Detcon1, this year’s NASFIC convention in Detroit, happens in a few weeks, July 17 – 20, 2014. Along with fellow Fermented Adventurer Scott H. Andrews, I’m on a panel about beer in fiction that Saturday afternoon, whereat, or perhaps immediately thereafter, I may or may not happen to have a very few bottles of homebrew available for sampling. I’ve also been scheduled to take part in a group reading of Michigan writers–the implication being, I suppose, that I speak for the region. Which–though Detroit does feature briefly in my story in this month’s Ideomancer–I am really not trying to do in my fiction; I’ve only lived here four years, after all.
I am, however, rather more prepared to take up that banner for Michigan beer. I have traveled, I have tasted, I have brewed. So, for those of you making the trip maybe for the first time, I thought I might be of help and interest with a brief beer guide to Detroit.
Michigan, Southeast Michigan and Detroit, you’ve heard, have suffered; jobs evaporate, populations dwindle, infrastructure crumbles. But beer is one of the bright spots. Ever hear what recession does to alcohol sales? Here, too. Our state now has more breweries than any other east of the Rockies, more every year, including some of the best: Founders, Bell’s, Short’s, New Holland, Greenbush, Griffin Claw, Right Brain, Kuenhenn, Jolly Pumpkin. And a surprising amount of what’s brewed here stays within state lines. If you’ve never been to Michigan, you’ve likely never heard of half those I just named. So while you’re here, why not drink local? It contributes to the local economy (which sure could use the help), it cuts down on the carbon footprint of your visit, and it ensures you’re drinking fresh, and drinking different! No downsides, as far as I can see.
First, a couple of local beer bars to which I’m partial (and I see whoever wrote the Detcon Restaurant Guide doesn’t disagree), in order of proximity to the con hotel:
- Foran’s Grand Trunk Pub – The former offices of the Grand Trunk Railroad, which was not, as you may have thought, fictional, Grand Trunk Pub has beautiful old wood, vaulted ceilings, a really well-curated tap list with something for everyone, and pastrami sandwiches to die for (and potentially of, everything in moderation), an easy 10 minute walk from the con hotel: go west on Jefferson, then north on Woodward.
- Cliff Bell’s/Park Bar – Get on the People Mover, Detroit’s tiny, laughably underused public transit loop, take it to Grand Circus Park, then follow Park Ave northwest for a block and a half. First, check out Cliff Bell’s for the ambiance–it’s an old 30s jazz club, beautifully restored, with a few very solid local drafts. Then go next door to the Park Bar, a dive with 20+ taps, local color to spare, and really good, astoundingly cheap Mediterranean food served out of a hole in the wall in the back.
- Slow’s – If you’ve got a car, get on Michigan Ave and go west about a mile and a quarter to Slow’s, a fine barbecue joint located across from the beautiful, long-derelict Detroit Central Station building where may be found the only hand-pulled cask ale in the city, plus dozens of other drafts from all over Michigan. The place will likely be packed; either elbow up to the bar or get a beeper, then wander over and gawk at the ruins while you wait. You won’t be disappointed, even if eating slow-roasted dead beasts isn’t your thing.
Methinks that’s good enough to get you started–after all, you’ve only got a weekend. Next, a couple of delicious, localest-of-the-local beers to try while you’re in town. I’m limiting myself to stuff you might actually have a chance of getting in Detroit in July, but aside from that, no particular order.
- Motor City Brewing Works Ghettoblaster – Billed as a “mild ale”, though not a whole lot like the English style that goes by that name. A cloudy, biscuity, low alcohol amber ale beloved of Detroit hipsters, brewed within city limits.
- Motor City Brewing Works Cider – A cloudy, funky, not-too-sweet cider. I’m a big fan. Get it at their taproom in Midtown for peak freshness, you won’t regret it.
- B. Nektar Necromangocon – A mango-infused mead from the largest mead producer in the US, brewed in nearby Ferndale. A gateway mead if I’ve ever tasted one, quaffable and refreshing despite high alcohol content.
- Right Brain Northern Hawk Owl – A fine, balanced, easy drinking, almost-authentic ESB from far-northern Traverse City. Sometimes they have it on cask at Slow’s
- Right Brain CEO Stout – Perhaps the Platonic ideal coffee stout.
- Founders Backwoods Bastard – A rich, malty, high-alcohol Scotch Ale aged in bourbon barrels–legend has it in secret caves under Grand Rapids. Consider yourself lucky if you see it on tap–made only in very limited quantity, generally unavailable except at special events and in highbrow beer bars like the above.
- Anything from Greenbush Brewing – Based in southwestern MI near the Indiana border, Greenbush is IMO the best brewery in Michigan. Be prepared for heady hops. “Closure”, a malty, hop-resiny pale ale, has quickly risen to among my current favorite beers in the world.
- Anything from Griffin Claw Brewing – Based in nearby, swanky Birmingham, Griffin Claw’s head brewer purportedly taught a lot of other MI head brewers everything they know. If you’re of the über-IPA-loving bent, Norm’s Raggedy Ass IPA will not disappoint.
- Anything from Brewery Vivant – A French/Belgian-influenced brewery in Grand Rapids. Try “Big Red Coq”, a double red ale, if you can get over the stupid name. If not, go for their Farmhouse Ale.
Why don’t I stop myself there before I bore you. Just how much drinking were you planning to do in a weekend, anyhow? I tell you what: if you want to hear the other 500 beers on this list (or the other 25 bars), come find me at Detcon, and I’ll rattle them off to you over several pints.