|Ann Arbor breweries honor the city's German heritage every fall with a downtown Oktoberfest street party.|
Around these parts, late September typically means digging sweaters out of the closet, taking tours of local apple orchards for cider and donuts, and generally preparing for the onset of the cold season. Thanks in no small part to a century of robust German immigration, late September in Ann Arbor also means something else: Oktoberfest!
Beginning around 1830, Washtenaw County became home to an ever-increasing population of German families seeking a better life for themselves in the young Michigan Territory. Eventually they brought with them a strain of yeast and method of brewing that was hitherto unknown in the New World, and the resulting beer style they produced rapidly supplanted the traditional English ale-making common to these shores. By the second half of the 19th century, German-style lager was Ann Arbor’s – and America’s – preferred brew.
Lager breweries first appeared in Ann Arbor sometime in the 1850s. By the early 1870s, at least five were in operation, including the Bavarian Brewery, which stood near today’s Gandy Dancer restaurant; the City Brewery, which operated where the Millennium and Circus nightclubs now are (the building’s third bar, the Cavern Club, is located in the former brewery’s lagering caves), and the Central Brewery, now an apartment building at the corner of North Fifth Avenue and Summit Street. Two bigger breweries, Peter Brehm’s Western Brewery on South Fourth Street and Herman Hardinghaus’s Northern Brewery, which churned out “pure export and lager beer” from a building still standing on Jones Drive, added to Ann Arbor’s booming brewing scene.
In later years, many German social clubs also sprang up as the immigrant population continued to swell. Several remain to this day, including most famously the German Park Recreation Club, which has hosted popular public picnics full of German beer, food, music, and dancing every summer since the 1930s.
The German influence on Ann Arbor’s development over the years has been ultimately profound. German families—including those with still-familiar names like Schlenker, Allmendinger, Metzger, Muehlig, Hutzel, Schlanderer and Vogel—founded churches, tended farms, started businesses, formed civic organizations, and introduced their distinct customs to their adopted homeland.
Which brings us back to Oktoberfest, still heartily celebrated every fall at Metzger’s restaurant on Zeeb Road and downtown by the city’s newly revived brewing scenesters. Read more about our fair city’s German beer heritage in my book, “Ann Arbor Beer: A Hoppy History of Tree Town Brewing,” and read on for your latest Week in Beer, Oktoberfest edition.
Thursday, September 19
» It’s not beer, but it’s a tasty alcoholic beverage and it screams fall. Get some — cider, that is — at Literati Bookstore, 124 E. Washington, paired with cheese and books beginning at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30 and can be had, if still available, by calling 734-585-5567 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The incomparable Jessica Webster has more details here.
Friday, September 20
» Whole Foods Cranbrook is falling into the season with cider and pumpkin ale offerings at its Wine and Beer Bar beginning at 5 p.m. Head over to 990 W. Eisenhower and enjoy the harvest.
» Across town at the other Whole Foods Market, 3135 Washtenaw, also at 5 p.m., sample several Wolverine State Brewing beers including, I’m told, their marvelous Oktoberfest Lager, which is a true Marzen-style beer, meaning it was brewed in the spring and has been conditioning, aka lagering, in tanks all summer just waiting for this moment. Oh, and also there’s free shrimp. Not kidding. Free shrimp. And some cheese. And live music from Dave Boutette and Jason Dennie. And Wolverine’s Beer Wench and a brewer or two. All that’s missing is you.
» I unfortunately will miss out on the free shrimp, but don’t cry for me, Ann Arbor. I’ll be busy all day escorting MLive.com statewide entertainment reporter John Gonzalez around our town’s local beermakers — including Arbor Brewing, Jolly Pumpkin, and Wolverine — as he continues his quest for “Michigan’s Best Brewery.” That means while you’re stuck in your soulless corporate cubicle, my job will be basically to go out day drinking. Hate the game, not the playa.
» From 5 p.m. to midnight, Arbor Brewing and Grizzly Peak are takin’ it to the streets, and by “it” I mean Oktoberfest! Washington Street will be blocked off in front of both breweries, and live music along with German-style food and music will be the order of the evening. On the Arbor side, look for Oktoberfest Bier, Olde No. 22 Alt, Bavarian Bliss Hefeweizen, and Sacred Cow IPA (you gotta throw those Anglos a bone here), along with brats (meat and veggie), German potato salad, and soft pretzels. German polka band the Rhinelanders will provide the oom-pa. No cover. On the Grizzly side, dig October Ale, Der Schluck Berlinerweisse, and Grizzly Peak Festbier along with beer-braised brats and kraut, soft pretzels, and Buffalo chicken sausage. Live music from the Sounds of Germany and the Chris Canas Blues Revolution rounds out the fun. Also no cover. Both Oktoberfest parties are 21+ only.
