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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

ANN ARBOR – When Grizzly Peak Brewing Co. opened in August 1995, it was just one of seven breweries in Michigan (including nearby Arbor Brewing Co., which opened one month earlier). Two decades later, as Michigan prepares to exceed 200 breweries, the state’s top-selling brewpub is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a hopped-up new beer, XX Pale Ale, brewed on June 25.

“We used the same amount of grain and hops as we use for a normal 14-barrel batch of our house pale ale, but we’re brewing only seven barrels, effectively creating a concentrated version,” explained Duncan Williams, head brewer. “It will be an extra strength pale ale, really malty and hoppy, coming out at around 7.5% ABV.”

Williams was joined in brewing the beer by a number of notable former Grizzly Peak brewers, including Sean Brennan of Original Gravity Brewing in Milan; Nathan Hukill, founder of Bitter Old Fecker Rustic Ales in Chelsea; Tim Schmidt, co-founder of Tecumseh Brewing Co. in Tecumseh; and Oliver Roberts, head brewer at Wolverine State Brewing, also in Ann Arbor. Ron Jeffries, founder of Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales in Dexter, and Stacey Roth, a brewer at Griffin Claw Brewing in Birmingham, were originally scheduled to attend but were unable to make it.

“I learned a ton here,” said Hukill, who brewed at Grizzly from 2012 to 2013. “It’s the Duncan School of Brewing so many have gone through. I don’t know where I’d be now if I hadn’t come here first.”

“I can’t really say why we’ve served as a sort of launch pad for so many successful brewers,” said Williams. “One reason is probably that we’re such a hands-on brewery, so those who come here really get a taste of what it’s like to be a brewer and either fall in love with it or move on to something else.”

The brew pub’s influence also extends well beyond Michigan. Other Grizzly alumni who have gone on to open their own breweries include Kevin Bloom (Manchester Brewing and Area 23 Nanobrewery, both in New Hampshire), Jeff Hancock (D.C. Brau in Washington, D.C.), and Will Lawson (Naples Beach Brewery in Naples, Florida).

XX Pale Ale will be tapped in August in time for Grizzly’s anniversary street party, exact date TBD. A sneak preview will be available at the Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival, July 24-25.

COMSTOCK PARK — The end of winter in Michigan means only one thing — Winter Beer Fest. Despite the coldest February on record (we checked), the additional organization required to shape the first ever two-day version of the event and brief issues with frozen tap lines, the 10th annual Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival was one to remember.

Over 100 breweries from around Michigan descended on Fifth Third Ballpark on Friday and Saturday.  Easily navigable rows of breweries were flanked by merchandise and tokens, food and an ample amount of porta johns (very important).

The flow of this year’s fest was wonderful, and even though it was packed with a sell-out crowd on Saturday, it never seemed like the lines were too long or any one tent too crowded. The Michigan Brewers Guild festival teams did an excellent job making sure everything moved smoothly in all aspects.

Navigating and visiting with all of our favorite breweries was almost impossible, but we did get the opportunity to talk to the good folks from many wonderful places across the state.

Brewery Vivant: Kate Avery, designated Abbess of Beer was on hand. She poured the brewery’s newly tapped ‘Sous Chef’ — a Red Wine Barrel Aged Belgian Inspired Strong Ale — essentially their popular ‘Escoffier’ base, but not aged on a brett yeast.

“This beer is super complex, and even despite the cold temperatures, you’re able to taste the bold flavors,” shared Avery.

Another popular favorite was the Wizard Burial Ground, a Bourbon Barrel Aged Quad that comes in at 10.4% ABV. Notes of vanilla and oak from the long cellaring are pleasantly present, and, lucky us, it’s now available in cans.

BarFly Ventures — Grand Rapids Brewing Company (GRBC) and HopCat: Grand Rapids staples, both HopCat and GRBC brought some award winners for the crowd. Distinguished Eagle from GRBC, which won a silver medal at the World Beer Cup, is a totally organic imperial stout, aged in Woodford Reserve barrels. Strong notes of vanilla, and cherry are readily assessable, and it was a tasty treat and a nice warm up on a cold (very cold) day.

Another award winner was HopCat’s Red Nymph, a Flanders Red with a nice slightly sour, tart cherry note.

Jake Brenner, Head Brewer for BarFly, said the pubs made sure to select tasty, high gravity beers to help keep everyone warm. The cold did present some problems though. “It’s been really laid back and a lot of fun, but one of the jockey boxes froze up Friday. So far, today everything is looking gorgeous.”

