Michigan Beer Vacation

This year’s KBS tap room release day, just so happened to coincide with my Spring Break.  And since we were already going to be driving 4 hours to Grand Rapids, Michigan, we figured, why not go a few days early and drive the extra 2 hours up to Traverse City.  Our plan was to hit North Peak, Right Brain, and Shorts.  A few days before we were supposed to leave, I also read on Facebook that Kuhnhenn, which is sort of near Detroit had cases of their Raspberry Eisbock on sale.  So, we added that stop to our trip.  Add in a couple of great food locations and bars, and we had a fantastically fun, really full 4 day vacation.

All reviews below will be written in the order that we visited.  Founders and the KBS release will not be discussed in this post.

Day 1

Kuhnhenn Brewing Company

Kuhnhenn Brewing is located in Warren, Michigan. They have a very interesting story that I suggest you check out at their website. http://www.kbrewery.com/index.html But, for the Cliff’s Notes version…the Kuhnhenn’s ran a small hardware store until big box stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s moved into town. When they couldn’t afford to keep their family-run store open any longer, they turned to doing what they loved and what was the craze at the time in Michigan, beer.  With a home brew supply store and a large brew pub, Kuhnhenn has made a name for itself.  It was a no brainer to stop at this brewery to drink some beer on tap and to buy some great tasting, much sought after beer to take home with us.

After driving for around 2 hours, when we got there, Steve had to use the restroom. He asked me to buy a case of the Kuhnhenn Raspberry Eisbock (KRE) and then wait for him.  The brewery was also having a March Meadness event. Every day in March, they released a different flavor of mead.  So while he was distracted, I also picked out 8 different meads to buy.  When he came back, it was a funny/awkward moment, but he quickly added 4 bottles of Fourth Dementia to the box to fill out all 12 slots.  At this point, we haven’t tried any of the meads yet.

We then sat at the bar and had a few beers.  The beer was fantastic.  Steve had a KRE on draft, I had Kaptain Krunchberries and the Strawberry Panty Dropper.  Neither of these options is my usual style and they ended up being sweeter than I liked, but I just couldn’t pass up on the names.  Steve also had an Imperial Creme Brulee Java Stout, which was more java than sweet, and a DRIPA.  Their DRIPA was amazing.  I suggest ordering that if you are stopping at Kuhnhenn’s.  Their draft list is constantly changing though with around 20 options on tap at any time.  I can’t comment on the atmosphere, as we arrived at 11:30AM on a Wednesday afternoon.

Clarkston Union

We then headed over to Clarkston Union which was about 30 minutes away, although still in the correct direction for Traverse City.  Clarkston Union was on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.  If you watch that show, you will remember that it is the bar that is inside a former church that is located in the city where Kid Rock currently lives.  They are famous for their macaroni and cheese and other comfort food.  While we didn’t drink there, because we still had 3 1/2 hours to drive, the beer list was lengthy and there were some good options available. Steve had a full mac & cheese.  I had the meatloaf and a half mac.  And here I shall proclaim to all who read this blog, that this hands-down was the best mac & cheese I have eaten in my life.  There was a hard crumb crust that you had to break through and then the perfectly cooked and cheesy noodles were there for the devouring.  Go there.  Get the mac & cheese.  That is all.

Right Brain

After arriving in Traverse City a few hours later, we decided to hit Right Brain for the evening.  We walked the 1.5 miles from our hotel to what appeared to be a warehouse from the outside. But inside, it has some of the coolest/most interesting space that I have ever seen in a brewery.  For starters, it is huge.  There are tons of little seating sections for groups to enjoy.  The typical tables, but also fun chairs: old dentist chairs, salon chairs, etc.  The artwork is very modern, a life size Darth Vader is hanging behind the ceiling directly behind the bar, and there is a sit-down Ms. Pac-Man video game.  I wouldn’t say it was packed, but tables were full, there was a great vibe, and business at the bar was steady.  I started with a sampler and Steve ordered a Steve.  Go figure.

