Eat! Lansing

June 15, 2009

Michigan’s Cornucopia of Beer

Filed under: Uncategorized — dkastner @ 10:00 pm

One of Michigan’s best kept secrets is its wonderful contingent of microbreweries.  Michigan has a high number of breweries per capita among US states, trailing only behind Wisconsin (home of Milwaukee’s breweries), the Rocky Mountain states (home of Coors), the Pacific Northwest (where most domestic hops are grown), and the far northeast.  Microbreweries and brewpubs were quite common before prohibition.  Many of the German immigrants into Michigan brought their beer garden culture and lager beers with them.  Yet Michigan enacted prohibition laws two years before the 18th amendment was passed and Detroit was the first major city to go completely dry.  After prohibition, many of the small breweries were wiped out and large national breweries, such as Budweiser, picked up the demand and were able to outsell the micros due to better economies of scale.  1978 was a turning point as legal restrictions on microbrewing were relaxed and a home brewing movement began.  Michigan’s craft brewing scene didn’t really take off until the 90’s as laws were relaxed.  However, given that it has only been a couple of decades, Michigan’s modern brewing scene is outstanding.

Within 100 miles of Lansing you will find 80% of the state’s breweries – a perfect reason to take a quick road trip! In the Lansing area alone, you’ll find Harper’s Brewpub in East Lansing, the Travelers Club International Restaurant and Tuba Museum in Okemos, and the Michigan Brewing Company in Webberville.

When most people think of beer, the first thing that comes to mind is the stuff that tastes like liquefied Corn Flakes sold under national labels. It’s no coincidence that corn (cheaper than wheat, barley, etc.) is a major ingredient in many of these brands. They are marketed toward those who see beer as a means to an end rather than a matter of quality or taste. But beer can be an enjoyable, tasty drink and it comes in so many varieties. Each brewery in Michigan reflects on its owner’s style and creativity, the location, and the type of ingredients used. Each brewpub also has its own unique atmosphere.

If you’re in the Lansing area and you want a good start, head over to the Michigan Brewing Company in Webberville.  My favorite offering is their Celis White, a Belgian-style ale that has a sweet, floral, fruity taste.  Their brown ale (a more nutty, carmel flavor) is also very good. The brewpub lacks atmosphere as its situated in the middle of an industrial park next to a major ADM grain terminal and the interior decor is just as sterile. However, it is far outweighed by the quality of beer. I’m also trying not to hold a grudge over the fact that Kid Rock has asked MBC to brew a special, state tax subsidized beer that he wants to taste like Coors Light.

I have yet to taste the offerings at Harper’s and the Traveler’s Club.  But here are a few suggestions as you branch out further from Lansing:

  • Dark Horse Brewery, Marshall, MI. This cozy hole in the wall (don’t blink or you’ll drive right past it) offers some innovative flavors, such as their blueberry stout.
  • Arcadia Brewery, Battle Creek. They specialize in British-style ales.
  • Bell’s Brewery, Kalamazoo. The most popular local brand in Michigan with their “Oberon” wheat beer.  Personally, I am sick of Oberon, especially after having a skunky batch (on tap, even!) not too long ago.
  • Ann Arbor Brewing Company, Ann Arbor. Well respected around Ann Arbor. Of note is their recent launch of a Belgian style ale.  I’ve tried their alt beer and it has a very dark, tobacco flavor.
  • Corner Brewery, Ypsilanti. A great place to hang out – plenty of couches and a patio in the back yard.
  • New Holland Brewing Company, Holland. So far, I’ve only tried their Dragon Stout and it was very good.

Note that over time, breweries tend to change up their offerings as they try new flavors. Many brewpubs offer samplers of each of their beers, a major advantage to visiting them rather than buying off the store shelf. I should also mention that Horrock’s and Goodrich’s are excellent places to find Michigan beers.

Another great resource is the Lansing City Market where Matergala stand.  The owner knows a great deal about brewing and is a great resource, especially if you’re home-brewing.

Have fun enjoying the beers of Michigan!

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