The beer enthusiast's spring break trip to Petoskey, Mich.

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By: Eric Strader
ericstrader69@gmail.com

Eric Strader

While many people headed to warmer climates for spring break, our family traveled north to where Little Traverse Bay is still completely iced in.

I know many people from Michiana travel to the Petoskey, Mich., area — in winter for the skiing (there were actually a few people skiing on Easter) and in the summer months for the lakes, paddling and beaches.

I knew it would be a long shot, but could there really be enough beer geeks in northern Michigan to grab up all of the Founders KBS (barrel aged imperial coffee stout, 11.2 percent ABV, IBUs 70) that quickly?

After checking out a Petoskey bottle shop, I was informed that the three cases that they received were sold out in a day, even with at limit of one four-pack per customer.

The staff also informed me of a new bar downtown, Tap 30 Pourhouse that had recently hosted a Founders tap takeover, and said there might not only be KBS 2015 on tap, but also KBS 2014, and CBS! (maple bourbon barrel aged coffee imperial stout, 10.6 percent ABV).

This is very rare, only bottled once, so I was at the front door waiting as soon as the bar opened to check things out. Although there were still eight other Founders beers on tap, both versions of KBS and CBS were gone. However, I had discovered a wonderful new gem in downtown Petoskey.

The atmosphere at Tap 30 Pourhouse was very cozy with lots of wood, a nice bar, of course a tap list of 30 beers, and some big screen TVs — two of which were showing Premiere League soccer. Since it was still a bit early, I opted to wait on the beer, but did stay to watch Manchester United finish off Aston Villa.  

I quickly struck up a conversation with the bar tender, who shared an interest in both beer and soccer. He told me that 30 Tap had opened in September 2014.

It has been my experience that craft brewers are a very supportive bunch. I’ve been told many times that they are not in competition with each other, but rather are collectively in competition with the macro brewers. Over the Easter weekend I experienced this mentality through a couple of stories at Beards Brewery.

I always enjoy a pint and time to catch up with Beards Brewery part-owner/brewer Ben Slocum. If I had stopped in just a bit earlier, I would have caught the guys from Blackrocks Brewery from the Upper Peninsula.

Because brewers are a friendly bunch, quite often they stop in at each other’s breweries to swap beer and stories.

Both of these breweries began with small local tap rooms that were brewing such small amounts that they didn’t have enough beer to be open more than a couple of days a week.

That has now changed. Both are moving to distribution, but in different ways.

Blackrocks has been canning its beer and distributing it throughout the Upper Peninsula and parts of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Ben told me they had expressed to him the need to get cans on the shelf.

Beards is about a month away from opening a 15-barrel production facility in nearby Charlevoix, Mich. They are not concerned about getting their product on the shelf in retail stores, but instead will focus on draft distribution with kegs.

Some of this will travel to the pub in Petoskey, and they hope to expand the tap lines there to a total of 10, as well as establish at least two flagship beers that will most likely be on tap at all times: Luna Wheat Ale (5.3 percent ABV) and Serendipty Porter (5.5 percent ABV).

Almost always when I visit, there is a beer or two that that is new to me. On this trip it was Who’s Your Pater (4.4 percent ABV) which is a Belgian enkel or single.

With so many dubbels, trippels, and quads out there, it was nice to find this. Unlike so many Belgian IPAs that are available, this was lightly hopped to allow the sweet, malty flavor from the Pilsen malt to show through. It had a fruity and spicy aroma with the traditional banana and clove character.

This seemed appropriate, as it reminded me a bit of those clove flavored white jelly beans that I am so fond of at Easter time. It was effervescent which worked well with the sweet start and a slightly tart finish, with a good biscuity base.

Beards is one of the only breweries I know of that brews a beer with all maple sap (no water) that they call Tree Blood Stout. They keep the recipe the same, with the sap being the only variant (as the sugar content can change from year to year).

Ben told me that the sugar content was lower than normal this year, but even though it was not yet fully carbonated, it had reached an alcohol level of around 6 percent ABV. It was in the bright tank and he let me have an early sample.

I shared with Ben that the only maple beer that I had ever brewed, I used maple syrup and forgot to calculate the fermentable sugars of the maple syrup, so it quickly got the nickname of viper from my buddies who tried it.

The crew from Beards did a much better job than I did on my maple beer, and I enjoyed the sweet malty flavors of Tree Blood. There were some dark fruits as well as a slight smoky flavor that I think will continue to develop a bit more complexity before they release it to the public.

The other story of support among craft brewers involves Rogue Ales located in Newport, Oregon. Recently I had the opportunity to enjoy a bottle of Rogue’s Beard Beer. Because of the name, I decided to give the bottle to the Beards crew for their collection.

Although Ben and Peter have not ever tried the beer, they are very familiar with the brand. It was at the same time that they were trademarking their brand that Rogue was in the process with its Beard Beer. With two breweries applying for a similar trademark, there was initial concern about brand confusion.

However, in the spirit of craft brewing, the two breweries chose to work together. In the end Rogue Ales, which according to Brewer’s Association 2014 data is the 32nd largest craft brewery in the country, and Beard’s Brewery, one of the smallest in the country, were able to come to a co-existence agreement rather than enter litigation.

One difference you will find is that Rogue Brewmaster John “More Hops” Maier still has the same bushy beard that he’s had since 1978, while Beards’ Ben Slocum just recently joined the fire department, so he no longer sports a beard. But no worries — Ben can wear one of the hats sold at the pub that has a built-in knitted beard.

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