the head brewer position at GRBC in early 2017, Ernie brewed on the opposite corner of the same block at the original HopCat location, a sister property in the BarFly Ventures family. Before brewing at HopCat, which he admits was “pure luck,” Ernie didn’t have a single batch of brewed beer to his name.

He earned a degree in genomics and molecular genetics from Michigan State University, but wearing a stark white lab coat for the next 30 years wasn’t going to cut it. His exit internship amounted to him “hanging out with boring people, culturing algae colonies, and screening them for fat production,” while still paying down his student loans. He laughs, “I wish I would’ve found out what lab life was like before I spent all those years and poured all that money into it.”

Fortunately, his comprehension of organic chemistry and microbiology would ultimately lend itself well to a proficiency in brewing. He’s able to reflect on what he’s been able to apply from his education, “Whereas most people learn how to homebrew first, and are able to grasp the functionality of it, and then progress to the more technical aspect, I learned the process backwards.” There’s still part of a sweet, innocent nerd in him that justifies his journey, “Brewing is a beautiful way to manifest the science component of what I paid for without having to be restrained in a lab.”

Ernie seems much more comfortable in his current role wearing broken-in jeans and a T-shirt embellished with a cuddly raccoon, holding a stemless wine glass filled with a barrel-aged sour. Speaking about his years in the hospitality/service industry, surrounded by his type of colleagues, “It’s so rad because you work with the weirdest, most eclectic, colorful people.” While enduring at an upscale fine dining restaurant, hating that he had to “wear a fucking tie,” a buddy of his tipped him off about a new craft beer bar in downtown Grand Rapids that was holding open interviews.

He walked into HopCat hoping to get an interview, but showed up at the wrong time. Instead, he bumped into two guys checking out the place, and struck up a casual conversation with them about Belgian beer and jazz clubs in Chicago. He had no idea who they were, but says, “They were super cool.” After he told them why he was there, they introduced themselves. Mark Sellers and Garry Boyd, the owner and ringleader of HopCat, respectively, were instant fans of Ernie—so much that they offered him a bartending gig on the spot.

Since opening in 2008, HopCat has seemed to have birthed a litter of sought-after brewers who have all since been adopted by new homes. Before Jake Brenner, who also had a tenure on HopCat’s modest 3-barrel system, went on to open GRBC in 2012 as their inaugural head brewer, he was pulling double-duty bartending on the weekends alongside Ernie and Bobby Edgcomb. While these three were counting their tips and drinking beer after their shift one night at close, Jake told them that he was moving next door to GRBC. Confident in what he saw in Ernie, Jake casually nudged him to take over brewing in his place at HopCat. Perhaps lubricated with slightly impaired judgment, Ernie accepted and told Jake, “Yeah, sure!” When Ernie woke up the next morning to a text from Jake that said, “You’re still coming in on Monday to learn how to brew, right?”, confirming Ernie’s verbal commitment, Ernie thought, “Fuck. What did I sign up for?”

ernie richards

Bobby Edgcomb & Ernie Richards

In hindsight, Ernie is happy with his decision to take the leap into brewing because he had gotten his fill with bartending, “It starts to wear on your soul a little bit.” Bobby soon started brewing with him at HopCat—until Jake recruited Bobby as his assistant brewer at GRBC. Ernie, now unsupervised, was left to his own devices, responsible for brewing solo at what was becoming one of the most recognized and respected brewpubs in America. No pressure, right? There’s something to be said for picking the person with the perfect amount of intrinsic motivation to do the job right—to do the job well, coupled with being a little bit weird. Just enough to keep things from getting too safe. Ernie was that guy.

His uninhibited knack for harnessing weirdness now had an outlet. Ernie got to “venture down deeper into the rabbit hole” of fantastic creativity. He says the freedom HopCat trusted him with was “probably one of the most ideal scenarios I could have ever asked for. It was truly the best learning experience for me.” He wasn’t entirely an island. “I pretty much had an entire bartending and service staff who were well-trained critics, who were available to me all the time. They were really open and honest with me about the beer. If they didn’t like something [I brewed], they were awesome about being objective and constructive. They know what good beer is supposed to taste like, and categorically where it’s supposed to be stylistically. If I was off, they let me know.”

The OG Grand Rapids HopCat is currently the only location out of the anti-chain chain’s nearly 20 locations that brews its own beer on top of having a well curated draft list. With almost 50 national and international taps always rotating right next to his own, Ernie had serious benchmarks by which to judge whether he was going in the right direction. “When you’re putting up a tap directly next to similar beers that are wildly popular—known by everybody, you have to be on your A game.” It was 48, give or take, constant reminders for him to strive to be better. “If you’re only surrounded by your own [beer], you don’t have anything to shock you out of your own bubble of what’s comfortable.”

Fast-forward to late 2016/early 2017. Ernie had been the sole brewer at HopCat for over five years when Jake tells him and Bobby that he’s been offered a professor position in the brewing program at Secchia Institute for Culinary Education at Grand Rapids Community College. All three guys had become beer brothers, bonded over brewing, so “neither of us could’ve been upset with Jake in the least for taking advantage of an amazing opportunity—for himself, and his family,” Ernie supports. Garry, one-half of the executive team who originally hired Ernie, invited Ernie to inherit Jake’s position as head brewer at GRBC, reuniting him with Bobby, for critical support.

ernie richards

As most things do, the timing happened for a reason. Ernie felt as though his head may have been scratching the metaphorical ceiling of what he was able to accomplish at HopCat, with its system’s very specific limitations. Of what he was able to achieve at HopCat, Ernie says was “the equivalent of competing in a full-grown adult’s BMX race while riding a little kid’s Strawberry Shortcake Huffy. So, the fact that I was able to brew beers that were in comparable range with some of the country’s biggest breweries, with relative consistency, and find ways to fine-tune that system to compete with them was pretty humbling.” In Ernie’s place now at HopCat is Ben Bagby, a homebrewer and former Kalamazoo HopKitten, who earned the job after an internal company wide brew-off challenge, of sorts.