Saturday, September 21
» Oktoberfest on Washington Street all over again! Same bat time, same bat channel.
» Hey, runners! The official Dances with Dirt team relay run after-party is at Captain Joe’s Grill, 9901 N. Main, Whitmore Lake, and guess who’s joining the festivities? Bell’s Brewery, that’s who. On tap will be Best Brown Ale, Two Hearted Ale, Octoberfest, Roundhouse Imperial Red Ale, Wedding Ale, and Hopsoulution Ale. Come by after the race, or just show up for the beer. (I don’t think anyone will mind.) Tapping begins at 7 p.m.
Sunday, September 22
» Head to the Corner Brewery, 720 Norris, Ypsilanti, for the annual Greythounds of Eastern Michigan Fundraiser in the Beer Garden from 2-5 p.m. Stop by to learn more about the Greythounds and meet the dogs! Homemade doggie treats will be available, for which donations will cheerfully be accepted, and a special batch of Greythound Beer will also be pouring. $1 from each pint sold (or growler filled) will be donated back to GEM. Furthermore, if you join the Corner Mug Club at the event ($100 new membership), $25 will be donated back to GEM. Woof.
Tuesday, September 24
» Back at Arbor Brewing, 114 E. Washington, enjoy the release party for Espresso Love Breakfast Stout from 6-8 p.m. Brewed with oatmeal and 20 pounds of fresh-roasted coffee, this 7.5% ABV stout isn’t just for breakfast anymore. Event is free for Mug Club members and $10 for nonmembers and includes light snacks and plenty of beer samples.
» It’s the age-old question. I don’t mean chicken vs. egg, nature vs. nurture, or even wave vs. particle. I’m talking, of course, about beer vs. wine. Vinology, 110 S. Main, is attempting to determine which pairs better with dinner, and they’re inviting you to help out. Chef Jim Leonardo has prepared a four-course meal to go with beers presented by local experts and wines presented by proprietor Kristin Jonna. Each round, you be the judge and vote for your preferred pairing. Tickets are $60 (excluding tax and tip); call 734-222-9841 to get yours. Event starts at 7 p.m.
Wednesday, September 25
» On tap now at Liberty Street Brewing, 149 W. Liberty, Plymouth, is, surprise, Oktoberfest. Like Wolverine’s, Liberty Street’s Oktoberfest is a true Marzen beer, but it’s a small batch and available only at the pub (no growlers, sorry). But that’s not all: Liberty is again teaming up with 5ive Restaurant at the Inn at St. John’s for an Oktoberfest banquet, taking place at 6 p.m. at 5ive. Tickets are $49 (excluding tax and tip) and reservations can be made at 734-357-5700. More info here.
Thursday, September 26
» The Art & Brew Pub Crawl to benefit the Ann Arbor Art Center is go! Enjoy art, beer, and food from six area artists and breweries at six downtown locations from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Vote for your favorites, and have a whole lot of fun doing it while helping sustain a local treasure. Tickets are $50 in advance and $60 the day of. Get all the details here, and take a sneak peek at what Wolverine has cooked up for its beer and food pairing here.
Notes on the Napkin
- Congratulations to Ashley’s, which again was named a Great American Beer Bar by CraftBeer.com, the Brewers Association website for beer lovers. Only 15 bars in the country achieved this distinction, and of those, two were from Michigan. (Click here to find out who the other is.)
- Oktoberfest continues — albeit in a milder and more indoorsy way — at Grizzly Peak, where from Sept. 23 to Oct. 13 you can get a limited-edition Oktoberfest mug for $5 and fill it with any Grizzly beer for $2 off all through Oktoberfest. Also look for some German food specials, ja.
- The Lake Street Tavern, 127 E. Lake, South Lyon, is taking reservations for its Oct. 8 Brewfest and Feast with Right Brain Brewery, which pairs five course with five beers from the creative Traverse City brewery. Tickets are $45 (excluding etc., etc.) ; call 248-446-8898 to reserve yours.