The following trip was made with two friends I have known since elementary school. The vacation was given to each of us as a Christmas gift from our wives so a special thanks to those wonderful women. I put my personal ranking in parenthesis out of a possible 5 after each beer. Just for the record, this document is super long.
Thursday, December 27
We left Madison around 6PM, which landed us in Munster, IN around 8:30PM. We were itching to get started so we cracked open a 2008 Rodenbach (4.25) and a Green Flash Le Freak (3.75). Rodenbach was a really impressive sour. Le Freak was drank at room temp and still solid.
We made our way to Three Floyd’s via our taxi driver that claimed he had not been drinking. We arrived at the tiny bar/restaurant that could not have held more than 100 people. Needless to say there was a wait…at 9PM…on a weekday. Ryan being the brilliant mind that he is, decided to purchase a 6 pack of Zombie Dust to-go. When asked what the policy was on enjoying beer in the parking lot, the lovely gentleman told us the police would be very interested in that. We took our sixer out behind the building and down the side of a hill which lead down to a creek/drainage ditch. The smell was not ideal, but that didn’t stop us from killing the Zombie Dust (4.5), with ease. Just as we were finishing up, our table was called. We each ordered a beer and then rotated when we were 1/3 of the way finished. We did this twice so we all got to try 6 beers. We discovered that Three Floyd’s must get a ridiculous discount on citra hops because 4 of the 6 (along with Zombie Dust) all had almost identical hop noses. Blot Out The Sun (3.25) was dark in color, had little to no body, and was somehow 10.4%. Backmasking (3.75) was an oatmeal stout. They forgot the rye in Ry-da Tiger (4), which was pretty much Zombie Dust. And Sand Pebbles (4) was actually an interesting malty brown. Seriously if you put a blindfold on those beers are not discernible. The last two Formorian Preistess (3.25) was a smoked lager which I have no idea why I keep trying these and Alpha Klaus (4.25). This porter was my second favorite beer of the night. We also decided to purchase a $50 bottle of Murda’d Out Stout, which is a barrel aged version of the Baller Stout for cellaring
We opted to walk home rather than risk the cab. Upon arriving home we cracked open a Third Tier 2012 Sour (4.25) and Sierra Nevada/Russian River Brux (2.75). Brux is a terrible wild ale. We will get to some conclusions on Saturday afternoon on this. I would encourage everyone to drive right by Three Floyd’s because it was not worth the stop for us.
Friday, December 28th
Everyone awakes in rough shape. Not an ideal start to Day 2. We make the 1 hour trip across the Michigan border to Greenbush Brewery and right as we cross the border a nice heavy snow starts to fall. I cannot get over how fantastic Greenbush is. They serve all of their beer in the 42-48° range and in my opinion it is always better to serve a little warm to accentuate the flavor. Again, we ordered 3 beers and rotated. Mr. Hyde (4.5) was the highlight, which was a 7.8% stout with nice smokiness and great coffee flavor from the Sumatran Coffee used to brew this beer. Distorter Porter (3.5) was your very standard porter and 1825 (2.75) was a Belgian Strong Ale. I determined I am not a fan of Belgian Strong Ales, not sure what I was thinking. This place is a must stop if you are ever in the area.
New Holland Brewery
We then made the next hour leg of the trip to New Holland Brewery. It wasn’t quite clear as to which door we were supposed to go in so we chose what seemed like the most obvious. We were greeted at the door with a “Can I help you?” to which I exclaimed “We are!” The lovely lady apparently thought I was joking before asking “Are you hear to see someone?” She pointed us back towards town where the pub was located. We opted for a flight of 6 beers. I would probably never go with a flight ever again because you are forced to just take sips and not truly experience the beer. Here were the 6 beers we got to sip on: Saison Study #1 (3) nice and crisp, but nothing special. Pilgrim’s Dole (4.25) was my first time ever having a wheatwine, not sure you could really pick it out from a standard barleywine, but this baby had a nice warm nose and washed out the palette. Envious (4.25) was considered a fruit beer, which was overly oaked from barrel aging. This beer needed to be cranked up with more fruit flavors, but still pretty solid, and I wish I could have sipped on a whole beer. No Bacon, No Rye (3.75) was an American strong ale which had nice smokiness, but not too impressive to me (though I think the other guys would disagree with me on this one). We had a cask of The Poet (3.75) which was a solid cask offering actually served at the correct temp. Lastly was Dragon’s Milk (4.5), which I absolutely love, but again served way too cold and not fully able to enjoy. All on all, this stop was just ok.