Now, nearly a year into brewing at GRBC, Ernie seems right at home to be reunited alongside his better half. However, Ernie’s now brewing on a system that’s about five times larger than HopCat’s, so both he and Bobby have had to, in a sense, relearn their jobs and how to work with each other. Ernie’s an obsessive tinkerer, and Bobby is a “master of consistency.” Ernie acknowledges, “I’m very aware that I can’t just leave anything alone, and since Bobby’s a wizard with so many aspects of that system, I’ve had to let him teach me the intricacies of it. He’s got the patience of a saint. He’s like a brother to me, and in some cases nicer than a brother probably would be. Mentally, strategically—Bobby’s the voice of reason. My bread and butter is taking risks, but he calls me out when it’s probably going to end poorly. I know ‘assistant brewers’ are way too often not given the credit they deserve, but shit seriously would not get done at the level we’re doing it if it wasn’t for him.” Honestly, they’re so damn adorable together.

grand rapids brewing company

Camp Rapids

Coming off of GRBC’s second annual ArtPrize submission, this year’s Camp Rapids, Ernie and Bobby probably won’t have the luxury of slowing down anytime soon. Teases in the local press, recent public feedback, and internal staff support of the current beer program seem to be unanimous: the beer is good. Flattered, Ernie says, “It’s been really cool to watch the staff come together around the beer Bobby and I are making.” Still, they can’t get complacent. They try to approach their production schedule with a little more intentionality than what Ernie was used to at HopCat (especially in its earlier days), because at GRBC they have 18 taps to fill with consistent integrity.  

The clientele, generally speaking, is noticeably different at GRBC than it is at HopCat, but Ernie and Bobby can use that to their advantage. Unlike HopCat, “GRBC can’t be so willy nilly with our beer because we don’t have a national lineup to pick up the slack if we screw up. What we brew and put on tap is entirely who we are. There’s a lot more weight put on the decisions about what we brew.” When asked if that adds any additional pressure, Ernie takes it in stride, “Yeah, definitely, but it translates to a healthy pressure—to ensure that every beer we put on is worth it.” That hasn’t swayed Ernie’s inherent urge to still pull off “wild and crazy shit.”

Their current draft list represents a dichotomy, yet is complementary. It’s a well-balanced lineup, grounded in safe, gateway styles like their mainstay IPA, brown, stout, and Hefeweizen. Its other half is a trip, appropriately offset by plenty of “weird shit” for the curious. For those who crave the peculiar, chase after hybrids like their bourbon barrel-aged dark strong ale blended with a Flanders red, a bourbon barrel-aged barleywine with cocoa nibs and vanilla, and one of Ernie’s ever-rotating signature funky saisons or fruit-forward sours. GRBC’s barrel-aged portfolio is evolving, “almost to an impressively annoying level,” Ernie says, noticeable by the volume of barrels starting to squeeze the relatively modest space of their brewhouse.

ernie richards

Bobby Edgcomb & Ernie Richards

There should always be room allowed to be playful and test people’s comfort zones. If nothing else, Ernie has been known to keep himself entertained by naming his beers, which can often be a little left of center. Earlier this summer, GRBC proudly released a flamboyant 5.7% sour with lactobacillus fermented with a tropical brett blend, “peached to the far depths of fantasy land,” known as… wait for it… Princess Peach Unicorn Fairy Glitter Sparkle Queen. For Ernie, “It’s a weird social experiment. Names will often change how you approach and perceive that [beer]. Sometimes, these names are designed to be challenge. If you can get over that, and enjoy it—actually appreciate the beer aside from it’s dumb name, then you know what—it’s gotten you out of your comfort zone, and creates a dialogue. I don’t want to get to the point where we’re taking things so seriously, where all we’re thinking is, ‘What can we name this beer to just make it sell the most?’. It’s much cooler when a grown-ass, white, heterosexual male, who can admit he sincerely loves the beer, has to verbally order a Princess Peach Unicorn Fairy Glitter Sparkle Queen.”

Being obnoxiously macho about beer isn’t the only thing that Ernie takes a swing at. “Too much of the cool craft beer world pretends to be aloof to our culture of extreme consumption patterns—that they’re too good to make, or drink, quality lagers and pilsners. When are people going to get worn out by everything having to be so over the top all the time, and just learn to be comfortable with simple and delicate?” He wants to help move the needle. He’d love to see Silver Foam, GRBC’s flagship 4.5% American lager (first brewed in 1893) available year round in cans (it’s currently only available on draft and in 22oz bottles) at a price point that helps contribute to taking a bite out of AB InBev’s market share. “There’s so much more to be said for brewing clean, subtle, laid-back beers that don’t feel obligated to be so intense. To me, it takes more skill to brew a beer like that than it is to just throw as much as you can at it.”

Part of chipping away at the absurdities of what’s considered acceptable is Ernie’s commentary on social media. Social Bot War Pawn, GRBC’s spin on an English Mild, was a subliminal message to everyone overly consumed by social media. “If you look at how people are influenced by it, you start to realize that, before they know it, they’ve become victims of being social media pawns. People will proliferate a story that suits their own internal narrative—essentially planting the seeds to influence others’ perceptions, which will then circle back to affect their own perspective on how they’ll approach a thing. It’s the same with beer. You can name a beer whatever you want to lure people expecting one thing, and then give them another.” For Ernie, he’d like that other thing to be an elevated experience with his beer around a deeper conversation about life.

And then the conversation got ethereal. Probably because I asked him about his thoughts on life after death. “I’m not that narcissistic to say that I think I’ll come back as a human. How are we any better than all the other possibilities? When you’re dead, you’re just dead. If anything, we go back into this vast pool of lifeforce, and we all become the same energy. People have a lot of comfort in believing in reincarnation or life after death, but I think that’s just masking our own fears and inadequacies because death sucks. Maybe we’re caterpillars, and death (or life) is really just our cocoon phase.” When Ernie dies, my money’s on—or, at least my hope is, that he comes back as a Princess Peach Unicorn Fairy Glitter Sparkle Queen, and we’ll all be lining up, very comfortable in our own skin, to order another stemless wine glass of him.

