Monday, March 3, 2008

Travels with Barley in Michigan

Michigan Craft BeerI've just come back from a 5-day trip to Michigan to visit my relatives. I flew from Denver, Colorado and had a lay over in Cincinnati last Wednesday. This was the first time I had ever seen it snow so hard in that area in my memory. My commuter flight up to South Bend, Indiana was delayed so that the plane could go through de-icing. But my flight soon took off and I landed in South Bend no worse for wear. I drove just about 30 minutes north across the Michigan border to a small town of Saint Joseph, Michigan where my relatives live. We stopped at a local Italian restaurant for a meal that evening and had the opportunity to try a local beer from Bell's Brewery of Comstock, Michigan.

One sad but funny thing happened when I ordered my beer. The waiter came to my table and asked if I wanted a drink before ordering dinner. I asked him this simple question: "Do you have any craft beers available?". The waiter looked a bit puzzled and said "What's craft beer?". I nearly laughed out loud at this, but was disappointed at the same time. I told the waiter that a craft beer was one that was produced locally in state and wasn't one of those mega beers that came out of Bud, Miller or Coors. I could see his light bulb going on. He suggested a Bell's Amber Ale. That was just what I was hoping for and quickly agreed to try one.

Bell's AmberLuckily, the restaurant knew to serve their beer in a good drinking glass. The waiter brought me the brew in a wonderful tall beer glass. The beer was a wonderful deep amber color that had a good light head on it. Now that's what I'm talking about! This was probably one of the best ambers I have tried in a very long time.

The Bell's Amber was considered the brewery's flagship beer and I can see why they called it that. This was an excellent beer. This beer has a combination of pale malt, caramel and Munich malts. The beer is a decent 5.8% ABV. It had a great aroma and went down smooth. Despite the slightly higher alcohol volume, I would easily consider this to be a good session beer.

Seeing how I was sampling this beer in a restaurant, I was hesitant to give this a full review, but I can certainly tell you that it went very well with my spaghetti dinner I had that night. I would certainly drink this beer again and actually had a couple more by the end of the week. I'll give this brew a nice 3.6 out of 5 rating.

The sampling didn't end with that, I later picked up a 6-pack of another Bell's beer. This time it was a porter (no surprise here). I sampled the Bell's Porter. This time, it was in the comfort of my relative's home with another good beer glass. The Bell's Porter poured a nice dark brown with a creamy tan head. I could smell the dark malts that were present. It had a mildly roasty aroma with just a hint of coffee. One taste told me that this was another good beer.

This porter has a 5.6% ABV and was a beer that I could have many of and did as the six pack went quick between me and my family members. Everyone remarked that this was a good brew. One of my relative's told me that this beer reminded him of a good German dark brew. Who was I to argue with him!

Bell's PorterLater that week, I had an extra porter left over and introduced my family to a dessert treat that I tried a week or so ago with another porter. I got some vanilla ice cream and crushed up some Heath English Toffee bars and sprinkled it over the ice cream. Then I poured just a dash of the porter beer over the top. It made a great beer float and my family loved it! I think beer floats made with porters and stouts are a nice change of pace after dinner item. Now if I could only put that whole taste in a can!

The Bell's Porter was a decent offering and certainly ranked up there with some of the Colorado porters I've tried. I'm tempted to give it a 3.5 out of 5 ranking and would certainly look for it again on my next visit to Michigan.

This wasn't the end of my beer samplings for the week. My family introduced to me a beer that they liked and it turns out to be a Colorado beer that they drink in Michigan. This was none other than Blue Moon Belgian White beer from the Colorado based Blue Moon Brewing Company (a division of Coors). I was skeptical right up front because it wasn't a microbrew, it was a Belgian-style wheat beer and I wasn't (yet) a fan of wheat beers. Blue Moon Belgian White poured a light golden color with a nice white head. My folks insisted that I garnish the beer with a slice of orange on it. Again, my warning flags went up. Anytime you put a piece of fruit on my beer I have to pause before trying it. What was I getting into?

Blue MoonThe beer is noticeably cloudy when poured as I expected it to be. The smell was definitely dominated by the orange slice. Very citrusy aroma. I took a sip and was preparing to put on my wheat beer face but was pleasantly surprised that this beer didn't have that strong funky wheat taste I haven't fully appreciated yet. The blend of the orange peel and the beer was perfect. Nice! I had finally found a wheat beer that I didn't mind drinking.

This beer was paired with an orange chicken and rice dinner and it matched well with it. The beer was cold and light tasting. Better than I expected. Still, coming from a brewery associated with one of the big 3, I was skeptical, but ended up pleasantly surprised. While I enjoyed this beer, it's not going to be one I'll buy for myself often unless someone gives me one. I'll give it a 3.2 out of 5 rating just because all of the conditions were right and I was able to finish the beer. If not for the orange slice in this beer I don't know how I would have liked it. Don't drink this beer warm, rather enjoy it cold.

Related articles:
- A taste of The Livery (Benton Harbor, MI).
- When in Michigan drink as the locals do.
- New Holland Dragon's Milk Ale review.
- Bell's Two Hearted Ale review.

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