Sunday, February 26, 2012

Beer Ain't Drinkin' 6: Kentucky Beer and Michigan Whisky

Sorry it's been so long since my last blog, but I've been sick, and reviewing beer when everything tastes like Styrofoam doesn't do anyone any good.

Recently I got back from a little brew vacation in Louisville and a bunch of places in Michigan. First I headed to Louisville to see the Drive By Truckers and spend a little more time visiting bourbon country. Whisky starts its life as beer, so I'm pretty sure it's relevant here (because we at TMGA are so staunch about the rules).
The two distilleries I hit up were Makers Mark and Jim Beam.  The former is in the middle of friggin nowhere (thank God, I borrowed my sister's GPS, or I'm pretty sure I'd still be driving around the back roads of Kentucky), but, as many of you know, they make really good bourbon.  Also, they have a really good non-aged spirit they sell on premises that tastes like popcorn, Makers having the  high corn content that it does. Jim Beam, on the other hand was a little meh. Huge place, but on the tour they don't let you see much of it.  Instead, it's more, "This is the house Jim Beam used to live in."  "This is what the barrels look like after bourbon's been aged in them." "Men's on the right, women's on the left."

After hitting the bourbon tours, I went to Bluegrass Brewing Company in Louisville for a couple of drinks before the show. A lot of what they brew is stored in used Woodford barrels, which certainly gives it a bit of a kick. Their stout is just so-so, but their bourbon-barrel-aged ale is great. Usually it's the other way around, but I don't think the stout is that interesting to start with before the aging. They also had a really nice Belgian-style triple on tap, which was also quite good.
As for the the Truckers show, for those of you dying to know how it was ... ... ... ... all right, it was awesome!  They never play a place that small in Chicago anymore, and everyone in attendance was super friendly. Plus they had cheap bottles of Bell's Two Hearted Ale, Left Hand and Founder's Centennial.  That's a beer selection that's not so easy to find in Chicago, though I hear Lincoln Hall and Bottom Lounge have been stepping up their game recently.

Next I left Louisville and headed up to Holland, Michigan. After one hell of a long drive, I met up with a friend at New Holland Brewing. They had a very nice rum-barrel-aged rye (brewery exclusive), which was tasty, and the increasingly hard to find Night Tripper on tap.  After that, once safely in the confines of the cottage where I was to spend the night, well, frankly, I proceeded to get stupid drunk on many of the beers I'd collected on my trip so far.  (To those I may have drunk dialed that night, please click here; the rest of you, keep moving along). <dusting hands>

The next day I visited Saugatuck Brewing Company in Douglas. They also make nice bourbon-barrel-aged stouts as well as blond ales. The food looked and smelled great, but I was still too full from lunch to try any.  Next, I went beer hunting.  

Now every town of more than 50 people in Michigan seems to make great beer, but it isn't usually available in Illinois, let alone the next town over. First I stopped at a small store with a Founders/Bell's sign out front. They had roughly 5 (!) cases of Bell's Hopslam in plain view (at the store I work at every case we got went straight to the basement).  I bought a six-pack while asking for their North Peak. They didn't have any but sent me to a bar down the street. So, I stroll into the bar, a townie joint (I sighted a fifteen-year-old sitting at the bar lamenting the loss of the "good old days"), and was astonished that they had Founders and Dragon's Milk amongst their five taps. As I was waiting for them to grab me some North Peak, I noticed they had a couple of bottles of Bell's Oracle in their cooler. "How much?" I stammered.  "2.50 a bottle? Oh, happy day!" So as to give you some context regarding my jubilation, I should tell you that I know of one Binny's in Chicago that's gotten this beer in stock, and the only time I ever saw it in person, it was at the brewery being sold retail for $17 a four-pack.  Its Bell's version of a West Coast IPA.  Which is to say, it has no subtlety, is nothing but hops. Clean, out your nostrils, HOPS.  Back in the townie bar, my transaction with the bartender concluded as such:  "I'll take them."  "You want one?" "No.  Them!"
 The next day, therefore, consisted of some much needed "down time." However, the following day,
chipper as ever, I headed to Founders in Grand Rapids, for the Better Half release. Better Half is their new release for their 750 series, which also includes the Canadian Breakfast Stout and Blushing Monk. And seeing the store I work at isn't on the list for either of those, I figured my only chance of getting a bottle was at the brewery. 

I arrived an hour before they opened, and talk about a cool-ass line to be standing in! Around 100 people loitered around in the cold, sharing some great yarns and beers.  I'm talking Goose Island Bourbon County beers, Pliny The Elder (which I didn't get a chance to try, but I'd never even seen a bottle before), growlers from non-bottling micro's, and so on.  To add to the pot (keg) luck, I yanked out and shared a couple bottles of 3 Floyds Zombie Dust and Bluegrass Brewing Stout. It was a great time and the two bottle limit was undone once everyone figured out you could get back in line. The beer itself is the Old Curmudgeon stored in a bourbon barrel with molasses to make it all taste unbelievably good. One of my favorite beers made better!
I planned to lunch at the new-ish Brewery Vivant, but after finding that it doesn't open till 3pm, I instead headed to Arcadia in Battle Creek. Battle Creek is a smallish town that is best known for cereal production, but they also have one of the oldest micros in the Midwest.  Arcadia makes an admirable porter, and their Hopmouth double IPA ain't nothing to scoff ain't either.  Before heading out, I bought a couple of their limited quantity bottles, including an imperial stout, aged in bourbon-barrels (natch) and another one aged in Cabernet barrels.  I'm now just waiting for a good enough occasion to crack them.

Heading home, I made an "Ah, screw it" visit to 3 Floyds in Munster, Indiana.  Had a great Baltic porter called Topless Wych (sorry, Ma) and some damn good food.  When I got home that night, like bread crumbs, beer bottles led from my front door to where I promptly fell into a deep coma on the couch.

And, as always,

Beers, Steers and Queers!