6 Michigan Spots for Craft Beer Lovers
From the names on the labels to the ingredients in the glasses, Michigan’s craft breweries reflect state pride and regional flavors. Brewers tout the abundance of fresh water and Michigan-grown ingredients. Restaurants showcase local brews behind the bar and in their dishes. And as these six beer hubs demonstrate, Michigan’s craft beer scene overflows with creativity, like a freshly tapped pint.
At last count, the Beer City Ale Trail linked more than 40 breweries, cideries, distilleries and meaderies throughout the Grand Rapids area, where craft beer runs through town as steadily as the Grand River.
The venerable Founders, established in 1997, helped launch the city's brewing reputation. Founders earned a reputation for rich, robust porters and stouts, like the Kentucky Breakfast Stout, aged in bourbon barrels. Locals pick their favorites from a selection including Mango Magnifico, an herb-and-spice beer, at the beer garden and German-style beer hall in a former Grandville Avenue truck depot.
Brewery Vivant; photo by Jason Lindsey
Across the river, the Mitten Brewing Company is one of the upstarts (founded in 2012). A restored 1891 Victorian fire station with multiple decks houses the taproom serving smooth, creamy ales like Label Up, with hints of roasted pecans. Brewery Vivant brings a little Gallic flair with its Belgian-farmhouse-inspired beers and pub fare, including duck confit nachos and Belgian waffles.
Craft drinkers get an education once a month at Arbor Brewing Company's beer tasting series. The city's oldest brewery kicked off the local beer movement 20 years ago. It still taps Mitten-made beers in its newly renovated pub, which has an exhaustive menu designed for drinkers who like to try different styles and flavors. Fall favorites like pumpkin and brown ales and Oktoberfest lagers highlight September's themed event. Multiple brewers have since opened, including Grizzly Peak Brewing Company, beloved for its bold beers and hearth-baked pizzas; Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, known for small-batch beers aged in oak casks; and Blue Tractor BBQ and Brewery, where creamy ales and toasted-malt ambers pair with an extensive menu of smoked-in-house barbecue. At least a few Ann Arbor selections are sure to be flowing at HopCat. Home to 100 taps, HopCat‘s rotating beer menu specializes in hard-to-find brews.
Craft beer was barely even a "thing" in 1985, when Larry Bell decided to expand beyond selling home brewing supplies out of a shop and whipped up his first batch of commercial beer in a 15-gallon soup pot. Thirty years later, Bell's ranks as one of the nation's largest craft brewers. You can now find Bell's beers as far away as Puerto Rico, all of it brewed in Kalamazoo and nearby Comstock. Barley for some of its ales comes from Bell's Farm in Shepard. The Eccentric Cafe, Bell's Kalamazoo tasting room, taps 40-plus brews, many not available elsewhere.
Bell's Brewery; photo courtesy of Bell's
Kalamazoo's Give a Craft Beer Trail highlights a dozen breweries, including several on a downtown walking route. Arcadia Brewing Company brings its British-style ales to the waterfront with a convivial beer garden you can reach by kayak from the Kalamazoo River or by bicycle from the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail.
The city that brewed Stroh's for more than 150 years knows a thing or two about beer. Rather than one dominant brewer, today the suds pour from dozens of craft brew pubs around the city. A fixture of Midtown, Traffic Jam and Snug was the first and takes handcrafted seriously: They brew their own beer, bake their own breads and make their own cheese. Across the street, Motor City Brewing Works concocts its seasonal brews and sodas in a taproom built by local artists.
Motor City Brewing Works; photo by John Sobczak
Motor City Brew Tours heads to a rotating list of craft breweries by bus, bike or feet. Stops include the Rivertown District's Atwater Brewery, which creates traditional German-style lagers like its Purple Gang Pilsner and its lightly floral D-Light Kolsch. Bike tour guides weave in sights and stories of Detroit's brewing history and know just how to satisfy your thirst at the end of the 8- to 15-mile route from Midtown to Belle Isle.
When Martin Vierling opened his restaurant and saloon in 1883, he set the tone for hospitality in Marquette. The tradition continued in 1995 when the restored Vierling Restaurant and Marquette Harbor Brewery became one of Michigan's first brewpubs. Northern Michigan University students and visitors who come for Lake Superior's rocky beaches and lighthouses sit at the 100-year-old oak bar and sample ales and lagers produced here. The following year, Jasper Ridge Brewery and Restaurant opened in nearby Ishpeming. Jasper's brewmasters attribute the fresh taste of products like Rope's Golden Wheat to the use of natural ingredients.
