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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.

peak

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

The traditional 20th anniversary gift is something platinum. But when Arbor Brewing Company celebrated its 20th anniversary this weekend, it gave us what it has been giving us for two decades: beer!

Twenty years ago, the brewpub opened on Washington Street in downtown Ann Arbor. Today, thanks largely to the anchoring of Arbor Brewing Company (and Grizzly Peak), the street boasts restaurants, a chocolate shop, an independent bookstore, a barbecue restaurant/brewpub, whiskey bar and many other delights. On July 31, the street was closed down and a grand 20th anniversary party was held. The event was basically what you would expect from the friendly bar: good music, good eats from food trucks and great beer.

When asked for the first three things that come to mind on this momentous day, owner-operator Rene Greff said, “Wow! Well, first, Jim “Mr. Largebeat” Gertz has been washing dishes for us (among other things) since the day we opened and we were thrilled to see him return to work after winning the fight against leukemia! Second, we have a freakin’ brewpub in India! And third…who ever would have guessed back in the mid ’90s that we would be surviving and thriving 20 years later – certainly not us!”

This is our final preview of David Bardallis‘ upcoming book, “Ann Arbor Beer: A Hoppy History of Tree Town Brewing.” Below is an excerpt from the book, slated to be released Aug. 27. To pre-order David’s book, please visit Amazon.com.

Every end contains within it the seeds of a new beginning, as the old saying goes. One Monday morning, a twenty-four-year-old sporting a beard and a backpack popped into the Real Ale Company and woke Ted Badgerow where he slept on the floor. They sat on an old sofa together and smoked while the young man asked questions about beer and brewing for a few hours before leaving to hitchhike his way back to Kalamazoo. Three years later, Larry Bell took what he learned from Badgerow (as well as some equipment he bought from the failed Real Ale Company) and founded the brewery that today bears his name.

“I was homebrewing a lot, watching what they were doing, buying beer from them, definitely interested in what they had going on,” remembered Bell. At the time, he was living at a group house on Washtenaw Avenue while he worked at various Ann Arbor restaurants and waited to start a job at a friend’s new jazz club, the Bird of Paradise, that was supposed to open soon.

“I didn’t have a car back then, but I sometimes borrowed my girlfriend’s to drive down to the Fink Brothers homebrew supply store in Dundee,” remembered Bell. “The Bird of Paradise ended up not opening until a few years later, and I had better opportunities in Kalamazoo, so I moved back.”

By the time he started the then Kalamazoo Brewing Company, Bell had acquired Badgerow’s thirty-gallon soup kettle. “I gave Ted $100 for it,” he said. “We used it only as a mash tun in our three-vessel, one-barrel system because there were no controls on it.”

Bell’s has, of course, grown a wee bit from its initial production of 135 barrels. It’s now the seventh-largest craft brewery (fourteenth largest overall) by sales volume in the country, producing more than 200,000 barrels annually and distributing such wildly popular beers as Oberon and Two- Hearted ales in eighteen states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.

Over the next three weeks, we’ll be previewing David Bardallis‘ upcoming book, “Ann Arbor Beer: A Hoppy History of Tree Town Brewing.” Below is an excerpt from the book, slated to be released Aug. 27. To pre-order David’s book, please visit Amazon.com.

Iggy Pop is not the only famous Ann Arbor musician to request beer for his performances. Just before his 1975 album Beautiful Loser launched his career into the stratosphere, all Bob Seger wanted from one concert promoter was a six-pack of Heineken for his tour bus. Unfortunately for Seger, there was no beer to be found at the rustic outdoor venue. It had all just been dumped into a nearby lake during a police raid.

That concert promoter, Robert Jr Whitall, remembered the event very well. “It took place on August 9, 1974, the day Richard Nixon resigned,” he said. Today, Whitall runs Big City Rhythm & Blues magazine from Royal Oak, but he was “just a poor college kid” when he and his late friend Steve Post had the idea to throw a “big barn dance party” on the Ypsilanti Township farm where Post lived. The farm, adjoining Ford Lake, was being sold, and a party seemed like a good way to say goodbye to the property. But it was to be no ordinary party.

“I used to golf with Bob Seger’s manager, Punch Andrews,” recalled Whitall. “Bob agreed to come play at our barn party, and it turned out to be his last gig before he hit the big time.”

Whitall and Post lined up three other bands — the Rabbits, the Martian Entropy Band and the Rockets—and printed up flyers to distribute around Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti advertising their “Barn Dance for All the Animals.” “Five dollars a head, all the beer you could drink, and Bob Seger: what’s not to like?” Mike Gould of the Martian Entropy Band remembered in a 2007 Ann Arbor Observer article.

The barn, being a barn, had no power, so Whitall’s crew ran a cable out to illegally tap an electrical box on the side of Textile Road. They bought 40 kegs of beer — Whitall believes it was Molson Canadian — and 40 cases of wine and set it all up in a picnic area on top of a hill. Whitall’s fiancée collected the five-dollar “donations” from cars as they drove up the dirt road, though as Whitall recalled, most of the “immense crowd” parked across a field and just walked in for free.

The first two bands went on, then Seger took the stage and everything seemed to be going well, at least until Whitall looked out the window of the farmhouse where he was sitting and saw cops coming up the road. Someone had reported the party to the state police and the Liquor Control Commission to boot.

“We didn’t have a liquor license, but that’s why we asked for donations,” recalled Whitall. “We weren’t selling beer, and our lawyer had said that would be fine.” The cops would have none of it, so Whitall made a decision. “I sent a runner up the hill and told him to throw the kegs in the lake,” he said. “If we couldn’t have them, the cops weren’t going to get them either.”

Gould remembered being in the barn loft helping put on the light show behind Seger when he looked out and saw people rolling kegs of beer down the hill and into Ford Lake with a splash. Steve Post and Whitall’s lawyer were hauled off by the cops, but the party continued, beer-free.

Shortly after, Seger’s set was over, and he asked for his Heineken. “I had to scramble to find someone who could go get him the beer so we could satisfy his rider,” remembered Whitall. “But he stuck around for the Rockets, and it was great seeing him dancing in the barn — it was such a low-key and wonderful event.”

Local legend has long held that the kegs of beer are still lying somewhere at the bottom of the lake, but Whitall said that the police came back later with a dive team to retrieve them. And a court eventually ruled that the cops had no right to bust the barn dance in the first place, but as Whitall wryly noted, “That ruling didn’t do us any good 10 years later.”