There are 3 categories of beer at Right Brain. Classic, Signature, and Premiums.  Premiums can’t be ordered as part of the sampler, but you can order samples of Premiums.  Think about that one for a while.  Anyway, of the 6 samples that I had, some were average and a few were great, like the Firestarter, which is a Chipotle Porter.  The Steve, an Imperial Brown, was fantastic.  I then had a couple of Premium samples, the Igor Takes a Digger and the Pecan Pie Whole, and they were also very delicious.  The bartenders let customers try before ordering and we tried a few more that were also good.

The bartenders were fun and really nice/knowledgeable guys.  Ryan took us on a quick tour of the brewery. Right now, they have a ton of room for expansion.  So look for that to occur in the next few years or so.  Right Brain doesn’t really have food, per se.  You are allowed to bring in food from outside locations, and they have some snacks.  We ordered the chips and hummus and received an entire bag of tortilla chips and an entire tub of hummus.  Which at first we laughed at, and then devoured them both until there was nothing left.

Right Brain is a great place to visit in Traverse City.  Good beer and a great vibe. Definitely add it to your list.

7 Monks Taproom

We then hit a newer craft beer bar downtown.  We didn’t stay long, as it had been a long day.  Their tap list mainly consisted of Trappists, Belgians, and Abbeys.  But there were a few locals as well.  We both had a beer from Greenbush, as they had been on tap for an event earlier in the week.  Greenbush is one of those breweries that has been hyped a lot.  And what we have sampled has been average to low-average.  My Living the Dream wasn’t any different, just meh. The staff was pretty busy, so we didn’t interact with them overly much.  The bar was full, but not too loud.  I’m not sure we would choose this bar again, but there aren’t a lot of options in Traverse City for nightlife, so it is possible that on another vacation, we would stop in for a few.

Day 2

North Peak

We decided to head to North Peak for lunch.  North Peak is known for making very drinkable, light beers.  Their beer list was broken down into 2 sections. There were the regulars (not their name), which were 5 of their beers that you can buy from distributors and are readily available, and the seasonals.  When we were there, they had 3 seasonals on tap.  Steve and I both started with a seasonal.  He had Peace, Love, and Chocolate which was a chocolate brown ale that was pretty good.  It was thicker than a typical brown ale and the chocolate was highly prevalent.  I had the Bunny Hop, which was an American IPA that was cask conditioned with oak and cacao nibs.  It was decent.  There was an oaky presence that wasn’t good and not overpowering, but there wasn’t a bite at the end, which I usually like.  I then ordered the Kald Nacht Dunkel.  I don’t typically like German lagers, but I gave this one a try.  It was actually really good.  The malty flavor was smooth and well balanced.  There wasn’t that typical German bitterness at the end.  Steve had the sampler of the 5 regulars.  While they were all fine, there wasn’t a lot to write home about.  Diabolical boasts aggressive hops.  While it was probably their best offering, I certainly wouldn’t call them aggressive.  It simply gave the beer a flavor, unlike some of their other options.

The food was underwhelming as well.  Steve ordered the White Cheddar Ale Soup.  It was bland.  I ordered the Potato and Gorgonzola soup special.  Also, bland.  When you order something with gorgonzola, you have a certain expectation about what it is going to taste like.  I’m guessing, that a teaspoon or less made it into my soup.  Hot sauce cured both of our soups.

Unfortunately, I have to be honest and say that I was disappointed in North Peak.  And it wasn’t so much for the beer or the food, instead it was for their choice to allow customers the option of ordering Budweiser, Corona, and Michelob Ultra.  As we were sitting at the bar, half of the people weren’t even drinking North Peak beers.  I understand that North Peak is a restaurant and the clientele of Traverse City is unique in that it is a resort town, but other breweries also have restaurants and also have a unique clientele, but they only serve their own beer or have guest taps.  In addition, North Peak beers are light.  That is what they do.  It pains me that they aren’t recommending their own Northern Light when someone orders a Michelob Ultra.

