Friday, September 11, 2015

The Rain, Oktoberfest, and Other Things

Arbor Brewing's Matt and Rene Greff in their everyday attire.

Today kicks off the annual two-day Oktoberfest celebration in Downtown Ann Arbor, and in true Michigan fashion, the forecast calls for a cool and possibly rainy autumnesque day, so you'll want to dress accordingly. There is the traditional action of live oompah music, brats, and beers on Washington Street in front of the Arbor Brewing Brewpub, but across the way Grizzly Peak is celebrating not just Oktoberfest, but its 20th anniversary as well. Here are the details.

WHAT: Just in time for Oktoberfest, Washington Street between Ashley and Main streets will set the scene for Grizzly Peak Brewing Co.’s 20th anniversary bash. Revelers are welcome to join in and raise a stein to two decades of success as the highly regarded brewpub debuts a fresh and forward-focused look and menu. Check out live music and DJ Brian Alvarez keeping the beat during this two-day block party, as well as a photo booth and games like giant Jenga and Cornhole. Indulge at delicious outdoor food stations featuring German-inspired fare, Grizzly Peak beer, and a chance to sample brand new menu items, straight off of the grill.

EAT: The Grilling Station will feature slider-sized options of each of three new burgers: The Pork Belly Burger, complete with ale-braised pork belly, jalapeno goat cheese pesto and candied tomato jam; The 2 AM Burger, topped with cheese fondue sauce, fried pickles and crisp bacon; and the Teriyaki Burger, a sirloin burger with prosciutto, pepperjack cheese, pineapple salsa, and house-made Teriyaki sauce.

The Pasta and Sliders Station will feature a Truffled Mac n’ Cheese with three-cheese béchamel and breadcrumb crust as well as the Cuban-style Pulled Pork Sliders with pickled vegetable slaw, Swiss cheese, cilantro lime mustard aioli, and fresh cilantro.

The German Station will feature Pretzels and Bacon Beer Bratwurst topped with sauerkraut, in honor of Oktoberfest.

The Beer Station will quench any thirst with four Grizzly Peak beer options to choose from, including Grizzly Peak XX Pale Ale.

A commemorative beer stadium cup is complimentary with an initial beer purchase and is available for refill.

WHEN: 5 p.m. to midnight on Friday, Sept. 11, and resuming 3 p.m. to midnight Saturday, Sept. 12
In related news, the already nationally recognized Jolly Pumpkin is also achieving international accolades, most recently taking home three gold medals from the Hong Kong International Beer Awards for Oro de Calabaza (Best Belgian-Style Ale), Bam Biere (Best Saison), and Calabaza Blanca (Best Wit). Read more about it on

So put on your lederhosen (and poncho?) and celebrate the awesomeness of Downtown Ann Arbor's beer scene tonight and tomorrow. Prost!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Bell, Book, and Badgerow: Telling the Story of Two Michigan Beer Pioneers

A younger Larry Bell toasts his future success. Photo courtesy Bell's Brewery.

On Saturday Michigan's oldest operating brewery, Bell's, will celebrate its 30th anniversary in Kalamazoo, hosting a festival featuring breweries from across the country, including a number not normally seen in our fair state. Sometime next month, the Ypsi Alehouse is expected to open its doors in Downtown Ypsilanti, becoming Michigan's newest brewery. What do these two places have in common?

Bottles from the short-lived Real Ale Company.
In 1982, Ypsi Alehouse partner Ted Badgerow founded Michigan's first brewery in decades when he opened the Real Ale Company in Chelsea. Though Badgerow's brewery was open barely more than a year, it was around long enough for then-Ann Arbor resident Larry Bell to pay a visit and, later, buy some equipment from Badgerow during the brewery's liquidation. By 1985, Michigan's microbrewing torch passed to the Kalamazoo Brewing Company, today known as Bell's Brewery to lovers of great beer across Michigan and 21 other states (and growing).

I interviewed both Badgerow and Bell for my book, Ann Arbor Beer, wherein I tell the story of how they kickstarted Michigan's modern brewing renaissance (read an excerpt here.) Congratulations to Larry on three decades of making fantastic beer and to Ted (who has remained an avid homebrewer all these years) on his return to commercial brewing!

