Memorial Day Beercation

19 Jun

2 babies, 3 states, 4 days, 5 new friends, 9 breweries, and 79 Untappd check ins make for a beertastic Memorial Day beercation. Did I mention there was beer?

My beercation got off to an aggressively early start. Our trio of beer travellers had a 5 AM (!!!!!) flight to Chicago. That’s off the ground at 5. I woke up at 2:30 and made it to IAH at 3:30 before TSA even opened. That’s a good sign that it’s too damn early for a flight. Despite the inauspicious beginning to our trip, the promise of 3 Floyds in our near future kept my resolve strong. We arrived into Chicago and then made the drive down to Munster, IN to make it plenty early for the brewpub’s opening. I had been to 3 Floyds once before, so I was prepared for the heavy metal aural assault that greets you upon entering the brewpub. As it turned out, my palette would also be assaulted by the 5 different IPAs I tasted. VCR/Gun/PHD, Arctic Panzer Wolf, Zombie Vs. Unicorn, War Mullet, and Cimmerian Sabertooth Berzerker were all hop forward big bitter IPAs. When at 3 Floyds, one also has to try their awesome selection of food. Being in the Midwest, I had to satiate my cheese curd craving, and I was gladly able to do that. Our beercation had officially begun, and it was already time to make our way to the next stop.

A member of our crew secured us a private tour of Speciation Artisan Ales in Comstock, MI. We were delighted to arrive at a small facility tucked away on a back road. Mitch talked to us about the brewery and led us through a tasting of some of their beers. In a shift from their original strategy, Speciation does not brew any of their own beer. They send their recipes elsewhere and then receive the wort ready for fermentation. The magic happens when they add their house yeast and then allow the beer to ferment in various vessels, many of them of the wooden variety. We started our tasting with their base Brett saison, Genetic Drift. It contained the various funky elements expected of Brett and a very clean finish. The Batch 3 Incipient was a tangerine sour that stole the show for me. I don’t know that I’ve ever had fruit shine through so beautifully on a sour beer. We also got a sneak peek of Batch 4 Incipient which was fermented with pomegranates. I’m not typically a huge fan of pomegranate in beer, but they pulled this off wonderfully. It’s great to see small places like Speciation brewing some innovative beer and succeeding in the marketplace.

A drive over to Grand Rapids brought us to Founders Brewing. They have a world class facility, and even though it was massive, almost every table was full. After successfully finding a spot for our large group, I was ready to dive into some tasters. I tried 7 different beers and came away most impressed by their dark stuff. The Rum Barrel Aged Porter was non-traditional and pulled off well with a subtle barrel flavor. The Spiteful Imperial Stout had pepper on the nose, but the flavor was well-rounded and only showed a slightly spicy finish. Sumatra Mountain Brown was a stellar imperial brown ale brewed with Sumatra coffee. To finish things off, I couldn’t pass up the Backwoods Bastard beckoning me from their beer list. After a trio of brewery tours, it was time to head to our Airbnb and see what it was all about.

Our Airbnb was a charming country house located on a large plot of secluded land in Fennville, MI. It was a nice change of pace to get outside the city and relax on some secluded property. Being the beer nerds we are, we made sure to bring supplies. I had to share some Yellow Rose with our friends visiting from other locations, and they were nice enough to share some delicious pre-acquisition Wicked Weed Bourbon Barrel Aged French Toast. Of course there was also plenty of hot tub chillin’. We made the most of our time in the wooded oasis.

Saturday would bring with it another trio of brewery visits. We first headed to New Holland Brewing Company. The brewpub is located on a main drag of quaint Holland, MI. I chose to go the flight route and got to try 9 of their beers. My favorites were Incorrigible Reserve, a mango pineapple wine barrel sour, Bee Sour, a sweet and slightly sour golden ale, and the Tasmanian Hatter IPA. We also tried some of their pizzas which were quite tasty.

With some beer and food in our bellies, we were off to Odd Side Ales. They had a stellar draft lineup and had also just relased some bottles I was able to snag. I swung for the fences with my first beer and got a 13% (!!!!) The Implication triple IPA. As expected it was big and boozy and full of hop flavor. Definitely a sipper of an IPA. The beer that Odd Side is most known for is their Hipster Brunch Stout. It is aged in bourbon barrels with coffee, maple syrup, and bacon, and it was incredible to taste. I can confidently say it’s one of the best barrel aged stouts I’ve ever had. The Mexican hot chocolate inspired Mayan Mocha Stout and Peanut Butter Cup Stout rounded out my tastings, and both were deliciously true to their roots. I had not known much about Odd Side before visiting, and I walked away very impressed by everything they were doing.

