Sept. 14 2016 12:46 AM

Sampling our way across Greater Lansing’s beer scene

Like the contents of a giant brewing kettle, Greater Lansing’s beer scene took a while to heat up. While West Michigan and Metro Detroit overflowed with beer, the mid-Michigan scene lagged behind. As recently as four years ago, there were only two operational microbreweries in the area — Harper’s Restaurant and Brewpub and the now-defunct Michigan Brewing Co.

But the local beer scene seems to have hit a rolling boil. There are 11 breweries in Greater Lansing, and more are on the way. Arcadia Ales & Smokehouse, which has begun construction at 2101 E. Michigan Ave., represents Lansing’s first outside investment from a major Michigan microbrewery. Other breweries are hoping to open in Dimondale and DeWitt in the next two years.

The recent beer boom means that local beer options have increased exponentially. So what’s out there? We set out to explore the local beer scene by checking out some beer flights — samplers of several beers — at five local breweries. We also talked with brewers and brewery owners to give you a guided tour of the beer options.

(Editor’s note: These beer tastings happened over a span of two weeks prior to this publication. Breweries rotate their beers regularly, so some of the beers featured may no longer be on tap.)


OLD NATION BREWING CO.

Taking up residence in a former police station at 1500 W. Grand River Ave., Williamston, Old Nation Brewing Co. opened its doors in June 2015. Co-owner/brewer Travis Fritts, who also co-founded Detroit Brewing Co., has been brewing professionally for over 15 years. The brewery takes a back-to-basics approach, with an emphasis on tradition and balance and distaste for flashy, over-the-top brews.

Travis Fritts, co-owner of Old Nation Brewing Co., shows off the brewery’s Williamston production facility.
Ty Forquer/City Pulse

“We were doing that in 2004,” Fritts said. “We went through that cycle years ago. We got bored with it.

THE FLIGHT:

Evo Pils — An import from Detroit Brewing Co., this pilsner is a flavorful take on the mild beer style that is the cornerstone of the mass-produced beer market. “You can tell a lot about a brewer from his pilsner,” Fritts said. “There’s nothing to hide behind. You can’t mess anything up.”

Grand Rye Pale Ale — This pale ale, made with Michigan hops, features a nice balance of citrus and pine notes with a mild bitterness. “Michigan hops are really superior to what you can get from the West Coast right now,” Fritts said.

Ghost Meat — Fritts admits that this beer was brewed to satisfy customers asking for “something different.” Ghost Meat is kettle soured, meaning bacteria are purposely introduced during the brewing process to create its sour flavor. Sour beers are an acquired taste, but this was the best of the flight in this reviewer’s opinion.

Ten Penny Bit — Old Nation’s Scottish export ale, Ten Penny Bit, is a far cry from heavy Scottish beers like Founders Brewing Co.’s Dirty Bastard. “This is what people in Scotland are actually drinking,” Fritts said. This beer is smooth and mild, with notes of biscuit, caramel and toasted bread.

Cake Czar — This chocolate oatmeal brown ale tastes like chocolate cake in a pint glass. It’s a great beer to cap off a meal.

Detroit Brewing Co. Radler — This refreshing summer beer is Old Nation’s take on a traditional German shandy. Old Nation mixes its Bohemian pilsner with house made lemon/lime soda, giving the beer a tart citrus kick.


LANSING BREWING CO.
Lansing Brewing Co. head brewer Sawyer Stevens pours a sample.
Ty Forquer/City Pulse

One of the newest additions to Lansing’s beer scene, Lansing Brewing Co., 518 E. Shiawassee, Lansing, opened its doors in October. The brewery takes its name from a pre-Prohibition brewery formerly located in Lansing’s Old Town. Head brewer Sawyer Stevens learned his craft working at a variety of Michigan breweries, including Bell’s Brewery, Mt. Pleasant Brewing Co. and Upper Hand Brewery.

Aside from its three flagship beers — Amber Cream Ale, Angry Mayor IPA and Official Union Golden Ale — the brewery taps a new limited run beer almost every week.

“It’s nice that we’re not doing the same beers over and over,” Stevens said. “It keeps things interesting.”

THE FLIGHT:

Oktoberfest — Lansing Brewing Co.’s take on the traditional German autumn brew features a tasty balance of malty, earthy and bready flavors. “We’re a trueto-style brewery,” Stevens said. “Our Oktoberfest is very traditional.”

Amber Cream Ale — Based on a recipe from the original Lansing Brewing Co., this beer combines the caramel and bread flavors of an amber ale with the richness of a cream ale. “It’s something unique to Lansing,” Stevens said. “It’s a clash of styles between two beers.”

Anthony Gose — Pronounced “GOEsuh,” gose is a German sour beer style.

Like Old Nation’s Ghost Meat, this brew is kettle soured, but Lansing Brewing Co. adds pink sea salt and coriander to its brew. The result is a beer that is sweet and salty with a subtle sourness.

In addition to its three flagship beers, Lansing Brewing Co. puts out a new limited run beer almost every week.
Ty Forquer/City Pulse

Angry Mayor IPA — Named after Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, this IPA features a pleasant balance of citrus, pine, floral and malt notes. “We wanted to make an approachable IPA,” said Stevens.

Wired ‘n’ Jiggy — This “a.m. stout” is brewed with 14 pounds of coffee and 3 pounds of dark chocolate fudge from Horrocks Farm Market. Get a growler to go for your Sunday brunch or enjoy one at the brewery as a post-dinner treat.



ELLISON BREWERY + SPIRITS

Tucked into an industrial park near the defunct Paul Revere’s Tavern, Ellison Brewery + Spirits, 4903 Dawn Ave., East Lansing, opened for business in October, about two weeks before Lansing Brewing Co. Coowner Eric Elliott, who worked in beer distribution for 10 years before getting into the brewing business, is pretty happy with the brewery’s off-the-beaten-path location.

