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Detroit Shuffle

July, 2000

By Bobby Bush

This Greater Detroit trip was quickly coming to its conclusion. We’re out past 23 Mile Road in Rochester, quite a distance from downtown, but just a few miles from our finale destination of Auburn Hills. We found Rochester Mills Beer Company in a stately, one-hundred-year old building which originally housed Western Knitting Mills. Hardwood floors and hand hewn rafters, Paine Webber was housed in half of this massive structure. The other side was all about beer, as ten small sampler glasses before us attested. The bar can handle up to 12 draft selections.

Brewer Pat Scanlon works with a 15 barrel brewhouse situated right behind the stage, where bands play Wednesday through Saturday nights. With and without musical accompaniment, he brews some crafty beers. His Wheat was Bavarian style. Straw in color, this ale wafted a smoky nose but was much too yeasty for my palate. Clear gold in hue, Lager and Light Lager were quaffable tricycle brews. ESB was mild, as it should have been, though marred by a sour grapefruit finish (Cascade hops effect?). Watchtower was a very nice, well-balanced English session ale. Decked with a frothy head, Pilsner was crisp as appropriate yet a tad too fruity and heavy in mouthfeel (could this have been an ale?). Red offered a sweet malt finish preceded by a strange hops flavor, while Anniversary Ale proved to be an IPA of extremely pleasing hoppiness. Two heavy German lagers closed the set. Triple Bock was strong and sweet, deceiving in its clear gold appearance. Even sweeter, Double Bock was dark copper in brilliance. All in all not a bad group of beers.

A sister of The Royal Oak Brewery, a circa-1995 brewpub in the Detroit community of Royal Oak, Rochester Mills opened in 1998. Even though Detroit weather consists of four months of winter and eight of road repair, as the bartender advised, there’s a big outdoor patio where beer and food can be enjoyed. Lunch selections include sandwiches, pizzas, pastas and Brewery Favorites like Louisiana Jambalaya and Barbie-Q Baby Back Ribs, while dinner choices are a little more varied, offering Broiled Lake Superior White Fish and Grilled New York Steak. But we had no time for food. Dinner awaited elsewhere.

And after that dinner, where Sam Adams was the most exciting beverage available, I snuck away to visit Alcatraz Brewing Company in Auburn Hills. Hidden safely in the midst of Great Lakes Crossing, a sprawl of a mall, this Alcatraz is part of the Indy-based theme brewpub group. Frankly, after you’ve seen one - scale model of the Golden Gate Bridge, prison motif, prisoner photos and criminal stats - you’ve seen them all. This one opened in 1998.

Pulling up to the copper-topped bar, I ordered quickly. Time was short as I sipped the light-bodied Search Light Golden Ale, a pleasant classic pale ale. Weiss Guy Wheat was done American style, while Big House Red was English from malt to aromatic hops. Copper with a creamy tan head, Pelican Pale Ale had a sharp caramel taste followed by a quick finish. Birdman Brown was sweet nutty UK style and the Brewer’s Special was a clean kolsch. It really must be the “best beer behind bars,” though the novelty wears thin. Guess that’s why Alcatraz Corp likes mall locations. Brewer Jessie Morrison is responsible for the likable beers, not the hype.

Time for one more, though my eyes were getting heavy. As I pulled into the parking lot it was deja vu all over again. I had my Big Buck Brewery & Steakhouses confused. I didn’t check my list but assumed that I’d been to one of the other Big Buck brewpubs, either in Gaylord or Grand Rapids. But no, it was this one. I went in anyway and discovered that it was growler night. Every Tuesday brings a horde of folks, mostly 20-something men, who filled their half gallon jugs for two bucks with the beer of their choice. While waiting in an antler stool around the large island bar, many drink $2 pints and have a bite.

From his 15 barrel brewhouse, situated in the back window, facing the interstate, Big Buck head brewer Eric (Spugeboy) Briggeman whips up some highly drinkable corporate recipe beers. Twelve beers on tap make the choice difficult. They range from the low-calorie Buck Naked Light to the specialty Steam Beer to the supple sweet Black River Stout, my favorite.

Welp, that’s it for Detroit and Michigan, again.

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

© Bobby Bush

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