Friday, January 03, 2014

The Top 25 Michigan Beers

Written by  Ben Darcie
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The Top 25 Michigan Beers

A top 25 list is quite the challenge, I can't emphasize that enough. It was a very difficult process for me to get a solidified list because there is so much amazing beer in this state!
There are a few things that I have to say before proceeding to the list:
1. This is just my opinion

Please keep this in mind as you check out the list! This is just one person's top 25 list, and there's bound to be things you don't agree with. Beer is such a personal thing, everyone loves what they love, and that's what beer is all about! This is just my own take on Michigan's top 25 list.

2. This list is not style-specific

This is not a 'Top 25 IPAs' list, or a 'Top 25 Barrel Aged Beers list', this is an overall list. I'm not selecting beers from a specific style, it's selecting from the entire state of Michigan, which is quite the daunting task!

This is also another point where personal taste comes into play. You may notice trends or some styles being more prevalent on the list than others.

3. I can't include beers I haven't personally had before

I've done tons of tasting across this great beer state, but it is important to keep in mind that by no means have I had them all! I can only rank beers that I've tasted personally, so don't get upset if the amazing coffee stout from your neighborhood brewery doesn't make the list! This was also not a planned out trip across the state tasting at breweries type deal, like the Mlive 'Best Brewery in MI' list was. This is just a list of the best beers I've tasted in MI.

These are the standouts. The beers that stand out from the crowd.

Off we go!

25. Rockford Brewing Co – Sheehan's Irish Stout

Most dry stouts I taste simply aren't dry! I fell in love with this stout the second it touched my lips, and remains to this day the best Dry Stout I've had in the state.

24. Atwater Brewing Co – Decadent Chocolate Ale
23. Cranker's Brewing Co – Honey Kolsch
22. Saugatuck Brewing Co – Neapolitan Milk Stout
21. White Flame Brewing Co – Barrel Aged Black Sheep Black IPA
20. Dragonmead Brewing Co – Final Absolution Tripel
19. Mitten Brewing Co – Country Strong IPA
18. Saugatuck Brewing Co – Dramanatrix Russian Imperial Stout
17. Jolly Pumpkin Brewing Co – Biere De Mars
16. Short's Brewing Co – Liberator DIPA
15. Kuhnhenn Brewing Co – Raspberry Eisbock
14. Perrin Brewing Co – Malted Milk Ball Barrel Aged Imperial Porter
13. Brewery Vivant – Plow Horse Belgian Imperial Stout
12. Arbor Brewing Co – Flamboyant Wild Red Ale
11. Arcadia Brewing Co – Cereal Killer Barleywine

While I think all the beers achieve this to an extent, the top ten really exemplifies this idea. Personally, I think one of the most masterful aspects of beermaking is when a brewer can manage extreme flavors and balance them into a harmonious presentation. It's very difficult to do, and when it's accomplished, it's quite an impressive feat to me! On we go..

10. Bell's Brewing Co – Expedition Stout

This has been one of my favorite Imperial Stouts in the state for years. Not only are the flavors big and brutal, but they're corralled into a fantastic presentation of balance and precision.

9. Grand Rapids Brewing Co – Philanthropist Barleywine

The special releases coming out of GRBC have been great, but the Philanthropist blew me out of the water. Barleywine is one of the most extreme styles of beer in the world, and GRBC handled the style with elegance, providing a dynamic and immersive experience. Barleywine is, in essence, a balance of extremes, but I find most tend to lean hoppy or lean malty; the Philanthropist takes both aspects and meshes them together into an intensely balanced and deep experience.

8. Greenbush Brewing Co – RAGE Double Black IPA

In my mind, you can take Black IPA in one of two directions. A Black IPA adjusted for color, and a Black IPA adjusted for flavor. Personally, I don't care for the first. To me, a BIPA must present dark malt flavors to be considered 'in the style', and Greenbush does just that. Their standard black IPA, Anger, is one of the best examples of Black IPA in Michigan, and their Double Black IPA, Rage, takes it one step further into an Imperialized version. The flavors are intense, the dark malt very present (in body and in flavor), and the hop flavor and bitterness accompany the malt presentation fantastically, dominating your palate without overpowering the malt, which is key.

7. Griffin Claw Brewing Co – Norm's Raggedy Ass IPA

This is my favorite IPA in the state, and it also won a Gold Medal for American IPA at the World Expo of Beer 2010 (back when they were still Big Rock Chophouse). Headbrewer Dan Rogers continues to impress with the introduction of Griffin Claw, but the staples from Big Rock continue to shine. This IPA is a fantastic display of crisp, clean balance amidst a powerful display of clean hop flavor and bitterness.

