When you think about all of the places you want to drink beer in America, places like California (San Diego), Oregon (Portland) and Illinois (Chicago) probably come to mind first. But Michigan? Probably not. Well think again because Michigan is actually the 5th largest craft beer producing state in the country with over 100 craft breweries.
While Michiganders have known how great their state is when it comes to craft beer (and when it comes to being generally beautiful, surrounded by lakes and filled with forests) for some time now, you and I never really knew because most of that craft beer stays within Michigan. If you know where to look and live in a state where the beer is distributed, you can probably find the Michigan made All Day IPA from Founders Brewing (it’s not distributed on the west coast), and to a lesser extent, a Two Hearted Ale from Bell’s Brewery – but that’s about it.
These 100+ craft breweries can be found throughout the state, but Northern Michigan, and Traverse City in particular, is a hotbed of beer brewing activity ideal for brewery hopping and sampling some of the best that the state has to offer.
After a recent trip to Northern Michigan, where my primary objective was to drink beer, I’ve rounded up seven breweries that I visited to help get your Northern Michigan beer drinking adventure started on the right foot.
If you’re visiting Traverse City, download the TC Ale Trail Map and brochure (a portion of which is seen above) right here.
The Workshop Brewing Company
With its positive vibes, a few pinball machines and communal tables (some flanked by old church pews), The Workshop Brewing was designed to be a “3rd Space” for the community — a place where people can come together, play music, relax, borrow a book from the brewery’s community library and drink good beer. And when it comes to beer, The Workshop opts out of brewing crazy concoctions, instead focusing on carefully crafted classics — all of which are made using Michigan-grown ingredients “whenever humanly possible.” Try the seasonal Nitro Triple IPA, the flagship 10 lb. Sledge IPA or the Wrecking Bar bourbon barrel aged porter. One last very important note: do not leave without trying the bacon-wrapped dates.
Right Brain Brewery
Located in a huge warehouse space several blocks from downtown Traverse City (best to have a bike or car to hit this one), Right Brain Brewery is filled with an eclectic mix of art, color and furniture that come together to create a social space well suited for kicking back with their equally eclectic beer. While you should sample some of their flagship ales, like the CEO Stout and the Smooth Operator cream ale, Right Brain is known for brewing small batch beers that have never before been brewed — like their Pig Porter (brewed using a full pig’s head), the Schrute Farms saison (brewed with Michigan beets and coriander) and the Apple Pie Whole amber ale (brewed with 40 whole apple pies, crust and all).
North Peak Brewing Company
North Peak Brewing Company has been a Northern Michigan institution for the past 18 years years. In that time, they’ve perfected their signature four beers: the Diabolical IPA, the Siren pale ale, the Vicious american wheat IPA and the Wanderer session IPA — all of which are available by the bottle year round. Today, North Peak Brewing runs their popular restaurant/brew pub out of an old candy factory in the heart of downtown Traverse City. Joining their staple brews, you’ll find a rotating selection of beer on draft that is exclusive to the brewpub, a huge food menu (many of the items are made using their beers) and a poppin’ outdoor patio with live music on summer weekends.
The Filling Station
Opened in 2012, The Filling Station is housed in an old railroad depot (built in 1927) on the edge of Boardman Lake (see “How To” section below for more details on brewery hopping via waterway). Although the tracks go mostly unused, except for the occasional freight train, it still feels like a train could chug by at any minute. In warm weather, sit outside on the old boarding platform and try one of their staple brews like the Bacharach Golden Ale or the Huntington IPA along with a wood-fired flatbread pizza.
Brewery Terra Firma
Located outside of town and situated on its own 10 acre farm, Brewery Terra Firma is unlike any other brewery in the area. With its yellow barn-like building and tranquil setting, you’ll feel like you’ve arrived for a wine tasting, not a beer tasting. When it comes to their beers, Brewery Terra Firma is taking the hard road (but one they’re passionate about) by either growing the ingredients they need to brew, or by sourcing them from local farms. From growing their own hops, fruits, vegetables, flowers, honey, herbs, spices and more, Brewery Terra Firma produces farm to table beers with the energy expelled during the brewing process used to heat their tap room and processed water and spent grain used to fertilize and irrigate their crops. Now that’s resourceful. With two to three limited release brews on tap every month, plus their flagship brews (like the Karma Palace IPA), you’ll have plenty to sample.