 

Photography: Steph Harding

 

baffin brewing

On one trip to Maine, brewer Evan Feringa found something that he had not seen in his home state of Michigan—a mug club that you had to drink into.

baffin brewery

Evan Feringa

“We had to drink out of regular pint glasses, and so the locals would make fun of us saying ‘look at the tourists’!” Feringa said.

You couldn’t buy their way into that mug club, nor could you pay a yearly membership to belong—you had to drink the beer to earn that mug.

“And it created this atmosphere that I hadn’t seen in any of the bars I’d visited at home. I told Joe (Dowd, a partner in Baffin Brewery) that if we ever opened a brewpub, we have to do this.”

And they did. Located in St. Clair Shores, Baffin Brewing has been serving mug club members, regulars, newbies and everyone in between since 2015. The mug club boasts over 400 members, most of whom had to drink their way in.

“You have to drink 150 beers—pints, growlers and flights all count as one. After every 20 beers, you get some sort of reward like a Baffin sticker, a t-shirt, a glass growler, and then after that 150th beer you get your own handmade 22-24 ounce mug,”which is refilled at the same price as a pint, Feringa said.

Just like those pubs in Maine, the mug club members at Baffin get to know each other as they hang out in the brewery near Lake St. Clair. White Christmas lights winking out from the wall of hard earned mugs is one of the first things guests see when they walk in. Tables and chairs are scattered about the sunny, open space that includes an attractive wood bar top that runs along the back wall. The shiny tanks that hold the tasty ales stand to the left and self-serve popcorn is always available.

Feringa received training from the master brewers’ program at the Siebel Institute in Chicago and spent time at Dragonmead Brewery. He and partners Joe Dowd and Joe VanderMarliere opened the brewery together.

“Joe (Dowd) and I started brewing together in college. I always loved to cook, loved homebrew, and at some point realized I wanted to open a brewery. We met Joe (VanderMarliere), a St. Clair Shores native, and everything fell into place. It’s a wonderful partnership—we loved it from the get-go and we are still going strong!”

baffin brewery

All of Baffin’s beers impress, but here are some stand-outs:

Mango Unchained (6.5% ABV, uses 75% Michigan hops). Fruit ales often miss the mark. Either they don’t have enough of a fruit profile or they taste like the syrup in Slush Puppies. This beer found the sweet spot (no pun intended) with enough of a mango flavor without being cloying. As it mellowed, it became hoppier—but never overwhelmingly so.

Monkadelic (9.1% ABV, all Michigan hops). Making a 9%+ beer that doesn’t taste like pure alcohol is no small feat, so Baffin is to be commended for making a solid Belgian tripel. Nice malty flavors with some tropical fruit and banana.

Eye of the Porter (6.5% ABV, all Michigan hops). Toasty and chocolatey, this beer is a great example of a  porter style beer. A touch of fruit prevents it from being too chocolatey (yes, there is such a thing!). Roasty, but light enough to enjoy on a hot summer day.

Mickey Redmond Red Ale (7% ABV, all Michigan hops). Nicely balanced ale with hints of biscuit, caramel and malt. Some red ales can be too malty or not malty enough and taste like a regular pale ale–this beer hit the sweet spot.

Ruby Ruby Ruby Ruby (6.5% ABV, all Michigan hops). Even if one is neither a fan of IPAs nor grapefruit, she will find this beer to her liking!  Eighty-eight pounds of grapefruit go into the mash but the taste was not overpowering. Michigan Cascade hops are used in the dry hopping of this effervescent and refreshing ale.

Unlike many other brewpubs, Baffin lists the percentage of Michigan grown hops on the tap list. Big proponents of Michigan industry, Baffin uses locally grown grains and hops except when recipes require ingredients from Germany or other countries.

“We always knew we wanted to use as many Michigan hops as possible, so we teamed up with Church Key Farms (out of Deerfield) and use every hop as we can,” Feringa said.

 

Photography: Steph Harding

great american beer fest

The popular refrain from the 1971 Gene Wilder classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory seemed the most appropriate way to describe my excitement when I found out I would be attending the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. As a lover of craft beer I was vaguely aware of the festival but never thought I would have the opportunity to attend. I’ve been to several West Michigan beer festivals but I was not prepared for the wonders that awaited me in scenic golden Colorado. Oh, and Golden, Colorado is the home of Coors… right? Get it? Golden ticket? Never mind…

The Great American Beer Festival was started in 1982 and had 24 breweries, 47 beers, and roughly 800 attendees in the Harvest House Hotel in Boulder, Colorado. Fast forward to 2017 where some 60,000 attendees, 3,900 beers, and 800 breweries were crammed into the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver. Tickets sold out in just over four hours.

In an attempt to the make the trip as affordable as possible we packed up the MittenBrew-Subaru and made our way from the Midwest to the Rockies. We agreed to make the drive casual and did so by stopping at some cool places like 3 Floyds, The World’s Largest Truck Stop, several Kum & Go gas stations as well as a Pump and Pantry (no, I am not making those last two up). Once in western Illinois, the long straight highways were lovingly hugged on both sides by vast expanses of corn, grassland, and not much else.

We intentionally arrived two days early to hit some of the amazing breweries that call Colorado home. In no particular order we hit Avery, Oskar Blues, Crooked Stave, Bull and Bush, Left Hand, Wynkoop, Great Divide, Bootstrap, Mockery, Black Shirt, and Colorado’s own—Coors. At each location we were greeted warmly, treated well, and welcomed back. It’s a town very much in love with its beer, both macro and craft.

Returning to luxurious hotel accommodations after each day of exploring might have been nice, but we chose to camp with some great friends from Railtown Brewing and City Built Brewing. Warm, clear sunny days gave way to frosty cold nights (we’re talking 3 layers to sleep cold). I dreamt of having all 4 of Charlie Bucket’s grandparents on my air mattress to keep me warm. Ok, that may have been an overshare.