Northern United Brewing — Jolly Pumpkin and North Peak: Jolly Pumpkin always brings something unique to the table, and this year was no exception. Sour beers are its game, and some include its variety of Sasions — Sasion X, brewed with candied ginger, orange and lemon peel, and a blend of peppercorns was a standout — a nice citrusy, ginger flavor with that wild yeast, Jolly Pumpkin signature ‘funk’, we know and love.

North Peak brought a lot of signatures, and Maylem — a Midwest heavy/old ale from its Grizzly Peak Imperial Series. North Peak’s taproom will host this particular beer, aged in run barrels, soon, so that’s something to look forward to.

Folks in Detroit should also be on the look-out for a Jolly Pumpkin build-out sometime in April.

Newer breweries were showcasing its wears as well, and MittenBrew had the chance to visit three of the WBF newbies.

Railtown Brewing: This might be the newest of the new; this brewery in Caledonia opened its doors in December of 2014. Jim Lee, Co-Founder, let us explore the selection and gave us some insight in to what Railtown is all about.

“We brought a lot of our mainstays to show off what we do on a normal basis, along with some fun one-offs,” says Lee. “Our Citra Warrior (an imperial IPA) is very popular in our tap room right now. We are stylistic brewers, and don’t do a lot of heavy adjuncts — clean flavored, medium-style beers, nothing over the edge. We are definitely a small town brewery with a loyal local clientele, and that’s what we want to be.”

Pigeon Hill: Who doesn’t want to drink something called Wild Rumpus? A barrel aged Flanders Red, this beer has a wonderful complexity, fruit notes and sour notes have a great balance.

Chad Doane, co-owner and head brewer, let us in on Pigeon Hill’s philosophy.

“We want to make delicious beer. We keep it simple, but use that classic base and do something funky with it. Pigeon Hill is about community, and our pub has a coffee shop feel. The space is for adults and their families. We want it to be a place the community (of Muskegon) can come and hang out in.”

Other interesting riffs on classics include the Walter Goes to Bang Coq Blonde Ale, brewed with Thai chilies and lemongrass — a little heat, peppery bite and gingered spice.

Territorial Brewing: This very new, Battle Creek-centric German influenced brewery brought a lot of their staples to showcase at their first WBF. Nick Yuill, Brewer at Territorial, shared its Spedunkel, a traditional style Munich Dunkel and their Red Headed Rauchstar, a ginger Rauchbier — a little twist on the classic.

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The consensus by attendees? Great beer, all around, with IPAs and Imperial Stouts ruling the day.

Some standouts mentioned frequently included White Flame’s Black Flame, an Imperial Stout and perennial favorites by Kuhnhenn and Griffin Claw, so we had to visit a few of those booths too.

Griffin Claw Brewing Company: Its booth was hopping, so apparently word got around. Project Clementine seemed to be a favorite of the weekend — a double IPA with clementines added during the mash.

The Birmingham brewery plans to double in production in the next year, and also distribute state-wide.

Kuhnhenn Brewing Company: “It’s amazing,” says Eric Kuhnhenn, co-owner. “For being so cold out and this many people attending. There’s over a thousand different beers here, the camaraderie — it’s great.”

Kuhnhenn likes to do a lot of aged beers, and brings at least one every year to WBF. This time, it was a Russian Imperial Stout.

“It’s a big robust stout aged on bourbon barrels for almost a year,” explains Eric.

The Crème Brule Java Stout was also well received by many people we talked to. Kuhnhenn tends towards the higher ABV, and Eric shares why. “We found out we could get more complexity, more flavors, this way.”

Kuhnhenn wants to put in the time, the effort, to take the old stylistic types of beer and take it one step further. Recall its ever-popular Raspberry Eisbock?

If you weren’t able to attend this year, we leave you with the words of Brad and Kevin — home brewers and frequent festival attendees.

“This is the first year that we came in with an Enthusiast membership pass. We were always jealously looking at the people who got in early. Everyone should do that, you have time to get in and don’t feel rushed.”

Other, timely advice: “Get your ticket as early as you can. Dress warm. You can never have enough clothes on, and, of course, wear shoes that don’t get wet! If you are coming from out of town, book your hotel in advanced and stay safe — arrange for transportation to get you here.”

Despite the cold and ever pervasive Michigan wild winters, the WBF continues to be one of the most well attended. Perhaps Vivant’s Kate Avery best sums up the popularity of the event: “The Michigan Beer Scene conquers all.”