Also In Northern Michigan
Shorts Brewing Company
About one hour north of Traverse City in the small town of Bellaire, you’ll find one of Michigan’s favorite breweries, Shorts Brewery Company. Founded by Joe Short in 2002 (he was 22 at the time), Shorts opened for business in a refurbished, 100-year old hardware store in 2004 and produced 178 barrels of beer in its first year. By 2008, Short’s added a larger off-site production facility which today produces over 22,000 barrels of beer per year, with their Bellaire brewpub producing an additional 2,000 barrels (making it Michigan’s third largest brewery). Stop by, grab a bite to eat, and sample some of their rotating, limited production brews like the India Spruce Pilsner, which is made with hand picked blue spruce tips from down the road (its reminiscent of gin and/or drinking a christmas tree), or try one of their flagships, like the Huma Lupa Licious IPA. Oh yeah, and they have a rating of 100 on beer advocate.
Continuing north from Shorts for one hour, you’ll reach Petoskey, a resort town with a vibrant downtown located directly on the shores of Lake Michigan. It’s here, tucked between a gift shop and women’s clothing store, that you’ll find Beards Brewery. A newer addition to the Northern Michigan beer scene, this small shop has become a favorite for locals and visitors alike, with music played on a record player (feel free to bring in a vinyl), plenty of board games, and of course, an ever changing selection of beer on tap. Sample something new, but don’t forget to try the Breakfast, an American brown ale made using local maple syrup, raisins, cinnamon and Belgian dark candy sugar.
If the amount of beer you drink has no bearing on your ability to follow a map, it’s easy to hit a variety of breweries in Traverse City simply by following the Traverse City Ale Trail. While spots like Brewery Terra Firma and Right Brain will require a set of wheels, the Ale Trail will bring you near The Workshop Brewing Company, North Peak Brewing, The Filling Station, as well as these other awesome breweries: Rare Bird Brewery, Big Toe Brewery, Brewery Ferment and Mackinaw Brewing Company.
Willing to put in some work for your beer…and look just a little ridiculous along the way? Then hop on the TC Cycle Pub, a 14-passenger bike of sorts that’ll propel you through downtown Traverse City. While you can’t drink on board (bummer), typical tours will take you to 2-4 breweries and itineraries are customizable so talk it over with your group and guide, then hit the road.
If you’d rather ride solo, rent a bike from The River and cruise to different Traverse City breweries at your own pace.
If you’d rather paddle then pedal, keep an eye on the TC Ale Trail’s facebook page and on TCAleTrail.com/events for the next Paddle for Pints outing which happens a few times each summer. Together with other beer lovers, you’ll paddle board, kayak or canoe along the Boardman River and visit up to 6 breweries located along the way. Yes, it’s one of the coolest brewery crawls you’ll ever do.
If you won’t be in town during a Paddle for Pints, take a combination bike and paddle tour (kayak or paddle board) with The River. With a local guide leading the way, you’ll be able to hit some of Traverse City’s best breweries and eateries.
Sure you could designate a sober driver using a game of rocks, paper, scissors — or you could organize a private, guided tour with Grand Traverse Tours. Chauffeured by a knowledgeable guide in a luxury Mercedes Sprinter van, you’ll be able to easily visit a variety of breweries in style and comfort.
When To Go:
It’s no surprise that Northern Michigan gets pretty damn cold in the winter. And while you’ll find these breweries open for business, hopping from one to the other may be slightly less enjoyable
That’s why summer (June-mid September) and fall (mid September-early November) are perfect times to experience Northern Michigan’s beer scene. While both seasons will offer up their own unique seasonal brews, visiting in summer will bring with it access to the regions numerous lakes, and fall will offer up crisp air, fresh produce and changing leaves (if you’re into that sort of thing). Either way, it’s hard to go wrong.
Keep On Traveling! Explore These Other Articles From Trevor Morrow Travel:
Photos: The Workshop Brewing: Chris Klau. Right Brain: Leif Kolt for Right Brain Brewery. North Peak Brewing: by North Peak Brewiing. The Filling Station: by The Filling Station. Brewery Terra Firma: Trevor Morrow. Shorts: Michael Murphy IV Photography. Beards Brewing: by Beards Brewing.