leave your inhibitions at the door
Quick – name one food item that Michigan is famous for. (ten minute pause…) Can’t do it, can you? The only thing I can think of is the Coney Island Hot Dog – a hot dog topped with chili and onions – which was indeed invented here. Nice, but c’mon, it’s just a chili dog. Besides, everyone knows real hot dogs come from Chicago.
But there is something in the beverage world that Michigan can rightfully boast as being the best at – craft beer. According to the Michigan Brewers’ Guild, Michigan has over 80 beermakers, ranking fifth in the nation. But it’s the quality, not just the quantity, of the beer that’s striking. There’s probably strong debate amongst beer geeks on which US state is best. I say “probably” because I don’t participate in those debates. You see, beer geeks are the culinary equivalent of Trekkies. Sure a few of them look somewhat normal and exhibit social skills, but you still don’t want to get in extended conversations with them. Instead of debates over Kirk vs. Picard, you get debates over Amarillo hops vs Simcoe. And instead of long discussions of the Klingon influence in season four of Deep Space Nine, there are discussions of the hidden fruit qualities of Stone’s Arrogant Bastard batch #204. You get the picture.
Which is Michigan’s best? Well, just about every beer from Bells is rock solid – Oberon, Two Hearted, Expedition Stout, Hopslam, to name a few. Short’s Humalupalicious is a monster IPA. Founders Breakfast Stout lives up to its name – coffee, oats, and chocolate. To me, the state’s best beer maker has got to be Jolly Pumpkin, led by brewing god Ron Jefferies. JP is a small brewery just outside of Ann Arbor that produces old-world rustic style beers with open fermentations, wild yeasts, and bottle conditioning. As a result, their beers can be funky, sour, barnyardish (like that one college hook-up of yours…). It’s definitely not for everyone. The New York Times did a blind tasting of Belgian-style ales and JP’s Oro de Calabaza was ranked #1. (Ron had another beer in the top 5) This is out of a list that included Belgian beers ACTUALLY FROM BELGIUM. And it’s not even their best beer.
Every year, the Michigan Brewers Guild holds its Summer Beer Festival in Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor’s crazy neighbor. (You know, the one who doesn’t mow his lawn because the pink flamingos get in the way.) It’s a two day event where 50 of the state’s brewers present over 300 beers, including some that are only available at the fest. In addition to beer there are local food vendors and live music. Plus some great people watching. Like this…
With your ticket you’re given 15 tokens, each good for a 3 oz sample. 15 tokens doesn’t sound like a lot, but I came nowhere near running out. Seriously, I think they’re magical bunnies or something because they seem to multiply. I only went through 8 tokens, but here’s what I had:
– Bastone’s Nectar des Dieux Triple
– Jolly Pumpkin’s Biere de Mars and Bambic
– Kuhnhenn’s “A Play in the Hay” Straight
– Dragonmead’s Final Absolution Trippel
– Rochester Mills Belgian IPA
– Traffic Jam’s Frambwosso
– Jaxon’s Mulligan Wheat
– Saugatuck Brewing’s Oval Beach Blond Ale
– Top Hat’s Peanut Butter Stout
– Sherwood’s Wildflower Saison
– Vivant’s Zaison
– Big Rock’s Sour Cherry Tripel, Saison St Clair, and White Cap Witbier
– The Livery’s Trippelweizenbock Lager
See what I mean about the fucking tokens? (F-bomb refers to their multiplying, not a mean-spirited adjective) Considering that many of these beers are in the 7-9% alcohol range (that last one 12.5%), I was feeling pretty tipsy. OK, I was crunked. At one point I had to take a break and get some food in me. I have cryptic notes about barbecued brisket, a handful of peanuts, and pork tamales. I also have a picture of a sloppy joe:
I realize a simple list of what I drank and ate is not very helpful; you want beautiful descriptors. At the start of the event, I had the best intentions of being a good semi-journalist and taking detailed notes on everything. That lasted 5 minutes. Weak, yes, but let’s see Katie Couric take notes on an iPhone while hammered.
Exactly how trashed was I? They had a booth where you can take a breathalizer test and I was pretty confident I’d be up in Mel Gibson territory. Here’s what I blew –
That’s below the legal limit. Embarrassing. I’m such a lightweight.