6. New Holland Brewing Co – Black Tulip Tripel

I'm a huge fan of Belgian styles, and New Holland's Tripel is a great example of a clean Tripel. While most Tripel presentations are ester-dominated, NH presents a crisp, malt-forward Tripel with a very tight ester profile. This is one of my favorite offerings from NH, along with their Pilgrim's Dole Wheatwine.

5. Darkhorse Brewing Co – Stout Series, I-V

I know, I know. You can't throw five beers into one slot. This is the one exception I made for this list, because I really feel that the beers are a family, and (in my opinion) they are all fantastic. Not only a pristine example of Stout, but also controlled flavor addition. Too many flavored beers are too much for me (flavor addition wise), but I find myself drooling over every single offering from the series.

One Oatmeal Stout, Too Cream Stout, Tres Blueberry Stout, Fore Smoked Stout, and Plead the 5th Imperial Stout.

4. Bell's Brewing Co – Black Note Stout

This is easily one of the most sought after beers in the state. A massive Barrel Aged Imperial Stout, Black Note not only accomplishes the feat of a balanced presentation amidst the extreme flavors, but the Barrel presence in the beer isn't overpowering, but complementary. Not only a sign of a great beer design, but also a talented cellar master. It's far too easy to let barrel aging go too far!

3. Kuhnhenn Brewing Co – DRIPA / TRIPA (Double Rice IPA, Triple Rice IPA)

DRIPA took a gold at the 2012 World Beer Cup for American IPA, and it's an unusually engaging IPA. It's fantastically dry with a reserved hop presence, but over the light body the hops pop wonderfully! I saw TRIPA at some fests in 2013, and it took their take on it even further.

2. Founders Brewing Co – KBS / Breakfast Stout

Yes, KBS. There's a lot of differing opinions on this beer, from over-hyped to angelic. Personally, I find that most people drink it right away because of it's rarity, but if KBS has been properly aged for 2-3 years, it is one of the most fantastic tasting experiences I've ever had. I suggest teaming up with some friends and acquiring some every year, cellar them, and then all sit down for a vertical tasting. It's an amazing and rare opportunity, and shows the great versatility of the beer. After a couple years, the flavors meld even further, turning into a fantastic orchestration of flavors.

Founders is known for making great beer, but I find that aged KBS and regular Breakfast Stout are a couple of my very favorites!

1. Griffin Claw Brewing Co – Russian Imperial Stout

In my mind, there is no greater style of beer that encapsulates 'extreme flavors' like Russian Imperial Stouts do. I often refer to the style as 'the rumbling dragon in the far recesses of the style of Stout'. The alcohol can range from 8-25%abv (though, technically, 8-12%. The ABV of this style simply cannot be tamed), and presents an absolutely massive malt profile and an equally confounding hop profile.

Rodgers/Griffin Claw not only orchestrate these extreme flavors, but somehow manage to maintain balance while letting the flavors remain in their natural state of intensity, taking your palate on a choreographed rollercoaster of extremes.

This has been a huge challenge for me, but I enjoyed it thoroughly, as I hope you did as well!

Just another reminder that no two eyes, noses, or palates are the same. Everyone's tastes are different, and this list is just mine. I encourage you all to create your own, see what ranks for YOUR top 25! It's a challenge, but a very rewarding one.

Runners Up (though they are endless, here's a handful I was considering):
  • Keewenaw BC – Lift Bridge Scotch Ale
  • Oddside Ales – Mayan Mocha Stout
  • Kuhnhenn – 4th Dementia Old Ale, The Fluffer Session IPA
  • Founders – Centennial IPA, Porter, Imperial Stout
  • Crankers – 5th Voyage Coconut Porter, Professor IPA
  • Arcadia – London Porter, Loch Down Scotch Ale, B-Craft Black DIPA
  • Witch's Hat – Night Fury Imperial Stout
  • Mt. Pleasant – Sacred Gruit
  • Bell's – Two Hearted IPA, Quinnanan Falls Cedar Aged Lager
  • Griffin Claw – Screamin' Pumpkin, El Roja Amber, St. Claire Saison
  • Short's – S'mores Stout, Spruce Pilsner, Pandemonium Pale
  • Brewery Ferment – 45th Parallel Pale Ale
  • Original Gravity – Primordial Porter
  • Rochester Mills – Milkshake Stout
  • Tri-City – Giant Slayer Russian Imperial Stout
Ben Darcie

Ben Darcie

Ben Darcie has been homebrewing since 2006 and is currently the Brewery Representative for Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids, MI. He also provides public and private Beer Education and is a Beer Writer for BeerAdvocate, I'm a Beer Hound and three other Michigan publications. He is also the founder of Experience Beer WM and the 9wk Grand Rapids Beer Tasting Class (est. 2010).