No bacon, unfortunately. Just omelette, potatoes and a dodgy looking round sausage. At least it's served on a real plate with metal cutlery. I hate this disposable shit. I'm just finishing up when Matt arrives. Our plan is to hit several Ann Arbor breweries.
We start at his place, Brewery Becker. Now it's empty, I can appreciate all the attention to detail. It really is beautiful. What I thought was wallpaper has been hand painted onto the walls. A magnificent cast-iron staircase leads to the first floor.
“Is that original?”
“No I got it made, based on a staircase from the right period.”
That must have coast a bob or two. Especially as there’s a second one going up to the top floor.
The light fittings and light bulbs are also to ancient designs. When Matt tells me his wife is an interior designer, I’m not surprised. It shows. One of the best tap rooms I’ve visited. Most are just a corner of the brewhouse with a few tables and chairs and a bar.
A freight train passes and I realise how close we are to the railway line. The train is appears to be dissecting the beer garden. This was the old station hotel, though. Logical that it would be close to the tracks.
Luke is accompanying us on our brewery tour. After he shows up we head off down the motorway.
I’ve been to Ann Arbor before, funnily enough. About 15 years ago when I was in Detroit for work. I managed to persuade the two work colleagues to drive out to Arbor Brewing for dinner. I remember being impressed by the beer, especially a cask IPA. My colleagues were impressed that I gave that much of a shit about beer.
As we approach town. it looks more big city than I remember. I recall a pretty university town of two and three storey buildings. What’s in front of me looks quite different. I mention this to Matt.
“There’s been a lot of construction in the last ten years. Mostly taller buildings.”
That explains it. The town is awash with tech and biotech money, evidently. Quite a contrast with Detroit.
Matt parks in a subterranean carpark and we head over on foot to our first stop: Grizzly Peak. It’s not a long walk. Annoying as ever, I snap all the buildings on the way that I think look pretty. I’m such an architecture whore.
We’re met inside by Duncan, brewer here. He’s soon pulling us pints of Sheerwater – billed as a Burton IPA – through a beer engine. It’s softly carbonated, as cask beer should be, and eminently drinkable. My type of beer.
As soon as we’ve beer in our hands, he takes us on a quick tour of the brewery. The brewing kettles are on the ground floor, visible from the street, but most of the equipment is hidden away in the bowels of the building, in a maze of small rooms.
There are some closed Grundy tanks – they’re very common around this way – but also open rounds and squares. I’m pleasantly surprised to see that the open squares are fitted with attemperators. Something I don’t think I’ve seen before in the US.
It’s an unusual setup, very unlike the rows of shiny conicals you find in most modern breweries.
Pat brewer at Blue tractor – a later stop on our tour – joins us. He’s a quiet, bearded fellow of Irish descent. I don’t know why I mention the beard. Everyone here has a beard. Matt, Luke, Duncan, the barmaid. No, not the last one. Pretty much everyone else, mind.
Arbor Brewing, our next stop, is a short walk. As I walk in, it doesn’t look familiar. Turns out it’s recently been refurbished. Could just be my crap memory. Yesterday’s tea is often an impossible struggle to recall. Though it is weirdly good when it comes to average OG during WW I.
Chris, brewer here, greets us. “What would you like to drink, gentlemen?”
The two handpulls attract my attention. Forgotten Knight and Sacred Cow are the two options. My choice is made when I see the description of the former: Chevallier Bitter. How much of that stuff are they growing now? I keep coming across beers that use it. The beer itself is a beautiful golden colour and crystal clear.
Once we’re beered up, Chris takes us on a tour. And yes, he has a beard, too.
It’s a more conventional setup, with a modestly-sized brewhouse and seven barrel capacity conical fermenters. As every other brewery in the whole world, they’ve some oak barrels filled with ageing beer. Some are in a weird room that extends under the pavement. Where there are also champagne bottles of a Belgian-style Brown maturing.
After a second beer, it’s time to leg it to our final brewery, Blue Tractor. Not a particularly long walk. All the breweries are in the compact downtown area.
