When people refer to Michigan as the best state for craft beer, it’s largely because of the influential giants of the industry, names you know, and whose beers can be found in stores as far afield as Atlanta, Austin, or Raleigh-Durham. There are, however, many gems to be found in the gaps between those giants, earnest brewers turning out dozens of delightful beers. The growing acceptance of varying styles of beer — sours, Belgians, hop-stuffed triple IPAs — has created a wild expansion of creativity and expressions of every variety of beer. This is unequivocally a great thing.
River’s Edge Brewing Co. in Milford is one such gem, a group of people exploring beer and creating some incredibly successful brews. There’s a rotating selection of beers: The brewery’s website says at least eight beers, plus one or two hand-pulled offerings. Many beers are offered in 12-, 16-, or 20-oz. pours; others are served in goblets or tulips as befitting their style. Check the big chalkboard by the bar for the most accurate list of today’s offerings.
The beers are cleverly named, many with subtle puns: a roggenbier (German rye) is named “The Six Fingered Man” after the villainous Count Rugen of The Princess Bride; Bleke 23’s description, otherwise about a full-bodied, semi-sweet Belgian ale, deftly mentions Star Wars, Julius Caesar, and the very chromosomes in your cells. Cleverness is all well and good, but the beer must be delicious, otherwise the puns are just a gimmick. Fortunately for River’s Edge, their beers are all strong, solid brews, living up to their clever names with skillfully selected flavors, carefully crafted textures, and displaying a master’s touch in using just enough of each ingredient to achieve a perfect beer.
There’s a large opening from the dining room into the brewery area. From the bar, you can gaze at the brew kettles and fermenters; the skill of the brewers is on display here, performance art consumed a pint at a time.
The beer is good enough that the brewery could forget about their kitchen and remain a successful bar — but they’ve decided, instead, to carry their community focus through to the sandwiches. The bread is from CRUST in Fenton; the meat is sourced from the Village Butcher in Milford. There’s McClure’s Pickles and Better Made chips served with every sandwich on the menu. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves — there’s snacks to be had.
How about popcorn, an overflowing basket priced at a dollar? It’s enough to fill you up with a beer if you’re dedicated to snacking, or two tinier stomachs. As an all-night companion to some serious beer tasting, it creates the apt thirst to be quenched. Or how about some pretzels? There’s mustard, and a pimento cheese dip too. Such snacking abounds, since the brewery works well as a place to meet your friends and play darts for a few hours.
About those sandwiches, though. How about sausage, bratwurst to be exact, with caramelized onions and apple-mustard slaw? It’s still juicy even though sliced in half and grilled; the garnishes are balanced nods to the German flavors that bratwurst loves, and the roggenbier goes well with it.
On the other hand, you could snack on a cuban, on beautifully grilled challah. Turkey and ham, mustard, and McClure’s pickles; it’s tasty, it’s well-executed, absolutely slaking the day’s hunger and mixing well with something a little lighter, perhaps a Belgian ale?
Ryan’s Gift to Earth, the brewery’s chicken sandwich, has a siren call stronger than most. Cheddar, cilantro, sriracha aioli, and chopped peanuts combine to be a great, fresh, enjoyable sandwich. It comes recommended, and it sits in a conspicuous spot on the menu — and for good reason.
Though those three are standouts, it must be noted that very few baskets of food came back to the server stations with anything left. The occasional diner left a pickle, though they seemed to be snapped up by the pickle hater’s more correct friends more often than not. Eat the pickle; it’s delicious, and good for you.
Go to River’s Edge. Make the drive out to Milford, because it’s worth it. The beer is good, made by people who care; the sandwiches are solid and delicious, made well and without frills. There’s something very good happening there, people embracing their craft and their love for their neighborhood and their town, and making something happen right there, where they want it to be. The love shows through. Believe in it, because it’s that good.