By Bobby Bush
With a Michigan boy at the helm, we continued northward from downtown Detroit to the town of Berkley. O'Mara's Restaurant opened in June 1994 in what used to be a steakhouse. It's now more of a dingy bar and grill, populated by a steady stream of locals on this Tuesday afternoon. With no signs of a brewery anywhere, before ordering I inquired to make sure. Yes indeed, they brew their own, so we settled in for a quick tasting session, asking more questions than the two bartenders could field. The two barrel brewery was hidden somewhere within the kitchen.
O'Mara's Heavenly Wheat was American style, bubbly and well balanced. Paddy's Pilsner proved to be extremely clean, lilting and full of flavor. Over-carbonated and thin, the red Knight's Ale wafted a perfumey aroma but exhibited little effect from Hallertauer and Chinook hops. Twist 'N Stout opened with a creamy coffee taste but its thin body exited with an unexplained raspberry koolaid saccharin twang. Unfortunately, the tap handle advertising Peppercorn Ale, made with Szechwan peppers, was dry.
O'Mara's is a friendly, Irish-decorated restaurant with a stealth brewery. Good beers and a full menu for lunch and dinner make for an interesting, friendly local retreat.
Another few miles north, we pulled into Big Rock Chop & Brew House in the community of Birmingham, MI. The pace was already hectic when we pushed our cherubic faces up to the noisy bar. While waiting to order we scanned the terrain. Housed in a circa-1931 train station, the gothic architecture was adorned with outdoorsy decor. The bar, a large island layout, was cherry-stained wood. Finally the harried bartenders, who were far too busy mixing drinks and pouring wine, greeted us with samplers of brewer Dean Jones' six ales.
Happy hour $1.95 appetizers, including oysters, steamed clams and wings (what a deal), worked well with Big Rock's brews. The regular line-up consists of Norm's Raggedy-Ass Ale, a very prim and proper English ale; Raymondo El RoJo, a red beer warm with malt taste without being overtly sweet; Weizenheimer Hefe Weizen, a 60% wheat Bavarian style which, even though served with a lemon slice, was improperly sweet; and Flying Buffalo Stout, a 1998 GABF silver winner which was, at least with this batch, more butter than beer, it's flavor profile overwhelmed by diacetyl effect. Two seasonals were also on tap. Blonde was a clean light ale and English Nut Brown, though nose-less, presented nutty maltiness and diminishing sweet aftertaste. With the exception of the definitely off stout, Big Rock was a homey, outgoing brewpub. They're on-line at www.BigRockChopHouse.com.
One more stop before we close this Greater Detroit journey. In Auburn Hills we spied Big Buck Brewery and Steakhouse, the third of a trio of Big Buck brewpubs. (One and two are in Gaylord and Grand Rapids, MI). Deer is the motif, from barstools to wall ornamentation, but beer is what they make. Though the dinner crowd was in full bloom, service was exceptional as we ordered sampler trays which contained 15 different brews. Five were specialty/seasonal beers: the light Pre-Prohibition Lager; too bitter Brown Porter; hoppy with hints of tangerine Amarillo Pale Ale; the nice UK brown but mis-categoried English Mild; and sticky sweet and strong Belgian Dubbel.
Big Buck's regular ten include: Big Buck Beer, a common American ale; Wolverine Wheat, smooth and non-offensive; Buck Naked Light, another harmless American ale; Antler Ale, a light amber with great balance; Raspberry Wheat, the Wolverine with real raspberries; Red Bird Ale, copper and medium hopped; Cherry Sandy, an unnecessary blend of Black Cherry Soda and Buck Naked Light; Doc's ESB, four grains, three hops and an astringent bitter sensation; Black River Stout, a sweet stout with moderate bitter finish; and Black 'N Berry, a mix of Black River and Raspberry Wheat that hides the stout better finale.
In addition to their breweries, Big Buck also owns Auburn Hills Winery. Their foods, grilled and smoked from buffalo to venison to steak, are delectable. And, with such a broad beer selection, there's something for everyone. Big Buck is good fun. And if you want to join in the fun, check out their website at www.bigbuck.com. Their NASDAQ symbol is BBUC.
That's it for Detroit, for me, for now. The metropolitan area boasts about 24 brewpubs and micros. The state has over 60. Michigan is definitely a beer happy state. we'll be back.
This article first appeared in Focus Magazine of Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush