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What's Brewing

What's Brewing

Story by Tom Demay. Photos by Jay Vaughn unless otherwise noted.

I consider myself a beer connoisseur — some may even call me a beer snob. Mass-produced, watery, tasteless beer holds no appeal for me. Fortunately, the craft beer movement has exploded and we are in a veritable beer renaissance, so there's never a need to settle for so-so suds.

According to the Brewers Association, the U.S. now boasts 1,790 breweries, 81 of which are located throughout Michigan, placing our state among the top five producers in the nation.

If you're in the Detroit area, you don't have to venture far to enjoy Michigan's best. Top-rated neighborhood breweries and outstanding local joints are serving up a huge variety of flavors, styles and quantities of amazing beer. So grab a pint glass, a sense of adventure and an ambitious palate, and come along for a quick beer tour.


BigRock-8463 opt

Liberty Street
Greenfield Village Eagle Tavern


Big Rock Chophouse, Birmingham
This establishment may be better known for its steaks than the beer, but area insiders know there are great things fermenting here. A 1,950-square-foot brewhouse adjoins the restaurant and creates some amazing, award-winning beer. Brewmaster Dan Rogers has perfected his signature IPA — Norm's Raggedy-Ass Ale — to the point that it consistently pulls in awards, including a gold medal at the 2010-2011 World Beer Cup.

Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, Ann Arbor
Jolly Pumpkin makes some of the most complex, funky and intriguing beers around. Its brewing philosophy is decidedly natural and authentic with a focus on open fermentation, oak aging and bottle conditioning, which yield beers with unmatched complexity and subtlety of flavors. "The brewers have taken the concept of old-world, rustic country ales and elevated it into an art form," said Jolly Pumpkin regular Ryan Potter. And soon you will be able to satisfy your needs in the metro area — a Jolly Pumpkin pub is coming to Royal Oak.

Liberty Street Brewing Company, Plymouth
From the hardwood floors to the beautiful bar, a relaxed pub atmosphere permeates Liberty Street Brewing. Its award-winning regular lineup includes a first-anniversary ale — Liberty One Porter — which has won a medal three years in a row at the World Expo of Beer. The brewers are also big proponents of the local home-brewing scene. They host meetings with a local brew club and occasionally allow experienced home brewers to craft their own concoctions on a 10-gallon pilot system located on the loading dock. "They really support creativity with their 'loading dock' batches," said home brewer and patron George Hotelling, "which is how I wound up making the Fat Elvis — a peanut butter/banana porter. Releasing a beer like that at a brewery was a huge thrill."

Greenfield Village, Dearborn
While you're taking in the sights and sounds of historic Greenfield Village, quench your thirst with historically accurate ales brewed exclusively for The Henry Ford by Motor City Brewing Works (MCBW). MCBW crafts three distinctive beers for the village's on-site Eagle Tavern — Steam Station, Farmhouse Ale and Menlo Light. The Steam beer is a throwback to 19th-century brews created by pioneering brewmasters. MCBW uses authentic, century-old yeast strands to craft all the beers and ferments without refrigeration to replicate brewing conditions of the period.

Kuhnhenn Brewing Company, Warren
Kuhnhenn loves to push boundaries. Its lengthy, varied tap offerings consistently include brews topping 10 percent ABV (alcohol by volume). The sweet, dense and viscous 4D Ale, particularly the somewhat limited bourbon barrel-aged edition, is an intense and rewarding experience. Kuhnhenn expanded its brew pub in 2010 and is able to accommodate large groups of beer lovers at long tables and a large U-shaped bar. And the company hasn't forgotten its humble roots — across the parking lot from the tap room is the beer supply store where the whole operation began.


Clarkston Union, Clarkston
A converted old church, Clarkston Union indulges your more sinful side with a selection of 45 rotating taps that consistently includes prime Michigan choices. Create your own beer-tasting flight from selections on the chalkboard menu to reaffirm old favorites and discover new ones. Check out the second bar in the basement — the drink choices are more limited, but the free jukebox and multi-play arcade machine help make up for it.

Foran's Grand Trunk

Grand Trunk Pub, Detroit
Grand Trunk Pub is a historical gem built in 1879 that served as a jewelry store, restaurant and railway ticket station. Now, it's a hot ticket to Michigan craft beer connoisseurs. Featuring 15 rotating taps of all Michigan-based breweries and more than 100 other locally brewed bottled beers, there's always something amazing to experience. Keep an eye on their website (www.grandtrunkpub.com) for exclusive events in which breweries proffer up their rare and distinctive beers.


Ann Arbor BD
Westland DW


The Berkley Front
Berkley O

The French Laundry
Fenton O


Royal Oak O


The Shark Club
Howell BD


Ye Olde Tap Room
Grosse Pointe DW





Tashmoo Biergarten, Detroit
Select Sundays in Sept. and Oct.

For five Sundays in September and October, local residents and beer lovers band together to open the Tashmoo Biergarten — an open-air, European-style beer garden in the heart of Detroit's historic West Village neighborhood. The event features beer from several local breweries and munchies from local food vendors. Top it all off with a picnic area and outdoor games, and a great time is guaranteed. More info is available at www.tashmoodetroit.com.

Fall Beer Festival, Eastern Market, Detroit
Oct. 27, 2012

At the heart of the Michigan craft beer movement is the Michigan Brewers Guild, which holds quarterly beerfests at various locations across the state. Metro Detroit is fortunate to host two of the four, including downtown's Fall Beer Festival, usually held in Eastern Market as well as the Summer Beer Festival (July 27-28) in Ypsilanti.

Grab tickets early because the festival features a veritable who's who of Michigan craft brewers. Many patrons come decked out in what is quickly becoming the quintessential beerfest outfit — outrageous hats, pretzel necklaces and, of course, big smiles.

For the $35 entrance fee, visitors receive a 4-ounce tasting cup and a baggie full of tokens redeemable for beer. For more information and' to purchase tickets, head over to' mbgmash.org.

Tom DeMay, partner at Octane Design, production house of Visit Detroit, loves craft brew so much that he recently traveled thousands of miles to attend San Francisco Beer Week so he could get his hands on one of the holy grails of the craft beer scene, Pliny the Younger made by the Russian River Brewing Company.

shout out

Ale Sharpton is an award-winning journalist and world-renowned beer expert who writes for various publications, including The Beer Connoisseur magazine, Men's Book and on his website, alesharpton.com. Visit Detroit heard through the grapevine that Sharpton had recently been to the Motor City, so we asked him if he would contribute a few brew-lovin' words about the metro Detroit beer scene.

Since my first visit to Detroit in early 2011 after a 20-year hiatus (forgive me!), I have been back three times due to its hospitable residents, my family who lives there and, truthfully, its unique, diverse and extraordinary places to enjoy the best beverage in the world — beer. I have no problem proudly stating that Michigan is one of the top five states for hosting phenomenal breweries, including Short's, Jolly Pumpkin, Founders and Bell's, to name a few. When I am blessed with the opportunity to consume some of their fantastic creations — especially those I have no access to in my Atlanta hometown — the feeling is heavenly.

I recommend at least five musts to visit in the Motor City:

Slows Bar BQ
Succulent barbecue, taps dominated by Michigan-produced suds and personable service at downtown's Slows Bar BQ has re-created another "Norm" from Cheers whenever I am in town.

Dragonmead Microbrewery
Fans of the medieval era, live music and phenomenal beer brewed on site should definitely make it a night at Dragonmead Microbrewery in Warren.

Fine dining has never been, well, so fine thanks to Roast in downtown's Westin Book Cadillac Detroit hotel. The extensive beer list makes this elegant restaurant ideal for pairing top-notch fare with world-class ales and lagers.

Motor City Brewing Works and Traffic Jam and Snug
Make it a two-for-one: Hit up Motor City Brewing Works, which specializes in beers brewed on site, and fantastic brick-oven pizza. Directly across the street, Traffic Jam and Snug boasts its own dairy, bakery and virtually everything made from scratch, including beer.

Motor City Tour Company
If you can't make up your mind, get a group of friends together, get a personal escort thanks to the Motor City Tour Company and explore the beer love Detroit has to offer by bus, bike or foot!

Follow Ale Sharpton on Twitter via

Brews to Go

Looking to purchase beer to take back home with you? Here's some of the area's top picks:

Beer Baron
19610 Middlebelt Road
Livonia, 48152 GN
(248) 987-6563

Champane's Wine Cellars
7007 Chicago Road
Warren, 48092 M
(586) 978-9463

Cloverleaf Fine Wine and Spirits
711 S. Main St.
Royal Oak, 48067 O
(248) 357-0400

Holiday Market
1203 S. Main St.
Royal Oak, 48067 O
(248) 541-1414

Merchant's Fine Wine
22250 Michigan Ave.
Dearborn, 48124 DW

For more Michigan breweries and other' beer-related info, visit michiganbeerguide.com or mibeer.com/enthusiast-tours.


Getting There

View What's Brewing in a larger map

Big Rock Chophouse
245 S. Eton St.
Birmingham, 48009 O
(248) 647-7774

Clarkston Union Bar & Kitchen
54 S. Main St.
Clarkston, 48346 O
(248) 620-6100

Eastern Market
Corner of Russell and Gratiot
Detroit, 48207 DD

Foran's Grand Trunk Pub
612 Woodward Ave.
Detroit, 48226 DD

Greenfield Village The Eagle Tavern
20900 Oakwood Blvd.
Dearborn, 48124 DW

Jolly Pumpkin
311 S. Main St.
Ann Arbor, 48104 BD
(734) 913-2730

Kuhnhenn Brewing Co.
5919 Chicago Rd. Warren, 48092 M
(586) 979-8361

Liberty Street Brewing Company
149 W. Liberty St.
Plymouth, 48170 GN
(734) 207-9600

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Travel Tip

“Mexicantown is a must! Los Galanes, LaGloria bakery and the Honeybee market are just a few of our personal faves!” – Melissa C.

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