By Bobby Bush
Starting out earlier the next day, we managed to misplace Atwater Block Brewery again. We made our journey much too difficult, looking too far north, and finally found this large and friendly brewpub in Riverplace, right on the water not far from our hotel in downtown Dee-Troit. Established in 1997, this old brick building serves well as a brewpub. Blond stained woodwork and multi-faceted bar contrast the rugged red brick. Big room, high ceiling. Behind the bar a massive 21 barrel brewery steamed furiously.
Perusing the chalkboard for today's beer selections, it was obvious from the list that Atwater Block is a German-style brewery: all lagers, with an exception for a requisite Weizen (wheat) ale or two. All are served in 0.3 and 0.5 liter glasses. Atwater Pilsner, a GABF '97 silver winner, was appropriately medium in body, though somewhat odd in hops flavor. For some reason, Tettnang hops were substituted for the typical pils Saaz. Hefe-Weizen was definitely of German design, wafting banana notes from its unfiltered goldness. Red Krystal Weizen, a seasonal for Atwater, was a filling, filtered amber boasting 6.7% abv. Atwater Hell, billed as a pale, was mild and malty, the perfect gateway to Dunkel, a dark, roasty, sweet bronze/brown creation. At 9.5% alcohol, the powerful Weizen Bock was the Bavarian equivalent of a barleywine, though its brown/gold cloudy appearance was not. This syrupy sweet and big flavor lager departed slowly with a cloyingly sweet effect.
The Atwater menu looked appetizing, especially entrees, called housepicks, such as wiener schnitzel, braised beef tips stroganoff, chicken breast with portabello and Cajun spiced bone-in pork loin. Hmmm. But this was a beer journey just starting out, so off we went.
With much less effort than the day before, we located Traffic Jam & Snug, Michigan's first brewpub which opened in December 1992. Seems Traffic Jam's earlier attempt to start a brewery, housed in a simple gray building on the edge of their parking lot, was stymied by state law. When Michigan became the last Midwest state to allow brewpubs, due to ownership restrictions, the gray building was leased to a third party and became Motor City Brewing, a micro purveyor of kegged and bottled beer still in operation today.
TJ&S began life 35 years ago as a college beer and burger hangout. 31,000 Wayne State students have other ideas of fun these days, but the homey, expansive interior of this multi-room restaurant stays busy entertaining everyone else. The restaurant makes a perfect party spot, which seemed to be the case on this rather busy Tuesday afternoon.
The brewpub's small, sterile black plastic topped bar, located near the entrance, was shut off to one side away from all the fun. I even asked if this was the beer bar as we jumped upon naugahyde stools. It was. Amber Wheat made a funky tasting entrance, which grew into an almost Pale Ale like appeal. IPA was pale yellow, foretelling a smooth, uneventful, not nearly hoppy enough brew. Though thin in mouthfeel, Java Porter was strong in mocha flavor with only minimal bitterness. Cherry Wheat blew dry when the bartender pulled the handle. They also offer neighboring Motor City's Brown Ale on tap.
The name, Traffic Jam, was derived from an old parking problem at the site. Snug, a TJ&S room which once sold housemade ice cream to non-drinkers, derived from the English tradition of women being segregated to the snug, out of the presence of their drinking menfolk.
In addition to its unusual name, TJ&S has the distinction of brewing America's only "dairy brewed beer." The same vessels, housed in a room way in the back, used to brew these unfiltered ales, also produce blue ribbon cheddar cheese. Their made-from-scratch bakery features a Bread of the Day, authentic ethnic crusted rolls and vegetables breads. A multi-purpose establishment if there ever was one.
Beer, or wine from an impressive cellar, accompanies an appetizing list of food, including meatless spinach lasagne, baked lamb, Mediterranean chicken bouchee and zucchini almond cheese pie. Our stomachs were roiling, but it was time to push on.
This article first appeared in Focus Magazine of Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush