The Great Michigan Beer Journey, Day 3: The Big Dogs

(This post is part of a series detailing my recent trip to Bell’s Funvitational in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Check out part 1, part 2 and part 3 if you enjoyed this!)

On our third day in Michigan, we had an unprecedented amount of beer. If you think we enjoyed a lot of samples yesterday, hang on to your hats: this is where it gets intense. Since this was a driving-lite day, we filled up every nook and cranny of time we had with beer samplers.

Heading out from Ann Arbor meant that we finally had a chance to sleep in, since our next destination was only about two hours away. We arrived in Holland around lunchtime, and made a beeline towards New Holland Brewing Company – one of the few breweries whose beers we’d tasted prior to this trip. The beer we’d had was The Poet, an incredible oatmeal stout that blew our minds. From the size of the restaurant and its location right in the center of town, it was easy to see that New Holland was already an institution. IMG_0984My first note about New Holland: they make great beer cheese. Made with their Mad Hatter midwest IPA, it’s nice and rich with a lovely mustard tang to give it a bit of a kick. Their beers were also quite delicious. My favorite here was the Paleooza Michigan pale ale, a beer brewed with MI-grown cascade hops. It was a pale ale just the way I like it; grassy and herbal, juicy and tropical, dry without being chalky or unpleasant on the palate. Our great waitress also gave us a small sample of the Blue Bradberry blueberry wheat ale, which managed to retain a ton of blueberry flavor without being overwhelmingly sweet. IMG_0990The thing that surprised me the most, however, was The Poet. Although it was still delicious, the chocolaty intensity that makes it so drinkable wasn’t as present as when it’s bottled. New Holland does have a great way with darker beers. Their Sticky Fingers sweet stout had a wonderful molasses flavor. I’m not typically a fan of sweet stouts, but I really dug this one. Sadly, we didn’t get around to trying the Dragon’s Milk, their bourbon barrel stout.

"Please stop taking pictures and let me drink this beer."
“Please stop taking pictures and let me drink this beer.”

We continued on to Grand Rapids for a stop at Founders, another brewery more widely distributed outside of Michigan. You may have heard of them based on the controversy surrounding the label of their Breakfast Stout featuring a baby.

This brewery is HUGE, taking up its own block in Grand Rapids. There’s not one, but two bars within the taproom and an enormous terrace with some beautiful outdoor fire places and drunk-proof safety warnings. IMG_1012The beers were impressively diverse, and extremely vibrant in color. Seriously, I snapped a million pictures of these samples and felt like a professional for a few minutes.

The Founders-clad man in the background was merely a happy accident

These gorgeous beers were definitely as good as they looked. The Untombed Ancient Egyptian Ale was a unique starter, brewed to celebrate the arrival of King Tut to the Grand Rapids Public Museum.  As a history nerd who grew up with a fascination for this boy king, it made me so happy that Founders commemorated this occasion with such a special beer. The brewers used traditional ingredients such as honey and dates, and replaced hops with spices and herbs. The result is a beer that is deep ruby in color – Nick and I both settled on asp’s blood as the exact descriptor. There’s a lot of berry and honey in it, and it smells just like strawberry jam on toast. The taste is mostly wildflower honey, with some of the berry notes in the background, some rose and cumin. Definitely wonderfully creative.

Seriously, just look at that color!
Seriously, just look at that color!

Of course, we also had a taste of the aforementioned Breakfast Stout, which was intensely chocolaty and creamy with some surprising notes of tobacco, leather and molasses. Our hands down favorite of the day, however, was the Rubaeus raspberry ale served on nitro. It was another strikingly colorful beer, full of red and orange and amber. It was amazingly complex when tasted; starting off with a slight creaminess, bursting into full tart raspberry in the middle and finishing fairly sweet, with pure raspberries and cream. Even among the very strong line-up we tasted, the Rubaeus stood head and shoulders above the rest. IMG_1011We did try many more beers while at Founders; they had many IPAs and Imperial IPAs on tap, and while those big, hoppy beers weren’t my favorites, they were all excellently made. They also tapped a cask of their Dirty Bastard Scotch ale aged with cinnamon, vanilla and maple syrup. Since the Dirty Bastard is already quite sweet, we were afraid that it would be way too sweet with the addition of maple syrup. However, the effect was more like maple syrup on French toast. The maple stays front and center but it’s seriously tempered by the vanilla and cinnamon. Clearly, Founders is a brewery to be reckoned with; they know what they’re doing and they’re not afraid to jump off the deep end to do it.

These are the faces of two very satisfied beer tourists
These are the faces of two very satisfied beer tourists

We set off from Founders totally content. We couldn’t stop there, though, knowing that Kalamazoo itself is chock full of an impressive amount of breweries. Tune in next time to read about our Kalamazoo pub crawl!

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