Tuesday, July 2, 2013

[HOT LIST] Michigan Craft Beer Month - Summer beers

It's July, which means it's summer (in theory), and also that it's Michigan Craft Beer Month. Now, if there's one thing all beeries can count on as reliably as death and taxes, it's that one (and usually several) of Michigan's top breweries are going to make it on to some somethingsomeonesomewhere's list of "best beers for MAKING A LIST WITH." Like this one, for example: summer's best beach beers! ZOMGZFOUNDERZZZZZ!!!!

Which is swell. Really. It is. Lists are great! But the feasibility of actually getting your hands on any Founders Rubaeus this summer is about as likely as winning a $300 million jackpot (though some hardcore beer trolls out there would probably find it equally as exciting).

And that is the fault of many of these ZOMGZBEERLISTZZZ out there: they usually only focus on the ultra-rare, ultra-limited releases that, hell, most of their readers don't even live in a state where the brand is distributed, much less stand a shot of getting their hands on any. And what's the fun in that? "Here is a list of awesome things you will never, ever try!" Ah, slideshow journalism as powered by Google.

Here is a list you can actually use. These Michigan beers are in wide release (some are high-production seasonals; others are year-round) and readily available for your drinking enjoyment. And since it's summer, and bourbon barrel-aged barleywines and the like just don't make any damn sense in the dead of summer, I'm sticking to summer-friendly beers as close to sessionability (defined as 4.0%ABV and lower) as local brewers seem willing to make.

#1 New Holland
There will come a day when New Holland is as popular as Founders and Short's and Bell's, and their specialty beers will be just as hard to come by. This will be both a happy and a sad day: happy for them, sad for me. But for now, we can still enjoy all the beers this stellar brewery puts out as if they were brewed just for us. Mainstays include Full Circle (an excellent kolsch, 4.9%ABV), Mad Hatter IPA (hoppy, 5.25%ABV), Sundog (amber, 6.0%ABV), and Monkey King (a superb saison, 6.6%ABV). Seasonals include the full Hatter series (the White Hatter, a Belgian-style white pale ale clocking in at 5.5%ABV, is probably the most popular), and the newly-relaunched Paleooza, a Michigan pale ale (5.6%ABV).

#2 Brewery Vivant
Brewery Vivant follows Belgian brewing traditions, which means there are certainly some heavy-hitters in their lineup. But their year-round releases are also some of the best drankin' beers around. Sold in four-packs of 16-oz. cans, they also make good travelers for summertime boating and camping and stuff-some-beer-in-your-backpack biking trips. Farm Hand is a French-style farmhouse ale and highly drinkable at 5.0%ABV, while Triomphe is a Belgian-style IPA - which means it isn't the hoppy cock-punch of your typical American IPA, but has a more gentle, pleasant hoppiness (reminds me of black teas). It's 6.5%ABV though, so not exactly poundable.

#3 Bell's Brewery
Say whatever you want about Bell's (they rule, they suck, Larry's a dick, whatever), their summer beer suite is second to none. And actually, their most summer-friendly beers happen to be the ones they make year-round. There's the Amber (a simple and tasty amber ale, 5.8%ABV), the Pale Ale (a classic, 5.2%ABV), Third Coast Beer (a hoppy ale with a modest 4.8%ABV), Lager of the Lakes (in the tradition of Bohemian-style pilsners, 5.0%ABV), Oarsman (a real-and-true sour-ish session beer made from sour mash and only 4.0%ABV), and the ubiquitous Oberon (their summer seasonal wheat ale, 5.8%ABV).

#4 MillKing It Productions
Remember when craft beer in a can was super-weird and everyone wondered if it would really work and if it was any good and if it was going to last? Well, MillKing It Productions was the first in the area to adopt aluminum, and now it's so much a THING that it's not even a thing anymore. While their product lineup has expanded quite a bit in the last three-ish years, their original lineup of AXL Pale Ale (5.2%ABV) and BRIK Irish Red (5.2%ABV) are still some of the best local go-to beers.

#5 Keweenaw Brewing Co
Is it any coincidence that three of the top five breweries on this list distribute in cans? Well...yes, it really is just a coincidence, but still one worth noting, if for no other reason that just to say, "Huh, that's funny. What a coincidence." ANYWAY. So Keweenaw's Widow Maker Black Ale (5.2%ABV) is a great chuggin' beer, as is their Pick Axe Blonde (4.7%). We don't see a lot of Yooper beers down here under the bridge, so these Keweenaw brews are a real treat. Nothing XTREME about them; just pop the tab and drink.

Bubbling under Jolly Pumpkin Calabaza Blanca (4.8%ABV) + Luciernaga (6.5%ABV), Atwater Grand Circus IPA (4.2%ABV), Founders All Day IPA (4.7%ABV), Arbor Brewing Co. Sacred Cow IPA (6.8%ABV) + Bollywood Blonde (6.0%ABV), Rochester Mills Cornerstone IPA (7.0%ABV), Greenbush Sunspot (6.0%ABV), Saugatuck Brewing ESB Amber (5.5%ABV) + Oval Beach Blonde Ale (5.0%ABV), Crankers Bulldog Red (5.1%ABV) + Torchlight (4.9%ABV)