The great beer tour
In which our tasters and wasters hit 8 great beer bars and dozens of beers in 11 hours
Published: October 20, 2010
11:15 a.m. My neighbor, photographer Marvin Shaouni, is washing dishes in his Hamtramck kitchen on a rainy morning when he sees me and two other bearded men gathering in the backyard behind my house. (Shaouni says later that he regrets not finding out what was up.)
11:55: a.m. With the caravan assembled, we are ready to go. We begin our trip north of Detroit, the three bearded men — Metro Times drinks writer Todd Abrams and Great Lakes Coffee roast master James Cadariu, serious tasters both, and me — in my Volks Golf, two beardless guys in a truck, and two gals in a Ford Escort. "We got a truckin' convoy!"
12:05 p.m. Somebody in the beardo-mobile complains: "You don't ever get good cell phone reception in a grocery store."
12:15 p.m. We arrive at Dragonmead (14600 E. 11 Mile Rd., Warren; 586-776-9428). What a way to start the day! Some of Dragonmead's Belgian-style ales, including the Final Absolution Trippel, can run to 10 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). Showing caution, I select a half-pint of wheat beer, Castlebrite Apricot, with a paltry 4.7 percent ABV. MT's Todd Abrams picks a pint mug of the Crusader Dark Mild Ale, an English-style brew that's 3.8 percent ABV — but it comes on the nitro tap, for a creamier consistency. One of the guys from the truck is a process server and connoisseur of local bars, Michael Pelot. For some reason, he starts cashing in several Dragonmead drink tickets we knew nothing about. He orders what he calls a Revolutionary War black-and-tan, a mix of Lancelot's American Cream Ale and Reverend Fred's English-Style Oatmeal Stout, half nitrogen-dispensed, half not. He later comments, "It worked out pretty good. It had a weird little bite to it."
Abrams has promised to keep up a Twitter feed on the beer tour, at least "until my thumbs get drunk." He takes a sip of Bishop Bob's Holy Smoke and tweets that it "tastes like a liquid sausage."
Apparently, Dragonmead doesn't get noon rushes like our beer tour. A few older chaps look in the bar before reluctantly retiring to a table with a little stink-eye. But the barmaid is gracious, helpful and — as more than one person said on a smoke break — a stone cold fox. But the most beautiful thing in the whole place? It's found in the men's toilet. Somebody brings it out to us, grabbed as a cell phone pic: It's an image of a naked lass, her legs spread across a rock, petting a serpent on the chin. We post it online and the cheeky comments come flowing out: "Love it! How are you supposed to pee after looking at that though? Standing on your head?"
After having finished our drinks, I take out the AlcoHAWK personal breathalyzer I purchased at CVS. We start blowing, all aware that .08 is the magic number. I blow a .02. After waiting a while, we depart for Kuhnhenn up at Mound and Chicago roads.
1:35 p.m. Despite my sobriety, I totally miss the freeway, so we drive up through Warren's surface streets. A discussion of architecture ensues, not flattering to Macomb County in general, though we love that there's a bar called Tipsy McStaggers.
1:50 p.m. We make it to Kuhnhenn Brewing Co. (5919 Chicago Rd., Warren; 586-979-8361) and the boxy buildings and six-lane roads of Macomb County melt away. We take the corner of the bar and peruse the menu of beers chalked on the big board. It's open and airy, with a wisecracking bartender and a steady stream of cheerful old dudes bringing empty growlers for a refill.
We sample some sour beer that has the sort of intense, overpowering flavor Kuhnhenn has cultivated a reputation for brewing, including a little glass of Solar Eclipse, a double Russian imperial stout with an ABV of 18 percent! Pelot orders a beer and a bottle of Malbec wine. To our surprise, he appears to have some sort of beer tokens. He's full of surprises. Ever cautious, I order a Peach Panty Dropper, 4.8 percent ABV. I ask the bartender, Dave, about the concoction. "The peach you get right away," he says, pouring a fresh beer and adding, "after four or five of 'em, you get to the panty-dropping." I try to write a status update about it, but mistakenly text out "Peach Panty Dripper."
A guy named Bill, a local brewer, has joined the tour for a single beer here, and he's enjoying an Octoberfest brew, which he describes as "well-made, malty, German-lager style beer." He raves about the purity of Kuhnhenn's brewing. "They've always been labor-intensive about their brewing here. ... They can really get some interesting malt flavors that a lot of American brewers can't get doing two-step ales where they hop the shit out of it later."
One of the gals, New York-based writer Tracie McMillan, gets some of the free popcorn and puts some butter salt on it. OK, waaay too much butter salt. Oddly, I can't stop eating it, even after I feel a canker sore forming. (Abrams tweets: "Easy on the butter salt!")
After a quick trip into Kuhnhenn's brewing store across the parking lot, we decide to get rolling again.
2:50 p.m. His friend is bowing out, so Pelot hops in the beardo-mobile and we set off for Oakland County. He demands to be tested on the breathalyzer, but we tell him he has to stop eating, drinking and smoking for 15 minutes or it'll throw off the reading. He seems bummed by the prospect.
3:10 p.m. The group arrives at Berkley Front (3087 12 Mile Rd., Berkley; 248-547-3331). Before we go in, Pelot blows a legally drunk .17 . He poses with it for a photo, proudly, and speaks into my micro-cassette recorder. I start to wonder if we're building a mountain of data that will later be used as evidence against us in court. We order sandwiches and beer. Pelot, of course, does a few shots. I select a hand-pulled Arcadia stout, which draws cellar-temperature beer into a glass without all the CO2. I take a bite out of it, and it's creamy and delicious; some might call it flat, but it's a sublime flatness. Roast master Cadariu waxes thoughtful: "What you are experiencing is beer as the way it was poured for centuries, up until 100 years ago." You could pound these brews, but tend to linger over them, as they stay good even after getting warm on the bar.
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