Friday, July 19, 2013

Review of 51 North Brewing Company in Lake Orion

Written by  Patti Smith
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Review of 51 North Brewing Company in Lake Orion

Despite growing up on the border of Oakland and Macomb counties, I never traveled much beyond a handful of cities. So when I figured out that I would be visiting a brewery in Lake Orion, I was quite excited to leave Ann Arbor and visit a city I had never been to.
Lake Orion is a cute town with a nice downtown area. There is a river full of ducks and a gazebo. At the end of a line of stores and restaurants is the 51 North Brewery. Originally, the building housed a gas station (my friendly waiter, Cowboy Doug, told me that there is a picture showing the station with a sign that said “7 Gallons of Gas for $1.00”; I spit out my water from laughing so hard). In the 1950s, the building became a car dealership and later housed township offices. The doors where the cars drove in are still there and it looked like they could be easily opened during hotter weather. The abundant windows made for a light and airy space that gave the place a laid back feeling…the kind of feeling that says you can kick back and relax while meeting new friends and enjoying some good beers.

Or meads. Or wines. Did I mention that these folks make their own beers, meads and wines? And the food is outstanding? Well sit right back, friends….


I’m sure I have mentioned that I am not a huge fan of American hops. This is mainly because that tends to be all you taste. I therefore lean towards beers with English hops. But I trust my boy Adam (Beratta, head brewer of 51 North and formerly of the Great Baraboo) and so I included the Dog Way IPA in the sampler. To my absolute delight, I found that this was an IPA that I could truly enjoy. To be sure, there was a hop presence but it was part of the beer instead of being the whole of the beer. There was still a malty profile and smooth finish. Most importantly, my tongue did not recoil in horror at overwhelming bitterness.

Likewise, the Spencer Island Rye Pale Ale delighted both Boyfriend Ken and me. You have to know Boyfriend Ken (and really, everyone should want to) to realize how truly phenomenal this is. Ken generally won’t even try beers that he thinks will have an American hop presence. Not only did he try this beer, he loved it and even talked about it on the way home. Again, there is a hop presence but there is also a rye aroma and flavor that lingers from the first sip to the last swallow.

Two other standouts included the raspberry and tangerine wheat beers. As I’ve said many times before, I can’t drink wheat beers because they give me migraines (cue sad trombone). I sampled a little and it made me want to weep for my poor, maligned head. Oh to be able to drink a whole pint of these! To help me out a little, Ken mixed the raspberry and the stout and boom, alcoholic Tootsie Pop!


We hadn’t eaten lunch so Boyfriend Ken and I decided to get the shrimp appetizer than came with bread and dipping sauce. Did I mention that the dipping sauce was almost all butter? We practically drank the plate. For actual lunch, I got the Turkey With Attitude which seriously was like Thanksgiving dinner on bread but without the guilt trips from your mom for not calling home, not living in West Bloomfield, etc. Ken enjoyed the Kicked Up Caprese Chicken. Usually I can get him to share a little with me but he did not which tells me that he enjoyed it.

Don’t be an Oakland County dummy like me and take a trip further north (you can always head back to Rochester or Birmingham another day. And hey, they have brewpubs, too!) to lovely Lake Orion. The ducks at the river enjoy it when you stumble down and take their picture and I’m certain that passersby delighted in my stanky leg dance at the gazebo. Bottoms up!

Patti Smith

Patti Smith

Patti “TeacherPatti” Smith lives in Ann Arbor with Boyfriend Ken, her dog Buddy and her stepcats Ali and Cyrus. She is a special education teacher by day, local history buff and brew drinker by night (see the hybrid history/beer blog at She also loves watching most Detroit sports on TV, boxing, brewing beer, storytelling, board games and recently wrote a middle grade/YA book that she hopes to convince a publisher to publish! Meantime, she is working on a book about the history of downtown Ann Arbor for Arcadia publishers. Her favorite beer styles include Russian Imperial Stout, pumpkin beers, Kolschs and most things with peppers in them.