Michigan’s Wackiest Beers: Here’s What’s Inside

Michigan’s beer scene is one of the best in the country. With more than 200 breweries, microbreweries and brewpubs across the state, Michigan is truly a dream destination for both beer enthusiasts and those just looking to explore craft beer for the first time.

Read more on some of the more unique flavors that pop up at various breweries in the Great Lakes state, courtesy of guest blogger Chad Cramblet of the Awesome Mitten.

Take a minute to think about your favorite beer. Is it a stout, sweet and malty with just a subtle hop bitterness? Is it a hoppy IPA that is perfectly balanced with a slight sweetness? Can you taste the hops, the malt, the smoked pig’s head, the watermelon candy or maybe the freshly picked jalapeno peppers?

At its core, beer is simply a combination of water, grain, hops and yeast. It is the different combinations and varieties of these ingredients that create most of the beers that we know and love. However, we are lucky enough to live in a time (now) and place (Michigan) where breweries are taking a more artistic approach to beer, not afraid to play with unique ingredients to create something unique and, in some cases, flat out weird.

With the ever-growing number of small breweries in Michigan, there is no shortage of unique brews being served in taprooms and beer festivals throughout the state. Brewing beer in smaller batches than some of the bigger names in beer, many Michigan brewers have more wiggle room when it comes to incorporating unusual ingredients in their recipes. Whether the goal is for the ingredient to be the focal point or simply a supporting character, nothing is off limits when it comes to experimentation.

Photo Courtesy of Shorts Brewing

Photo Courtesy of Short’s Brewing

But what is it that makes a beer using strange ingredients a success and not just a novelty? For head brewer Tony Hansen of Short’s Brewing Company in Bellaire, that is pretty simple:

“Whether you are trying to single out and highlight the ingredient or make it work with other elements to create something complex, it has to be something that leaves the customer wanting more,” Hansen said. “I’ve tasted a lot of strange beers that were made with weird ingredients that sounded interesting but were undrinkable.

“In my opinion, these beers may have attracted or created a long line (at a beer festival), but they were not a success.”

Though some brewers may start with a traditional recipe and figure out how to add a unique ingredient into the mix, for Hansen the creative process starts with the the ingredient itself.

“I start with the weird or unique ingredients first (and then) figure out if I want it to be the dominant flavor or complemented with other flavors to create a broader concept,” Hansen said.

After he has an idea of what the ingredient will contribute to his vision, he chooses a base beer that has the right characteristics to complete the puzzle.

“Of course, the base beer might have to be manipulated a bit from traditional style to fit just right, but that’s what makes it fun.”

While many beer drinkers prefer to stick with beer-flavored beer, for those who prefer to take a drink on the wild side here are a list of a few of the strange beers that Michigan breweries have produced. Since most of these are produced in limited quantities and served exclusively in tap rooms or at beer festivals, make sure to check out breweries’ websites to see what’s available before making a pilgrimage to check out any of the beers listed below.


Peter Piper Pepper Pale Ale
Rockford Brewing Company, Rockford

Also a part of RBC’s Permaculture Series, this pale ale utilizes serrano, jalapeno, banana and hungarian wax peppers from Heidi’s Farmstand in Lowell. You can expect a finish of fresh peppers without an overwhelmingly spicy bite. Also try Hot Peter; Peter Piper Pepper Pale Ale cask conditioned on a blend of peppers.

ABV: 5%

Photo Courtesty of Rockford Brewing

Photo Courtesy of Rockford Brewing

440 Pepper Smoker
Original Gravity Brewing CompanyMilan

Description: This Amber Ale uses a German smoked malt that adds a balanced smoky flavor that works well with the heat from the fresh jalapenos that are added during several stages of the brewing process.

ABV: 5.6%


Watermelon Weizen
Hideout Brewery, Grand Rapids

This wheat beer’s green color might come as a bit of a surprise, but that is because it is brewed with over one thousand watermelon candies which makes it a little tart, a little sweet and a lot refreshing.

ABV: 5.3%

Hipster Brunch Stout
Odd Side Ales, Grand Haven

This dark, boozy stout was aged in bourbon barrels along with coffee, maple syrup and bacon. While made with breakfast ingredients, the sweet and complex flavors present in this beer would also be great for dessert.