Transient Artisan Ales was our final stop, and we once again got lucky with bottle releases. The Something Strange rye IPA was very solid for the style, and it paved the way for the big boys I would try next: 3 different stouts ranging from 13.5% – 15%. The base stout was Buckley, an imperial stout with coffee, vanilla, and maple syrup. Shut Up Nerds is an intensified version of that with double the maple and double the vanilla. Kentuckley is the bourbon barrel aged version of Buckley, and it packed quite the punch.

As one can imagine, I was a bit toasty after all of these beers, and it was wise of the group to return me back to our house before I did something stupid. The rest of our night consisted of eating meat and drinking more beer (surprise!). I got to check some WHALEZBROZ off my list by trying Westbrook Maple Bourbon Mexican Cake and 3 Floyds Dark Lord. Neither disappointed in the slightest.

Rested up and ready for another day of drinking, we started off our sabbath by venturing to Bell’s Brewery. It was a lovely day outside, and there were throngs of families and small kids running about Bell’s nice outdoor area. For my beering, I chose to go the taster route. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have a Two Hearted from the source, and of course it did not disappoint. Their Mead was unexpected yet enjoyable, and the Bear Hug Imperial Stout was a smooth 9.5% easy drinking stout (if there can be such a thing). The most surprising beer was Tawny Port Le Pianiste, a port barrel aged sour farmhouse beer that packed a fruity tart punch. Of course I also had to eat the poutine on the menu because I’m a sucker for that northern delicacy.

Wanting to try out some more local brews, we stopped by Craft Draft 2 Go not too far away from the brewery. I sampled the amazingly named Smells Like A Double Michigan Safety Meeting from Dark Horse. As an 11.7% DIPA, the name was very fitting. The Tiramisu Coffee Stout from Ellison tasted just like you imagine it would, and the Anni Ale 13irteen from Short’s was a refreshing dry hopped black currant sour. Wanting to buy some bottles for our evening and to bring back to Texas, we stopped by Drake’s Party Center which had been recommended to us. They had a phenomenal selection of bottles, and we certainly racked up some goodies. We even managed to find some old school bottles of Brash Item Nine Ale and Skankin Dirty which were enjoyed in the hot tub later that evening. I also had the pleasure of drinking a 2013 Dark Lord in the hot tub. Extravagant some may say – delicious I would say. A Jester King Nocturn Chrysalis and Funk Metal were some other casual bad ass beers drank throughout the night.

Memorial Day Monday was the last day of our beercation, and we still had 2 breweries on our schedule. 18th Street Brewery in Hammond, IN was a new destination for myself, and I was immediately struck by the artwork outside the brewery. Their beers also had a very positive effect on me. Zero Discipline was a NE style DIPA that hit all the right citrus smooth notes. Sex and Candy was an excellently named and tasting IPA. I closed things out with a taste of Hunter, a thick and tasty milk stout.

Our intrepid trio made our way into Chicago to the final brewery of our trip. I had been to Revolution Brewing multiple times before, and I was not complaining about heading back there. I started with a pint of Galaxy Hero and then made my way to some big boy tasters. Straight Jacket was a 12% bourbon barrel aged barleywine, and Deth’s Tar was a 13% bourbon barrel aged Russian Imperial Stout that was boozy and tasty. Wanting some food on the slightly lighter side of things, I ate the jerk salmon and enjoyed it very much.

The group finally made our way to the airport with 4 suitcases full of beer. We had made sure to bring back plenty of Michigan goodness to Texas. We all survived a great beercation, and I made some great memories and some new friends along the way. Until the next Memorial Day!


Britt Antley

Britt is a native Texan, lived in Houston for 12 years, and loves his current life in the Mile High City (although his liver is having second thoughts). His liver is also not nearly as proud of his 14,000+ Untappd uniques as he is. Stupid liver. He loves flavorful complex beers from Hazy IPAs to Wild Ales to barrel aged Stouts, but ultimately he has vowed to some day be buried with a 4-pack of Bierstadt Slow Pour Pils.