Still struggling through the day, we pull into Grand Rapids and arrive at Founders which was my most anticipated stop of the trip. We found out that Bolt Cutter had come off tap the night before which was pretty disappointing. I immediately ordered a Backwoods Bastard (4.75), which I knew would be a highlight of the stop and it didn’t let me down. Sweet vanilla notes in the nose, warmth in the front of the mouth, which was perfectly sufficient and slowly faded away rather than lingering. Found out from the bartender that this beer was exactly 1 year old. Again, this beer was served way too cold, so Ryan and I ordered anoter and let it sit so it could warm. I ordered a Frangelic Stout (3.5) to tide me over. Wasn’t a big fan of this beer at first, lots of hazelnut coffee and nitro always seems gimmicky to me. It was only around 4%, but exactly what I needed at the time. As nitro faded it turned flat, but this one grew on me. I split this at the half way point with Chad and finished his Red Rye (4). This recently became a seasonal beer because it was sitting on the shelves too long. Great nose, heavy body, good beer, just wasn’t feeling it. It was about time to get into my Backwoods Bastard. I decided to drink it side by side with a Breakfast Stout (4.5). I wasn’t too big on this beer in the GtoCG because it is a huge coffee bomb with little balance. Something about this beer ice cold was sitting just right with me. Drank it down with ease alongside the Backwoods Bastard. Great experience.
We decided to cut the Brewery Vivant out of our schedule. None of us were in the mood for Belgian beers and it would have cost us a cab ride so we walked over to HopCat. This place was extremely overhyped to me. Maybe it was the hangover, but nothing really sounded that great on their expansive tap list, but I do want to give them credit for stocking lots of local brews. I tried the HopCat Umamba which is a Wild Shitake Mushroom Ale (3). Not sure what I was expecting, big breath mushroom in the finish, but not a bad sour mouth. Also had Greenbush Micro Megas (3.5) another sour, not bad, but nothing to write home about. Ryan ordered a mead from Acoustic Draft, Bluez Berri (NR). It tasted like beer made out of honey…and I don’t like honey.
That was all we could stomach, we were off to the hotel. Chad got a second wind and was tired of being punked by Ryan so we got into some beer at the hotel. The Espresso Oak Aged Yeti (4.5) was a year old bottle and absolutely fantastic. Tasted almost exactly like a Yeti with great coffee up front. Also drank the last Third Tier Oktoberfest (4.25) in existence, which is probably our best beer to date. Sad to see this one go.
Saturday, December 29th
We made an initial pit stop at Sicilianos in Grand Rapids before leaving town. They let you build your own six pack from any beer on the shelves, not just the crappy left over, going out of season beers. I picked up 2 bottles of New Holland Pilgrims Dole for aging, a bottle of Avery Ellie’s Brown, a Dogifsh Head Palo Santo Marron, Arcadia Cereal Killer Barleywine, and Brewery Vivant/New Belgium Escoffier, more on that later.
Drove to Kalamazoo and swung into Bell’s General Store to see what was cooking. Managed to score 2 bottles of BlackNote Stout and a sixer of Expedition from 2011!
Everyone was in strong agreement that a bloody mary was in order so we swung into this place. Some of the best service we had all trip and the bloodies were half price. We all had different side cars to go along for the ride. I had a Perrin Golden Ale (3.5), which was light and crisp and seemed just right along side of the bloody mary. Ryan ordered the Arcadia IPA (3.25), which had a nice bit of hopiness but was definitely nothing special. Chad went with the Farmhand Ale (3.5) from Brewery Vivant, which was my favorite of the three. The bloodies were absolutely masterful.