ABV: 10%

Barrel Aged Sweet Potato Souffle
Odd Side Ales, Grand Haven

This boozy, spiced strong ale is brewed with sweet potatoes and aged in rye whiskey barrels. Skip the sweet potato casserole and make this the centerpiece of your Thanksgiving table.

ABV: 10%, IBU: 31

Cherry Pie Whole
Right Brain Brewery, Traverse City

Tapped annually in July, this amber ale is brewed with 80 entire cherry pies — crusts and all — from Grand Traverse Pie Company. Released just in time for the National Cherry Festival, you can expect the tart-sweet flavor of cherries and a crackery finish from the crusts.

ABV: 5.4%

Ain’t Jemima
Rockford Brewing Company, Rockford

As part of its ongoing Permaculture Series which seeks to utilize unique ingredients from local agriculture, Ain’t Jemima replaced the water in the brewing process with fresh sap from local maple trees. This series has also produced beers made with butternut squash, plums, rhubarb and several other unique ingredients. Keep an eye on their website to see what’s next!

ABV: 7.6%


Mangalista Pig Porter
Right Brain Brewery, Traverse City

A rich, chocolaty porter that is brewed with smoked pig heads and bones. While the vegetarians will want to steer clear, this is the beer that put the spotlight on Right Brain when it was named the 2011 Gold Medal Winner for Best Experimental Beer at the Great American Beer Festival.

ABV: 7%

Photo Courtesy of Great Lakes Prep

Photo Courtesy of Great Lakes Prep

Short’s Brewing Company, Bellaire

This barbecue-themed experimental amber ale is brewed with tomatoes, brown sugar, molasses, spices and smoked hops. While it’s smokiness and slight spiciness harken to barbecue sauce, the malty backbone remind you that this is a surprisingly drinkable beer.

ABV: 6.7%

Spear Beer
Right Brain Brewery, Traverse City

A light-bodied ale with nutty, earthy and sweet notes from real asparagus! They also add real lemon zest to add a little brightness to the mix. Though it might sound weird, which is why it made this list, it is a must-try for asparagus fans.

ABV: 5.3%

This is simply the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the unique offerings that Michigan breweries have to offer. With well over 150 breweries and brewpubs across the state, you are never far from a beer infused with Michigan’s bountiful produce and creativity.

What are your favorite wacky Pure Michigan brews? Let us know in the comments below!

chad gambletMeet the Blogger: Chad Cramblet

Chad lives in Rockford with his wife and two dogs and enjoy to spend his time cooking and eating tasty vegetarian food, sampling craft beer, and listening to the Detroit Tigers play on the radio. After enjoying the Michigan craft beer scene for years as a consumer, he was recently employed as an assistant brewer at Newaygo Brewing Company. Since graduating from Cornerstone University in 2011, he’s also worked at Biggby Coffee, covered high school sports for MLive and contributed to The Awesome Mitten. With its natural beauty, craft beer and love for baseball, there’s no place he’d rather be, even with the frigid winters.

4 Ways to Stay Toasty This Fall with Michigan Craft Beer

Fall is quickly approaching and that means it’s color tour season. But even if you’re not a fall-color enthusiast, there’s something to look forward to when cooler weather greets the Great Lakes state. This autumn, warm up with a fall flavor tour when you Go Great Lakes Bay, when you can indulge in brewmasters’ fuller, richer, darker brews.

Read more on four ways you can #GoGreat and trace the trails of malty, hoppy goodness from one bold brew-lover’s excursion to the next! 

1. Try a sample at one of Michigan’s newest breweries

Oracle Brewing Company

Scheduled to open this fall at 122 N. Michigan Avenue in Old Town SaginawOracle Brewing Company will offer pub-style service where you can order your beer and take it back to your seat. Although food isn’t on the menu just yet, you’re welcome to bring your own or grab a slice from Old Town Pizzeria which is conveniently located in the same building. Expect a rustic, lounge-type feel from this brewery, with comfortable seating as well as more traditional tables.