Ore Dock Brewing Company; photo by Aaron Peterson
Similarly, Michigan honey and lavender flowers from France flavor the Honey Lav made by what was Marquette's first nanobrewery, Blackrocks. Look for the yellow corner house with bicycles. The neighborhood brewery donates a portion of 51K IPA sales to local trails. Citrusy notes helped Ore Dock Brewing Company's Reclamation IPA win gold at the 2014 World Beer Championships. But the past informs its beers and look. Bartenders pour twists on traditional American and Belgium ales at the bar studded with ore pellets extracted during Marquette's mining heyday-back when Martin opened Vierlings.
Two historical brick buildings on Front Street house Traverse City's two oldest craft breweries. On a busy downtown corner, Mackinaw Brewing Company offers a taste of Traverse City with Great Lakes walleye and whitefish on the pub menu and a seasonal lager made with Traverse City cherries. A half-mile west, North Peak Brewing Company brews its own kind of treats, like a richly caramel Diabolical IPA, in a former candy factory.
More and more craft brewers are infusing new energy in other parts of town, too. Brewery Ferment brings a sleek, bright pub and small-batch sour beers to Old Towne, on Union Street a few blocks south of downtown. Local art brightens enormous Right Brain Brewery near Boardman Lake, and local flavors define its beers, like the stout Naughty Girl Scout made with locally grown mint.
A half-hour away in Bellaire, Short's Brewing Company has quickly become a mainstay on downtown's Bridge Street by serving quality pints of its hoppy Huma Lupa Licious IPA brewed in Elk Rapids.
More Craft Breweries
Clam Lake Beer Company, Cadillac Historical photos of Cadillac highlight the neoindustrial taproom, a favorite stop after skiing or snowmobiling. Patrons refuel on pizzas heavy on toppings and Michigan beers coming from many of its 40 taps.
Cheboygan Brewing Company, Cheboygan A German-style Lighthouse amber and malty Oktoberfest are among the award winners at Cheboygan Brewing, which proudly brings back the beer-making tradition that left this Lake Huron port city in 1911.
Frankenmuth Brewery, Frankenmuth Carrying the 1862 name forward, this new facility makes German-inspired beers. Its floor-to-ceiling picture windows and an outdoor patio overlook the Cass River. A full menu highlights bratwursts.
Dead Bear Brewing Company, Grayling This small-batch brewpub taps at least five of its beers and 21 Michigan labels. Burgers and chicken tenders stand out on the full menu of this recently expanded restaurant.
New Holland Brewing Company, Holland Known for its specialty barrel-aged and barrel-soured beers, this popular pub also surprises with pizzas made using locally sourced and seasonally inspired ingredients. Dining tables surround a shiny copper fermenter in the century-old brick building.
Keweenaw Brewing Company, Houghton KBC's Red Jacket Amber gleams like copper at this taproom in the heart of the Keweenaw's Copper Country. Visitors relax around a dancing fire while sipping a variety of tasty ales brewed in nearby South Range.
Midtown Brewing Company, Lansing Warm-color brick walls and cheery sidewalk seating make Midtown a fave lunch and after-work spot. Along with a half-dozen of its own brews, it specializes in "nitro" beers (infused with nitrogen instead of carbon dioxide for creaminess).
Dark Horse Brewing Company, Marshall Handmade mugs for the beer club crowd the ceiling of the taproom, proof of the local devotion to this brewery north of the Kalamazoo River. Toasted subs and calzones complement favorites like the Crooked Tree IPA.
Old Boys' Brewhouse, Spring Lake On the shore of Spring Lake, this brewhouse creates nearly a dozen seasonal beers, pizzas made with brewer's malt in the crust and even homemade dog treats in honor of Old Boy, a chocolate Lab.
Petoskey Brewing Company, Petoskey Think about this brewer's hard root beer as a grown-up mash-up of soda and beer. A fire-brewed and fermented malt beverage, it combines the sweet and spicy tastes you might remember from childhood with an alcoholic punch.
Petoskey Brewing Company; photo by Tony Demin
Read about more great places to visit on the Pure Michigan blog at michigan.org/blog