Trail Brews – Breweries of the North Country Trail – Michigan’s Lower Peninsula

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This one is for all of you thirsty hikers out there. If you’re anything like me, then you probably like to enjoy a tall, cold, refreshing giggle water after a nice long hike…or even during your journey. If you’re a thru-hiker trekking the North Country Trail for days or weeks at a time or even just day-hiking a portion of the longest National Scenic Trail in the United States, it may be of some interest to you that Michigan’s Lower Peninsula definitely caters to you thirsty hikers. With 11 breweries, beerhouses, microbreweries, brew factories, or whatever you want to call it, you know that someone was thinking about you when they chose to set up shop along the trail. It’s like they knew you were coming and brewed a perfect craft beer just for you after your adventurous expedition or your jaunt through the forest.

This is only the first of a long list of Trail Brews posts that I will be writing about in the future as the list of craft breweries along the nation’s greatest trails is way too long to discuss in just one article. I will be breaking it down state by state in future posts. So, if you’re planning on hoofing it through some of Michigan’s most beautiful towns and wilderness, along breathtaking rivers and lakes, on the North Country National Scenic Trail, and plan to stop in for a cold one, then here is where I can be of some assistance to you. I give you Trail Brews of the North Country Trail in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.

1. Hillsdale Brewing Company

Hillsdale, MI

25 Hillsdale St, Hillsdale, MI 49242 - (517) 212-8182

Hillsdale Brewing Company is the newest of the breweries to open along the North Country Trail in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, just opening their doors in January 2018. They are located in an extension of the downtown district of Hillsdale, MI, just down the hill from the Hillsdale College, and directly next to the NCT.  They have a full restaurant, 11 beers on tap, and 1 draft non-alcoholic root beer on tap for the kiddos or the root beer connoisseurs.

The building was once used as a hotel/brothel and was built in 1903 but sat empty other than storage for the past 30+ years, until Roy and Felicia Finch and Kevin Conant purchased the structure to begin brewing and offering patrons the opportunity to quench their thirst and fill their bellies.  Kevin and Roy began brewing their concoctions in their garage together for many years, growing their knowledge and creating their mainstay recipes.

 

Recommended Brews:

1. Tribute IPA; 7.0 % ABV; brewed with local honey

2. Waskawy Wabbit; 5.6% ABV; with Citra Hops

3. Station 1 Amber Ale; 6.3% ABV; named after the Allen Township Fire Dept that Roy has volunteered on for more than 20 years

4. Master Exploder Jalapeno IPA; 7.1% ABV

5. Strawberry Basil Ale; 6.0% ABV

 

I’m guessing that they are just looking to keep things simple, as this was the only information I was able to gather from the owners and they don’t have a website just yet. ABV %s were found on UnTappd.com. I’m hoping to see more from them in the near future as they grow the business.

2. Ramshackle Brewing Co.

Jonesville, MI (Coming Soon)

209 E Chicago St, Jonesville, MI 49250 - (517) 425-8461

Ramshackle Brewing Company is still, at the moment, in the process of building their facilities, but is set to open in late 2018. They reached their equity-based crowdfunding goal in 2017, allowing the local community to invest in 47% of the business. Construction began this Spring 2018.

Their brewery vision and brewing style is focusing on mainly older world beers, and modern twists on some historical beers. Joe Kesselring and Zack Bigelow have been brewing together every Sunday since 2010, first starting brewing clones and learning the craft, trying to brew a new beer every week. Once they started venturing out on creating their own recipes, they started looking more towards history and the flora around them for inspiration. Joe’s parents live on a centennial farm, so they tend to go wander the farm for different foraged items and ideas as well. They also are very close to the Lost Nations state game area, which allows many opportunities to find new and exciting ingredients.

Joe and Zack have brewed a solid 30 different beers that have been a hit with friends and family. They decided to go “pro” so to speak when they would brew a batch and had waiting lists from family and friends for the beer, only leaving them with a 6 pack to share between them both. Joe’s brewing style is very structured and follows more of a German traditional style of barley, water, hops and yeast only. Zack tends to look around at nature for his inspiration, from trees to flowers, there is so much that can be used in brewing.