And, to anyone heading to Kalamazoo this weekend, perhaps I'll see you there.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Old German to Open New Sidewalk Patio

Adrienne Nickles at work on the new Old German patio.

Some news you can use in the waning days of summer. Sayeth the press release:

The Old German welcomes its patrons to dine in the open air with a brand new biergarten patio opening Monday, Aug. 24.

Located in the lower level of Grizzly Peak in Ann Arbor, this additional seating gives patrons of Old German a chance to enjoy the outdoors for the first time. Old German’s new patio features furniture crafted by local woodworker Adrienne Nickles, the owner and artist behind Michigan Reconstructed, the patio is being constructed along the sidewalk of S. Ashley Street between W. Huron and W. Washington streets.

Working along with Janelle Sterling and Kate Peterson to bring the designs to life, Nickles is building several different styles of seating and tables for the patio, as well as with trellises to support hops plants, which lend themselves to the beer-inspired theme.

Owners of the Old German and Grizzly Peak Brewing Company, Jon Carlson, Greg Lobdell and Chet Czaplicka, shared a vision to give Old German patrons an outdoor space that is both modern and rustic. Once open, visitors can enjoy the fresh air and kick back with one of the Old German’s award-winning craft beers. The owners are avid supporters of the local area and took an interest in Nickles’ dedication to quality craftsmanship, artistry, and sustainability. Nickles’ woodshop is located in downtown Ann Arbor, just a couple blocks from the Old German.
"When I was designing the patio space, I thought, 'Where would I want to go with my friends? Where would I want to take my family?'" Nickles said. "That was the inspiration."

The woodwork on the patio will be constructed primarily from oak lumber, reclaimed from the Ann Arbor area. "My passion is using re-purposed materials to make something beautiful. Most of the material for this project is urban wood, and any other material will be coming from local businesses," said Nickles. "Jon and Greg are so cool about contributing to sustainability."

An important aspect of the business overall, this new addition is expected to add to the overall aesthetic of Old German, as well as its upstairs neighbor, Grizzly Peak Brewing Company.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Salt Springs Brewery Open in Saline

As everybody doubtlessly knows by now, Salt Springs Brewery is now open in Downtown Saline as of a couple weeks ago. Before embarking on a summer beercation to Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula (about which more later), my beer partner and I paid a visit to the place. Here is a quick first impression.

Beer. The beer list offered an eclectic mix (English IPA, ESB, kolsch, cherry stout, porter, hefeweizen, and saison), with the ESB and kolsch being the standouts to my palate. We did not, however, try the hefeweizen, porter, or cherry stout, so if your tastes run more to any of those, I got nothin'.

Food. The food menu went well beyond the usual pub fare, featuring such things as chicken liver pate, croque madam, tarte flambee, and boudin blanc. We opted for the mussels, because mmm, mussels. There was a clear effort to source ingredients locally (such as shrimp from the farm in Okemos, sauerkraut from The Brinery, etc.). Although nothing truly felt "overpriced" for the area, it should be noted the menu is not really aimed at those on a budget. I have to deduct a point, though, for the lack of anywhere to put empty mussel shells (we had to use the rim of a plate, which quickly became crowded and messy). And another minus for the use of brioche on the burger. Brioche sucks.

Ambiance. The brewery and taproom are situated in a former Methodist church, so if you like to drink beer amidst stained glass windows and vaulted ceilings, you will appreciate this space. Really, they did a nice job renovating and decorating the old church into a place of beer worship.

Service. Grand opening weekend caveat applies: The place was absolutely slammed and everything was new. That said, we sat front and center at a bar with four people working behind it, and it was frustratingly difficult to get anyone's attention. One bartender occasionally scanned people's glasses but made no attempt whatever to look up and make eye contact. As a result, we ended up leaving without ordering the second round of beers and food we were fully prepared to.

