Everyone knows that Michigan is known for their great breweries, but be sure to make it up to the northern part of the state to find these gems as well.
When my wife, Erika and I took a road trip to northern Michigan, not the Upper Peninsula, but rather the Traverse City/Leelanau area, we decided not to make an itinerary, but just explore whatever we stumbled upon. We were staying at The Snowbird Inn Bed & Breakfast and it was just before the tourist season began which meant we virtually had the place to ourselves, not just the B&B, but Leelanau.
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Our first night we decided to venture into town. Sutton’s Bay for dinner then back to Leland and Fishtown for an after dinner drink. We nearly missed Leland as it is not too big of a town, but luckily we stopped and headed up to The Cove for a beverage. We walked in, sat at the bar to look at the menu. The first beer that jumped off the menu at me was Leelanau Brewing Company’s Good Harbor Golden. I immediately asked the waitress if they actually had it and she said, “Yes, we have one more.” I could feel the eyes of the other three people at the bar, I believe all of which worked there, upon me. I replied, “Well, can we have it?” She served it to us and encouraged us to go out onto the deck to enjoy the sunset which just so happened to match the label of the beer. One drink later and they told us it was closing time. Ah well, I guess when it is not tourist season things close early, and some places don’t open at all.
On day two we decided to drive down to Traverse City and start our day there and work back towards our B&B through the day. It was a beautiful day and we walked all over downtown Traverse City. There are a lot of shops, restaurants and bars in downtown. Great beer locations such as 7 Monks Taproom and Brew and breweries: Mackinaw Brewing Company, North Peak Brewing Company are located here. But one of the most memorable was an unplanned visit to Right Brain Brewery.
I had heard of Right Brain Brewery before, but had never had their beer until this trip. The night before I had one of their beers on draught up in Sutton’s Bay. When I entered one of the shops, M22, and started talking the staff about our little trip up north from Cleveland he told me Right Brain Brewery is a must. He even walked me out of his store to show me exactly where it was located, nestled in an alley down from the bank. Now we had an itinerary started.
We took the directions and headed down to Right Brain, but as we pulled up I saw the sign said “Closed”. Erika encouraged me to go out and read the hours on the sign. They would not be open until later that afternoon. As I began to walk away a man came out from the loading dock and asked me if he could help. I told him we were in from Cleveland (I also threw the beer blogger card out there) and had heard great things about the brewery and wanted to stop in for a pint, but they were closed. He told us to come on in and he would buy us a beer. Little did I know at the time that he was the owner/brewer of the Brewery, Russell Springsteen.
He walked us in, past the hair salon that is attached to the brewery. You see, this is part of their concept, Salon Saloon, “You sip, we snip”. It blends Russell’s former career as a barber with his current career. He walked us into the empty bar and a colorful array of ceramic mugs lined the wall behind the bar. These mugs belonged to members. Then, there was a huge list of their beers on tap. The list was most impressive due to the current brewing operation only using a 7 barrel system.
He offered us a couple samples which we enjoyed. We got to try the Spiney Norman IPA (all Simcoe IPA), Firestarter Chipotle Porter and Zaragoza IPA on cask with citrus. He took a phone call so I hurried to do a little research about him on my phone and then confirmed he was the owner. As he got off the phone he revealed that he was a little stressed with the upcoming move of the brewery and was waiting on a couple phone calls. That’s right, the brewery is on the move, 12 blocks south from the current location. Their fans will be happy to know that they are going to be able to brew more with an additional 15 barrel system.
As we sat and sipped on some tasty beer, we spoke about Cleveland some of the concepts here. He told us that Right Brain, like The BottleHouse, allows their customers to bring in their own food as well. “We are not chef’s or restaurant owners. We are a brewery, so we are going to do what we do best.” It sounds like a winning concept, after all, they are growing into a new facility.
Russell is a down to earth guy. There was nothing pretentious about him. He had a witty sense of humor as shown when we told him we were from Cleveland he asked “Where is that?”. Come on, everybody knows where Cleveland is. He seemed almost happy that I did not know who he was upon running into him outside of the brewery. By inviting us in and buying us a beer he went out of his way to make sure we left happy and it made a great impression on me. We continued our conversation which eventually led to psychic abilities. We figured we better leave because we could have just sat and spoke with Russell all day and not visited the many wineries that awaited.
After this serendipitous encounter, we headed out to hit the wineries on our way back north. My beer day was not yet complete, as later that night when we got back to our B&B, there was a note on the door from the Inn Keeper. She let me know her brother, Charles, who owns his own little brewery called Leelanau Brewing Company had left me a few beers out of his personal stash. Two 2007 Jolly Pumpkin Bam Biere and a Good Harbor Golden from his brewery. I’d say that was a good beer day.
We did hit North Peak while in Traverse City. I tried their Hoppin’ Roggen On Cask which is probably my favorite beer that I have had of theirs. On the way back to Cleveland we made a couple stops. We hit Frankenmuth for the hell of it and stopped in Ann Arbor to have lunch at Jolly Pumpkin. It was a great little road trip getaway, the one regret is that we did not get up to Old Mission Peninsula and Mission Table. I hear there are good things brewing up there. Next time we hit more breweries!
Also, thanks to Dianna Stampfler of Promote Michigan for some of the suggestions on where to go!