My dad, brother-in-law and I hopped in the car bright and early last Saturday morning and drove up to Michigan beer country. There are so many great breweries in Michigan that it was hard to choose. We decided that it would be best to limit our visit to 3 breweries, and it took us almost two weeks to completely make up our minds. The decision was for Bell’s Eccentric Cafe in Kalamazoo, The Livery in Benton Harbor, and Greenbush Brewing in Sawyer. Bell’s was open the earliest, so it was our first stop. I made one big mistake on this trip. I was so focused on beer tasting that I completely forgot to take pictures of the beer! I plan to do better on my next brewery trip.
Bell’s Eccentric Cafe was spacious, open, and relaxed. There were neat old beer ads on the walls, and wooden African masks, which we thought was a weird combination. I love this old beer blurb I found outside the restrooms. There was much more text below this, but it wasn’t possible to get a picture where all of the text would be visible. I was able to find the entire text on Google Books. This appeared on page 81 of the September 8, 1941 issue of Life magazine. It’s an absolute hoot, and worth the read.
Our bartender was courteous, and helpful, and I had a little fun chatting to an old local who hit on me, in a tasteful old geezer sort of way. We opted for tasting flights on this trip, so we would be able to sample a wide variety while maintaining both our palates and our wits. We also ate food through the whole trip, and all three of us were well under the legal limit for driving (so no comments about drunk driving. I don’t roll that way, and neither does my BIL or my dad).
I’m really kicking myself about not taking beer pictures. You should have seen the cool tasting trays in this place. They were wooden platters in the shape of Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas. The trays had numbered round indentations which held six 4 ounce glasses. We chose Quinannan Falls Special Lager, Rye Stout, Java Stout, Lager of the Lakes, Oktoberfest, and Best Brown Ale. All were excellent. I don’t think Bell’s makes a bad beer. My favorite of the six was the Java Stout. I rated it 4.2 at Ratebeer.com and my tasting notes are: Coffee, smoke, and chocolate aroma. Black with a minimal creamy brown head. Dark roasted coffee, smoked meat, cream, chocolate, ash flavor. Smooth, creamy full body. Really great stout.
Since we had a good breakfast on the way up, we took our time with the tasting, ate some bar nuts, and then walked around the corner to Bell’s General Store. Not only did the store stock Bell’s gear and beer, but they also offered a huge selection of homebrew supplies. I was amazed at the variety of hops and yeasts, and a store employee told me it was just a small sampling of what’s available in the beer world. I bought a Bell’s beer glass and a few beers for some friends and then we headed out for The Livery.
The Livery is located in an old brick building. The neighborhood is full of empty buildings, and you can see that the recession has not been kind to this town.
The brewpub was located in the basement of the building, and I wasn’t expecting the run down old VFW feel when we walked in. Despite the dimly lit, run down feel of the place, the atmosphere was laid back and comfortable. We ordered a hummus plate and a pizza to eat before we got too far into our beer tasting. We spent quite a bit of time at this location, trying about 12 different brews. The hummus was really great. The pizza was ok, but was made with a premade crust. Our beer selections: Lawnmower Lager, Red Canoe, Maillot Jaune (Biere de Garde), Malcolm’s Best Bitter, Raspberry Wheat, Steep Canyon Lager, Old Cedar English Strong Ale, Mandeau Man Ruby Red, Steel Wheels Oat Stout, Guide, McGilligans IPA, and Anniversary Ale (6th – Bourbon Barrel Imperial Brown Rye). Generally speaking, their beers are solid, and some exceptional. My favorite was the Steel Wheels Oat Stout with a rating of 4.2. Tasting notes: Toasty malt, chocolate, coffee, ash aroma. Black, thick creamy head (like an espresso crema) that sticks to the glass. Chocolate, coffee, smoke, raisin, charcoal ash flavor. Medium to full body. At this point I remembered I hadn’t been taking pictures, so I snapped our empty glasses. A friend, who had been following our shenanigans on facebook, “yelled” at me for uploading a picture of empty glasses. I believer her exact words were, ” You’re supposed to take the picture before…”
After leisurely finishing our pizza and hummus we headed off to Greenbush Brewing. Forgive me ahead of time, but this brewery was not the most positive experience for me, so you’re going to get some negativity.
We walked in and the place was LOUD. The music was cranked, and the place was over capacity. A sign on the wall indicated a capacity of 32, but I counted 40+. Service was non-existent, the place was chaotic, and customers were confused about how to order. My brother-in-law got a bartender’s attention, who then tossed him a piece of paper and a pen telling him to write down our selections, and to bring it back. I took the paper back up to the bar, and both bartenders completely ignored me while waiting on people who had come in behind me. I finally had to get snippy to get served. Not cool at all. This is a new brewery, and they need to expand the premises and work on their service. Food is minimal, there is no formal menu, and if you want it you’re going to have to ask for it because they don’t offer.
If it weren’t for the way noise bounced around the place, the open room and glass that allowed you to see the actual brewing operation was cool.
Our selections were: Undertow Autumn Ale, trAKtoR Golden Ale, Distorter Robust Porter, Anger Black IPA, Terminator X, pHarmacy, Jackal Bocktoberfest, and Closure. We all agreed that the beers were good, but nothing struck us as being exceptional. My dad and I kept tasting the same overly sweet malt flavor in several of the beers we tried. The highest rating I gave at Greenbush was for the Distorter Robust Porter at 3.5. Notes: Chocolate, roasted malt aroma. Dark brown with a small tan ring. Dark roasted malt and peat flavor. Dry bitter finish. Medium body.
Maybe it’s because the three of us are no longer what you would call young, but we found the attempt to be hip with the names of the beer, and the beer descriptions that were more marketing than helpfully descriptive to be a little irritating. When you’re trying that hard to be hip, you’re not.
Negativity aside, we visited the place, checked it out and got some ratings under our belt. Now we knew what the place was about, and we headed homeward. Once we reached home territory we decided it was time for more food, so we hit our local brewpub, Mad Anthony’s Lake City Tap House. We were done with beer for the day, and just wanted food. This place has great food, and we decided to share appetizers: Hot wings, Gorgonzola fries, and Wisconsin cheese curds. We went home happy, sober, and full. We ended our evening by sitting around a fire in my parents’ back yard. It was one of the best weeks I’ve had off work in quite some time.