Bottom line. Beers were competent, if not amazing. Food was good but priced according to Ann Arbor standards. Atmosphere seemed great (the brewery also sports an attached biergarten). Service could use a bit of improvement, but opening weekend caveat applies.  Saline's not too far, so go check it out for yourself. I'm just some guy with a blog, you know?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Michigan: The State of Good Beer

Certified Cicerone Annette May wants to teach you all about beer at

I have a host of excuses for not posting anything lately, but here's one that is at least fairly legit: I've been busy writing a buttload of articles for the Detroit Metro Times's annual beer issue, out today. You can read about some top Michigan beers, Fermenta's first anniversary, beer education, the rise of craft lager, and more at this here link. Cheers!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Arbor to Celebrate 20th Anniversary with New Beer, Block Party

Rene and Matt Greff celebrate 20 years of Arbor Brewing in July.
It's deja vu all over again. Arbor Brewing, which opened in 1995 just one month before Grizzly Peak did, is also celebrating 20 years of beer by brewing up a commemorative batch of suds and closing Washington Street in front of the pub for a July 31 party. Here's the official press release:

When Arbor Brewing Company (ABC) opened our doors in July 1995, there were only seven breweries in Michigan. Twenty years later, as we put this finishing touches on our anniversary celebration, the number has swelled to nearly 200, and craft beer, once a niche product, has become an international sensation.

In typical ABC fashion, we are taking our celebration to the streets. ABC alumnus Matthew Altruda of Sonic Lunch and "Tree Town Sound" will emcee the festivities as we groove to the deep funk soul of local favorite Third Coast Kings and enjoy special opening performances by various bands featuring ABC staff and alumni.

Owner Matt Greff and head brewer Chris Davies have joined forces to create ABC’s 20th Anniversary Barley Wine, which will be tapped exclusively at the anniversary party along with a soured version we’ve been cellaring for months. These limited releases will also be available in 750 ml commemorative bottles solely at ABC on July 31. The party will feature two bars pouring pub classics like our award-winning Bavarian Bliss and new fan favorites like Strawberry Blonde Ale, Buzzsaw IPA and Ypsi Gypsi Pale Ale. We’ll also be serving up some great street food from our own kitchen plus an assortment of food carts.

The event will be on East Washington Street at Main Street in Downtown Ann Arbor on Friday, July 31, from 5pm to midnight.  As always, there is no cover and we are family-friendly as long as minors are with their parents. 

According to ABC co-owner Rene Greff, “We can’t wait to celebrate this occasion with so many people who have helped make Arbor Brewing Company the success that it is today and look forward to the next 20 years because the best is yet to come!”

Follow the latest ABC happenings on twitter and Facebook and use #ABC20years for up-to-date info or email

Of course, you can read more about the history of Arbor Brewing in my book, Ann Arbor Beer: A Hoppy History of Tree Town Brewing, which also includes a foreword from Rene and Matt Greff.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Grizzly Peak to Celebrate 20th Anniversary with New Beer, Block Party

Longtime Grizzly Peak head brewer Duncan Williams doing his thing.

Time flies when you're brewing beer. One of Ann Arbor's two original brewpubs, Grizzly Peak Brewing Co., celebrates 20 years on Washington Street this year. To mark the occasion, head brewer Duncan Williams will collaborate on a commemorative beer with several Grizzly Peak brewer alumni.

Next Thursday, June 25, Duncan will be joined by Ron Jeffries (Jolly Pumpkin), Stacey Roth (Griffin Claw), Sean Brennan (Original Gravity), and Nathan Hukill (Bitter Old Fecker) to brew a seven-barrel batch of XX Pale Ale, an extra strength version of the pub staple GP Pale Ale. It will be unveiled August 22 at an anniversary block party event in honor of Grizzly Peak's two decades of slaking Ann Arbor's thirst.

Grizzly Peak opened in 1995, originally the brainchild of California transplant Barry Seifer, who named the brewpub after a scenic boulevard in his native Berkeley. You can read more about Seifer's efforts to legalize brewpubs in Michigan and Grizzly Peak's early history in my book, Ann Arbor Beer: A Hoppy History of Tree Town Brewing.