Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Jared Williamson on "Michigan: Passion, Pints, and Pride."

I knew he could brew, and I knew he could play music, but Jared's been concealing his skill at writing. Here's the report on his trip to Michigan last weekend, and in my opinion, it wonderfully encapsulates the ethos of craft brewing and the reasons why we all cherish being a part of it. There'll be photos in two posts following.


Michigan: Passion, Pints, and Pride

Until this past weekend, I had previously spent a total of 12 hours in Michigan back in 2002, and that was for a gig with my band in my previous life before brewing. We played that gig in Battle Creek, and luckily stumbled upon Arcadia Brewing Company just a few blocks from the venue. Little did I know that evening the future connection that I would have with craft beer in Michigan.

Fast forward to Great Taste of the Midwest 2009; while looking for something interesting to try among thousands of choices, someone told me to check out The Livery from Benton Harbor, MI. They had me at the words “sour” and “barrel” and I was off to explore. After a few minutes and several samples, I was a big fan and then serendipity stepped in. Brewmaster Steve Berthel arrived at his table right when I was about to head back to my station. We proceeded to yell at each other to be heard above the roar of the crowd for the next ten minutes and quickly it was evident that we had a connection, and that Steve would be traveling through New Albanian country the next month. Without hesitation I asked if he wanted to brew some beer while in town, and Steve was enthusiastic about making it happen. We exchanged cards and went on our way.

In mid-September, Steve arrived in New Albany after spending a week biking and living it up in the mountains of western North Carolina. We spent the next 2 days hanging out, enjoying NABC beers, talking about life and music and beer, and yes, we squeezed in a batch that became the legendary Le Douche Mental Imperial Belgian IPA. Steve returned for its release in mid-November with long time Livery friends and supporters Jim and Megan Towers. We spent the weekend exploring all the Louisville area breweries and had a blast, to put it mildly.

Next up was this return trip to Michigan to brew with Steve, and when he told me about his 55th birthday bash weekend, it seemed the perfect time to brew The Livery’s 5th Anniversary Ale as well. Plans were laid out. Brewmaster Josh Davies from Arcadia Brewing Company, and Steve’s good friend, was added to the mix. Thom Phillips, Michigan home brewing savant, and Jim Towers joined the ranks for the brew day.

5th Anniversary, 5 brewers, Steve’s 55th birthday, 5 malts….hops, hops, and more hops. And then some more hops. We used 10 lbs of whole hop flowers in the mash alone, which is divisible by 5. Call it a Triple Dark IPA.

What we brewed this past Friday will go down in brewing lore. It was excessive, ridiculous, and as Steve says “it won’t suck”. While I won’t divulge the calculated IBUs at this time, Steve is planning on sending a sample to be tested for actual numbers. The beer will be racked into barrels and aged until its release at Great Tastes of the Midwest 2010, along side of a 10 month scotch aged pin of Le Douche Mentale.

We followed our brew day with a trip to Arcadia for pints and dinner. Brewmaster Josh Davies is brewing great beer in Battle Creek, and after a couple of samples I was really wishing that Arcadia would return to distribution in Indiana. Thom, Steve and I parted ways with Josh and headed back to Kalamazoo, finishing the evening with a stop at Bell’s Eccentric Cafe.

Saturday was the real party and what a great celebration it was. You see The Livery is a very unique situation in the craft brewing world. Being a successful brewery/restaurant/concert venue/yoga studio is quite an achievement. Doing it in a small, some would say forgotten lakeside town is brilliant. The level of community pride, craft knowledge, and genuine joy from the people and what they have collectively created is truly inspiring. As one who travels and visits many wonderful brewpubs each year, I urge everyone who loves to seek out great craft beer to make the trip to Benton Harbor and to enjoy the unique scene and beers hand forged by Steve. Well over 300 hundred people crammed into the 3 levels of The Livery to enjoy 12 special release beers, a wonderful concert from Robbie Fulks of Chicago, and great eats from the cafĂ©. The Livery’s staff is top notch, and they rocked out one of their best business days ever.

I have been a fan of Michigan beers from afar for a long time. After the experiences of this weekend, I cannot wait till my next voyage north. To the craft brewing community of southwest Michigan: bravo my friends, bravo.

Jared Williamson, Brewer
New Albanian Brewing Company

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