When it comes to places to do craft beer crawls, you could do much worse than the Detroit area. The Michigan craft beer scene is still growing, and metro Detroit sports dozens of quality craft brewers. Even some far-flung tastemakers say Michigan is beginning to be seen as a "great beer state."
One thing you can say with confidence is that we do enjoy a cold one. It makes sense, given the city's working-class heritage. And we're not overly fussy about loyalties to our state's dynamic beer scene. We have great craft brewers, and we have fabulous beer palaces, where you can get beer from Oregon to Vermont to Belgium.
But craft breweries and brewpubs abound. Three of the finest spots in metro Detroit are in Warren, the massive, blue-collar Macomb County suburb north of the city. Technically, it's Michigan's "third-largest city" — after Detroit and Grand Rapids — but, with three craft beer operations that punch above their weight, it could be the No. 1 beer city in the state.
Chief among them would be Dragonmead Brewery (14600 E. 11 Mile Rd., Warren; 586-776-9428). Hidden away off the service drive for I-696, it's worth the search. Inside, it's a commodious, comfortable beer hall sporting more than 50 taps, the walls lined with impressive awards. They do almost everything, and they do it all well. A given weekly beer menu might include all sorts of American and European styles of brew, Scottish-style ales, Czech-style lagers, even barley wines. Meads, cysers, fruit ales, and wines round out the choices. They'll happily mix ales, and even sport a few nitro taps. Founded in 1997 by a few guys who used to work for the auto companies, Dragonmead focuses on its specialty, delivering a broad variety of quality pours. Don't miss Dragonmead's Belgian-style ales, including the Final Absolution Trippel.
The boxy buildings and six-lane roads of Macomb County melt away in the relatively historic Beebe's Corners neighborhood, where Kuhnhenn Brewing Co. (5919 Chicago Rd., Warren; 586-979-8361) makes its home. Enter the open, airy space and one look at the crowded chalkboard and the steady stream of smiling dudes bringing empty growlers for a refill will tell you this is serious beer. While there's no food other than popcorn, who cares? Kuhnhenn is like a beer geek's candy store, where flavors might include a double Russian imperial stout, a malty, German-lager style beer, a wild blueberry pancake ale, a coffee-crème-brulee concoction, or a raspberry eisbock. All that flavor — sweet, sour, hoppy, and malty — is hard-earned, thanks to labor-intensive processes. If that weren't geeky enough, there are coveted bottle release events and a home brew shop right across the parking lot.
Rounding out Warren's power trio is Falling Down Beer Co. (2270 E 10 Mile Rd., Warren; 586-799-2739), which offers good beer with unusual names. For instance, their red ale is called Give Two Fox, their cream ale is called the Mother Cluster, and the American pale ale is called Ninja Chicken. Forget the names, though: The beers are sessionable and smooth. Don’t miss the small but fortifying menu, which includes Reuben egg rolls, beer-battered pickles with ranch, and pulled pork poutine.
There’s another cluster of craft beer joints to enjoy in Detroit, specifically on Canfield Street in the increasingly upscale Midtown neighborhood. Traffic Jam and Snug (511 W. Canfield St.; 313-831-9470) has been on the corner of Second Avenue since, like, forever, and was one of the concept’s pioneers back in the 1980s. It’s a large, many-roomed restaurant with a small bar — the Snug — off to one side of the entrance, featuring a half-dozen brews. Across the street and behind TJ’s parking lot is Motor City Brewing Works (470 W. Canfield St.; 313-832-2700), another craft trailblazer dating back to the 1990s. Chances are you may already be familiar with some of its popular beers — such as Ghettoblaster, Nut Brown Ale, or Summer Brew — sold by the bottle or on draft at local bars and events. But what keeps us coming back are the seasonal surprises, the sour brews, cysers, or barley wines, as well as the locally sourced pizza pies. Then there’s the relative newcomer across the street, the Detroit outpost of Jolly Pumpkin Brewery (441 W. Canfield St., Detroit; 313-262-6115). Their Belgian-style brews are so good, they’ve even beaten the real thing in international competitions. Grounded in the open-fermentation tradition, they finish the beer in oak for added character. It’s so real, you can almost smell the wort boiling. Also, the nifty menu doesn’t hurt, with such items as truffle fries, a fried chicken sandwich, and a Korean short rib pizza. And while it’s not a locally based craft brewery, HopCat Detroit, a few blocks to the east, is a temple dedicated to the art of craft beer, with 130 taps flowing with beer, cider, mead, even sours, mostly from Michigan.