Short’s Brewing

For dinner, we drove the additional 45 minutes to Bellaire, Michigan, to visit Short’s.  We have been able to try a lot of Short’s beers at events, in bottles, from friends, etc. but the source is always the best place to taste a beer at its most fresh and therefore, most accurate to the brewer’s conception.  And Short’s is definitely a place where you want to taste what the brewer had in mind.  With beers named and tasting like Key Lime Pie, Bloody Beer (picture Bloody Mary), and Spruce Pilsner, the fresher you can taste them, the better they are going to taste.  Short’s beers typically don’t have a long shelf life as they use ingredients that aren’t often found in beer.

We pulled up to the bar at Short’s, and I immediately ordered a Joyous Almondo (their Almond Joy beer).  What a great start to my night.  It tasted exactly as it claimed, and not overly sweet.  We also ordered a pizza, which I added gorgonzola to in order to get over my disappointment from my soup.  The pizza was killer.  Get a pizza if you go to Short’s.  Steve ordered a Huma Lupa Licious, even though we have had this before.  Again, the key to Short’s is trying their beer fresh.  And trust me, it made a world of difference.  After my Almondo, I had the Prolonged Enjoyment, which is their earthy session ale.  I have had this weird craving for earthy beers lately and this one didn’t disappoint.  We had tried this from a bottle a few months earlier and I had only given it a 3 out of 5 on Untappd.  Fresh, it was definitely a 4, if not a 4.5.  The earthiness was present and mellow.  It was flavorful, but not enough that it tasted like dirt or that it would turn off people who aren’t used to that earthy flavor.  I really enjoyed it.  Steve got a sampler and we continued to find hit after hit.  While I didn’t necessarily love all of the samples, they were definitely what they claimed to be.  If you like good, unique beers, you need to get to Short’s.

The bartenders were fantastic.  As soon as we sat down, they introduced themselves by name and also asked for our names.  They were very friendly and made time to talk to us, even though it was pretty busy.  The place was nicely full for a Thursday evening.  There were some families in the side of the building where the bar wasn’t located, but mostly it was groups of people drinking and eating.

Day 3

Hop Cat

We left Traverse City and headed to Grand Rapids on Friday.  Our friends were driving up from Cleveland and we were going to hang out with them that evening.  So we thought we would visit some of the different bars in GR before they arrived to check out the tap/bottle lists.  Hop Cat didn’t have a great list. They had just had a Cider Fest and at least 8-10 of their selections were ciders and meads.  And what was coming on were beers that we have tried in the past.  However, they had a beer from Odd Side Ales that we had sort-of sampled at GABF and gone nuts over.  So we immediately claimed two bar seats and ordered up the Bourbon Barrel Mayan Mocha Stout.  At GABF, they did not have the Bourbon Barrel variety and we both loved the plain Mayan Mocha, so we were super excited to try the barrel aged variety.  It was exceptional.  The Mayan part of this stout was chipotle peppers which gave a great heat kick to the end.  The Mocha part, obviously was chocolatey coffee, which tamed down the heat with a smooth, creamy finish.  It was truly delicious.  We only had the one and then left to meet our friends.

Brewery Vivant

Vivant is only 10 minutes away from downtown Grand Rapids, and it is definitely worth the trip.  We had been here before, but I enjoyed it enough to be excited to visit again.  The beer list hadn’t changed much, unfortunately. However, the good news is that they are good at their regulars, which I highly recommend.  Their Farmhand, Triomphe, and Solitude are always on.  All three of them are great examples of their respective styles.  Then there are a few specialty beers and some strong ales.  Of the 4 Specialty beers listed, 2 had been on tap last time we visited. There are 2 Strong Ale offerings, both of which I had tried, and then the Wood-Aged Beer of the Day.  I ordered 4 samples, some of which I had tasted before but enjoyed.  Their beer is solid.  They live up to the styles.  While there isn’t a lot for me to say in terms of specific beer reviews, I definitely recommend trying Vivant beers if you haven’t yet.  Particularly the Farmhand.

We also ordered dinner.  I had a superb cheese plate.  Brewery Vivant works with local farms to bring in fresh ingredients.  Vivant is located in an old church.  There are large picnic-type tables throughout the brewery.  The atmosphere just lends to hanging out, drinking good beer, enjoying great conversation, and fun.