Ellison Brewing Co., tucked into an industrial park in Meridian Township, serves up local favorites like Covariance IPA and Tiramisu Stout.
Ty Forquer/City Pulse
“We have a small tasting room, and we like it that way,” he said. “We’ll never have a kitchen.”

THE FLIGHT

517 Pilsner — Ellison’s take on the ubiquitous brew is smooth and slightly malty with a crisp, clean finish. Elliott calls 517 Pilsner a “gateway beer” for those who are used to big-name brews. “Craft beer is new to a lot of people,” he said. “We wanted to make a non-watered down pilsner that appeals to borderline craft beer drinkers.”

Gnome’s Amber — This reddish amber ale, which features well-balanced fruit and roasted malt notes, uses hops from Top Hops Farms in Goodrich on Michigan’s east side.

Covariance — Ellison’s best-selling beer, Covariance is the brewery’s attempt to fuse East Coast and West Coast IPA styles. The result is a beer that balances the bitter, piney taste of West Coast IPAs with the juicy, citrus flavors of the East Coast’s version.

Relativity — Described by Elliott as “Covariance’s big brother,” this double IPA leans into the East Coast style. This brew features fruity, juicy flavors and remarkably low bitterness for a double IPA.

Classic Sweet Apple Cider — Made with apples from Michigan’s own Blake’s Orchard, this refreshing cider is a purposeful play to lure in non-beer drinkers. “Cider is the middle ground,” Elliott said. “Sometimes someone will bring a boyfriend or girlfriend who doesn’t like beer. We want everyone to be welcome.” (The tasting room also serves Ellison’s white and red wines.)

Tiramisu Stout — Described by Elliott as a “last course beer,” Ellison’s Tiramisu Stout is a rich, full-bodied beer with the creamy chocolate and coffee flavors of the Italian dessert it’s named after. “People either love it or hate it,” Elliott said.



EAGLEMONK PUB AND BREWERY

EagleMonk Pub and Brewery, along with BAD Brewing Co., represent the vanguard of Greater Lansing’s recent beer boom. The brewery, located in a former party store at 4906 W. Mt. Hope Highway, opened its doors in August 2012, just two weeks after BAD Brewery opened in Mason. Owned and operated by husband-and-wife team Dan and Sonia Buonodono, the brewery churns out English-style beers exclusively for its pub.

“It’s a meeting place first and a pub second,” explained Dan Buonodono.

EagleMonk Pub and Brewery’s beer lineup includes Red Eye Rye, a slightly hoppy ale brewed with rye.
Ty Forquer/City Pulse

That attitude is reflected in the beers, which generally run at lower alcohol levels than typical craft beer.

“You can have more than one or two beers while you sit and socialize,” Buonodono said.

THE FLIGHT:

Easy Blonde — This easy-drinking English ale is crisp and light with a creamy aftertaste.

Red Eye Rye — EagleMonk’s flagship beer, Red Eye Rye is slightly hoppy, with notes of caramel offset by crisp rye flavor. “It flies out the door,” Buonodono said. “I try to keep it on all the time.”

Stout — This is no Guinness, but that’s not a bad thing. This beer is a British stout, which is dry and crisp with prominent coffee notes.

Annie’s IPA — Named after one of the Buonodonos’ grandchildren, this British-style IPA features an earthy bitterness. It’s juicy but without the citrus bite commonly found in American IPAs. “Not many places make British IPAs,” Buonodono said.

Barrel Aged Red Eye Rye — As the name implies, this brew is a barrel-aged version of the brewery’s rye ale.

Buonodono used a barrel that was first used for bourbon, then used by Founders Brewing Co. to make its Kentucky Breakfast Stout. Buonodono then allowed the barrel to develop specific bacteria that serve as a natural souring agent. The result is a juicy, citrusy beer with a slight sourness.



OZONE´S BREWHOUSE

Over 100 years after the original Lansing Brewing Co. shut down, Old Town has its own brewery again thanks to Ozone’s Brewhouse, which opened last month. Taking up residence on the northern fringes of Old Town’s retail district, the brewery transformed a former warehouse and shed at 305 Beaver St. into a brewery and taproom. Father-and-son team Dan and Kyle Malone, who own and operate the brewery, are not too concerned with being traditionally accurate or “true to style.”

“We want to be different,” Kyle Malone said. “I don’t like going into breweries and seeing the same beers every week. We want to push the envelope, to try some new things.”

Ozone’s Brewhouse, one of the area’s newest breweries, opened in Old Town last month.
Ty Forquer/City Pulse

THE FLIGHT:

Kryptonale — Described as a “malt bomb of an amber ale,” this beer is brewed with Northern Michigan cherries and real vanilla beans. The resulting brew features notes of caramel, malt and tart cherries that glide into a vanilla aftertaste.

Sage of Ale — This American cream ale is brewed with sage, creating a crisp, clean beer with a subtle sage aftertaste. “We tried to add some fun to what’s normally a pretty boring beer style,” Malone said.

Totally Awesome #1 — The first in a series of four seasonal IPAs, this beer features citrus and pine notes with a mild bitterness. “Doing a rotating series allows us to be more creative,” Malone said. “We can play around and see what people like.”

Roller Kolscher — Ozone’s take on traditional German kölsch is brewed with cucumber, adding a refreshing twist to the mild beer. “It’s designed to be the ultimate summer beer,” Malone said.

Fade to Basil — An imperial stout brewed with basil from Lansing’s Smith Floral, this beer has all of the chocolate and coffee flavors typically found in stouts, but the brew is lightened up by a fresh basil aftertaste.


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