This month, the beer tour travels to Ann Arbor, home of the Wolverines, the Dawn Treader (the world’s best used book store in this humble scribe’s opinion), and the library half of Gerald R. Ford’s presidential museum system (the other half is the museum in my lovely city, Grand Rapids). Of course, this article has nothing to do with any of those. Instead, I present 4 breweries in downtown Ann Arbor, three within walking distance and one fantastic way to end a hard day’s drinking.
Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales
First of all, I would recommend parking in the Fourth and Washington Lot. It’s just off Main Street and within two or three blocks of the first three breweries. From there it’s a quick jaunt to the first stop: the Jolly Pumpkin. The Jolly Pumpkin is part of a three-prong mini brewing empire. The other two locations are located in Traverse City and Dexter. It was founded in 2004 by Ron Jeffries and focuses on fun things, like oak aging and bottle conditioning. The downtown café is a good way to start off the day with a creative brunch menu that includes Blueberry-Ricotta Pancakes and a Breakfast Sandwich with eggs, cheddar, cremini mushrooms, and rosemary aioli dressing. This is not your typical pub fare.
Beer to try: Bam Noire. This dark farmhouse ale has a slight peaty scent that’s undercut by a surprisingly light on the tongue flavor. It has a creamy mouthfeel and sweet dark fruit flavor.
We have here yet another multi-location brewery. In recent years, the ABC empire expanded to include a microbrewery in Ypsilanti and a brewpub in India. However, the brewpub in downtown Ann Arbor was the beginning of it all. ABC is owned and operated by husband-wife duo Matt and Rene Greff. Like a lot of breweries in the state, ABC is on the vanguard of the green movement. Green projects include adding solar panels to the roof and sending spent grain from the brewing process to local farms (which are then used as beef for the burgers in the pub). Their beer (and the pub décor) has a distinctly English style with a little bit of German thrown in just to shake it up a bit. And, just in case you missed breakfast at Jolly Pumpkin, they also have an enticing menu that offers more than your average amount of vegetarian options.
Beer to try: Sacred Cow Cask-Conditioned IPA. This IPA combines smooth mild malts with tangy citrus hops. It’s a crisp yet complex beer. In India, this IPA goes by the alias Raging Elephant.
Alan Pugsley got his first job out of Uni (he’s from England) at the legendary Ringwood Brewery under Peter Austin. He’s also the master brewer of Shipyard Brewing Company in Portland, Maine. More importantly, he helped install the seven barrel brewing system utilized by Grizzly Peak. A system like that doesn’t deserve to be hidden away; passers-by or in-pub enthusiasts can watch as the brewers make the magic happen. Their selection is quite varied, ranging from American Pale Ale to Lager to Belgian Golden. With so much to choose from it’s probably best to sidle up to the bar and get a sampler to make sure you don’t miss out on the large assortment. The comfortable environment is created by exposed brickwork and hardwood floors.
Beer to try: Steelhead Red. At a sessionable 5.3%, this is probably a good beer to hit on the third leg of your journey. It leads off with a caramel scent. The pleasantly light body still manages to support a smooth, malty flavor.
Wolverine State Brewing Company
Reason number one why you should visit Wolverine State Brewing Company: it’s the only all-lager brewery in our great state (and this girl loves lagers). Reason number two: it’s home to Lindsay Lou and the Flatbelly’s. The brewery was founded in 2006 by Matt Roy and Trevor Thrall because they felt Michigan needed more cold-fermenting beer. While they don’t draw inspiration from a particular source, they aren’t afraid to experiment. That creativity is what keeps 15 beers on tap and 3 bottled and distributed. With live music every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday night, this is the perfect ending to a beer tour. Just make sure you bring a DD: Wolverine State is about 2.5 miles outside of the heart of downtown Ann Arbor.
Beer to try: Wolverine Amber Lager. Brewed in the traditional Vienna style, this lager uses a malt blend of Vienna, Munich, and Pilsner. The smooth, sweet hops are curtailed by crisp hops and a clean finish. This sessionable is a great finish to long day of beer enjoyment.
–Allyson Putt, Contributing Writer