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.
“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!”
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