On the beer trail from Paw Paw to Marshall
Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer
On a hot summer day, nothing quenches your thirst better than a tall, cold beer. In our part of Michigan, you can spend a day or several, going from brewery to brewery, sampling a wide array of craft beers — always with a designated driver, of course. You can learn how beer is brewed, sample some very tasty food and support Michigan’s growing beer economy.
The Michigan Brewers Guild estimates there are about 140 breweries, microbreweries and brewpubs in the state, up from just three in 1991. Those breweries produced an estimated 438,383 barrels last year, enough for Michigan to rank as the fifth largest beer producer in the nation.
My personal beer trail began at the Paw Paw Brewing Company. Opened two years ago with four beers, this small brewery is located near downtown Paw Paw in what was formerly a coffee shop. They now offer more than 20 different kinds of brews and a limited food menu.
If the beer scene in Paw Paw is small, the same cannot be said about Kalamazoo. Just two months ago, Kalamazoo was voted as the first runner up for the title of “Beer City USA” in a national poll of 22 beer-centric cities. First place went to Grand Rapids. Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo is probably the best known Michigan brewery, and many of us can’t start summer without an Oberon. Bell’s started brewing its beer in 1985 using a 15-gallon soup kettle. Last year, they produced more than 216,000 barrels, and their award-winning brews are distributed in 14 states. A three million dollar renovation completed in 2011 made the expanded Eccentric Cafe a great place to sample beers available only at the brewpub and the beer garden. I ordered the pork tacos with house-smoked pork, raspberry habanero BBQ sauce, pineapple salsa and goat cheese. A state-of-the-art music venue also draws visitors.
The Kalamazoo Beer Exchange is located down the street from Bell’s. While it is not a brewery or brewpub, it is a one-stop tasting venue with 28 beers on tap, including Michigan beers from up-and-coming breweries. Beer prices fluctuated several times an hour depending on how well each beer was selling, hence the name.
Moving east from Kalamazoo took me to downtown Battle Creek, home of Arcadia Brewing Company. Arcadia was established in 1996 as a microbrewery specializing in handcrafted British-style ales. As I walked into the large dining room, it was hard to miss the glassed-in brewery area with its authentic British brewing equipment or the smell of pizza cooking in Arcadia’s stone ovens. Long trestle tables were filled with happy groups of beer drinkers. Tours are offered on Saturdays. Arcadia is also bringing a new brewery and brewpub to Kalamazoo’s River’s Edge district.
In nearby Marshall, I found the Dark Horse Brewery, a funky, down-home microbrewery and pub that offers seasonal live music in its outdoor beer garden. As a member of their mug club, you can buy your own mug and hang it on the ceiling with thousands of others. Dark Horse is probably best known for their award-winning Crooked Tree IPA, if that’s your flavor. I’m partial to the Raspberry Ale with one of their yummy sandwiches. Marshall’s venerable Schuler’s Restaurant and Pub recently hosted a sold-out beer tasting dinner with Dark Horse beer paired with four courses created by Executive Chef John Stovall.
Space doesn’t allow me to go into the 12-plus breweries in Grand Rapids or the hundreds of others located throughout the state. To plan your own beer trail, go to the Michigan Brewer’s Guild’s website, www.mibeer.org, and use their Beer Finder feature. You’ll be “hoppy” you did!