The taproom will be able to hold 50 patrons, and the plan is to have a minimum of 5 taps on all the time. The goal is 4 mainstays and 1 foraged beer.  They plan to have a cream ale, a Kentucky Common ale, an IPA, and a brown ale on all the time with seasonal gose and stouts as well. I can’t wait until they open their doors so I can taste some truly historic and natural brewskies from these guys when I pass through while hiking the NCT.

3. Albion Malleable Brewing Co.

Albion, MI

420 S Superior St, Albion, MI 49224 - (517) 343-2202

Albion Malleable Brewing Co. is the newest brewery of the bunch, hosting their grand opening in May 2018. 3 guys had a dream to build a place, business, and team that guests wouldn’t be satisfied to find just in Albion, but amazed to find anywhere. They would create a sense of community, a space for people to gather, and a vision to be part of the beginning of a new chapter for the community of Albion, Michigan.

When searching for a name for the brewery, they looked towards Albion’s past for guidance. Albion Malleable Iron Company, founded in 1888 and closed shop in 2002, was the economic engine that put bread on many of Albion’s families’ tables for most of the 20th century. They shamelessly resurrected the name and were overwhelmed to see the feelings of pride evoked by the name as people are again hopeful that a better time is returning to Albion.

Albion Malleable Brewing Co. is inspired by the Belgian beer tradition and offers a wide variety of Saisons, Ambers, IPAs, and Stouts.

 

Recommended Brews:

1. Proper Villains; 6.8% ABV; A French/Belgian Saison with a hoppy American twist. Brewed with spicy, piney Chinook hops to compliment the yeast spice and dry-hopped with fruity, juicy Citra to accompany the fruity esters. It’s IPA meets season with a tropical fruit aroma. “It will be nice to work with proper villains again.”

2. Red Headed Senator; 9.0% ABV; She’s a force to be reckoned with.  A double IPA with rich caramel and mild toasted notes.  The bulk of the Amarillo and Mosaic hops are added late in the boil and in the fermenter for a huge hop aroma that brings something for every hop lover – pine, citrus, blueberry and spice and everything nice.

3. UnNecessary Evil; 8.8% ABV; An imperial chocolate milk stout brewed with an array of dark malts and lactose and aged on Ecuadorean cacao nibs. Dark as night with flavors of dark chocolate and mocha with a sweet finish. It’s good to be bad.

4. Dark Horse Brewing Co.

Marshall, MI

511 S Kalamazoo Ave, Marshall, MI 49068 - (269) 781-9940

Now here is a name I am sure you most likely have heard of. Dark Horse Brewing Company has been around for almost 20 years, first opening their doors in September 2000. Aside from having some pretty kick-ass brews, their location in Marshall, MI has quite a bit more than just a brewery. 

According to co-owner Kristine “Queen Bee” Morse, also known as Princess Warrior of the 13th Table, “We are a small family-owned business. Our Taproom is small, however, we have a very large Beer Garten that our customers can enjoy seasonally.  We call the brewery “The Compound” because it includes several side businesses located on the property including Dark Alley Motorcycle Shop, Shaded Pony Woodworks (carries items made from used bourbon barrels), Skate Shop, Dark Horse Commons (coffee roastery, creamery, and bakery), the General Store (beer to go, Dark Horse merchandise & brewing supplies) our Production Facility, Taproom and Beer Garten.”

 

Recommended Brews:

1. Crooked Tree IPA; 6.5% ABV; 48 IBU; Heavily dry hopped to give it a big aroma of pine and citrus. The flavors are big, yet very balanced between fresh hops and malt. Often described as “grapefruit,” their hops give this beer an excellent citrus flavor that finishes dry, crisp, and clean. Due to their unique dry-hopping methods, it has won several medals in the India Pale Ale category.

2. Raspberry Ale; 5% ABV; 10 IBU; This beer is a light bodied, easy drinking ale. They use real raspberries late in fermentation, giving this beer a mild fruit flavor while keeping a very balanced malt profile. This may not be what some would expect from a “fruit” beer, but their brewers make good beer; not fruity, carbonated malt beverages. Their motto is, “beer first, fruit second”.