Thursday, the opening day of the festival, arrived and it was lovely outside—warm, sunny and just really pleasant. We attended the Michigan Brewer’s Guild gathering at 1-UP-LODO which was a lot of fun to watch. Brewers talking beer, the local sites, and playing vintage arcade games. I used to be a decent Galaga player, I am sad to report I am not any more. I was much better at KISS pinball. After some great laughs and beers we headed to the festival.

great american beer fest

The Colorado Convention center is monstrous and appears to be guarded by a frozen two-story tall blue bear. The general admission line was wrapped around the building and I never actually saw the end of the line, and this was almost 45 minutes before the gates opened. People were enjoying the sunny weather and the glorious anticipation of tasting some of the best beers in the world. It was very much like the 5 golden ticket holders meeting Willy Wonka at the gate when we arrived at the event door to get our media credentials—except that there were 2 of us.

I have attended large techie conventions before, but to see that many brewery booths was really overwhelming. Media attendees were granted early entry so I got to walk in and see the place before the onslaught. I casually strolled in trying to maintain my composure while planning my dark beer “must haves.” While perusing the giant map and list we began to hear bagpipes which meant the festival was about to open to the attendees. Reading that 60,000 people attend over the 3 days was a neat fact but it didn’t occur to me what that would look like. There must have been 2,000 people just standing inside the main door waiting to go through the gates. It was literally a river of beer shirts, beards, cargo shorts, weird hats, costumes, and smiles. The vibe was really positive. It was also clear that many people knew exactly where they were going right away, some even running to get that first pour of their favorite libation.

From that moment on it was elbow to elbow with people laughing, smiling, and celebrating the wonderful gift of beer. I was ecstatic to get some fantastic beers that I hadn’t tried before like Double Barrel Baptist from Epic, Barrel Aged Ten FIDY from Oskar Blues, Tweak from Avery, and to close out the festival I had a pour of Utopias from Samuel Adams. What an amazing journey of beer and community.

great american beer fest

These are my tips for first time attendees:

  • Cell phones are only good for taking pictures of your drunk buddies or co-workers. Don’t plan on making calls or getting texts in the convention center during the festival.
  • Know where the bathrooms are. It’s a long walk to anywhere on the convention floor and it takes 10 times longer trying to move through the crowds.
  • Pace yourself and stay hydrated #betterdrinkingculture
  • Smile and take it all in. The sooner you settle into the scene, the sooner you’ll realize you’re with friends.
  • Try something new. I am a dark beer lover and I had a sour or two—I let my hair down.
  • If you find yourself on a brewery tour and are invited to hold a hop pellet, might I recommend that you don’t eat said hop pellet. Trust me.

 

It was an amazing adventure and while I didn’t win control of the chocolate factory I did get to meet some great people. Dates for the 2018 Great American Beer Festival are September 20th – 22nd in 2018. I’ll be seeing you then Denver, and not as a green newbie this time!

Cheerz!

 

Photography: Steph Harding & Ray Ashley

great american beer festival

LANSING, Mich.—Seven members of the Michigan Brewers Guild brought home a total of nine medals at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) Competition, in Denver, Colorado—the largest commercial beer competition in the world, presented by the Brewers Association.  Michigan-based Rockford Brewing Company was recognized as the “Small Brewpub and Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year”

In all, 293 medals were presented in 98 unique beer categories covering 161 different beer styles (including all subcategories). Winners were chosen out of 7,923 competition entries from 2,217 breweries in 50 states plus Washington, D.C. (a 15 percent and 24 percent increase respectively from the 7,301 entries and 1,783 breweries in 2016). The competition took place in six sessions over a period of three days and was judged by 276 beer experts from 13 countries, including the U.S.

great american beer festival

 

Michigan Brewers Guild members received the following awards:

GOLD

  • Barrel Aged Sweet Potato SouthNorte Rye, Odd Side Ales, Grand Haven
  • Shipfaced, Silver Harbor Brewing Co., Saint Joseph

SILVER

  • Aphrodisiac Chocolate Pomegranate Imperial Stout, Cranker’s Brewery, Big Rapids
  • Rye Hipster Brunch Stout, Odd Side Ales, Grand Haven
  • Sheehan’s Stout, Rockford Brewing Co., Rockford

BRONZE

  • Antwerp’s Placebo, Batch Brewing Co., Detroit
  • Rogue River Brown, Rockford Brewing Co., Rockford
  • Passionfruit Gose, Perrin Brewing Co., Comstock Park
  • Pilgrim’s Dole, New Holland Brewing Co., Holland

 

 

The Great American Beer Festival is the granddaddy of all U.S. beer festivals, offering the largest collection of U.S. beer ever assembled. The judging panel awards gold, silver or bronze medals that are recognized around the world as symbols of brewing excellence. These awards are among the most coveted in the industry and heralded by the winning brewers in their national advertising.

The Michigan Brewers Guild is the network of innovative and passionate brewers that serves as the recognized advocate for the Michigan craft beer industry. The mission of the Michigan Brewers Guild is to promote and protect the Michigan craft beer industry with an overarching goal to help craft beer acquire 20% of the market by 2025.

great american beer festival

Michigan’s thriving brewing industry conservatively contributes more than $144 million in wages with a total economic contribution of more than $600 million. In terms of overall number breweries, microbreweries and brewpubs, Michigan ranks #6 in the nation – thus supporting its claim as “The Great Beer State.”

 

craft beer stroll

Royal Oak is recognized as a destination for great entertainment, dining and drink. To understand all the reasons why might seem a lofty endeavor.

But once a year, the Royal Oak Restaurant Association makes it easy to take it all in during one afternoon.

craft beer strollThis is the seventh year the restaurants of downtown Royal Oak have collaborated to showcase both the town’s dining and Michigan’s craft beer for the Michigan Craft Beer Stroll, which will take place October 14, 2017 from 12-5 p.m.

“Over 20 downtown Royal Oak restaurants will offer a sample of food along with a sample of Michigan craft beer,” said Stephanie McIntyre, who is producing the event for the Royal Oak Restaurant Association. “Guests go from location to location, taste their samples and stroll around downtown Royal Oak.”

For $40 in advance and $50 the day of, participants can claim samples from all 23 restaurants while walking around downtown Royal Oak. No two locations will have the same Michigan beer, and the food selections are just as diverse.

