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Apr 23, 2014

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Western Michigan

April, 1999

By Bobby Bush

This issue continues our beer journey through western Michigan.

The first question I asked as we squirmed onto stools at the empty bar in Redwood Lodge, a Flint, Michigan brewpub since December ‘97, was one of ownership. Although the establishment’s proper name, we were told by the bartender, is Great Lakes Brewing Company, there is no affiliation with the brewpub of the same name in Cleveland, Ohio. After slight confusion as to what beers were really on tap- seems the sampler tray only offers their six lightest beers -we started through eight Redwood Lodge brews.

Lucky LaRue’s “AA” Lager was Redwood’s own Budweiser, which brewpubs almost have to have these days. Billed as the “world’s first organic wheat beer,” Heiligenschein Weizen presented apricot essence and a proper clove-like finish. Local Ale, called a mild ale bitter, was a decent pale ale. In what brewer Greg Burke calls free-style (probably meaning no style), bittersweet chocolate overtones complemented the firm roasted body and burnt sweetness of Burke’s Best Brown. Copper Mountain Marzen was overly sweet, almost syrupy in body. Nut Brown Ale suffered the same fate in body with saving grace from a hoppy finish. The flat Monkey Paw Porter positioned a deep roasty taste against lingering soft bitterness, while the cask conditioned Roof Top IPA, that we almost missed thanks to the dizzy bartender, was smooth with sullen hoppiness.

While enjoying our beers, we nibbled on a delicious escargot and shrimp appetizer, gazing at well-appointed wildlife motif decor. From beneath a high domed ceiling, the picturesque copper-clad brewery cast shadows over the big L-shaped bar. The setting was inspiring.

Coming from an owner group that also has a place called Bubba’s Road Side Inn, Redwood Lodge was a nice enough place. Nothing that a better-informed, on-the-ball bartender couldn’t cure.

Our next stop, miles away in the Detroit suburb of Warren, was another one of those amazing discovery stories. We drove right past Dragonmead Microbrewery the first time. Only a small window sign acknowledged its existence. The small store front was hidden in an industrial area between auto garages and other grimy mechanical shops. Open since April 1997 and still trying to find its market, Dragonmead does not presently have the winery license that they would need to make fermented honey mead, but they do know a bit about brewing.

Working from a small three barrel system, brewing partners Larry Channell, Earl Scherbarth and Bill Wrobel, pride themselves on obscure, traditional and unique beer styles. Of the 14 beers on tap, not one was bad. Some were big and bold, others sweetly subtle. You’d have to be there to believe it. Only four barstools graced a tiny bar. The brewers’ children ran freely through the unappointed barroom. With its sterile ambiance, Dragonmead was more of a wine tasting room than a brewpub.

But no amount of distraction could take away from the beers at hand. Among the most memorable: Earl Spit Stout, a classic dry stout, bittered with East Kent Goldings hops and fermented with Irish ale yeast; Final Absolution Belgian Style Tripple, 11% alcohol, sweet thick body and estery nose; Dead Monk Abbey Ale, in Trappist Monk style with candi sugar in the brew kettle, spicy finish thanks to White Beer yeast; Positively Woody’s Porter, 1805 style with dirty brown color, mild and smoky; Archangel NA, a pilsner-like non-alcoholic beer that had me fooled bigtime with its beautifully hopped flavor; Breath of the Dragon English Bitter, a mild, traditional bitter made with imported malt; and Final Indulgence, actually a batch of the strong Final Absolution that came out on the low end of the gravity scale at a moderate 7% alcohol.

Wow, a beer drinker’s dream. Dragonmead is like Disneyworld and Penthouse all rolled into one for beer gluttons like me. We could have stayed for hours, but more beer beckoned elsewhere. We’ll finish this busy beer trek next week, I promise. See Bye-bye Michigan

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

© Bobby Bush

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