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
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
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