“I think it’s a really great opportunity for folks to, in one day, get a taste of really great Michigan beer without having to commit to a pint at each place,” said Bob Morton, co-owner of Lily’s Seafood Grill & Brewery. “You can sample a little bit of all of these beers and still be able to walk at the end of the day.”

The stroll is also a perfect way to experience the versatility of craft beer as a complement to quality cuisine, Morton said. Lily’s Seafood Grill & Brewery is serving a choice between its house-brewed Pilsner, Marzen and Stout alongside chocolate stout cupcakes.

A lot of people might not think to pair beer with dessert, Morton said, or there may be a guest who never drinks a stout because they have a misconception of what darker beer tastes like.

“We’re going to take advantage of that opportunity to maybe broaden their horizons and educate their palates a little bit,” Morton said.

The Michigan Craft Beer Stroll celebrates Michigan’s rich craft beer culture, but it has increasingly become a celebration of Royal Oak. The event encourages people to join up with friends and walk from eatery to eatery. While they’re taking in great food and beer, they’re also taking in the town of Royal Oak.

craft beer stroll

And a few of the participating restaurants, like Lily’s, brew their own beer or will be featuring beer brewed in Royal Oak.

Royal Oak Brewery, for example, has been brewing beer in town since the ‘90s and has participated in the Craft Beer Stroll every year.

“We’ve been championing craft beer since September 1995, and any chance we get to do it, we jump at,” said Tim Selewski, general manager of Royal Oak Brewery. “For us, it’s a really easy decision to be a part of something like this.”

The event isn’t just for those interested in beer, though.

“Beer lovers, food lovers and just entertainment lovers in general will all find a rewarding experience in coming to Royal Oak and taking part in the Craft Beer Stroll,” Morton said.

The Royal Oak Restaurant Association puts on the Michigan Craft Beer Stroll with the intent of donating proceeds to a local nonprofit.

“It’s something that they always incorporate into all of their events,” said McIntyre. “It’s just a really important part of giving back to the community that supports them throughout the year by eating and drinking and hanging out at their restaurants.”

McIntyre said these events usually result in a $10,000 donation to the chosen nonprofit. Over their many years of engagement, the Royal Oak Restaurant Association has donated over $250,000 to nonprofits in the Royal Oak area, McIntyre said.

This year’s proceeds will go to Detroit Dog Rescue, an organization with the mission of creating a state-of-the-art no kill animal shelter in Detroit.

Those who’ve participated in the event in the past say it’s a spectacle to see.

“This event blows me away every year,” Selewski said.

“It’s a cool thing to be down in Royal Oak the day of the event, because you’ll just see these groups of happy people, roaming from place to place,” McIntyre said.

“They’re roaming around town in these packs and they’re having a blast,” Selewski said. “They’re laughing, enjoying the food and checking out these places they haven’t tried before.”

That’s what the Michigan Craft Beer Stroll accomplishes for Royal Oak: exposure to the sheer variety of experiences the town has to offer.

“You could come here every day and have a totally different experience,” Morton said. “The beer stroll is a great way to experience that diversity in one day.”

Attendees are encouraged to purchase their tickets in advance at Eventbrite.com.

 

Sponsored by the Royal Oak Restaurant Association 

 

Royal Oak is recognized as a destination for great entertainment, dining and drink. To understand all the reasons why might seem a lofty endeavor.
But once a year, the Royal Oak Restaurant Association makes it easy to take it all in during one afternoon.
craft beer strollThis is the seventh year the restaurants of downtown Royal Oak have collaborated to showcase both the town’s dining and Michigan’s craft beer for the Michigan Craft Beer Stroll, which will take place October 14, 2017 from 12-5 p.m.
“Over 20 downtown Royal Oak restaurants will offer a sample of food along with a sample of Michigan craft beer,” said Stephanie McIntyre, who is producing the event for the Royal Oak Restaurant Association. “Guests go from location to location, taste their samples and stroll around downtown Royal Oak.”
For $40 in advance and $50 the day of, participants can claim samples from all 23 restaurants while walking around downtown Royal Oak. No two locations will have the same Michigan beer, and the food selections are just as diverse.
“I think it’s a really great opportunity for folks to, in one day, get a taste of really great Michigan beer without having to commit to a pint at each place,” said Bob Morton, co-owner of Lily’s Seafood Grill & Brewery. “You can sample a little bit of all of these beers and still be able to walk at the end of the day.”
The stroll is also a perfect way to experience the versatility of craft beer as a complement to quality cuisine, Morton said. Lily’s Seafood Grill & Brewery is serving a choice between its house-brewed Pilsner, Marzen and Stout alongside chocolate stout cupcakes.
A lot of people might not think to pair beer with dessert, Morton said, or there may be a guest who never drinks a stout because they have a misconception of what darker beer tastes like.
“We’re going to take advantage of that opportunity to maybe broaden their horizons and educate their palates a little bit,” Morton said.
The Michigan Craft Beer Stroll celebrates Michigan’s rich craft beer culture, but it has increasingly become a celebration of Royal Oak. The event encourages people to join up with friends and walk from eatery to eatery. While they’re taking in great food and beer, they’re also taking in the town of Royal Oak.
craft beer stroll
And a few of the participating restaurants, like Lily’s, brew their own beer or will be featuring beer brewed in Royal Oak.
Royal Oak Brewery, for example, has been brewing beer in town since the ‘90s and has participated in the Craft Beer Stroll every year.
“We’ve been championing craft beer since September 1995, and any chance we get to do it, we jump at,” said Tim Selewski, general manager of Royal Oak Brewery. “For us, it’s a really easy decision to be a part of something like this.”
The event isn’t just for those interested in beer, though.
“Beer lovers, food lovers and just entertainment lovers in general will all find a rewarding experience in coming to Royal Oak and taking part in the Craft Beer Stroll,” Morton said.
The Royal Oak Restaurant Association puts on the Michigan Craft Beer Stroll with the intent of donating proceeds to a local nonprofit.
“It’s something that they always incorporate into all of their events,” said McIntyre. “It’s just a really important part of giving back to the community that supports them throughout the year by eating and drinking and hanging out at their restaurants.”