3. Rain In Blood Orange Pale Ale; 5.5% ABV; 11.7 IBU; Their tribute to the late Jeff Hanneman and the greatest band of all time, Slayer. This pale ale is brewed with fresh blood oranges and blood orange juice that is hand squeezed at the brewery. It should be enjoyed fresh and paired with delicious heavy metal. SLAYER!

4. Plead The 5th Imperial Stout; 11% ABV; 41 IBU; One of their most well-known and sought-after brews, this Russian Imperial Stout is pitch black in color with a faint tan head that immediately identifies this beer as BIG. Aromas of dark fruits, chocolate, caramel, and roast also make it even bigger. Roasted coffee and fruity chocolate notes are just the beginning of this beers complex flavor. You have the right to enjoy or remain silent (ha, ha)! This limited-release beer is only released once a year at their 4 Elf Party held on the 2nd Saturday of December.

5. Big Boiler Brewing

Lowell, MI

318 E Main St, Lowell, MI 493316 - (616) 987-3155

Big Boiler Brewing is one of the newer breweries along the NCT, first opening their doors to the public in June 2017. Located east of the Flat River on Main Street, they are part of the historical district of the small town of Lowell, Michigan. Matt Fouts, Brew Master extraordinaire, is their “Maker of the Ale,” brewing a variety of all types of beers. With 14 tap handles, 13 are dedicated to their house brewed deliciousness, leaving 1 handle available as a local guest tap.

 

Recommended Brews:

1. Blonde Ale; 5% ABV; 19 IBU; An easy-drinking American ale with a clean malt flavor, low IBU, and satisfying dry finish.

2. Hefeweizen; 4.4% ABV; 11 IBU; A soft, bready malt flavor compliments hints of citrus and banana in this light and refreshing German wheat beer.

3. Big Boiler IPA aka B.B. IPA; 6.3% ABV; 60 IBU; A balanced American IPA featuring Simcoe, Centennial, and Chinook hops.

4. Coal Chamber Stout (Nitro); 6.2% ABV; 40 IBU; A smooth mouthfeel compliments the rich flavors of dark roasted malts and rolled oats.

5. Cerise Noir; 10.2% ABV; 32 IBU; A rich, robust porter amped up, fermented with dark cherry juice, and aged in Journeyman whiskey barrels.

 

In addition to the brews, guests love their famous French Dip and Cubano sandwiches. They offer a Mug Club Membership for those who frequent the brewpub, and also sell merchandise such as t-shirts, mugs, and growlers. Yes! They also do growler fills, too! Stop in to see the original Kewanee Boiler face that has been restored in all its glory.

6. New Union Brewery

Lowell, MI

400 W Main St, Lowell, MI 49331 - (616) 319-7171

New Union Brewery has been around since November 2016 and being in the town of Lowell, MI, they are privy to the happenings of the North Country Trail as the NCT Association office is located just down the street from the brewery. They have good camaraderie with the association and many of the employees and association members are Mug Club Members of New Union Brewery as well.

Here’s an interesting fact about them, they originally began not expecting to have a full tap room available to the public and just began with the idea of contract brewing for others. Things ended up changing for the better and they now have a great tap room and huge support from the wonderful community of Lowell with over 480 loyal Mug Club Members.

 

Recommended Brews:

1. North Country Ale; 5.2% ABV; 12 IBU; A blonde ale, light in color and light in bitterness, created with a German Pilsner in mind for those that haven’t acquired the taste for more dominate flavored craft beers or for those who just love an easy drinking beer. Made exclusively with the locally grown Crustal hops from West Michigan Hopyards. A tribute to its namesake, the North Country Trail. This beer is our lightest and easiest to drink, good for those just getting into craft beer or for those looking for a refreshing beer after a long hike. We serve the North Country Ale on our Ice Tap (real ice), the tap is chilled to 28 degrees to serve the coldest most refreshing beer possible.

2. Great Odin’s Raven; 11.5% ABV; 55 IBU; A Bourbon Barrel Aged Oatmeal Stout, specially made to age in Heaven Hill Bourbon Barrels, this Imperial Oatmeal Stout features a wide variety of dark roasted malts and a significant hop contribution. Forward bourbon flavors from the prolonged barrel aging provide enough heat to keep you warm as the weather gets cold.

