Grizzly Peak is one of the pioneer brewpubs in Ann Arbor, MI. Along with Arbor Brewing Company, it anchors Washington Street in downtown in a way that beer drinkers might be tempted to take for granted. But make no mistake—even after 21 years in the business, this landmark brewpub continues offering outstanding beer and food.
In Ann Arbor’s early days, the Peak’s part of town belonged to the Germans. They settled this town and brought with them their brewing recipes. Names like Metzger, Staebler, and Wagner dominated this area with their shops, hotels, and breweries. The names have changed, but this corner still offers great beer.
A warm and friendly atmosphere greets you the moment you walk through the door. You can see the chefs cooking the meals, fire from the grill sometimes flaming up in a spectacular show. There is lots of wood and exposed brick, reminiscent of beer halls in old Bavaria. The tin pressed ceiling reminds you that this is a historic building in a historic part of town. In the room to your right is the shiny bar lined with alcohol, pint glasses, and growlers—all waiting for you! Next to that room is a quieter dining area. Step back outside and peek into the window to see the brewing equipment, gleaming in the sunlight.
If your timing is right, you might see long-time head brewer Duncan Williams at work with that equipment. Williams studied at the Siebel Institution (the oldest brewing school in the United States), and began his career at CJ’s Brewing Company. Beginning in 2001, he served as assistant brewer to Ron Jeffries (now owner of the Jolly Pumpkin empire) before becoming the head brewer. Under his tutelage, the brewery turns out some of the most consistently tasty beers in the area.
Williams had a lot to be proud of, but says he is particularly pleased with the success of the Sheerwater IPA. “I was going to do an American IPA,” Williams says. “But at some point I started looking into the original IPAs—the English ones. I came up with the recipe, and it has been on hand pull for close to ten years now.”
Of the other house beers, Williams notes that the Victor’s Gold is also a favorite. “I changed it into more of a hoppy Kolsch style beer. It’s considered a gateway beer, but I put in additional hops at the end of the brew to give it more bitterness. It has European spicy hops, lending to a more estery pilsner.” This is especially good for those new to craft beer because “they might be turned off by the bitterness. So I backed off on that, and increased the hop profile.”
The brewery has expanded over the years, most notably to include the Den, which is located in the space formerly occupied by the Del Rio. Williams recalls that the last night at the “Del” was New Year’s Eve of 2003. “The next year, we knocked holes in the walls and put in the new bar.” More recently, the owners opened the Old German, which also features the Peak’s brews. (Long time Ann Arborites will remember the bar with the same name that operated from 1928 until 1995).
But it’s not all about the past at Grizzly Peak. Williams is excited about his summer beers that are coming up, including the El Hefe. This beer screams summer, delivering a big hit of honey, banana, and pear.
Williams will again brew a series of table beers—light, easy drinking beers that weigh in at about 3.5% ABV but retain the outstanding taste of a heavier beer. “These types of beers go back to the days when municipalities were not treating their water,” Williams explains. “So you made beer, cider, or wine to keep it safe. The lower alcohol let you drink more of the beer, without getting the effects that come with higher ABVs.”
This year, he is brewing Ms. Havisham’s Table Ale. It would be safe to say that we should have Great Expectations for this beer, as it will be a bitter with East Kent Golding hops and measure about 3% ABV.
All of the beers at Grizzly Peak can easily be paired with their tasty food. Try the Bear Paw Porter with a chocolate dessert or Urban War Bear IPA with a cheesy, wood-fired pizza. And save room for the polenta fries and cheddar ale soup.
Grizzly Peak remains a solid, reliable brewpub in an increasingly crowded scene. Olympic champion Greg Louganis once said that, in sports, people reach their peak very early. Happily, that is not true in brewing, and we have much to look forward to from Grizzly Peak!
Photography: Erik Smith