Sunday, November 4, 2012

Tales from I-94 (the road of broken livers) AKA Beer Adventures in East Michican

Been awhile since my last beer adventure.  But I just got back from a new one, and it was a doozy.

Last week I worked til 9 Wednesday night then headed up to my parent's place outside of Holland, MI, to spend the night.  The rest of the plan was simply this:  Head over to Flint and see Clutch with a stopover in Ann Arbor for a tour at Jolly Pumpkin.  Simple enough.  However....

Here's what actually happened....

First off, I woke up at my parent's place and called Founders to see if Backwoods Bastard had been released; it's listed on their website as a November release, and I happened to be in the area on the 1st (you never know when these things are actually coming out).  Anyway, lo and behold, the person answering the phone told me he just got finished moving the cases into the store.  Bam!  For those who haven't had it before, Backwoods Bastard is a bourbon barrel-aged version of their Dirty Bastard.  It's strong (10.2%) and tasty as hell!  Knowing that we'd be getting (at best) one case of it at work, I decided to haul ass to Grand Rapids!  When I got there, I also noticed they had their Stock Ale Backstage Series in stock.  There was no limit on the amount you could buy and it was only available in West Michigan. Naturally, I bought a bunch and sent a text to a bunch of beer dorks I know that I thought would want a bottle.  Though, to my chagrin, on my way out of the brewery I got a bunch of "no thanks" texts!  Too bad I just bought 9 bottles!  When I bought them I was thinking the Stock Ale was a beer closer to North Coast's Old Stock Ale (which is fantastic), but it's more of a well-built no-frills affair.  Not a lot of hops or alcohol, just a special one-off the brewery did for a furniture event in Grand Rapids, which was best know for good furniture before beer.

Next I load a CD into my stereo featuring one of Ann Arbors finest rock band, MC5, and head out of Grand Rapids towards said city with a pile of newly acquired beer.  Okay, maybe I should have brought some Stooges, but I wasn't thinking ahead.  However, my inner music dork would like to take this moment to point out the good people at Big Beat records put out a damn fine comp of Ann Arbor garage a couple years back called A2 (natch), featuring early(ist) MC5/Iggy Pop recordings and Just Like An Aborigine by the Up--all classic garage rock.

Now where was I?  Ah, yes... Ann Arbor.  Within its borders lies Jolly Pumpkin, that rare Michigan brewery I knew very little about.  Sure, I'd heard great things, but hadn't had the time or money to investigate.  So what do I do?  I mistakenly head to an address at which sits the brew pub not the brewery, which is another twenty 20 minutes away, thus missing my tour and contact who had to leave.  However, after talking to him on the phone and apologizing about the mixup, he tells me one of the brewers will have to give me the tour (I know, real bummer, right?).  So after I get to Dexter, where the brewery is, I get a GREAT if quick tour. 

Jolly Pumpkin specializes in barrel-aged beers.  When I was at the brewery they had barrels from Heaven Hill, Firestone Walker, New Holland, Buffalo Trace....  When I ask him what they do with their old barrels, he tells me they reuse them, that they like the way they keep adding new flavors to their beer.  They also have a lambic they've been aging since the brewery opened 8 years ago.  I guess they're just waiting for the right time to release it.

As I'm leaving the tour I mention to my guide about the huge amount of Founder's Stock Ale I now possess, and he brings up a trade, so I wound up with 3 nice bottles of Jolly Pumpkin 750 for three of mine.  I then head to the brewpub for breakfast/lunch/dinner and some beers.  Food and beers were great, but all the while I was watching the clock, as I had to head to Flint for the Clutch show/Dark Horse tap takeover.

After driving for an hour north while now listening to Flint's finest music exports--Grand Funk Railroad and Repulsion--I check into my hotel and order a cab.  For those not giant Clutch fans (sad, sad, sad), Flint is the place to see them. They play best in towns that are, shall we say, down on their luck.  Last year I saw them in Huntington, WV, a (excuse my French) an utter shit hole that makes Charleston seem like Paris.  And the show was amazing!  Also, they recorded their best album here in Flint, aptly named Live in Flint.  Anyway, before the taxi arrives I relish the only 20 minutes of rest I've thus far had in the last couple of days.

As mentioned earlier, it was my and many other's good fortune that this particular Clutch show happened to be doubling as Dark Horse brewery tap takeover, as DH's owners/brewery workers/sales staff are all Clutch fanatics.  At the show I ended up gabbing with the brewery founder and head of sales for quite a bit.  Good people.

The next morning I awoke, (surprise, surprise) feeling less than great for the ride home, checked out and start heading south.  After a couple hours I see a sign for Marshall, aka, home of Dark Horse.  So of course I've little choice but to stop in for lunch.  Once inside I inquire if an unscheduled brewery tour is possible, which is often the case for beer buyers, though you can't go in expecting them.  The only manager in (everyone else is apparently too hung over from the Clutch show the night before) was Massie.  She is their rep for Ohio, Indiana and the great state of Illinois.  Basically, she's my rep!  And she, like to rest of Team Dark Horse, was in town for the show and herself severely hungover.  Still she was kind enough to give me a nice tour of the brewery and comped my lunch (and beers!).  In return, I gave her a bottle of Founders Stock Ale for her trouble (apparently Founders Stock Ale was becoming a new kind of currency in my life, and I began to wonder what its potential might be when next I spoke to my landlord).

Heading South again, I saw the next exit was for Battle Creek--Home of the great Arcadia!  Ever the masochist, I stopped off and grabbed a couple bottles of their 15th anniversary beer, a brown ale bourbon-barreled with cherries and pretty much the greatest thing you've ever had.  Highly recommended if you're ever in Battle Creek!

I then head south again, again.  Next town south was Kalamazoo, though I decided to skip Bell's; I was too friggin' tired.  But I did make it to Three Floyds in Munster, Indiana, where I ended up grabbing some Stack and Stap (Belgian IPA) and some Baller Stout--One of the best stouts I've had and super hard to find.

Finally I make it home, pretty sure I'm not gonna be able to make the Clutch show in Joliet, as I'm too damn wiped!  Nevertheless, I changed my mind, went to the show.  Very glad I did.  What did I say earlier about them playing shitty cities?  And this was in Joliet.

Score Card:
50 Hours-2 shows, 3 states, 812 miles, 5 breweries!  Great times!

That's it for this installment.  And, as usual, beers, steers, an...zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

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