McIntyre said these events usually result in a $10,000 donation to the chosen nonprofit. Over their many years of engagement, the Royal Oak Restaurant Association has donated over $250,000 to nonprofits in the Royal Oak area, McIntyre said.
This year’s proceeds will go to Detroit Dog Rescue, an organization with the mission of creating a state-of-the-art no kill animal shelter in Detroit.
Those who’ve participated in the event in the past say it’s a spectacle to see.
“This event blows me away every year,” Selewski said.
“It’s a cool thing to be down in Royal Oak the day of the event, because you’ll just see these groups of happy people, roaming from place to place,” McIntyre said.
“They’re roaming around town in these packs and they’re having a blast,” Selewski said. “They’re laughing, enjoying the food and checking out these places they haven’t tried before.”
That’s what the Michigan Craft Beer Stroll accomplishes for Royal Oak: exposure to the sheer variety of experiences the town has to offer.
“You could come here every day and have a totally different experience,” Morton said. “The beer stroll is a great way to experience that diversity in one day.”
Attendees are encouraged to purchase their tickets in advance at Eventbrite.com.
 
Sponsored by the Royal Oak Restaurant Association 
 

washtenaw county

Washtenaw County is blessed with many things—beautiful downtowns, spacious parks, green space, and a wide variety of brewpubs for our drinking pleasure. This article will examine the six non-Ann Arbor pubs—Chelsea Alehouse, Original Gravity, Ypsi Alehouse, Arbor Brewing Company Microbrewery (the Corner), Salt Springs, and Stony Lake Brewing Company (I’m including Jolly Pumpkin in part two, don’t worry!)
To keep things organized, I looked at six different factors

  • The standout beer (very subjective, of course)
  • The noise level (standard: could you have a first date here and hear the person?)
  • Overall comfort (things like whether the bathrooms are clean, variety of places to sit, friendly bartenders, would I wear my jeans that ripped over the summer but hey the 90s are back or would I put on something nicer)
  • Food (not rated for taste necessarily—just what they have)
  • Special Events (music, trivia, etc.)
  • The beer a newbie craft beer drinker should have—in other words, what would my dad get?

Note that I visited these brewpubs over the span of several weeks and beer selections may have changed. Similarly, the noise level may differ depending on when you go.
 
Chelsea Alehouse:

  • Standout Beer: The Holz Hausen Smoked Porter. Brewed with cherry wood smoked malt, this robust porter hits the drinker with smoke and then mellows into a rich porter. If this were a song, it would be a jazz standard sung in a jazz bar before the Michigan smoking ban.
  • Noise Level: At midday on a sunny Saturday, the brewpub had a lot of people in it but managed not to be extremely noisy so one could comfortably have met a first date here or had a business meeting. My friend and I went outside and there were only two other people there so it was perfect for us to shoot the breeze.
  • Overall Comfort: Short wait to get bartenders’ attention, bathrooms very clean, lots of booths and spots at the bar along with delightful outdoor patio. Air conditioning level optimal. Ripped jeans would be fine but so would a skirt or dress.
  • Food: Variety of appetizers, sandwiches, with a couple of entrees and salads. The soft pretzels come straight from the Chelsea Bakery and pair nicely with the pub cheese.
  • Special Events: First and third Tuesdays feature trivia, the bluegrass band Thunderwude plays on Wednesdays, live music on Fridays, Sundays feature Celtic jam sessions, live jazz or a song circle where one can enjoy local musicians or join in and play along with them!
  • Newbie Beer: Session IPA. Many newcomers to craft beer gravitate to IPAs, and this session beer has a lower ABV (4.5%) that offers the drinker just enough hoppiness with low alcohol.  My dad would drink this with only a small grimace, asking again about why this place doesn’t have Miller.

 
Original Gravity Brewing Company:

  • Standout Beer: 440 Pepper Smoker. The first smoked beer I ever had and still one of the best. Its base is an amber ale made with smoked German malt. Jalapenos are added at various stages in the brewing process giving this beer the perfect amount of heat.
  • Noise Level: On the day that I went, it was the OG anniversary party so the inside and outside patio were packed. The noise level varies, with the pub being very crowded during special events (e.g. we haven’t been able to get into the Ugly Sweater/Christmas Vacation party at least twice) to very mellow around happy hour.
  • Overall Comfort: Assortment of small and large tables, nice bar top, even a couple of recliners back by the video game console. Bathrooms always very clean. Bartenders have never been anything less than friendly and attentive. TVs above the bar and a screen in the back for when they show movies. The ripped jeans would be fine.
  • Food: Sandwiches, snacks, also Sprecher soda on tap and Calder Dairy ice cream
  • Special Events: On Wednesdays you can find the Original Gravity Farmer’s Market featuring Zilke Vegetable Farms. Thursdays have Sporacle Live trivia and there is live music on Fridays during the summer months.
  • Newbie Beer: If it’s on tap, have your friend (or dad) try the Eazy-Duz-It IPA. It’s 4.8% so on the low side as far as craft beer goes but very easy drinking (as the name implies). I think of this beer as a lawnmower beer and I think even Dad would agree that he might have been able to drink one of these back in his mowing days. (He’d still be muttering about Miller though)

 
Stony Lake Brewing Company:

  • Standout Beer: Ole 50 Weight. What a Russian Imperial Stout should be—rich, thick, dark and brimming with chocolate yumminess.
  • Noise Level: Perfect to have a conversation with my husband.
  • Overall Comfort: Clean, friendly, would feel comfortable going in any time. We sat at the bar, but the tables looked nice. There were some outdoor tables as well.
  • Food: Carry in or order out; sometimes have food trucks on site.
  • Special Events: Live music and food trucks!
  • Newbie Beer: Working Man. A blonde ale with some hop profile that my dad would enjoy and manage to find all of the other UAW retirees in the immediate vicinity, instantly making friends with them all.

