Sunday, January 17, 2010

We said Yes! to M!ch!gan!

I'm a huge Blackhawks fan, and Leah--a native of Petoskey, MI--grew up a Red Wings fan. However, she's never been to Joe Louis Arena, so for Christmas I got her tickets to see Sunday's Hawks-Wings game (which, incidentally, the Hawks won in a shootout... LET'S GO BLACKHAWKS!!!).

We left yesterday morning and spent the night in Ann Arbor. Of course, you can't drive across Michigan without hitting up some breweries, right? Well, we planned stops at two brewpubs: Dark Horse Brewing Co. in Marshall for lunch, and Arbor Brewing Co. in Ann Arbor for dinner. Here's my review of each...

We pulled into Marshall, MI (conveniently located just off of I-94) around 1:00pm local time. Dark Horse wasn't hard to find. From the outside it didn't look that impressive, but inside it was awesome. It had all the cool elements of a dive bar--beat-up hardwood floors, odd pictures along with some random graffiti all over the walls, metal on the jukebox. But there were little touches that told you this clearly wasn't a dive bar. Hand-designed wrought iron decorations over the windows (which we stupidly forgot to take a picture of). Great beer on tap. Oh, and the mugs.

The entire place is lined with hand-made ceramic (?) mugs for their mug club members. Despite having seating for somewhere in the neighborhood of forty people, they have over TWO THOUSAND mug club members. Apparently it's $46 to join but you get a lifetime membership, so it's not that big of a commitment to sign up. Hell, I was ready to sign up if I knew I'd be back more than three times in my lifetime (and I certainly hope I will be). The food was great pub fare, but I don't feel like writing about food. On to the beer...

Dark Horse is one of my favorite breweries, and they're widely available here, so I tried the three selections that aren't available here. The first was their Boffo Brown Ale. Brown ales can be quite hit or miss, but this one was definitely hit. Not too sweet, not too roasty, with just enough Pacific Northwest hops to give it a little citrus note without being bitter. Next I had their Four Elf Winter Warmer. I'm not a huge fan of spiced beers, but the combination of alcohol plus rich malt and roasted notes (it was a dark beer, almost stout-like though not that roasty) stood up well to the spices. Nice. Finally, I tried a sample of their Smells Like Weed IPA. Having been to many a concert I'm familiar with the smell of pot, and I didn't think it smelled that much like weed, but it was tasty nonetheless. Overall, I highly recommend anybody trekking across I-94 take a quick detour to Dark Horse.

That evening we proceeded to Arbor Brewing Co., in the heart of downtown Ann Arbor. I'm afraid to say our experience there was not as positive. The inside was nice enough, though not terribly distinct. I started out with the Olde Number 22, which they claim is a Sticke-style Altbier. It came without a hint of a head and, not surprisingly, tasted flat. On top of that, it didn't really taste like a Sticke at all. It wasn't hoppy, it wasn't malty. At first I seriously wondered if they accidentally gave me their porter on cask. It was simply a thin ale with enough roasted specialty malts to give it a dark color without making it overly roasty (perhaps they used Carafa?). But an Alt it was not. To say I was disappointed is an understatement.

Next I had the aforementioned porter on cask (which allowed me to confirm it was different from the Olde Number 22). Fortunately, the porter on cask was much better. Unfortunately, after drinking about a third of my pint I suddenly came across a bit of something slimy. I reflexively spit out my beer and discovered a glob of something floating in my glass. Upon further inspection it wasn't a piece of a hop leaf; honestly I'm still not sure what it was. The waiter got me a fresh pint though he didn't seem particularly troubled by my discovery.

I will say in Arbor's defense that the two beers which were most highly recommended--their breakfast stout and Doppelbock--were both out, so maybe I would've had a different opinion if I had tried those. And hopefully the random floatie in my porter was a freak occurrence. Overall, however, I'm not in any hurry to return.

So that was our weekend from a beer-centric perspective. Michigan is definitely spoiled when it comes to breweries (as the folks over at Michigan Beer Buzz will tell you) so I've still got plenty of other breweries to check out. But I'm definitely glad to have finally gotten to Dark Horse and hope to return soon.

P.S. On the way back, I snapped the following picture at a gas station. It's a good thing they had the "out of order" sign on the pump, or else I would have had no idea:


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