Day 1, Saturday, GR to Petoskey, Bellaire
Here we go! An absolutely perfect Michigan fall day....cruising in our sweet Grand Marquis, flying up 131 to Petoskey, we are on the start of our beer journey. Gonzo is at the wheel, our photographer Tom is riding shotgun, and in the way back Fritz Klug is on my side. Seriously, I feel like a little kid back here with my brother and sister..this is the exact same car we had! It’s a plush ride, and Gonzo can drive with one finger if he wants to. As we float down the highway, we all talk about breweries we’ve been to, beers we like, places we are excited to see.
We are quite a grab bag of peeps. Tom is our photographer, and unfortunately for him, our designated driver. But we raise our glasses to you, Tom! Thank you! Fritz is the baby of our trip, the youngest of the bunch. An employee of MLIVE, he covers the Lansing area. John Gonzalez has literally eaten his way across the state while doing the Michigan’s Best tour for burgers, breakfast, coney dogs, and BBQ. I am wondering if Gonzo will be as talented a drinker as he was an eater.
And of course, myself. Pretty much, I’m a professional beer drinker. So that part won’t be a problem. The fact that I’m considered an expert is rather funny....and pretty cool. I was lucky enough to get to visit 26 different breweries when we taped the Great American Brew Trail, and I considered all of these guys my friends. Even though it might seem like each of these places are just another brewery, I found that every single place is unique. All of them have a unique story, every place had a beer that I loved, or was surprised by, or couldn’t get enough of. Each brewery had incredibly interesting owners, brewers and staff...almost all of who were just as passionate about beer as I am.
So as we head out, I’m thinking about what we are looking for at these breweries. To me, the beer is the most important thing, of course. As my friends at West Side Beer said to me one time, it all comes down to the liquid. If the liquid is good, the brewery will succeed. So my first thing I’ll be looking at is, duh, the beer. I want a decent variety, with several styles represented. From light to dark, and I always am interested to hear what is the brewers favorite, versus what is the most popular. Good color, aroma, mouthfeel. Nice carbonation, different depending on the style. At least one beer that surprises me, either by breaking with style, or blowing my mind. No off flavors. Clean glasses. Great finish. A desire to have another one.
You know, tasting beer is a rather subjective experience. However, there are certain things to look for in each style. But in reality, it comes down to “do you like it?” and this is where everyone's taste is different. But generally you can tell if the beer is a good brew right away, and then you can decide if it’s to your taste style.
Beyond the beer, I want to get the feeling of place. I mean that when I walk into a brewery, I want to feel like I’m in a place that is unique and that speaks of the area that it’s in. I love bars that have been handcrafted by the owners, or that has personal touches through out that really tell you about the owners. I love places that capture the urban feel of the city, or the laid back vibe of up north. As a beer GIRL, I want to walk in and feel welcomed, never intimidated. Cozy, quirky, friendly, open.
Important also is that the staff is knowledgable about the beer. I don't mean beer geek/snob status, I mean pretty basic knowledge about the beer they are serving. Please be able to answer general questions about the beer. Also bring it to me in the right glass. I am totally fine with just two kinds, pints and a tulip for those high alcohol pours. But please don't bring me a pint of a barrel aged ass kicker. And NO frosted glasses either!
So as we roll down the highway, in a Grandma car that now smells like something I can't describe (what did they do to make those chips potato salad flavor?), we are all excited about what this week will bring.