Cozy up with a Michigan craft beer this autumn

Photo Courtesy of Go Great Lakes Bay

As for beer, get ready to try something new. “We’re ready to bring something completely different to the Great Lakes Region beer scene,” says Chris Younk, co-owner of the new venture with partner Cody Smith. “Right now we’re focused on creating beers that are light and easy drinking, like some very good pale ales.”

For the fall and winter months, they’re planning a few different beers to help keep you toasty. “Our efforts right now are a combination of making the beer we really like to enjoy for the fall and preparing for winter, when people will want an imperial stout or nice double IPA,” explains Younk.

“I like a good pumpkin beer, so we’ll consider that, but we don’t want to put anything out just to put it out,” Younk says. “It still has to meet our expectations.” Oracle Brewing is working with local suppliers to source various Michigan-grown ingredients. “We want to find opportunities to introduce non-traditional flavors into the beer in ways that will meet your expectations.”

One beer you should look out for when Oracle opens this autumn is a nice pale ale. “It will be pale to golden in color, probably around 4.5 – 5% ABV. It’s going to have a nice, decently thick head on it and some tropical fruity notes with some pine and citrus, but it’s going to be subdued. It will be a crisp beer that will make you want to take another sip.”

If you’re a fan of darker beer, you’re in luck! “We have a strong love for coffee, so another beer we’ll have this fall is a chocolate coffee porter or stout,” Younk says.  “It’s going to be a bigger bodied beer, dark brown, almost chestnut in color, with a nice, rich, creamy mouth feel.”

“Come in and see us when we open!” he says.

Other stops in Saginaw:

At JB Meinburg & Woody’s Draught House you’ll find over 100+ beers on tap. It’s a great place to stop for a flight and sample a few. Loggers Brewing Company is also scheduled to open this year – check their website for updates.

While you’re in Saginaw, don’t miss the The Taproom at Stardust Lanes, a unique venue with a fun bowling alley and taproom, where you’re sure to find something you like: the Taproom boasts 41 taps that feature craft beer from Michigan and around the country.

2. Give Hard Cider A Try

With more than 80 varieties of Michigan craft beer, 40 on tap at any time, WhichCraft Taproom in Midland is a beer-fan’s dream. But for those of you who want to try something a little different, they also serve Michigan-made cider (in addition to mead and wine.) If you haven’t yet tried hard cider, think about the traditional fall drink made with apples, then imagine it fermented and spiced. Similar to craft beer, cider makers start with a base and tweak it to produce different varieties and flavors. Whichcraft has several different kinds in cans or bottles (not on tap) so you can get a feel for what you like.

The Whichcraft Taproom has more than 40 delectable Michigan craft beers on tap

Photo Courtesy of Go Great Lakes Bay

Eastman’s Forgotten Ciders

In the small town of Wheeler, about half an hour southwest of Midland,  you’ll find, Eastman’s Forgotten Ciders, an apple orchard that doesn’t just grow and pick apples-they ferment and bottle cider, too. You can try the goods in their tasting room where they feature cider on tap.

Other stops in Midland:

The Great Lakes Bay Region has a lot of award-winning brews and Midland Brewing Company has won several, including a Bronze Medal at the World Expo of Beer for its Three Mile Marker Hefeweizen, which should be available this fall. Stop by and see what’s on tap.

3. Raise a glass at Michigan’s oldest brewery

Frankenmuth Brewery

The historical Frankenmuth Brewery has been operating in the iconic town of Frankenmuth for more than 150 years. Not content to rest on their historical laurels, Frankenmuth continues to create new brews and winning awards for their efforts, including two gold and one bronze medal at the 2016 World Expo of Beer.

Get ready for a blast from the past when you enter this functional but attractive brewery. “The bar and the back bar look like an old-school German brewery with wood floors and dark wood booths,” says Steve Buszka, Frankenmuth Brewery’s Brewmaster.

Frankenmuth Brewery is a must-visit when in the Great Lakes Bay Region

Photo Courtesy of Go Great Lakes Bay

This brewery is indeed old-school, but the beer is what locals and visitors alike look to enjoy in the city. “We make everything from light Kölsh to oatmeal coffee stout and everything in between,” says Buszka. Of our 20 beers on tap, 6 are German-style beers, but we’re also a craft-centric Michigan brewery.” That means that in addition to German beers, Frankenmuth serves their highly drinkable flagship brews, creative seasonal releases, and unique small batch brews.