 
Salt Springs Brewery:

  • Standout beer: Oktoberfest. Perfectly to style and malty as all get out, this is the beer for me!
  • Noise level: It’s been noisy and crowded every time I have been there, which is good! Can make it a little hard to hear your date, so sit at the bar.
  • Overall Comfort: Absolutely gorgeous space! The attention to detail is second to none—just lovely! Everything is clean and sparkling. Much more restaurant aesthetic. The ripped jeans would have to live in the drawer with their tracksuit friends.
  • Food: Okay I know I said I wasn’t rating for taste but the food here is incredible. Full lunch and dinner menu includes poutine, truffle fries, flatbread pizzas, strip steak, sandwiches and desserts. I would put this up against most non-brewpub restaurants.
  • Special Events: Live music in the Biergarten on most Friday nights, Sporacle trivia on Thursdays, monthly Brushes & Brews (painting lessons by local aritsts)
  • Newbie Beer: The Kick Axe Kolsch. Light touch of honey and bit of hops in this crisp beer. My dad would start googling “Kolsch” in his phone at this point, possibly complaining that the phone I gave him doesn’t work right (it does, he’s just not on the wi-fi)

washtenaw county

Salt Springs Brewery


 
ABC Microbrewery/Corner:

  • Standout Beer: Will always be Espresso Love. The first coffee stout that I drank and still one of my favorites.
  • Noise Level: The beer garden is almost always a comfortable place to hang out and chat with, say, your new beau or new friend. Inside can get noisy, especially when there is live music playing.
  • Overall Comfort: The bartenders here are top notch but I may be biased since I know many of them. My ripped jeans would fit in perfectly as would most anything you show up in. While I do miss the couches and mismatches tables and chairs from the old days, I still enjoy sitting by the fireplace. There are games and books, too.
  • Food: The absolute best sandwich ever to ever exist is the TeacherPatti House Reuben—ha ha, just kidding. It is a good sandwich though. Since the kitchen makeover of a few years ago, the food game was upped quite a bit. Now in addition to the amazing Reuben, you can enjoy other sandwiches named after patrons (such as the IP-Amy’s Onion Rings and Archie’s Hog-Gobbler Club) along with salads, burgers, entrees, and pizza.
  • Special Events (music, trivia, etc.): live music on Mondays, live trivia on Wednesdays plus various weekend events
  • Newbie Beer: I imagine we’d start my dad on the Bollywood Blonde, a refreshing beer with a nice hint of orange to it. At this point, my dad would be more open to trying new beers and probably not notice the higher ABV and would now be making friends with people at the bar, showing them what his Smart Phone can do. He would also be sharing his vast trivia knowledge with our fellow patrons, whether they want him to or not.

 
Ypsilanti Ale House:

  • Standout Beer: Blue Racer. This honeywheat beer is made with all Michigan grown ingredients—blueberries, honey, wheat, barley, hops. Some fruit beers can get too heavy and syrupy and forget their base beer but not this one.
  • Noise Level: The main room is a pleasant level and there is also a smaller room one can go into for more intimate conversations. Music sounds great in here!
  • Overall Comfort: Clean and comfortable, very nice and experienced bartenders, would be comfortable in my jeans or a dressier outfit.
  • Food: A nice variety of bar snacks, burgers, sandwiches, small plates
  • Special Events (music, trivia, etc.): Dart league on Wednesdays, live music on Sundays (bluegrass, Irish jam), trivia on Sundays is paired with a weekly dinner special!
  • Newbie Beer: Pottawatomi Trail Ale. This light session pale ale has local hops and is low enough in ABV such that one can drink several. My dad has now purchased the bar. We all go home happy.

 
So as you can see, no matter where you go you will find friendly people and great beer! Come on down to the Washtenaw county and check it out!
 

washtenaw county

Washtenaw County is blessed with many things—beautiful downtowns, spacious parks, green space, and a wide variety of brewpubs for our drinking pleasure. This article will examine the six non-Ann Arbor pubs—Chelsea Alehouse, Original Gravity, Ypsi Alehouse, Arbor Brewing Company Microbrewery (the Corner), Salt Springs, and Stony Lake Brewing Company (I’m including Jolly Pumpkin in part two, don’t worry!)

To keep things organized, I looked at six different factors

  • The standout beer (very subjective, of course)
  • The noise level (standard: could you have a first date here and hear the person?)
  • Overall comfort (things like whether the bathrooms are clean, variety of places to sit, friendly bartenders, would I wear my jeans that ripped over the summer but hey the 90s are back or would I put on something nicer)
  • Food (not rated for taste necessarily—just what they have)
  • Special Events (music, trivia, etc.)
  • The beer a newbie craft beer drinker should have—in other words, what would my dad get?

Note that I visited these brewpubs over the span of several weeks and beer selections may have changed. Similarly, the noise level may differ depending on when you go.

 

Chelsea Alehouse:

  • Standout Beer: The Holz Hausen Smoked Porter. Brewed with cherry wood smoked malt, this robust porter hits the drinker with smoke and then mellows into a rich porter. If this were a song, it would be a jazz standard sung in a jazz bar before the Michigan smoking ban.
  • Noise Level: At midday on a sunny Saturday, the brewpub had a lot of people in it but managed not to be extremely noisy so one could comfortably have met a first date here or had a business meeting. My friend and I went outside and there were only two other people there so it was perfect for us to shoot the breeze.
  • Overall Comfort: Short wait to get bartenders’ attention, bathrooms very clean, lots of booths and spots at the bar along with delightful outdoor patio. Air conditioning level optimal. Ripped jeans would be fine but so would a skirt or dress.
  • Food: Variety of appetizers, sandwiches, with a couple of entrees and salads. The soft pretzels come straight from the Chelsea Bakery and pair nicely with the pub cheese.
  • Special Events: First and third Tuesdays feature trivia, the bluegrass band Thunderwude plays on Wednesdays, live music on Fridays, Sundays feature Celtic jam sessions, live jazz or a song circle where one can enjoy local musicians or join in and play along with them!
  • Newbie Beer: Session IPA. Many newcomers to craft beer gravitate to IPAs, and this session beer has a lower ABV (4.5%) that offers the drinker just enough hoppiness with low alcohol.  My dad would drink this with only a small grimace, asking again about why this place doesn’t have Miller.

