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Bottoms Up!

December 29, 2014
A mini-guide to enjoying local craft brews.
By Don Cohen

When friends used to tell me they didn’t like beer, I understood. Beer isn’t for everyone. Try something else.

But times have changed. Now I politely suggest that they don’t know what they are missing.

Today there are many kinds of beer to choose from. Like coffee? Try a Java stout. Bourbon or scotch? Some fine beers are aged in whiskey barrels and taste like it. Something sharp and refreshing? India Pale Ales (IPAs) are all the rage. Chocolate? No problem. Fruit? Ditto. Brewmasters are constantly stretching beer boundaries.

And, why not try a Michigan-made beer? Founders Brewing Company in Grand Rapids (regularly voted Beer City, U.S.A.) and Bells Brewery in Kalamazoo are bright Michigan stars in the national craft brew firmament, and only three states host and boast more breweries than Michigan’s 186.

Pretty much every month a new craft brewery, or a bar offering taps of local and national craft brews, opens in Michigan. The search engine at mibeer.com currently shows 28 breweries within a 20-mile radius of Bloomfield Hills, and the five places mentioned in this story are less than six months old or just about to open.

Here’s a quick primer on how to explore beer and places to enjoy it.

Flights — When you are ready to launch, flights are the way to go.

A flight is a series of 4-ounce glasses of beer. You decidee the number and type, which determines the price. It’s like an appetizer sampler platter for beer, with the price per glass averaging about $1.50. It is usually served on a specially made wood tray with holes or indentations to hold the small glasses.

The Farmington Brewing Company (33336 Grand River Ave.) in downtown Farmington just opened on Nov. 15, so for my first visit, a flight was the perfect way to check out what they are up to.

Going from lighter to heavier beer, I progressed from ½ Day IPA to Irish Red Ale to Vanilla Bean Porter, to a very tasty Raspberry Imperial Stout. I decided the Irish Red deserved more attention, so I ordered a pint.

The FBC has already become a popular local hangout. It has table games, a big screen, and several areas restaurants deliver. Like most microbreweries, the beers change often as they sell out and have to make more, but there is always something brewing.

Growlers — Take home a brew fresh from the tap.

Say you’re going to a holiday party or are having some friends over — it’s time for a growler! A growler is a glass or metal container — 64 or 40 ounces — filled with fresh draft beer and sealed to stay fresh for almost a week. Once opened, it’s time to drink it within 24 hours, though some folks swear it can last twice as long.

While bottled beer is nothing to dismiss, the big advantage here is taste and freshness. Unless mishandled, there is no worry that the beer has been degraded by exposure to light or temperature changes.

The Michigan Beer Growler Company (31221 Southfield Road, Beverly Hills) sells growlers for $5 or will fill your own with one of 26 craft brews, two sodas or two hard ciders. They have a modest tasting area with flights and pints as well as packaged Michigan-made food products.

Working with six different distributors to get the right product mix, most of its 64-oz. growler fills are about $15 —more than at the microbreweries themselves, but you save considerable travel time.

The Brewpub — Food and drink.

The Griffin Claw Brewing Company (575 S. Eton St., Birmingham) offers its own brews in flights, pints and growlers, but here it also brews its own distilled spirits — whiskey chaser, anyone? — and serves its own branded wine.

GCBC has a tasty upscale bar-type menu to enjoy at its communal tables or at the bar.

While I was there, several people came in with Griffin Claw stainless steel growlers, the only kind it fills. While initially more expensive ($25-$32), the refill price for most of the beers was only $10.

And the beer? I went with the Birmingham Brown, Norm’s Raggedy Ass IPA, El Rojo Red Ale and a very impressive Cherry Stout. It’s no surprise that Griffin Claw won nine gold, six silver and four bronze medals in various competitions.

Worthy of special mention is The Hopcat Detroit, (4265 Woodward Ave.), which opened big in Midtown in mid-December. Like the original Hopcat started in Grand Rapids in 2008, not only does it serve great food and brew its own beer, it also serves drafts and bottles of dozens of others.

Beer Advocate Magazine ranked Hopcat the No.3 Best Beer Bar in the world, and CraftBeer.com rated it the No. 2 Best Beer Bar in the U.S. Hopcat Detroit also has a 400-person entertainment venue on its second floor.

Next summer look for the Craft Breww City, a brewpub scheduled to open in Farmington Hills in the space vacated by Roosevelt’s Bar & Grill at 12 Mile and Orchard Lake roads. It’ll have 40 beers on tap, food, outdoor seating, entertainment, and pool and ping-pong tables.

So, try a beer, drink responsibly and have a great time. NS

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