Craft Beer is becoming synonymous with Michigan, with some 250 breweries spread throughout two peninsulas. Ranking fifth nationally for that overall number of breweries, it’s no wonder the Michigan Brewers Guild uses the tag: “Michigan. The Great Beer State.” In celebration of National Beer Day, read more on five famous Michigan breweries (in no particular order), as shared by Dianna Stampfler of the Michigan Brewers Guild.
Did you know there are quite a handful of Michigan breweries and microbreweries that currently distribute outside the state? In fact, Michigan-based Meijer recently announced that it is taking the six largest breweries—Arcadia, Atwater, Bell’s, Founders, New Holland and Short’s—to more than 223-store locations in five states in the Midwest!
Currently, Meijer carries selections from 50 Michigan breweries and offers 550 different beers from 220 beer-makers in its six-state footprint. It expects to sell $90 million in craft beer in 2016, including $30 million of Michigan-produced beer.
Those who live in Michigan probably know most of the older, well-established breweries. But for those throughout the rest of the country, what do they think of when they hear the names of some of these noted craft producers?
1. Bell’s Brewery. The largest and longest-operating of Michigan’s craft breweries, Bell’s was founded in 1986 in Kalamazoo by Larry Bell—considered the patriarch of the industry.
Available in 23 states, plus Washington DC and Puerto Rico, this brand’s most noted product is Oberon (introduced as Solsun in 1992 and renamed in 1997 due to a similar named beer from another North American brewery).
The release of this noted beer is nothing less than a National Holiday—Oberon Day was celebrated this year on Monday, March 21 (second only to Eccentric Day, held each December, in terms of Bell’s-focused festivities). Considered a summer seasonal for most states, it is available year-round in states with warmer climates such as Arizona, Southern California, Florida and Puerto Rico.
2. Dark Horse Brewery. Featured in 2014 on The History Channel show “Dark Horse Nation,” this Marshall brewery has a loyal-following for its cast of characters as well as its full beer portfolio. But it is the Crooked Tree IPA which is its top seller, currently available in 15 states, and overseas in Denmark.
An IPA (India Pale Ale) is a style of beer dating back to the early 1800s. Contemporary American IPAs are typically brewed with distinctively American hops. Dark Horse’s award-winning Crooked Tree IPA (6.5% ABV | 46 IBUs) is heavily dry-hopped with a blend of Centennial, Cascade and Columbus hops, to give it a big aroma of pine and grapefruit citrus.
3. Founder’s Brewing. Michigan’s second-largest brewery (and the fastest growing of the top 50 largest breweries in the United States), has been operating in downtown Grand Rapids since 1997 and currently offers a wide variety of beer styles available in 37 states (and growing).
Among Founders’ diverse portfolio, it is Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS) which garners the most attention for the brewery.
“KBS is sold one day a year in outlying markets,” says co-founder Dave Engbers. “Usually. It doesn’t hit the shelves but is quietly held or reserved as a reward to retailers’ best customers. Beer enthusiast have been known to ‘tail’ beer distributor’s trucks so they don’t miss a delivery.”
While KBS is available in limited quantities starting April 1 across the brewery’s distribution footprint visitors to and residents of Grand Rapids were given access to this much-anticipated beer back in mid-March during KBS Week.
4. Jolly Pumpkin. Regarded as the nation’s first brewery focused on and offering an exclusive selection of oak-aged sour beers—often called farmhouse or rustic country ales—Jolly Pumpkin has under the watchful guidance of master brewer Ron Jeffries.
With a special interest in rustic country ales, Ron and his wife, Laurie, realized their dream in the summer of 2004 when they launched Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales in Dexter (along with North Peak Beer, both of which operate through Northern United Brewing Company). Currently available in 25 states (as well as Hong Kong, Belgium, Ontario and South Korea), the award-winning Jolly Pumpkin is recognized as the America’s premier all-sour brewery.
And while the creatively-named and inspired beers are all special in their own way, it is the Oro de Calabaza (translation: Golden Pumpkin) that is the #1 selling beer outside of Michigan. This Golden Ale (8% ABV | 30 IBUs) is a “wild ale” brewed in the Franco-Belgian tradition of Belgian Strong Goldens. Available year-round, this orange-yellow hued beer it is “spicy and peppery, with a gentle hop bouquet and beguiling influence of wild yeast.”
5. New Holland Brewing. Founded in downtown Holland in 1997, (and coming soon to downtown Grand Rapids), this brewery and distillery first produced Dragon’s Milk (11% ABV | 31 IBUs) in 2001 as a single-batch annual release. Today, it is the brewery’s largest selling year-round beer – available in all 24 states where they distribute. In fact, in 2015 New Holland renovated its Holland production facility to expand its cellar, where more than 3,500 oak barrels of Dragon’s Milk are now aging.
This Bourbon Barrel Stout is aged in bourbon barrels and is noted for its roasty malt character intermingled with deep vanilla tones that dance together in an oak bath before being bottled. In 2014, New Holland introduced their “Dragon’s Milk Reserve” series, including additional conditioning ingredients, like toasted chilies, and raspberries. The 2016 Dragon’s Milk Reserve series includes Vanilla Chai, released in January, Coffee & Chocolate released in March and will include Raspberry and Lemon and “Double Dragon” later this year.
It should also be noted that New Holland produces a full line of spirits as well, including Beer Barrel Bourbon – a bourbon-style whiskey finished in second-use Dragon’s Milk beer barrels for 90 days. For those who are so inclined, a snifter of Dragon’s Milk served with a shot of Beer Barrel Bourbon has affectionately been called the “Dragon Slayer.”
Dianna Stampfler is a freelance writer and promoter of all things Michigan. She has served as publicist for the Michigan Brewers Guild since 2008.