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Michigan Brewing

April, 1999

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
breweries.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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