This fall, Frankenmuth Brewing will craft a chestnut brown ale made with toasted chestnuts, that’s as-of-yet unnamed (just ask for it by description when you get there). “The toasted chestnuts impart a very autumn flavor to the beer,” Buszka says.

They’ll also be introducing two enticing IPAs, one of which, Ted Nugget, is made with 100% Michigan grown nugget hops. “The nugget hop is a hop varietal that’s going to have an earthy bitterness but a very citrusy, light grapefruit flavor to it,” says Buszka. If you’re an IPA fan be sure to ask for Wicked Warlock, a west-coast style Double IPA that they’ll have this fall. “I like to make beer that is balanced and smooth,’” Buszka says. “I know I’ve done my job right if you drink one, order another, and contemplate ordering a third!”

When you Go Great Lakes Bay region this autumn, you can also try their Oktoberfest beer and pumpkin beer. “We use all German hops, malts, and yeast in our Oktoberfest beer, which is going to be a very light amber beer with a nice, malty aroma,” says Buszka.

Pumpkin Chucker, their pumpkin brew, will “taste like liquid pumpkin pie, but it’s 8% alcohol,” Buszka cautions. Although many breweries sell their pumpkin beer on the market, Frankenmuth only serves it in-house. “Ours is just at the brewery, so if you want to try it, you’ll have to take a little trip to Frankenmuth.”

Other stops in Frankenmuth:

If you’re in the mood for traditional German food and want to try a few other Michigan beers (as well as a few from around the country), swing by Sullivan’s Black Forest Brew Haus & Grill while you’re in town.

4. Try the brewery whose beers have won a gold, silver and bronze

Tri-City Brewing Company 

If the summer Olympics has you dreaming of podium wins, Tri-City Brewing Company in Bay City is your next stop. In 2007, the second beer they introduced after opening, Phelan, won a bronze medal at its first World Expo of Beer. Tri-City has continued turning out winners, including three golds and a silver at the 2016 World Expo of Beer.

If you visit this fall, you can still find Tri-City Brewing at its original location (3020 North Water Street), which is truly  inviting with high ceilings and a bit of an industrial feel (it’s located in a former warehouse). But this popular brewery is growing so they’ll have new digs later this year (4170 Shrestha Drive). The new location will almost double their seating capacity giving them the capability to expand their tap line, which means they’ll have more tasty brews for you to try.

Make a splash this autumn by sharing Michigan craft beers with your friends

Photo Courtesy of Go Great Lakes Bay

You’ll find several Belgian beers on tap at Tri-City, because they’re a favorite of Brewmaster Paul Popa. “Belgian beers are different in the sense that they’re very flavorful and the aroma profiles is dominated by the Belgium yeast,” explains Popa. They often have floral or clove notes; you may pick up rose aroma or bubble gum notes or get a spiciness from a white or black pepper note.”

You can also look forward to their seasonal beers, like Oktoberfest. “That’s always a big one for us,” says Popa. “Our Oktoberfest is a little darker than most, with darker gold notes and almost an orange color. It’s a very malty, very clean lager, with about 6% alcohol. To me, it represents fall. I call it autumn in a glass.”

Another seasonal beer you’ll want to try is Tri-City’s Brownhoist Ale, whose namesake, Industrial Brownhoist, was once a major manufacturer of industrial cranes in the area. “We’ve won several awards with that beer,” Popa says. “It’s an easy drinking English brown ale, not too hoppy, very earthy, with caramel to toffee notes and only about 4.8% alcohol. It’s great in the fall when the weather starts to cool and leaves start to change.”

As long as you’re there, you should give their flagship beer, Hell’s Half Mile a whirl. Named after a rougher part of town in the old lumbering days, it’s a German lager with some malty, toasty notes. “It’s a very easy drinking beer and it’s the beer that we recommend people start with when they come here,” Popa says. “It’s very clean but has some flavor to it.”