3. Galaxy HopQuest IPA; 7.5% ABV; 66 IBU; Blending the categories true IPA, that still has enough bitterness to be called an IPA, and the full-bodied, lighter color, unfiltered juiciness of the New England style, this IPA exemplifies the hop haze and exceptionally clean tropical qualities that are possible with the transcendent Australian Galaxy hop. Several pounds used at various intervals, including staggered heaping dry hop doses to extract the various unique qualities from the hop. Galaxy hops are tough to come by and at an expense not approved by our accountant, we hope they approve of the heart that went into this beer. We try not to play favorites here, but tough for us not to deny this one the title. This style of hop driven, fresh New England style beer need be consumed fresh, so we are counting on a little help here!

7. Rockford Brewing Company

Rockford, MI

12 E Bridge St NE, Rockford, MI 49341 - (616) 951-4677

Rockford Brewing Co. has been delivering exciting, dynamic brews since December 2012. They believe in fresh ingredients and quality beer. They are also interested in creating awareness for the local agricultural community by nurturing symbiotic relationships with local farmers and supporting their efforts by showcasing their products within Rockford brews.

Not only does the brewery sit right on the North Country Trail, but they separate themselves from other breweries in a very interesting way. Rockford Brewing Co. is standing out with their own Permaculture series of brews, a family of beers brewed throughout the years that utilize fresh, non-traditional ingredients from the local agricultural community. While the concept of permaculture can be a complex and lengthy discussion, it basically suggests to recognize and work with natural systems rather than forcing the unnatural.

 

Recommended Brews:

1. Hoplust American IPA; 7.1 ABV; 70 IBU; An intense bouquet of fresh hops will greet you on the nose followed by bursting tropical, citrus and piney flavors on your palette. They use a proprietary blend of 6 hop varieties for a bold, hoppy flavor, without the harsh bitterness.

2. Rogue River Brown; 6.5% ABV; 30 IBU; As a two-time Great American Beer Fest winner, this brew is quite the catch. Smooth flowing notes of caramel and maltiness make this ale a refreshing companion to be prized year round. Intrigued? Take the bait and tie one on, you’ll be hooked!

3. Raspberry Duality; 5.4% ABV; 13 IBU; The middle of summer means lazy days, visits to the lake, and seasonal bounty – like raspberries. Naturally sweet & sour, their unique flavor profile and our use of both red and black raspberries give the latest release in our ‘Permaculture Series’ its name. Brewed during peak harvest time, locally grown and handpicked raspberries are infused into our unfiltered hefeweizen. The clean, refreshing properties of the wheat beer provide the perfect base for the complexity of the raspberries. Enjoy the naturally pure, naturally Michigan, taste.

8. Cedar Springs Brewing Company

Cedar Springs, MI

95 N Main St NE Cedar Springs, MI 49319 - (616) 696-2337

Can you take a wild guess where Cedar Springs Brewing Company is located? I bet you guessed Cedar Springs, Michigan, and you’d be correct. Here is where Dave Ringler, who calls himself the Director of Happiness, broke ground for his brewery in March 2013. A German native, he wanted to bring Gemütlichkeit to his West Michigan home.

“We get hikers and bikers every single day, throughout the year as we are both on the North Country Trail and on the White Pine Trail,” boasts Dave. They are a traditional Bavarian brewery, winery, distillery, Biergarten, and restaurant, as he learned his craft brewing in Germany.

 

Recommended Brews:

1. Outdoorsman Session Ale; 4.6% ABV; 28 IBU; This session pale, brewed each time with 100% single hop, usually from one of our friendly, Mitten-grown Michigan suppliers. This beer is unique every time as we experiment with growers, climates and hop varietals. Any time you enjoy it, this easy ales is perfect for the great Michigan outdoors or presiding over a long, friendly conversation with friends.

2. Eire; 5.2% ABV; 25 IBU; A classic Irish dry stout, rich in roasted barley malt flavor, this dark ale is surprisingly easy to drink with a refreshing dry finish and tame body. Crafted in Michigan, this reminds of our favorite Celtic cousin and goes perfectly with the shamrock in you.