Pyramid Scheme

Back in GR, we stopped at Pyramid Scheme. This bar is known for carrying a lot of Short’s offerings and having tons of pinball tables.  We each ordered a different Short’s beer that we thoroughly enjoyed.  I am glad that they had some different selections as we had just been at Short’s the night before.  I had the Rye Not.  I really enjoy Rye beers and this one was a great choice.  The rye was definitely noticeable, but there was also a hint of sweetness at the end.  I’m not really sure where that came from, but I liked it.  Although it doesn’t bother me, and in fact I love it, sometimes the rye flavoring can be a bit overwhelming and might turn some people off.  Not the case in the Rye Not.  Pyramid was not busy, in fact there were probably only 15 people in the bar. But they have their own music venue in the back, and we could hear what sounded like more of a crowd back there.  However, we had to run to another location and left after the one beer.

Founders

We headed over to Founders to see what was on tap the night before the KBS release.  There weren’t a ton of interesting options.  Founders had 6 beers on tap that we can purchase on the shelf in Cleveland. The had 1 Class 2 offering and 0 Class 3 offerings.  The Class 2 was the Curmudgeon.  We all like that beer, but have tasted in multiple times.  Part of the fun of visiting breweries, in my opinion, is getting to taste some pub exclusives or at least beers that I have never had before. So we stuck with the offerings in Class 1 that we hadn’t had.  I had the Diamond Mountain Brown.  It was a good brown.  There wasn’t really any other noticeable flavors to me.  Maybe some nuttiness.  But I had consumed both the Frangelic Mountain Brown and the Sumatra Mountain Brown last year.  So I was expecting something big and bold.  This beer wasn’t.  Again, it was good, it just wasn’t great.  After another round of the same beer, we headed back to our hotel to get some sleep before the KBS release in the morning.

Logan’s Alley

After the KBS release, we went with some new friends we made in line to Logan’s Alley.  We hadn’t heard of this place, but were happy to go somewhere that the locals appreciated.  With 23 drafts and 200 bottles, you are bound to find something you like and haven’t tried.  Both of our friends were members of a club where you sign up and then receive your very own beer list to keep track of what you have tried.  The bottle list is constantly changing and both friends had multiple new pages of bottles stapled onto the backs of their lists.  I tried a Bean Flicker Blonde from Odd Side.  It was good.  I didn’t get a lot of coffee.  Really, it was just a nice easy break after drinking KBS all day.  I had a couple more bottles after that, but all things I have had before.

The food was bar food.  I had fried pickles and tater tots.  I don’t know what bars do to tater tots, but they are simply a million times better than I could ever cook at home.  Okay, yes I do know.  They deep fry them.  But still, they are always amazing and the ones at Logan’s Alley were especially fantastic.  The servers were also great.  We had 3 different guys that ended up working with our table.  All were fun and chatty.   While this probably isn’t on most people’s list of places to visit while in Grand Rapids, I believe it should be.  Great atmosphere, good beer selection, and delicious bar food.

Stella’s

Somehow, we were still hungry, so we headed to Stella’s. The last time we were in Grand Rapids, Stella’s had a Dark Horse tap takeover.  We were expecting more in terms of their beer list, but really probably didn’t need much more beer at this point in the evening anyway.  Their list was pretty bad.  We found out from the locals, that it is really a whiskey bar.  Somehow they pulled off the Dark Horse takeover after the Winter Fest.  But we were going there for food anyway, so I ordered a Founders Pale Ale, which was refreshing at that point in time.  I ordered tacos, Steve got a burger, and then we called it a night.  Actually, then we called it a vacation.

Recap

Breweries

If you are heading to Michigan, you really need to get to both Short’s and Kuhnhenn’s.  These breweries have amazing selections on tap.

Food

Find the time to drive to Clarkston Union and get the mac & cheese.  As a matter of fact, stop reading this and go now.  What are you waiting for?

Results

This was a fantastic beer-cation.  I definitely recommend taking a trip similar to this in the near future.  You won’t be disappointed.

Cheers!

 

 

 

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This Post was Written by Hop Bunny G

Hop Bunny G.

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