Other stops in Bay City:

Lumber Barons Brewery is housed in an old lumber mill. Try the BBQ at Rusty Saw Smokehouse, located inside the brewery. With delicious flatbreads and 54 rotating taps featuring beers from Michigan and around the country, Tavern 101 is also worth a stop! If you’re in the mood for schnitzel, stop by Stein Haus and try theirs, while you sample the beers on tap.

For a unique group experience, schedule a ride to pedal your way along a Bay City pub tour on Sunrise Pedal Trolley (rides also available in Frankenmuth).

What is your favorite thing to do when visiting the Great Lakes Bay region? Share with us by commenting below!

The Must-Try Local Flavors of Traverse City

Traverse City, located in the Northwest Region of the Lower Peninsula, is famous for pristine beaches, friendly community and of course, cherries. But besides the delectable fruits (honored with their own annual festival) this city is a mecca for local and fresh fair available year-round.

Read more on the bountiful food scene in Traverse City, courtesy of guest blogger Tricia Phelps from Taste the Local Difference.

Fresh, Northern Michigan Fruits and Vegetables 

Plan your day on either the Leelanau or Old Mission Peninsula to take in the sights and attractions, including the u-pick farms and community farmers markets. Late-summer into fall is the most abundant growing season in Northern Michigan, and there’s always a delicious variety of farm-fresh produce at your fingertips! Have fun with the kids and fill a bucket of blueberries, add some fresh apples to your picnic basket, or enjoy flavorful heirloom tomatoes fresh off the vine.

Enjoy delectable local fare with Traverse City's many u-pick farms and eatery options

Photo Courtesy of Traverse City Tourism


See where your favorite brews start - right from the vine!

Photo Courtesy of Gary Howe

Northern Michigan is becoming well known not only for its breweries but for the number of quality producing hop farms that line our county roads. Drive by the 200+ acre hop farm at MI Local Hops in Williamsburg, or cruise through Leelanau County to catch sight of various farms constructed by Empire Hops. And up in Omena you’ll find the home of New Mission Organics and the Michigan Hop Alliance. It’s the perfect time to see local hops growing tall, so be sure to include a drive out to one of these northern Michigan hop farms before you visit the Traverse City breweries. Then keep your eye out for the locally grown hops on the ingredient list, or ask the bartenders to help you pick the best one!

Goodwill’s Farm to Freezer Products

Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan started their Farm to Freezer program in 2013. The program empowers community members through hands-on workforce development training, while simultaneously supporting local Michigan farms and creating a flash-frozen local product that can be enjoyed year-round. Get a taste of their frozen fruit line in a delicious smoothie at the Daily Blend, one of nine independently owned food trucks parked at The Little Fleet in Traverse City. Daily Blend specializes in fast, healthy food and uses local whenever possible.


Enjoy the many wineries in and around Traverse City

Photo Courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Locally Grown & Milled Flour

Have you tried the croissants from 9 Bean Rows, or how about the fresh-baked bread from Blue Heron 2? One bite and you’ll know these delicious baked goods are made with only the highest quality ingredients, including locally grown and milled flour from Bill Koucky of Grand Traverse Culinary. Head to the Sara Hardy Farmers Market to grab a bag of flour for home and a 9 Bean Rows treat, or stop into Blue Heron 2 and grab lunch before hitting the scenic route up M-22.

Local Wine & Cheese

One of my favorite pairings is wine and cheese. With over 50 different wineries in Northern Michigan there are hundreds of local wines to choose from — and it’s easy to put together a delicious cheese plate to accompany them! Look for a selection of unique cheeses at The Cheese Lady in Downtown Traverse City. Locally-made recommendations include Boss Mouse artisan cheeses made by hand with local Moomer’s milk, or the French-style Leelanau Cheese made in Suttons Bay and of course Idyll Farms Cheese, the mostly soft, spreadable cheeses made from goats milk.

Guest blogger Tricia Phelps enjoying some time in downtown Traverse City

Photo Courtesy of Gary Howe

Tricia Phelps is a local food & farming advocate in northwest Michigan. She is the Operations Director for Taste the Local Difference® — a company specializing in the marketing and promotion of local food. Visit their website at www.localdifference.org for more information.