3. Küsterer Salzburger Märzen; 6.7% ABV; 22 IBU; This lager style evolved in the early 19th Century as a legendary Spaten brewer Gabriel Sedlmayr from Munich and Anton Dreher of Dreher Brewery in Vienna researched pale malting techniques in England and combined with Bavarian lagering yeasts to create a “March brew” that was stored over the summer to enjoy during harvest. Subtle, layered and complex, this traditional deep copper lager has been enjoyed for over a hundred years in the Beer Halls and Gardens of Bavaria & Austria. Also known as “Oktoberfest,” it was adopted by Munich’s annual celebration as the Weis’n beer for nearly a century. It’s rich, malty body is complemented by soft caramel notes and a clean, refreshing finish, pairing great with food and good conversation.

4. Küsterer Original Weißbier; 5.6% ABV; 15 IBU; Dating from six centuries of brewing history, this legendary alchemy was brewed exclusively by Bavarian kings for nearly three centuries. Fermented with our special yeast strain in our classic open vessels, this traditional wheat beer is deep auburn in color with a cloudy appearance, a rich body accented by hints of almond and nuts and a refreshing finish. This Original version of “hefeweizen” is still brewed by a handful of small, independent breweries in Bavaria – such as ours – and is perfect to be enjoyed year-round.

 

Aside from their award-winning beers, they also offer their own Cider and Sangria from their own winery as well as a nice selection of hand-crafted sodas in a variety of tastes and flavors. To go along with all of these amazing bavarian liquid treats, they also have a full kitchen with some of the best bavarian food to coat your stomach in order to fill up on more brew. I, myself, am a huge fan of bratwurst and schnitzel, and boy do they have the selection of schnitzel from wienerschnitzel, jagerschnitzel, paprikaschnitzel, cordon bleu schnitzel, kartoffelschnitzel, to beirgarten schnitzel. Oh, and they also have a Giant Pretzel that you have to try.

9. Beards Brewery

Petoskey, MI

215 E Lake St, Petoskey, MI 49770 - (231) 753-2221

Beards Brewery first opened their doors in August 2012, in the beautiful city of Petoskey, Michigan, which sits on the shores of Little Travers Bay. After 5 years of brewing and grooming their beards, co-founders Peter Manthei and Ben Slocum needed to expand and moved their facilities a few blocks to their current location, doubling their tap handles and adding a full restaurant. While passing through Petoskey, make sure you stop in to check out their new digs.

 

Recommended Brews:

1. Luna; 6.6% ABV; 12 IBU; Crisp and refreshing saison-styled American wheat ale with notes of citrus. Pairs amazingly with summer days on the beach and nights by the campfire.

2. Oh! The Citranity!; 5.4% ABV; Bright, citrus nose and flavor profile with pronounced grapefruit notes and a balanced bitter finish. Pairs exceedingly well with fish, bbq, burgers on the grill, and ball games.

3. Serendipity Porter; 5.8% ABV; Exceptionally smooth with a pronounced chocolate flavor and balanced sweetness. Subtle notes of cherry and smoke on the finish. Pairs well with desserts featuring peanut butter and chocolate, or a second glass of Serendipity.

4. Owlmadillo; 7.5% ABV; 45 IBU; A bright American IPA featuring mosaic and amarillo hops for a tropical fruit flavor.

 

Make sure you ask your bartender what’s on the Pub Tap! The Pub Tap features limited releases of beer brewed on their pilot brew house at the pub.

Since the beginning of it’s time, they have concocted over 100 delicious recipes, and I don’t think they plan on slowing down anytime soon. Have a few Beards Brews before you hit the high road and continue on your adventure along the NCT. You won’t be disappointed.

10. Petoskey Brewing

Petoskey, MI

1844 M 119 Harbor-Petoskey Road, Petoskey, MI 49770 - (231) 753-2057

Petoskey Brewing Company is actually the oldest of all the breweries on this list, around since (can you believe) the year 1898? It’s true. They call the building the “Old Brewery”, as it is 120 years old, and has remained, for the most part, untouched since its construction. It was originally used to brew Petoskey Sparkle beer until 1915. Since closing in 1915, the brewery building has served as retail shops, as warehousing and perhaps even as a goat barn. It wasn’t until 2012, under the new ownership of and complete renovation by Patrick Dowd and Lou Gostinger, that beer once again flowed within the walls of the “Old Brewery”.