 

Original Gravity Brewing Company:

  • Standout Beer: 440 Pepper Smoker. The first smoked beer I ever had and still one of the best. Its base is an amber ale made with smoked German malt. Jalapenos are added at various stages in the brewing process giving this beer the perfect amount of heat.
  • Noise Level: On the day that I went, it was the OG anniversary party so the inside and outside patio were packed. The noise level varies, with the pub being very crowded during special events (e.g. we haven’t been able to get into the Ugly Sweater/Christmas Vacation party at least twice) to very mellow around happy hour.
  • Overall Comfort: Assortment of small and large tables, nice bar top, even a couple of recliners back by the video game console. Bathrooms always very clean. Bartenders have never been anything less than friendly and attentive. TVs above the bar and a screen in the back for when they show movies. The ripped jeans would be fine.
  • Food: Sandwiches, snacks, also Sprecher soda on tap and Calder Dairy ice cream
  • Special Events: On Wednesdays you can find the Original Gravity Farmer’s Market featuring Zilke Vegetable Farms. Thursdays have Sporacle Live trivia and there is live music on Fridays during the summer months.
  • Newbie Beer: If it’s on tap, have your friend (or dad) try the Eazy-Duz-It IPA. It’s 4.8% so on the low side as far as craft beer goes but very easy drinking (as the name implies). I think of this beer as a lawnmower beer and I think even Dad would agree that he might have been able to drink one of these back in his mowing days. (He’d still be muttering about Miller though)

 

Stony Lake Brewing Company:

  • Standout Beer: Ole 50 Weight. What a Russian Imperial Stout should be—rich, thick, dark and brimming with chocolate yumminess.
  • Noise Level: Perfect to have a conversation with my husband.
  • Overall Comfort: Clean, friendly, would feel comfortable going in any time. We sat at the bar, but the tables looked nice. There were some outdoor tables as well.
  • Food: Carry in or order out; sometimes have food trucks on site.
  • Special Events: Live music and food trucks!
  • Newbie Beer: Working Man. A blonde ale with some hop profile that my dad would enjoy and manage to find all of the other UAW retirees in the immediate vicinity, instantly making friends with them all.

 

Salt Springs Brewery:

  • Standout beer: Oktoberfest. Perfectly to style and malty as all get out, this is the beer for me!
  • Noise level: It’s been noisy and crowded every time I have been there, which is good! Can make it a little hard to hear your date, so sit at the bar.
  • Overall Comfort: Absolutely gorgeous space! The attention to detail is second to none—just lovely! Everything is clean and sparkling. Much more restaurant aesthetic. The ripped jeans would have to live in the drawer with their tracksuit friends.
  • Food: Okay I know I said I wasn’t rating for taste but the food here is incredible. Full lunch and dinner menu includes poutine, truffle fries, flatbread pizzas, strip steak, sandwiches and desserts. I would put this up against most non-brewpub restaurants.
  • Special Events: Live music in the Biergarten on most Friday nights, Sporacle trivia on Thursdays, monthly Brushes & Brews (painting lessons by local aritsts)
  • Newbie Beer: The Kick Axe Kolsch. Light touch of honey and bit of hops in this crisp beer. My dad would start googling “Kolsch” in his phone at this point, possibly complaining that the phone I gave him doesn’t work right (it does, he’s just not on the wi-fi)
washtenaw county

Salt Springs Brewery

 

ABC Microbrewery/Corner:

  • Standout Beer: Will always be Espresso Love. The first coffee stout that I drank and still one of my favorites.
  • Noise Level: The beer garden is almost always a comfortable place to hang out and chat with, say, your new beau or new friend. Inside can get noisy, especially when there is live music playing.
  • Overall Comfort: The bartenders here are top notch but I may be biased since I know many of them. My ripped jeans would fit in perfectly as would most anything you show up in. While I do miss the couches and mismatches tables and chairs from the old days, I still enjoy sitting by the fireplace. There are games and books, too.
  • Food: The absolute best sandwich ever to ever exist is the TeacherPatti House Reuben—ha ha, just kidding. It is a good sandwich though. Since the kitchen makeover of a few years ago, the food game was upped quite a bit. Now in addition to the amazing Reuben, you can enjoy other sandwiches named after patrons (such as the IP-Amy’s Onion Rings and Archie’s Hog-Gobbler Club) along with salads, burgers, entrees, and pizza.
  • Special Events (music, trivia, etc.): live music on Mondays, live trivia on Wednesdays plus various weekend events
  • Newbie Beer: I imagine we’d start my dad on the Bollywood Blonde, a refreshing beer with a nice hint of orange to it. At this point, my dad would be more open to trying new beers and probably not notice the higher ABV and would now be making friends with people at the bar, showing them what his Smart Phone can do. He would also be sharing his vast trivia knowledge with our fellow patrons, whether they want him to or not.

 

Ypsilanti Ale House:

  • Standout Beer: Blue Racer. This honeywheat beer is made with all Michigan grown ingredients—blueberries, honey, wheat, barley, hops. Some fruit beers can get too heavy and syrupy and forget their base beer but not this one.
  • Noise Level: The main room is a pleasant level and there is also a smaller room one can go into for more intimate conversations. Music sounds great in here!
  • Overall Comfort: Clean and comfortable, very nice and experienced bartenders, would be comfortable in my jeans or a dressier outfit.
  • Food: A nice variety of bar snacks, burgers, sandwiches, small plates
  • Special Events (music, trivia, etc.): Dart league on Wednesdays, live music on Sundays (bluegrass, Irish jam), trivia on Sundays is paired with a weekly dinner special!
  • Newbie Beer: Pottawatomi Trail Ale. This light session pale ale has local hops and is low enough in ABV such that one can drink several. My dad has now purchased the bar. We all go home happy.

 

So as you can see, no matter where you go you will find friendly people and great beer! Come on down to the Washtenaw county and check it out!

 


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