Dark Horse Brewing
We made the 45 minute drive outside of town with strong recommendations and few expectations. This ended up being the highlight of the whole trip. We arrived to a crowded house full of the some of the nicest people I have ever met. Much to our chagrin, we discovered we had to take a tour to get into the VIP lounge. For $7 a person you get a tour, a pint glass, and a beer sampling. OK, best deal ever. While waiting, we each ordered our own pints. I went with the Scotty Karate Scotch (3.75), nice, but nothing discernible. Chad went with the Crooked Tree IPA (3.5), hard to judge this one since the whole trip was light on hops (with the exception of citra), but I knew it didn’t blow me away. Ryan ordered the 4 Elf Winter Warmer (4), which I liked a lot, hid the alcohol well, nice body. Ryan had no problem sucking down his pint so he also ordered a Tres Blueberry Stout (3.25). I was alone in my dislike of this beer, blueberry was present in the nose, otherwise non-existent. Seemed like a waste of time. As we were finishing up, our tour guide, Miles, showed up about 15 minutes late. It was just the three of us, so I prefaced it by telling him we didn’t need the whole “spiel”. He tailored it perfectly for the crowd and got us up to the VIP lounge quickly. He started us all off with a Raspberry Ale (2.75) and we told him to quit beating around the bush. We convinced him to pour us all the Bourbon Barrel Plead the 5th (5) into snifters. This beer was absolute perfection and everything I love about bourbon barrel aged beers. All kinds of bourbon flavor up front, nice sweet notes that spill over into the warm mouth that leads right into the wonderfully balanced body. I immediately knew I was drinking something special and this instantly became one of my top 3 beers of all time and I am not able to distinguish those 3. Also had the Lambeak wants Blood Orange (4.25) which is part of their sour line. There is a ton of acetone on this one, big in the nose and throughout the mouth and obviously not pleasant. The sour that hides underneath I can tell is pretty amazing itself. We went to the store where I picked up a bottle of this in hopes that the acetone will mellow out over time. Also purchased two bottles of the 3 Guys off The Scale Sour Barleywine and a bottle of the Aigre Sour Plead the 5th.
Getting pretty full we headed back to the hotel where we had my can of the Brewery Vivant/New Belgium Escoffier (1.75) that was recommended to me by a 1B. I guess it was a sour, to me it was just terrible. A few take-home points here: collaborations are almost always painfully bad, I will never waste my time with another collab unless it is strongly recommended. A lot breweries are doing a piss poor job of throwing out sours before they are ready, if you aren’t going to do it right, don’t waste all of our time. And what is up with New Belgium? I went from dislike, to like, to dislike again. I enjoyed their take on the Oktoberfest this year and last year, otherwise they put out a bunch of garbage. We also had a Belgian sour (4.25) that was very nice, it is the mystery beer of the trip because no one remembers which it was.
Bells Eccentric Café
I am not as high on Bells as a lot of people, but it is still a solid top 5 brewery for me. Ryan and I both ordered the Dagger Stout (3.75), which was served too cold so we had to order another and let it sit to warm up. This beer was almost 11%, had a pretty heavy booze presence and carried really heavy. It was good but hard to finish, both of our efforts ended up combined in to one glass, but I will admit we left some behind on this one. I went down to order us both a beer while we waited. I went with the Third Coast Old Ale (4.5), which is the second time I had this beer on tap this year. This is a hard style and this beer is awesome, mild warmth and great hops. Ryan went with the Milk Stout (3.25) which had too much coffee and lacked any sweetness, which didn’t make sense. Just not what a milk stout should be in my opinion. Chad sipped on a Sweet Potato Stout (4.25) which had a nice full body and a hint of sweetness. This one carried and faded nicely. Completely insanity on our part to order this many stouts in one sitting. Also, I don’t know why all these great breweries serve their beer too cold. Only brewery that did it right was Greenbush.
By this time we were fading pretty fast. This place was a pretty awful college pub, but they did have Bolt Cutter (4.5) on tap. No surprise this stuff wasn’t flying out the door in this atmosphere. We ordered one for the 3 of us to split. This brew is 15%, but there is no way you can tell it. A very nice and heavy malt body. A bit of warmth in the nose, but really where is that booze at? Also a really fantastic hop nose to it, which was surprising. I am very glad I was able to get a bottle of this to age. Will be sad to see those hops go.
Kalamazoo Beer Exchange
We had no right even going to this place, but all of us were too intrigued. They fluctuate the price based on the number of purchases, so if a beer is not ordered very much, the price drops. I went with a Shorts Huma-Lupa-Licious (4), which is a terrible name but a solid beer. For a standard IPA sitting at almost 7% they did a really nice job with this, will need to pick up a sixer of this in WI. Someone ordered the Left Hand Fade to Black Vol 2 (3.75), which I have almost no right even giving a ranking to. This was a porter…that is all I got. I think there was a Breakfast Stout in there, meh, doesn’t matter.
Sunday, December 30th
In the morning we were on our way back to WI. Just as we cross the border into Indiana it stopped snowing and the sun came out for the first time in 2 days. If you are still reading this I commend you, it took me almost a week to put all of this together. Since I probably will never take a trip like this again, or not at least until our kids are out of the house, here is to one hell of a trip.