Taking a tour through some of Michigan's most notable brews

Capture the flagship

Jul 22, 2015 at 4:00 am

What's in a flagship beer? Sometimes it's a lot of alcohol, sometimes it's a little. Maybe it includes a few truckloads of hops, or perhaps it swings more to the malty side of the pendulum. And sometimes these beers were just what their breweries' founders intended to anchor their brands in the marketplace, but more often than not, that same marketplace told the breweries what it is they really wanted. Here's the lowdown on seven staple beers you may have seen in area bars and on local store shelves, and probably enjoyed during an exuberant night out, or five.

Dirty Blonde

4.2% ABV, blonde ale

Atwater Brewery, Detroit

Distributed in 20 states throughout the Midwest and East Coast

Maybe you've had it at your local pub or maybe you enjoyed it at a Tigers game in Comerica Park, but at some point you've certainly run across Atwater's Dirty Blonde Ale, one of the flagship beers from Detroit's oldest and largest brewery.

"Dirty Blonde, along with our Vanilla Java Porter, emerged at the pub level as our flagship," says Jason Schrider, director of operations at Atwater. "It's our best draft seller, with a seasonal fluctuation." As such a light, refreshing wheat brew, it's small wonder Dirty Blonde represents about 30 percent of Atwater's annual 40,000 barrel production.

Final Absolution

Belgian-style tripel, 7% ABV

Dragonmead Microbrewery, Warren

Distributed statewide

What happens when you try to brew a beer in the style of a tripel ale from world-renowned Belgian breweries like Affligem or Westmalle? You take a gold medal at the 2006 World Beer Cup, with Affligem and Westmalle taking the silver and bronze behind you, respectively. You also take up 80 to 90 percent of your production time brewing it.

"It's a homebrew recipe from [the owners]," brewer Erik Harms said. "It wasn't intended to be the flagship. That's a happy accident."

Christmas Town

6% ABV, winter ale

Frankenmuth Brewery, Frankenmuth

Distributed in Michigan and Ohio

It's a little unusual for a seasonal beer like Frankenmuth's Christmas Town Ale to be considered a flagship offering, but in the city that's home to the billboard-loving Bronner's Christmas Wonderland, maybe it's not all that odd.

"Sweet, toasted dark malts and American hops combine with holiday flavors to create a medium-bodied ale with a taste and aroma unmistakably Christmas," vice president Joseph Osberger says. "We're happy to call Christmas Town our 'seasonal flagship' due to Frankenmuth's affinity for the holiday season."


9.5% ABV, double IPA

Kuhnhenn Brewing Co., Warren

Limited distribution in Michigan (statewide after the 2016 production brewery opening)

Picture, if you will, winning a gold medal at the biennial World Beer Cup competition. Now picture winning it in the IPA category, which boasts somewhere in the vicinity of eight kajillion entries. Furthermore, picture winning said gold in San Diego, an oceanside city arguably awash in more IPA than seawater. Oh, guess what? You're picturing DRIPA (Double Rice IPA), Kuhnhenn's flagship brew.

"We knew this was going to be something special, but not like what it has become," says Kuhnhenn's minister of beerformation Jon Piepenbrok. "You do not dictate your flagship, the consumer does."


4.2% ABV, English-style mild ale

Motor City Brewing Works, Detroit

Distributed primarily in metro Detroit

Longtime lovers of local beer have fond memories of Motor City's Ghettoblaster that are older than the current crop of college undergrads. Not only does this beer predate the contemporary craft beer craze by two decades, it's even more unusual in that it's an unfashionable, low-alcohol English style.

"Around the time we started the brewery I also started a recording studio downtown that producer Jim Diamond — White Stripes, Electric Six, the Dirtbombs — eventually took over. We were kicking around fun beer names, and Ghettoblaster came up, and we were like, 'Let's put out a CD with the beer too.' It was a way of marrying my two loves, beer and music," says Motor City Brewing Works founder and owner John Linardos.

Grapefruit IPA

5% ABV, India pale ale

Perrin Brewing Co., Comstock Park (Grand Rapids)

Distributed statewide

You've probably seen it on tap at your favorite beer bar, no matter which city you're in. Grapefruit IPA from Grand Rapids-area brewery Perrin, which was recently acquired by Colorado-based Oskar Blues, has made quite a splash on the Michigan beer scene since its introduction a few years ago.

"Grapefruit IPA is our most popular seasonal beer that was one of the first products that we started to distribute throughout the state," says Jason Schrider, director of operations. "Michigan hops from Empire Hop Farms are used, giving it a grapefruit and citrus undertone that finishes very clean."  

Milkshake Stout

5% ABV, sweet stout

Rochester Mills Beer Co., Rochester

Distributed statewide

Maybe more than the others, you can call Milkshake Stout the accidental flagship. Rochester Mills opened as a brewpub in 1998 and offered an alternating stout on tap at all times, a dry stout and a milk stout. The dry stout always sold better than the milk stout, according to Eric Briggeman, brewmaster. Nevertheless, when the brewery opened a production facility and chose beers to distribute, including the presumptive flagship, Cornerstone IPA, Milkshake emerged as the champ.

"There aren't a whole lot of full-time stouts out there that aren't big imperial stouts, so it must fill a niche. It's 40 percent of our volume, so it's clearly our flagship beer," Briggeman says.