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Hop Notes: Top beer picks from north of the Indiana border

You may already know that I am a Michigander temporarily transplanted in Indiana. Most of my family lives in Michigan and we head that way often for holidays, which is exactly what we did last week for Thanksgiving. Since Michigan is the Great Beer State, I love checking out the bottle shops for options not available in Indiana.

Obviously, there are many Michigan breweries that only distribute beer in their home state, just as there are Indiana breweries that only distribute their beer in Indiana. Here are some of my top Michigan picks that I found while shopping at Mega Bev and Drake Party Center in Kalamazoo:

  • Shorts Brewing Cup A Joe Coffee Creme Stout (7% ABV, IBUs 35).  This is a seasonal release that is brewed with Higher Grounds Trading Company roasted fair trade espresso beans. One of my absolute favorite Shorts releases, it is full of chocolate and coffee flavors with a nice creamy mouth feel.
  • The Hideout Brewing Company is one of the many Grand Rapids breweries that is releasing some really good beer.  I have had a few of their beers on tap at Michigan bars and they are distributing their beer in 22 oz. bottles.  I picked up a Chocolate Imperial Milk Stout (11% ABV) and Oatmeal Stout (7% ABV) and I’m looking forward to enjoying them soon.
  • Black Rocks Brewery is located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and one of my favorite beers from them is their 51K IPA. Their beer is showing up in Southwest Michigan recently, and although I did not find 51K on the shelf, I did find one of their limited releases. Gnomas (10% ABV) is an English style barleywine and their highest ABV to date. Any time that I find a barleywine at this ABV, and in a can, that’s a good find in my book.

Two other big favorites of mine that are brewed outside of the state, but are distributed in MIchigan are:

  • Alaskan Smoked Porter (6.5% ABV, IBUs 45) is the grandfather of smoked porter in the United States and by far my favorite. It has won numerous awards at the Great American Beer Festival, as well as many other festivals. It is a limited release, available for only a short time each year, and is a good candidate for cellaring. I have bottles from each year dating back to 2008. I know that these bottles won’t last long, so if you are interested, you better act fast.
  • Ballast Point Sculpin (7% ABV, IBUs 70) is one of my favorite IPAs and it just recently became available in Michigan. Rumor is that Ballast Point may be coming to Indiana soon, but until then it may be purchased just north of the border. Also on the shelf are Sculpin Grapefruit and Victory at Sea (imperial porter with coffee and vanilla, 10% ABV, IBUs 60).

Lastly, I’m going to give honorable mention in my top picks to a couple of barrel aged Michigan beers. More breweries are aging their beer in bourbon or other types of barrels. Most often, these are limited release and for now these two have all but disappeared from Michigan shelves. However, if you are a persistent beer hunter, you might get lucky.

  • Saugatuck Brewing Company barrel aged Neopolitan Milk Stout (6% ABV). This stout has flavors just as you would expect from the name — chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.  I’m not sure how long this was aged in bourbon barrels, but the bourbon flavor comes through nicely, and I appreciate that the strawberry is quite subtle.
  • Odd Side Ales bourbon barrel aged Mayan Mocha Stout (6% ABV). Mayan Mocha Stout is inspired by Mexican hot chocolate, brewed with a blend of Dutch chocolate, coffee, cinnamon, nutmeg and habaneros. The flavor mostly reflects the ingredients: coffee and chocolate out front, huge bourbon notes, spices take a back seat and a nice little burn from the pepper at the end.

Michigan is a short drive north, and there are many great finds just over the border. Whether it is just a quick drive to pick up a bottle or two, or to spend some time at one of the many breweries, Michigan is a great beer destination.

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