Thursday, 10 May 2018

Michigan day two

Matt is picking me up at 9:30. I rise at 8:30, to allow time for brekkie.

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:

And this:
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

Blue Tractor
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

Ypsi Alehouse
124 Pearl St #100,
Ypsilanti, MI 48197.
Tel: +1 734-487-1555


brewer a said...

Those cards in the mexican restaurant are Lotería or essentially spanish/mexican tarot cards. (sometimes called Mexican bingo cards too) The Don Clemente cards are especially common to see and are popular Mexican iconography in a lot of restaurants etc.

BrianW said...

The Ann Arbor tourism office should pay you for that excellent write up. Sounds like a great brewing culture there. Definitely makes me want to visit.

Unknown said...

My father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather were all born and raised in Ypsilanti. My father graduated from EMU in the early 60s and my grandparents graduated from the same school, back when it was named Michigan State Normal College. (A normal college was essentially a university for prospective teachers.) My parents recently donated a bunch of my grandfather's old photos of him taken when he played on the school's baseball, basketball and (American) football teams. I'm told that one of them was enlarged to a huge size and is on display in the student union. I'll have to check it out someday.

To bring this back on topic, I found an old newspaper article from 1893 that describes how a bunch of masked men broke into the L. Z. Foerster Brewery, tied up an employee, and blew open the brewery's safe. The last line of the article mentions that the tools the men used had been stolen from my great-great-grandfather's workshop. (He built and repaired carriages and bicycles.)

The Foerster Brewery operated under a few different names from about 1870 until WWII, minus the Prohibition years, of course. Here's an image of the article, a 1905 Foerster advertisement, and one of their beer labels:

kaiserhog said...

Interesting that all breweries you visited on Day 2 had cask ale? Could that be the beginning of a trend? Also fascinated by the Kentucky Common, heard the grains is a bourbon mashbill reversed. Could have heard wrong, though.

qq said...

Wildly OT but Ron may be interested to hear that Carlsberg have done a deal with Leeds Brewery for a series of old Tetley recipes starting with 1868 No.3 Pale Ale.

No doubt the prospect of getting Leeds beer into the Carlsberg distribution chain was a significant sweetener, but I suspect we'll see a lot more of this kind of thing in coming years.

No word on Tetley Mild though...

Kevin said...

@kaiserhog: The Kentucky Common style was pretty much revived by a single user on the homebrew talk dot com forum who did quite a bit of research on it. Even the BJCP guidelines were based on his writings. It is a little like a bourbon mash bill in reverse in that the largest percentage is malted barley, then corn and a smaller amount of rye but there is also a small amount of chocolate and or crystal 120L... both of those in almost the same percentage as the corn.

Mike in NSW said...

So that's what happened to all those tanks that used to provide my Newcastle Exhibition, Lorimers Scotch, Federation Special and Vaux Samson back in the dear old 1970s. Glad to see they didn't all get melted down.

kaiserhog said...

@Kevin: Interesting, I've heard that Kentucky Common was something almost akin to Mild Ale.

rkat32 said...

Ann Arbor is a nice, little beer town. Jolly Pumpkin has a brewpub a few blocks from the Arbor Brewing / Grizzly Peak / Blue Tractor cluster. Wolverine (nice lagers) and HOMES (modern) are also recommended. Grizzly Peak has a sister brewery called Old German located in the their basement. There the main focus is old-world beer styles (predominantly German, Czech and English). Hope you enjoyed your short stay in A2!