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Hop Notes: Discover Kalamazoo launches craft brewery trail

Kalamazoo’s first official beer trail kicked off last month. The Give a Craft beer trail is designed to promote the nearly one dozen breweries that call Kalamazoo, Mich., home, and this is a fun way to visit these breweries, as well as Bell’s production facility in Comstock, Mich. 

Trekkers on the trail can take their “passport” to each of the breweries in Kalamazoo County. The passport includes information about each brewery, including its information, hours of operation and favorite seasonal brews. As trekkers visit each brewery, they can collect a stamp used toward earning a free gift at the conclusion of the trail. There is no expiration date on the passport at this point. 

“Since 1985, residents and visitors alike have been able to enjoy some of the nation’s best craft beer right here in Kalamazoo,” Greg Ayers, president and CEO of Discover Kalamazoo, said. “With the explosion of new establishments throughout Kalamazoo County over the past two years, the launch of the Give a Craft beer trail is the next step toward creating an exciting destination for craft beer enthusiasts to discover.”

Passports are free and can be picked up at any of the participating breweries or at Discover Kalamazoo, 141 E. Michigan Ave. After acquiring stamps from all of the participating breweries, trekkers can turn their completed passport in to Discover Kalamazoo for their swag. There’s even an extra credit stop at the Bell’s Comstock Brewery that will earn trekkers additional swag. There is no purchase necessary to collect passport stamps.

My first stop was to pick up my passport at Tibb’s Brewing Co., 402 S. Burdick St. Kevin Tibbs stamped my passport while I enjoyed a For Richer or Porter (7.8% ABV).

I later returned to Kalamazoo to obtain more stamps on my passport. The first stop of the day was Bell’s Brewery, where I was dropping off some mugs for the General Store and the Bell’s 22nd annual Golf Scramble. Choices were difficult at the Eccentric Cafe, 355 E. Kalamazoo Ave., because I knew I had a couple more stops and I could only allow myself one beer.

I really wanted a Coffee Consecrator Dopplebock (8.4% ABV) aged with Water Street Midnight Oil coffee, and I passed up one of my favorites, Le Contrebassiste (7% ABV). Previously, Le Contrebassiste was fermented with French Ale yeast, but this reinvented version was fermented with Brettanomyces (commonly referred to as Brett, a yeast that is often used to intentionally sour beer) in a foeder (30+ year old oak tanks formerly used for wine making).

Instead, I chose one of the several pub-only releases, Downtowner Pale Ale (5.5% ABV). It was medium bodied beer, but even with such a low ABV, it was packed with flavor. Tropical fruits including pineapple, mango and orange were the overriding flavors, with a slight bitter finish. It was a good choice for a warm day. One of the great things about Bell’s is that with up to 40 different taps, they have several pub-only releases from pub brewer Zeke on any giving visit.

It wasn’t long before a group of women entered the Eccentric Cafe, all toting their passports. After chatting with them, I learned they were local teachers who, less than an hour previous, had checked out of their classrooms for the summer.   Bell’s was their first stop and they had two or three other stops planned, all within walking distance.

I even got a quick tour of the new dining room at Bell’s Eccentric Cafe. This will give additional seating for about 70 people with fuller menu options. The executive chef and staff are organizing their kitchen and working out the kinks for opening day, which will be soon. Bell’s did not want me to reveal any photos yet, but I can tell you that the artistic details to the dining space are really beautiful.

Before meeting up with a buddy for lunch at Arcadia Ales, I decided to check in with Amy Waugaman, head brewer at Boatyard Brewing. Boatyard is less than a mile from Bell’s at 432 E. Paterson St., and I found Amy with her last hop addition.

She was waiting for a farmer to arrive to pick up the spent grain, so we had a bit of time to chat over a beer. She ventured to the back of the cool room and pulled out a pint of her small batch SMASH (single malt, single hop) pale ale.  

When Amy is caught up with the rest of her brewing schedule, she likes to brew small batches of what she calls her “off the cuff” series. She calculates a recipe in her head instead of using the software she generally uses to formulate other recipes and she likes to feature different hops.

In this case, she brewed using Amarillo hops and with a simple recipe using one malt and one hop, it is a good way to showcase a single hop. It was nicely balanced with some good fruitiness in the flavor, followed by a slightly bitter finish.

After a couple texts from Michael wondering whether I wanted to eat in or out at Arcadia, I decided it was time to move on. Even though Arcadia’s Kalamazoo facility has been open for about a year and is only a mile or so from other downtown Kalamazoo breweries, this was my first visit. I was pleasantly surprised to run into my friend and Arcadia Brewer, Colt Dykstra. He gave us a tour and since that deserves its own post, check back to learn more about Arcadia Ales.

We had an excellent lunch, enjoyed the beer and I got my passport stamped. By this time, the teachers had caught up with us and I noticed several other beer enthusiasts with their passports, too. So whether you are a solitary beer nut who likes to experience new beers and track them on social media, or more of a social beer nut like the teachers, the Give a Craft passport is a great way to discover Kalamazoo beer.

Participating brewers/breweries include:

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