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Motor City Madness

October 1999

By Bobby Bush

Bordering on Lake St. Claire and the Detroit River, which fill the gap between the Great Lakes of Huron and Erie, the flat wasteland of Greater Detroit is home to two dozen or so brewpubs. Concentrating on the downtown and northwest areas, on this trip, in spite of several mis-navigated errors, we managed to find seven brewpubs without incident.

Heading up M-1, also known as Woodward Avenue, we searched one-way streets near the Wayne State University campus for Traffic Jam & Snug Restaurant, one of the state's oldest brewpub. After being accused of attempted hit-and-run, we spied the place, only to discover that it was closed on Monday evenings. We'd come back tomorrow. So next to Atwater Block Brewing Co. But no, on the map I'd circled the street about ten miles northwest of its riverside locale. Tomorrow, right?

So, we diverted back to Woodward north and quickly came upon Woodward Avenue Brewers, established in 1997 in the town of Ferndale, not far from the intersection of Nine Mile Road. Though a crowd of folks filled the sidewalk cafe, we headed upstairs to the bar. The bartender was not pleased when two of our foursome ordered a sampler taste of each WAB brew. But we insisted, even though he was obviously overworked that evening.

The brewpub's most popular beer, unsurprisingly, is Nine Mile Custom Blonde. It was thin, somewhat sweet and unremarkable. The Raspberry Blonde version of the same was even sweeter. Amber and revealing some bitterness, Custom Bronze was more pleasing. And the lemon-decorated Hefe Weizen was not too yeasty, actually quite nice. From menus bound by two expired Michigan license plates, we ordered appetizers, not knowing at the time that this would also served as dinner that night.

The perturbed bartender seemed more at ease as, samplers consumed, we ordered pints of Pale Ale and Custom Porter to go along with the food. WAB Pale began with a near-perfect give-and-take balance of sweet and bitter before turning toward the malty side. A fine bitter sensation stayed behind. Rich and robust, the Porter presented mocha flavor and a well-rounded finish. With dominating vanilla bean aroma, Vanilla Porter was smoother than its unflavored kin. Unfortunately, brewer Grant Johnson does not have enough tank space to keep his Brown Ale and Stout on during the summer months. Nice place. Good beer. Decent food. Frantic bartender. Time to move on.

So we headed to Royal Oak, where an eponymously-named brewpub has resided since 1995. Here we met an inattentive ("you talkin' to me?") female bartender whose mind was drifting somewhere in space. The place was huge, but empty. Everyone had found the backyard patio a nice place to party that night. Everyone but us, that is. Realizing that a request for a sampler tray would only receive a blank stare, we ordered up pints of The Royal Oak's four brews.

It's a shame that brewer Tim Selewski's beers aren't better presented that the here-ya-go attitude we experienced. But, hey, beer is beer, and we drank it anyway. Northern Light, at 5.0% abv, represented the low end of the spectrum. A sweet beginning introduced a tangy-on-tongue closing. Pleazure's IPA, sporting a whopping 6.2% abv, was medium bodied and both flowery and bitterly hopped. Down at the 5.2% level, Brewhouse ESB was the IPA's little sister, actually too hoppy for style. And Pappy's Porch Sippin Porter made a grand chocolate start before evolving into a coffee with cream profile. Royal Oak also brews Fourth Street Wheat and Royal Oak Red, though they were out on our visit. Guinness, Hoegaarten and Framboise Lambic are also on tap, along with locally micro-brewed Motor City Brown, which was practically tasteless.

Hosted by Rex Halfpenny, publisher of the informative Michigan Beer Guide, The Royal Oak also holds a monthly beer tasting featuring specific styles. Looks like fun. We'll have to stop in again and see what planet our bartender is on then.

This article first appeared in Focus Magazine of Hickory, North Carolina.

Bobby Bush

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