Downtown has its share of beer destinations. Obviously, the Detroit Beer Co. (1529 Broadway, Detroit; 313-962-1529) has a solid selection, from hoppy favorite Detroit Dwarf to maltier mugs, such as Grand River Red or Willie’s Kilt Scotch Ale. It’s comfy without being pretentious, with a gut-pleasing menu of bar fare that’s given upscale inflections. Grand Trunk Pub (612 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-961-3043), is a historic, high-ceilinged room that used to be a railroad’s ticketing office. The Grand Trunk crew manages to combine Detroit history, scrumptious sandwiches, and a killer beer list, and it’s probably all enjoyed best at one of their popular weekend brunches. But even an upscale place like Roast (inside the Westin Book Cadillac Detroit, 1128 Washington Blvd., Detroit; 313-961-2500) shines when it comes to beer. The bar is as stylish as they come, with floor-to-ceiling windows. And their beer selection is composed more like a wine list, an international smorgasbord of sours, porters, stouts, trappist ales, pales, IPAs, Belgians, and beyond.
On the east side, the most unbeatable selection is found at Ye Olde Tap Room (14915 Charlevoix, Detroit; 313-824-1030). More than 280 fine lagers from the world over, all served in the dim, cozy environs of a former speakeasy. Just looking at all the beer labels up on the walls is enough to make your head spin without imbibing a drop.
In Ferndale, Woodward Avenue Brewers (22646 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-546-3696) — aka “the WAB” (rhymes with “bar tab”) — has been a popular hangout space since the 1990s, especially in summer, when the lower level throws open its doors and laid-back customers crowd the patio tables on the sidewalk. In-house brewer Chris Coburn offers a dependable selection of stouts, pales, blondes, IPAs, and porters, the better to wash down the menu of sandwiches, pizzas, and bar-style starters. But the hands-down most outrageous beer selection in Ferndale has to be at One-Eyed Betty’s (175 W. Troy St., Ferndale; 248-808-6633), with 47 beers on tap and more than the proverbial 100 bottles. But it’s not just about quantity: It’s a darn good selection, constantly rotating, and seemingly churning up offbeat picks, such as German Hobo, a malt liquor brewed out near Lansing, or Hidden Effect, a barley wine from Plymouth. Then there’s the food menu, with choices rich enough to become almost a caricature of bar food — given such dishes as “beer cheese soup” and “bacon with a side of bacon.”
Of course, there are dozens of other craft breweries in the area. These days, almost every suburb has one or two, and many of the better restaurants also brew their own beer. But for that tight grouping of beer-centric establishments, it might be best to consider Ann Arbor. Sure, you’ll find busy drinking crowds at Grizzly Peak (120 W. Washington St., Ann Arbor; 734 741-7325) and Blue Tractor (205 E. Washington St., Ann Arbor; 734 222-4095). Heck, there’s even a HopCat Ann Arbor (311 Maynard St., Ann Arbor; 734-436-2875) and a Jolly Pumpkin Cafe & Brewery (311 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-913-2730). There are homegrown efforts, such as Arbor Brewing Co. Pub & Eatery (114 E. Washington St., Ann Arbor; 734-213-1393), and Arbor’s nearby ABC Microbrewery (720 Norris St., Ypsilanti; 734-480-2739). And Ypsi also has the Tap Room (201 W. Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti; 734-482-5320).
But one of our favorites is Ann Arbor’s Ashley’s (338 S. State St., Ann Arbor; 734-996-9191), which pulls together an award-winning beer selection from the four corners of the world, including more than 50 taps, and backs it up with made-to-order food.
By the time any drinker has made it through all these places, chances are the rotating selections at all of them will have changed — leaving you set to start all over again.