Jul 18, 2018

Bonfire Bistro

June, 2002

By Bobby Bush

When last I visited Local Color Brewing Company in the Detroit suburb of Novi, I found it to be a rather cold place with good intentions. Big brewery, good beer, a night club kind of a place. That was a couple of years ago. This time, with more time on our hands, we found that little had changed from outward appearances. A new brewer, Russell Simmons, had just come on-board. In addition to his beer, Local Color offered something very unusual: their own wines and their own distilled beverages. Bottles of vodka, gin and tequila from their second floor micro-distillery were on display. In fact, all alcoholic drinks sold were, by law, their own. This was a first for me, and probably for Local Color too.

We glanced up at the 25 barrel brewery housed on the next level, opposite the bar, and set right to work on six Local Color beers. A bottling line hugged the back wall nearby. As expected, Hefe-Weizen was cloudy, gold and yeasty with a surprising tangy BBQ sauce (A-1?) ending. Smooth Talker Pilsner, golden with a thick white head, had strong hops authority and a smackingly dry finish. Compared to the Pils, Social Climber Light Lager had almost no flavor in its thin body, while Tomboy Red was full of malt caramel taste. Its slight sweetness closed with a faint hint of dark chocolate. With progressive sips, cloudy copper Corporate Jim's Pale Ale grew more intensely bitter. Seasonal Porter seemed past its prime with butterscotch diacetyl tastes overpowering roast malt and coffee flavors beneath. On a dare, I tried the Rugrat Root Beer. It was toooo sweet and should not be consumed in the presence of real beer. A nice menu, friendly though under-worked bartender, good beer, unique make-it-all bar concept, Local Color is up and coming.

For dinner that night, we dined in nearby Northview at Bonfire Bistro & Brewery. Established in 1999, this upscale restaurant was family friendly, fronting a Home Depot parking lot. An island bar had its own room, but we settled in for food in the dining area, with a view of the busy, open kitchen. But first things first. A taster tray and a glass of water arrived about the time we were ready to order. The food was delicious.

As was the brewer Ben Brower's beer. Firelight Lager was the requisite light, low hopped beer. Cloudy gold Solar Flare Wit, the only seasonal offering, was floral, almost perfumey in aroma and taste. Vulcan's Vienna Ale (aren't Vienna beers suppose to be lagers?) had thin caramel malt flavor with a tart finish. Burning Brand Bitter was grainy with hops up front, leaving with a bready farewell. Lowly carbonated and medium bodied, Roaring Red was very malty with apple notes, while Promethean Porter boasted roasted sweetness and flirted with maple taste. Very nice, indeed. Smoldering Coals Imperial Stout, only available on cask but always available, was creamy smooth with a vinous alcohol flavor. It was big and dark in flavor with coffee taste, almost a Barleywine. On the rotating cask pump, Roaring Red had a dark malty taste and medium mouthfeel. It begged for more hops, but that wasn't its style. Northview has a hot little property in Bonfire Bistro.

On our way back to the Lansing airport the next day, we paused for an early morning taster tray at Michigan Brewing Company in Webberville. The big news here is the fairly recent acquisition of 27 truckloads of brewing equipment from defunct Celis Brewing in Austin, Texas. This local microbrewery with an expanded tasting room, founded in 1995, has big plans to go big time. But first they'd better get their fundamentals in order.

To be blunt, the twelve beers that I sampled were good at best. Many were just bad, spoiled, nasty, marred by a prevailing common sourness. Those that were worthy of repetitive drinking include Wheatland Wheat Beer, Renaissance Spelt Pale Ale, Superior Stout and Belgian Tripel. Brewer Dan Rogers knows better. As does Rex Halfpenny, former editor of "Michigan Beer Guide," who just joined the MBC team as operations manager. Surely this was a temporary aberration. Going form 4,000 barrels to 25,000 per year or more will take more than additional capacity. Consistently good beer will play a role somewhere in determining Michigan Brewing Company's level of success. Follow their progress at

Borrowing from songwriter Paul Simon: "Michigan seems like a dream to me now." And somewhere in my dream is beer. Sleep well.

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

Bobby Bush


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