Blue Tractor’s interior is much more modern than the first two stops. It’s all exposed brickwork and industrial ducting, with a shiny metal bar counter.
I plump for a Ballyfarnon Stout, pulled through a lonely-looking solitary beer engine. Wow. Three breweries, three different cask beers. It’s almost like being back in the UK. I’m on my second beer – Double Crop IPA, if you’re interested – when we get a tour of the kit.
The brewhouse looks a bit Heath Robinson, with lots of pipes and hoses. There are more open fermenters, along with the inevitable Grundy tanks. I wonder how many of them there are in this town? Some of the Grundies here are showing their age, their white paint almost completely chipped away in places.
Before heading over to Eastern Michigan University, we stop for tacos at Chela’s, a small Mexican place. My attention is drawn by what looks like an educational poster. Especially one panel, El Borracho, portraying a stumbling drunk in ragged trousers. That's me, that is.
We’re due at EMU at 15:00 to set up everything for this evening. I’ll be giving my 18th-century English brewing talk. We’re running a little late, but still have plenty of time before the 17:30 kick off.
The university is in Ypsilanti, a sort of satellite town of Ann Arbor. We head down a road pointing at a rather phallic water tower. Which turns out to be right next to EMU.
We roll up to EMU at 14:30. Cory, who heads the fermentation science programme here, greets us as we arrive.
Matt and Luke have great fun manoeuvring the beer cooler inside. It looks dead cool – like a Viking ship – but it’s pretty bulky and heavy. He’ll be serving his beers from it: Entire Butt and William Younger S1. The latter is a weird Stout from the late 1800’s with a very high FG. I was surprised Matt managed to pretty well hit it. Brewers quite often wildly overshoot the gravity when making poorly-attenuated historic beers.
I’m talking in the McKenny Hall Ballroom. Which, as the names implies, is quite large. The 160 seats don’t even half fill it. But it’s a nice setup, with a proper dais and two screens. A mike and a controller/pointer that I struggle to master.
Plenty of time before I go on. So I get stuck into a few of the snacks provided before we kick off. Cheese. Cheesy biscuits. You may detect a theme here.
The talk is one of my longer ones. A few minutes in, I realise it could do with some editing. I rattle through it in just over an hour. Get a few laughs, then retire behind my books hoping for sales. Which go pretty well. I shift both the copies of Porter! that I’ve brought over and a few each of Let’s Brew! and the Home Brewer’s Guide to Vintage Beer.
There are a few attendees that I already know. Like Jeff Renner, for example, who sometimes comments on my blog. Mostly to complain about tables.
At 20:00 we wrap everything up. But notice that someone has left their jacket. In a pocket are invoices for the Ypsi Alehouse. It turns out that it belongs to Ted, one of the owners there.
“He’s always forgetting things.” I’m told. Sounds like me.
Luckily the Ypsi Alehouse is where we’re headed. It isn’t far. Music is being performed when we arrive: it’a open mike night.
What to drink? I opt for a Kentucky Common. And I pulled pork sarnie. Then an IPA, just for variety.
Matt and I are invited to take a look at the brewery. We have to pass through the kitchen to enter. It’s pretty small and rather cramped. With shiny new conicals rather than battered old Grundies.
Poor Matt is pretty knacked, only having had 2 hours sleep last night. We leave at 10:30.
I go straight to bed and am soon held in sleep’s firm, but gentle, grip.
These are the books I was flogging:
You can see my talk – if you can stand listening to me drone on for an hour – here:
Grizzly Peak Brewing
120 W Washington St,
Ann Arbor, MI 48104.
Tel: +1 734-741-7325
Arbor Brewing Company
114 E Washington St,
Ann Arbor, MI 48104.
Tel: +1 734-213-1393
207 E Washington St,
Ann Arbor, MI 48104.
Tel: +1 734-222-4095
307 S Fifth Ave,
Ann Arbor, MI 48104.
Tel: (734) 780-7078
124 Pearl St #100,
Ypsilanti, MI 48197.
Tel: +1 734-487-1555