Back To Michigan
By Bobby Bush
Not a lot has happened to the Michigan beerscape since my last journey northward in 1999. Probably the biggest news is that Frankenmuth Brewery, founded in 1988 and put out of business by a tornado in 1996, is finally rebuilding in downtown Frankenmuth. Active construction, a steel and brick skeleton of a vertical building, is proof, even though a sign over-optimistically proclaims "open summer 2002." Add six to nine months.
But we were back in Lansing, actually East Lansing, home of Michigan State University, where Blue Coyote Brewing "closed for remodeling" over two years ago. Luckily Harper's Restaurant & Brewpub picked up the slack in 1998. Situated close to campus, this establishment is well prepared for a vibrant college crowd. Big and dark with a large horseshoe bar, we chose to drink on the patio on this warm spring day. Through large picture windows, we could peer inside at the 15 barrel brewhouse.
Somewhat inattentive, our waitress did not know the brewer's last name, nor did she care to inquire on my behalf. Kinda like Cher, Lassie and Madonna, his name was just Scott, we surmised. A sampler tray was served with a hurried run-through of each tiny glass's content. I had to guess, but I'm pretty sure I got these correct. Blueberry Wheat was easy to identify. Though aroma was all berry, little berry flavor was found in this smooth, dry finishing beer, which left a sour aftertaste. Lager-like and thin, Harper's Light was a tricycle sweet beer chased by a bitterly sour finish. Served with lemon, Spartan Wheat was cloudy gold and yeasty with pleasant taste that lemon actually enhanced.
Medium bodied, Grove St. Pale Ale presented mild malt taste, closing with a tangy bitterness, while ESB possessed a little heavier mouthfeel and malt content. Not a bad session beer. Chestnut brown with frothy tan head, Porter was smooth in texture and harsh in flavor with a too-tannin finish marring dark chocolate, mocha and coffee flavors. All in all, Harper's is a decent college town brewpub.
Another day, another brewpub. Redwood Lodge opened in Flint, Michigan in 1997. Bill Wamby is the brewer at this non-smoking, family restaurant with a big bar and ten beers on draft plus two cask-conditioned. Sequoia Smoking Room & Cocktail Lounge has its own home inside Redwood Lodge. Big, friendly, woodsy outdoorsy without too many dead animal head staring at you, this place is owned by a local restaurant group with a great attitude toward food, beer and fun.
An extremely helpful bartender placed each five ounce sampler glass on a placemat, careful to acknowledge each beer's attributes. First up was Redwood Light (malty thin, low hops), Kolschbier (thin, bitter finish), Munich Helles (better balanced than Kolsch) and Hefeweizen (citrus, clove and allspice(?)). UK in style, Pale Ale was fruity in the middle, bitter at the end. Nice. Seasonals Bock (good, but too bitter for style) and Maibock (maltier with dry finale) were excellent lager additions to the line-up. Deep red-brown, Brown Porter was smoky in nose, big in burnt roasted malt flavor and low in bitterness. A pleasing interpretation of a difficult old English style. Mocha taste struggled to be identified in the raucous roasted coffee essence of Cream Stout, another seasonal, that unfortunately was not creamy. Harsh start to finish, Russian Stout was grainy, tangy to the tongue with a dark chocolate nose.
On cask from the hand pumps, brewer Wamby had Pale Ale and Cherry Stout. The Pale benefited greatly from natural conditioning. Warmer temp permitted more hoppiness, including that wonderful bitter grapefruitiness, to shine from its smooth, medium body. The only thing missing from Cherry Stout was cherry flavor. Cherry is a delicate taste and Stout being stout (was this the Russian Imperial?) is big, bold and in-your-face. The combination is difficult. It did not work for my taste buds on this visit.
Brewer Wamby and assistant David Shaw recently scored big in the World Beer Cup contest. From a broad, international field of competitors, Old Ale and Sweet Stout were awarded gold and bronze medals, respectively. For more info on this great little brewpub in Flint, see www.flintfood.com.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush