So, I went on a little beer trip recently.
Shoreline Brewing, Michigan City, Indiana
Shoreline Brewing is a small brewpub located in Michigan City, which is, as you might guess, fairly close to Michigan, all things being considered. It’s located kind of lost in the back of a semi-commercial, semi-residential area near the lake, and from the outside looks rather like an abandoned warehouse where Scooby and the gang might run in and out of doors down a long hallway, pursued by a masked man going “rargle argle bargle”. Which is to say, it really doesn’t look like much.
Inside, though, I’m happy to report that it’s a different story, and is quite cozy, in a wooden planked, ski-lodge sort of way. I bellied up to the bar as the clock struck 11 a.m. and they opened for the day, and promptly ordered a flight, along with a crab cake sandwich. This was the beer list I was presented with:
Inside, The Livery is a pretty darn interesting place, with three floors. The main bar, with taps for all of the place’s brews, is located in the basement, in a tiny bar area that has a small-town dive/vegan soup kitchen kind of vibe. The ground floor, on the other hand, is more of a countercultural coffeeshop, with obligatory weird crap (old bicycle in the rafters) and a stage for live music. Reading through the list of performers before departing on the trip, I was very surprised by how many folk musicians I really enjoyed (such as Canadian fiddler April Verch, who they even named a beer after) had played regularly on that stage. I also heard in talking to the bartenders that the bar regularly draws some interesting beer figures as well. Case in point: A few days before I was in town, Fritz Maytag apparently was in town and stopped by for a brew.
Remembering what kind of trip I was on, however, I quickly beat a path down to the bar, where I saw this:
Once again I ordered a flight, determined to make at least a token dent in the total number of beers, most of which I knew that I would never get to try. This time I even managed to snap a shot of the flight when it arrived, sidestepping the problem I seem to have of forgetting my camera until exactly one of the glasses remains.
This time, my choices from the beer list were, from left to right:
– Special C, dark Czech lager: Probably the worst beer of the trip, to be honest. It had a very weird cidery taste, bordering on mild sourness. I had never tasted any of these flavors in a lager before, but was repulsed by them here. Didn’t finish the taster. Figure I just got a bad beer.
– Steep Canyon Bohemian Pils: Where the first was weird, this one was just plain, and seemingly not hopped heavily enough to make a real impression. Didn’t finish the taster.
– Thom’s Special Amber IPA: Much better. A malty and herbal, seemingly English-inspired brew that restored my faith in what was going on in the Livery fermenters.
– String of Ponies, dry-hopped pale: A hoppy, ideal session brew that just about any brewpub would be happy to have as a flagship.
– Dixie O’Flynn, dry stout: A fine dry stout that really didn’t stand out too much.
– The Taxman, Russian imperial stout: Okay, now HERE’s the one that stood out at The Livery. An absolutely huge, 12.75% abv RIS, at cellar temperature by the time I drank it, went off like a bomb in my mouth. Easily one of the top one or two most purely flavorful brews from the trip, full of raw, in-your-face aggression. Although somewhat unrefined or one-dimensional in its approach, it was undoubtedly a good dimension, and it left me somehow chastened. I scurried out of The Livery shortly thereafter, having met my match, but not before knocking back a bowl of the world’s spiciest and most sobriety granting carnitas stew.
Saugatuck Brewing Company, Saugatuck, Michigan
After that I was back on the road again, continuing to hug the Lake Michigan coast and making a quick jaunt further north, to the small city of Saugatuck. There, Saugatuck Brewing Company awaited, or at least it would have, had it not been closed for new employee training.
This is just one of those things that is bound to happen on any trip like this. When you visit 15 or so breweries/beer bars in the span of a few days, one of them will be closed unexpectedly. You just suck it up and move on. I managed to later pick up a few Saugatuck brews in liquor package stores in Grand Rapids, although I haven’t gotten to any of them yet.
Anyway, I jumped back in my car and continued heading north to my last stop of the day…New Holland Brewing.
New Holland Brewing, Holland, Michigan
You learn things on a trip like this. One of the things I learned was how beautiful Holland, Michigan for some reason is. It’s really quite nice. New Holland Brewing is located right on the campus of Hope College. I was pretty damn envious of those college kids, having such a great brewer right in their backyard.
New Holland is very nice on the inside as well, with a great gift shop, tours, and a main bar area that is a good fusion between comfy and modernesque. I sat at the bar, had a brew, and ate some pita bread and hummus.
The dynamic of visiting a larger brewery that distributes its beer nationally on a trip like this is different from visiting smaller brewpubs, as I had earlier in the day. Instead of feeling the need “I have to make sure I’m able to taste everything,” most of the beers are ones you’ve probably had before, which is liberating. At these breweries, you “have to” taste fewer beers, and can typically just focus on one or two brewpub exclusives that are served at the brewery and are not distributed. New Holland had three of these, a robust porter, california common beer, and an insane imperialized saison.
That saison–“Saison Cacoa”–is a freaking 11.5% abv monster, brewed with “spices” and aged on cacao nibs. It was the last beer of the day for me, a nightcap in the truest sense. Its beguiling combination of booze, spice and richness made it probably the most intense beer-drinking experience of this trip, right on the edge of what a person could legitimately be expected to consume 12 ounces of.
I then headed to my cheap motel to mercifully sleep.
That’s it for Day I of this Michigan Beer Sojourn! Tune in again on Wednesday for Day II, and on Friday for Day III!