Yes, they can
Given the ever-growing popularity of craft beer in Michigan, it's only natural that residents of the Great Lakes State would want some suds packaged in lighter, grab-and-go cans. Great for camping, canoe trips and other getaways, they mean you can enjoy the great outdoors without lugging a 12-pack of heavy bottles. It's not a new idea — Keweenaw Brewing Company has been offering canned craft brews for years now — but we have a new entry in the aluminum-clad category, from Detroit's own Atwater Brewery, with Atwater Lager and Grand Circus IPA.
Atwater owner Mark Rieth points out that it isn't just campers who favor cans. "Cans are great for boaters, golfers, or at music venues — about 30 percent of the market is not going for bottles. I've wanted to do this for four or five years, so it's been a long time coming, but we're finally there with the cans — and people are really digging them."
Not only is it cool to have a can of beer that isn't mass-produced industrial beer, the can has some advantages over bottles. The precious beverage is protected from harmful ultraviolet rays, and the canning process allows for less air hitting the beer and changing its taste. Rieth also points out that cans are "lined" these days, so there isn't that tinny taste to canned beer you would have had a generation ago.
And the offerings are great. They have canned their Atwater lager, the very first beer Atwater served in 1997. The traditional Munich-style helles lager is available in affordable 12-packs. Plus, they're offering cans of Grand Circus IPA. It's a session IPA, which means it's nice and hoppy without the typically higher ABV of an IPA. Which makes sense: If it's in a can, it should probably be more poundable.
Rieth also says that cans of Atwater's Dirty Blonde Ale will be available this coming spring.
Bees for beer?
Ferndale's B. Nektar Meadery, fresh off an expansion that will enable the operation to produce 400 times as much product, has also purchased special equipment that allows them to make "draft meads."
The meadery's Brad Dahlhofer explains: "It's lower alcohol, about the same level as beer, and we carbonate it. Typically people think of mead as a high-alcohol, wine-like beverage — and this is a product that sits more in the beer-cider category."
The push for fermented mead began almost a year ago. Last winter, Dahlhofer mixed up an experimental quaff called "Zombie Killer."
"I'd been wanting to do a line of carbonated meads for a long time, and this just happened to be one of the tests we'd done." With a laugh, he adds, "We didn't have the equipment to do this on a large scale, so carbonated it by shaking up the kegs by hand."
The unusual work paid off at a springtime tasting party.
"People just went crazy for it. People were lining up for it out the door. So when we did our expansion here, we made sure to get the right equipment and got to work on new batches as soon as the apples started getting pressed for cider."
Are the 5.5 percent ABV brews poundable?
"Oh, yeah," Dahlhofer says. "Quaffable, sessionable. We have more than 2,000 gallons in fermentation right now, and our release date is this Nov. 4, with a tasting. The following week, it'll hit stores."
The meadery also has a draft mead called Funky Monky. "We found a particularly earthy wildflower honey from Michigan with a kind of barnyard aroma that reminded us of a lot of those funky Belgian beers you find. In that spirit, we fermented it and added tart cherry juice, dry hopped it with Styrian Golding hops. It's big on the cherry, with notes of funk in the background, like a mead version of castile rouge, the Belgian cherry beer."
Next in the pipeline is B. Nektar's "Naughty Ginger," which should be out around Nov. 4 or later. It's made with Michigan star thistle honey, fermented to about 5.5 percent ABV, with ginger, coriander and hops. Dahlhofer says, "It's not hot ginger, just a pleasant balance between that mild sweetness and a bit of ginger bite."
Get a sneak taste of Zombie Killer on Nov. 4, at at 1505 Jarvis, Suite B, Ferndale. Two-day tastings happen starting on the first and third Fridays of every month.
Let's get wet
Traverse City's North Peak has a few surprises up its sleeve this Halloween season, with Hooligan Hoppy Pumpkin Ale and Hoodoo Midwest Wet Hop IPA. Part of the Northern United Brewing Co. empire, which encompasses Jolly Pumpkin and Grizzly Peak, we expect them to get pumpkin spice right. But the new Hoodoo Midwest Wet Hop IPA is the brewery's first wet-hopped beer, using raw, unprocessed hops straight from the vine within hours of harvesting when they're less bitter. Naturally, hops this fresh can't be imported. They're grown just up the coast at the Old Mission Hop Exchange.
How hoppy is it? North Peak brewer Ron Jeffries says, "Given its strong malt-backed spine, we gave this Hoodoo hops to run. It starts hoppy, ends hoppy and is nothing but hops in the middle. Well, OK, a little malt in the middle — just enough to keep this Hoodoo from getting fussy."
Clearly, the Hoodoo brew has a lot going for it — 99 IBUs with a 9 percent ABV — and it might just be the way to get that Halloween party started.
Though craft brewing has finally come into its own in our fair state, distilling still has a ways to go. Though there are spirited standouts, including Valentine Vodka and Hard Luck Candy Flavored Vodka, when it's time for a boilermaker, the drinker usually has to settle for an out-of-state shot.
But, as a local bartender pointed out to us recently, western Michigan's New Holland Artisan Spirits produces an excellent whiskey — as well as rum, vodka, gin and more. Better still, it's a rye, perfect for the shot-and-a-beer ethos.
It's called Walleye Rye, and it was introduced in 2010. Fermented from a whiskey-wash of malted rye and malted barley, it's twice-distilled and matured in small American oak barrels with a heavy char. It has a bright and vibrant nose, leading to spicy rye character and a dry, toasted body bathed in oak.
It sounds good enough to sip alone, but if you want to dunk it on in a pint glass of beer and get the evening started, you could do worse than pairing it with New Holland Brewing Company's "Full Circle," a light, kölsch-style beer with soft, well-rounded malt character, light on the hops, and with a crisp finish — your classic, thirst-quenching beer.
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