By Bobby Bush
This beer quest, Suds’ first into the great state of Michigan, began innocently enough on a
Thursday night in Lansing at a minor league baseball-happy bar called, for many reasons
I’m sure, The Nuthouse Sports Grill. Several Bell’s Pale Ales (brewed by upstate
Kalamazoo Brewing) later, supper time beckoned.
Just a few blocks away, Blue Coyote Brewing Company greeted us with a
handsome Rosewood bar, hardwood floors, brick walls and seven house-brewed beers.
Open since September ‘95 in a former Delco Motor Parts warehouse, it was obvious that
the folks at Blue Coyote know a little bit about the brewpub business. Tables filled while
a local band set up just below the two levels of the brewery. As we took in the scenery
and perused the varied menu, hefty pint glasses of Woodsmen Wheat (creamy American),
IPA (medium body, hops throughout) and Two River Red (faint chocolate, hoppier than
expected) were served. All were delightful, as were the sweet starting and finishing
Raspberry Wheat and American Brown Ale, which allowed a touch of bitterness in
mid-swallow. Named for the local ball club, Lugnut Lite was a budmillercoors beginners
beer. Somehow we skipped the seasonal Power Plant Porter.
By the time our plates had been cleared, the Foster Kids were ripping apart a few
familiar cover tunes. A nearby piano bar served our last call.
Rise and shine, business behind and it left us in downtown Grand Rapids searching
for Grand Rapids Brewing Company. Open since 1993, in a free-standing building
situated in front of a busy strip mall, this family restaurant-cum-brewery is part of the
Schelde’s restaurant chain which owns three other brewpubs in Michigan. Not quite ready
for lunch, we chose a sampler tray instead. Silver Foam (what a name for a beer) was
light and flat. River City Red was appropriately middle-of-the-road. A brown porter,
Lumberman Dark was full of roasted and black patent malt flavor with only a hint of
hoppiness. Seasonal Cascade Ale abused the pungent Northwest-grown Cascade hops,
resulting in a badly out-of-balance brew. Slightly sweet, the honey wheat Pooh Beer
smoothly departed with no aftertaste. Blackberry Porter wafted a soft fruit nose and left a
long fruit finish.
All in all, Grand Rapids Brewings’ beers were pleasing, but it was time to move
on. The sampler tray at Big Buck Brewery & Steakhouse was divided into Lighter and
Darker halves. Seems Big Buck is a three brewpub corporation, all Michigan, and is
traded on the NASDAQ small caps market. They like to consider themselves, for
obvious politically-correct reasons, family establishments. The Grand Rapids location,
open since 1995, was the site of this tasting.
Amidst walls of deer, bobcat and other stuffed game heads, seated in barstools
constructed of antlers, we started through all ten Big Buck brews, awaiting our appetizer
order of venison sausage. From the light side, Big Buck Beer was a thin, gold tricycle
brew. In spite of its daring name, Buck Naked Light was a low calorie hoppy water-like
beverage. Wolverine Wheat scored better with its subtle American-style frail hop
character. Raspberry Wheat found berry-flavor only in its aftertaste and Antler Ale made
a proper American session beer.
Getting darker as we progressed, the seasonal Mai Bock, at 7.1% alcohol, was
something brewer Alec Mull, who schooled in the Pacific Northwest, could be proud of.
Redbird Ale was a medium body pale ale that should have been on the light side of the
placemat had space allowed. With four malts and three hops to its recipe, Doc’s ESB was
definitely complex, amber and hoppy at both ends. Black River Stout was deliciously
creamy, roasty rich and the deepest of black. Mixed with the Raspberry Wheat, Big Buck
calls the blend Black ‘N Berry- not bad, really.
The urge for lunch was not far from screaming, so we headed onward to seek out
another of Michigan’s 60-some brewpubs and micros. Follow the link to read more about Grand Rapids
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush