A Brewery Loop of Lake Michigan – Sensational Scenery and Blueberry Beers

A Brewery Loop of Lake Michigan – Sensational Scenery and Blueberry Beers

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

Walter and I are bleary eyed and in need of long rest from our vacation. We clocked about 2000 miles in just over a week making a counter-clockwise loop around Lake Michigan. We had time for some good food, some great people, and a whole lotta beer.

A narrative of the trip would bog down in details and wouldn’t reinforce some of the more important points, so I think I will give you a rundown of the week with a list, especially geared to help you find some great beer if you end up in any of the cities we visited.

We began and ended the trip with some work covering Indiana beer events, but in between we made 35 first time stops for us, with some surprising finds:

Fessors Brewery. We visited Fessors Brewery in Argos a week ago Saturday and got to talk to brewer Josh and chef Matt. This is a very nice place in a very small town, with six beers on when we visited and a menu that is under construction (hence the name – Dry Run Kitchen). Josh, Matt, and Chris have very definite plans to expand to Rochester with a larger space, larger menu, and larger brewhouse, but for now, they have a space reminiscent of a 50s diner and a very enthusiastic local clientele.

Beer, Bacon & Bourbon Festival. We then buzzed over to Crown Point for the Beer, Bacon, & Bourbon Festival, hosted by Off Square Brewing at Bulldog Park. Tickets sold extremely well this year, and they had over 1500 people on hand for the tastings from local breweries, as well as local, regional, and national distributors of spirits. The weather was perfect and a good time was had by all.

Blockhead Beerworks. We then headed east and had dinner at the new Blockhead Beerworks brewpub in Valparaiso, in the same spot that used to be Figure Eight Brewing. They had a great number of their own beers on draft (as opposed to few they had when they were served out of their pizza restaurants), and the food was a big surprise. We had some fantastic Asian fusion dishes, including one of many sushi options, and some spicy edamame that rivaled the best we’ve ever had. I look for many good things to come from this venture, including spirits from their in-the-works distillery. I think it would be cool if they became Indiana’s first sake maker, to match Kentucky with their sake maker called The Void in Lexington.

Stormcloud Brewing in Frankfort, MI. A must stop in the state. image credit: Stormcloud Brewing

Lower Michigan Breweries we visited. Ghost Isle Brewery in New Buffalo, The Livery in Benton Harbor, Guardian Brewing in Saugatuck, Odd Side Ales and Burzurk Brewing  in Grand Haven, Rake Beer Project in Muskegon, Ludington Bay Brewing and Jamesport Brewing in Ludington, Stormcloud Brewing in Frankfort, Right Brain Brewery in Traverse City, the original Jolly Pumpkin Old Mission just north of Traverse City, Short’s Brewpub in Bellaire, Petoskey Brewing in Petoskey, Cheboygan Brewing in Cheboygan, and Rusted Spoke Brewing in Mackinaw City,

UP Michigan breweries we visited. Soo Brewing in Sault Ste. Marie, Tahquamenon Falls Brewery near Newberry, Ore Dock Brewing, Marquette Harbor Brewing, Blackrocks Brewery, and Barrel + Beam – all in Marquette, and 51st State Brewing in Kingsford.

Wisconsin Breweries we visited. Rail House Brewing in Marinette, Hinterland Brewery, Badger State Brewing and Noble Roots Brewing – all in Green Bay, Appleton Beer Factory and McFleshman’s Brewing in Appleton, Explorium Brewpub, Broken Bat Brewery, MobCraft Beer – all in Milwaukee, and Rustic Road Brewing and Public Craft – both in Kenosha.

We found a great brewery (Explorium Brewpub) – and they brew in a mall! image credit: Explorium Brewpub

Standout Breweries. There were many good breweries where we spent time and had good discussions. In the top tier were four fantastic spots – Stormcloud, Barrel + Beam, Noble Roots, and Explorium. In the next tier (to our thinking) were Odd Side, Jolly Pumpkin (that location), Rake Beer Project, Ore Dock, Badger State, and MobCraft.

Standout Beers. Once again, there were many, but those that we talked about the most included the Idee Fixe and 31 Planes from Stormcloud, Oso Sucio from Jolly Pumpkin, cask Magician red ale with dates at Short’s, Tree Love at Cheboygan, Fuzz Aldrin smoked Flemish at Ore Dock, everything we tasted at Barrel + Beam (best might have been the Cuvee Superior or the Savu), Sabro SMaSH at Badger State, Blueberry Cream at Noble Roots, the cask saison with peppercorns and fresno peppers at McFleshman’s, the whiskey barrel Doc Rae Scotch Ale at Explorium, and the Inspired by: Blood of Acan Imp. Stout at MobCraft.

Trends we noticed. 1) There was a great lack of Scottish ales and wee heavies. That might have been due to the time of year, but there were plenty of stouts on tap. 2) Michigan and Wisconsin LOVE blueberry beers. Some might have been because of the time of year, but we saw several that were core beers. 3) The Oktoberfest beers were in great abundance, and they varied greatly from place to place – some were festbiers, some were marzens, and some were Vienna Lagers, everything from straw colored to a deep red. 4) People (and breweries) are loving the Australian/New Zealand hops, especially Sabro. 5) The staffing shortage is actually greater in Michigan and Wisconsin than it is here, limiting hours and capacity, as well as many signs saying “be nice to those who bothered to show up.”

The Brewery Lodge in Michigan City is gorgeous – and they have good beer too. image credit: Brewery Lodge

The People. As always, we met great people along the way and learned much from them. Ted, the head brewer at Cheboygan had just visited Hog Molly Brewing in Columbus, IN days before we walked into his place, and we got he and Martha/Lou texting one another to say hi. Emily at Petoskey Brewing taught us why old breweries were so tall, often 4-5 stories – they used gravity to go from mash to boil to fermentation to keg on successively lower floors. Nick at Odd Side Ales bent over backward to help us pick out a few different places to go, as did Devin at Explorium. We met Kevin at Marquette Harbor as he traveled for work we’ve been emailing back and forth ever since then with him asking about places he might go (we sent him to Scratch Brewing in southern, IL) We handed out lots of Indiana beer and stickers to help people learn about craft in the Hoosier State, yet we came home with a full cooler; people are always very generous.

Back in Indiana. As we returned to Indiana (no, we didn’t stop in Chicago. It’s not that I hate Chicago beer, it’s that I hate Chicago traffic), we spent the night at the Brewery Lodge in Michigan City, affiliated with Zorn Brew Works. I’ll write more about it later, but it is a beautiful location with great acreage and very nice rooms. Because it is a rule for us, we stopped at Harry Stuff Brewing in Wawaka and had a nice talk with Ehren and Louisa. Look for more cans coming soon from Harry Stuff, and we got a sneak peak of a great festbier that should drop in the next few days.

The Dot & Line Anniversary party was a great time. image credit: Dot & Line Brewing

Finally, we stopped in Fort Wayne to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Dot & Line Brewing with Phil and the crew. It’s been an incredibly successful first year for the brewery, with cans and bottles, and series of beers. We tried the Whale in the Woods stout and came home with a bottle or two of it, and we enjoyed several of the special beers they had for the occasion, especially the Rye IPA. The place was packed on Saturday afternoon, but Phil said it was even busier on Friday night. Congratulations to all and we know they’ll have continued success.

Overall, it was a fantastic trip with many facets, although I focused on the beer here. If you need some time away and want a beautiful drive and a chance to hang out on three of the five Great Lakes, you could do a lot worse that a trip around Lake Michigan.

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