 

Recommended Brews:

1. Horny Monk; 6.9% ABV; 20 IBU; A deep reddish, and complex Belgian style ale. Six different types of malted barley, Belgian candied syrup, and Belgian yeast are combined to produce a very smooth, complex and slightly sweet ale.

2. Juicy New England Style IPA; 5.7% ABV; 57 IBU; Bursting with rich, mouthwatering citrus and tropical hop aromas, this New England style IPA is a melange of juicy flavors.

3. Super Trooper Coffee & Donuts Brown Ale; 7.3% ABV; 12 IBU; This brew will serve as the brewery’s winter seasonal release. A brown ale that has chocolate malt, Colombian coffee, and donuts in it, sourced from local companies. The coffee grounds are from Higher Grounds in nearby Traverse City and the donuts are from Johan’s Pastry Shop in Petoskey. The brew smells more like a coffee than a beer.

4. Sparkle American Lager; 4.1% ABV; 12 IBU; Their homage to the original “Petoskey Sparkle” brewed by Petoskey Brewing from 1898 until 1915. Wheat and four special malts combine with three different types of hops to create a super clean, easy drinking lager.

11. Biere de Mac Brew Works

Mackinaw City, MI

14277 Mackinaw Hwy, Mackinaw City, MI 49701 - (231) 427-7007

Bière de Mac Brew Works is another of the newer breweries on the North Country Trail. They opened up shop in January 2017. Yet uncommon to many Mackinaw City businesses, Bière de Mac stays open year-round with snowmobilers and travelers of the Mackinac Bridge interested in a brew during the winter months.

Bière de Mac Brew Works was found by a father-son team, George Ranville, President and Danny Ranville, Brewer and General Manager, whose family roots run deep with history in the area. Their ancestors came to America on a French Warship in the 1600s through Canada to protect the French Fur Trade Business on Mackinac Island and eventually made Mackinaw City their home in the 1800s. Captain Alexander Ranville Captained the Chief Wawatam steamship that transported vehicles and people alike across the Straits of Mackinac before the Bridge was built in the 1950s. With the French heritage, Bière de Mac (spelled the French way) in some form pays homage to the past with a french flare both on the tap list and in the Gastro-Pub Style fare.

 

Recommended Brews:

1. Blueberry Wheat; 6% ABV; 36 IBU; An American Wheat Ale with good balance and a nice finish of blueberry that is not overpowering.

2. Horse Latitudes; 7.1% ABV; 59 IBU; A light bodied American IPA with Amarillo, Cascade, Nugget and Chinook hops.  The floral/citrus on the forefront is followed by a caramel maltiness & a tickle of pine that balances the beer satisfyingly for nearly all IPA lovers.

3. Loudmouth Blonde; 6.3% ABV; 20 IBU; 2 Row, Vienna, Melanoiden & Crystal 15 make up the grain bill in this fantastic Belgian Blonde with medium body and crisp finish.  With a “loud” mouthfeel and bready clove characteristics, this easy drinking beer is sure to please anyone who enjoys a hearty Blonde!

 

Where the NCT pops out from Wilderness Park, it is pretty easy to navigate to the brewery without having to even get on a road to enjoy a tall, cold trail brew.

So let’s sum things up here. When it comes to trail brews, Michigan offers up quite the selection. From breweries that have been around since the 1800s to brand new, fresh out the oven, just-opened-their-doors breweries; from hand-me-down-historic recipes to let’s-see-what’s-in-the-backyard-for-ingredients recipes; from light lager type offerings to bold, thick, heavy, knock-your-socks-off tummy busters; these choices have the Homer juice you are looking for. So, next time you find yourself hiking the NCT in our country’s Great Mitten State, plan a stop-off at one of these libation lounges for a real treat.

Keep on the lookout for future Trail Brews posts in other states across our great country. Do you have a suggestion on which state we should visit next? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. Now, get out there. Take your soul outdoors. It’ll thank you.

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