The U.P., apple and peach picking, wine, four Great Lakes, those hated Red Wings…and craft beer. I’m a Chicagoan that loves Michigan. The eastern side of Lake Michigan has my son’s footprints in its sand. Many apples have made their way from Michigan to Chicago via my car. And, Michigan is a big reason why I love craft beer.
Back when I was a mere seedling that had not fully seen the light when it came to craft-beer goodness, I found Michigan beer. If you have read my previous posts on Sommbeer, you might know that I own an affinity for Colorado brews. That is true. But, Colorado only baptized me; Michigan nurtured me.
Chicago has more than 80 breweries in its metro area today, but back in the early 2000s, the brewery populace largely resembled how it looked in 1871 after a cow kicked a lantern and turned the city into rubble. I needed mules to provide my beer. Or, I had to go to some of the few places that served craft beers – and that wasn’t easy in the early 2000s. To be honest, I wasn’t fully aware that craft beer existed in many places outside Fort Collins, Colorado.
But, then I found Palmer’s Place in Lagrange Park in 2003 – with its 300 beers, double decker beer garden, and great food. Palmer place somehow collected brilliant fermented goodness from Michigan and placed it onto my taste buds. Notably, Bell’s Brewery (including on-tap).
I was excited to try Bell’s – “A new beer close to Chicago,” I thought. My Colorado excursions, as well as enjoying Boulevard and Shiner made me realize that new beer meant it probably was going to be good.
Before the Bell’s Two Hearted Ale hit my coaster, I drooled enough to provide Michigan with its fifth Great Lake. It did not disappoint. The hops bitterness provided by Two Hearted was different — not as powerful as the beer from the west. I found myself enjoying the citrus aroma and the bitterness balanced with malt flavoring. The beer won me over.
After that I had an Oberon Summer Ale. And, then I had everything I could get my hands on from Bell’s – either in Chicago or transporting it back to my house. In fact, with 3700+ breweries around today, I still drink Bells. I was lucky enough to consume a beer in 2003 that has continued to succeed, despite a multitude of competition, innovation, and craft-beer community maturation. In other words, in 2003, I was privy to a damn good beer. Not long thereafter, I tasted beer from New Holland and Founders, and eventually Arcadia and Dark Horse.
When I was a kid, I used to hear that Michigan people seemed a little “snobby.” I agree and they have every right to be – the place is freaking beautiful. It’s a little bit East, a little bit North, a little bit Midwest, and a whole bunch o’ Great Lakes. When it snows, it’s pretty. When it’s summer, it’s beautiful. You want good wine, craft beer, food, or even olive oil – Michigan has it.
Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE Chicago. But, part of being a Chicagoan is knowing that within two hours one can step foot on Michigan’s soil. It means a lot to Chicagoans to exist as part of the broader Midwestern and Great Lakes community. In fact, we champion it – it is what separates from New York (so we like to think). I’m thankful that when the city’s wind blows, it takes me to the other side of Lake Michigan and sets me down in a brewery.
I’m a Chicagoan. I love Michigan. You should too.