So Long and Thanks for all the Beer – a salute to bygone Michigan breweries (and a shameless Douglas Adams reference)
So far I’ve visited more than 2/3 of Michigan’s craft breweries in Michigan, including a rather short list of those that are no longer open. Sadly, despite the best intentions and business strategies, some craft beer places just don’t make it. Here’s a short list of those I remember visiting in Michigan before they closed their doors (or stopped brewing their own house beers):
Fire Academy, Westland. Since this wasn’t too far from home, I visited this place quite a few times. Though the beers and food were so-so, its atmosphere, which included a real fire truck, was pretty memorable. The beers all had fire-fighting themed names, and during Red Wings games, they handed out mysterious red “shooters” every time the Wings scored. We happened to be there on a night when the Detroit Red Wings were on fire (along with a colleague of mine who lived nearby), so it wasn’t too long before we were downright lit from the combination of shooters and beer. Long story short, a good old drunken time was had by all, and if memory serves, the night ended up at Denny’s where we all attempted to sober up. I used to fantasize about buying the place and changing the name to “Dream Academy,” playing nothing but Dream Academy songs. But then if I did, the business would probably do just about as well as the defunct band and brewpub. Fire Academy closed in the early ’00s, and the last time I remember being there was in 2000. I think a Buffalo Wild Wings is in operation there now. How many of you can name more than one Dream Academy song? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
Recently closing in spring 2012 was the Michigan Brewing Company’s flagship Webberville tap room and microbrewery. Their first location was in a cozy, wood-paneled borderline dive bar not far from a popular truck stop off I-96. I loved that place. Sure, it was small, and almost always littered with peanut shells, but we never managed to go in there without having a good time. It was a magical place. I even played the piano on a night near Halloween in 2001 while I was dressed up as a “Smells Like Teen Spirit” cheerleader. True story. While I was volunteering for an Ultimate Frisbee league I talked the league brass into buying their beer for a Frisbee tournament, which they bottled for us in plastic (more park-friendly). Then they moved into a more sterile location not too far away from their first location and I have only visited them one time since then. But I still love their beer, especially their Celis White, which, for some strange reason, attracts insects in a way that other beers do not. Is it the coriander? Orange peel? It’s a scientific mystery… I’ll let the etymologists figure that one out. Now they also have a tap room in Lansing, which I have yet to visit. Most of their beers had Michigan-themed names, including Mackinac Pale Ale, Superior Stout and Peninsula Porter. And then there’s the Wheatland Wheat. How many of you know the significance of that name? Going once? Going twice? Their newest beer was Kid Rock’s Badass lager (this is the first of two Kid Rock references in this blog). As of this writing, the restaurant/brewpub in Lansing remains open.
Alcatraz Brewing Company, Auburn Hills. Other branches in the United States remain open, but Michigan’s franchise has been kaput for quite some time. What better place to have a drink after enduring the hideous consumer nightmare of Great Lakes Crossing, a sprawling outlet mall? We last visted this place in the late 1990s, and it was at that place where I started coming up with my topical prison-themed beer names such as Lights Out Stout, Angry Warden IPA and my personal favorite, Conjugal Visit Cream Ale (home brewers, feel free to use these, they are freebies! Just be sure I get to taste them!). I wonder if the Rain Forest Cafe is still in business?
Big Buck, Auburn Hills. Big Buck is still open in Gaylord, we visited Big Buck in Auburn Hills only once. The format was essentially the same as the Gaylord branch, lots of antlers-inspired decor and whatnot.
Boyne Brewing Company Boyne Falls, (or thereabouts?). I barely remember this place at all, but I think I remember reading that another brewery wound up buying their brewing equipment, so it’s not like something good didn’t come from their closing! I think they also had fishes on their 22-ounce bottles.
Grand Rapids Brewing Company, Grand Rapids. We visited this place twice, it wasn’t bad, just a basic restaurant/brewpub, and for us, a freeway stop. New owners are reviving the business in 2012, in a different location.
Traverse Brewing Company, Williamsburg (not far from Traverse City). In the late ’90s, I tried their bottled beers on several occasions (Sleeping Bear Brown and Manitou Pale Ale were among them), and visited the tap room once. I used the brown ale to make potato soup while we were camping in the Traverse City area. Tasty. I still have a growler of theirs, now it’s truly a souvenir.
Traveler’s Club/Tuba Charlies’s, Okemos. OK, this place isn’t technically closed, but they are no longer brewing their own beer. In fact, when we visited, the wait staff encouraged us NOT to drink the beer they made in-house. Rather than argue with them, we ordered from their delectable 20-plus page food menu and chose one of the other Michigan beers they had on tap. Plus, they have a lot of tubas and Sousaphones all over the walls, and a tuba fountain outside. What more reason do you have to visit this place?
Petoskey, can’t recall the name. We visited this brewpub in downtown Petoskey with a couple of friends, but I can’t recall the name. I have three other witnesses if no one believes me! But it was so long ago I don’t remember anything else besides that it was in Petoskey. If anyone else remembers this place, please chime in!
Leopold Bros., Ann Arbor. This place really wasn’t too bad, and had a nice, well-lit open beer hall feel to it, which was good for mingling, events and playing board games. But there was a down side to the openness, before the smoking ban took effect in 2010: if someone expressing their civil liberties decided to smoke, everyone else had to smell it. If two cigar smokers came in, that effect was doubled. Maybe smelling the cigar smoke killed my taste buds, but it seemed to me that all of the beers, despite the color and style, seemed to taste exactly the same. Parking could be a pain in the ass, since this place was a bit far from downtown Ann Arbor’s parking structures. I think they’ve become a distilling operation and have moved to Colorado.
Local Color Brewing Company, Novi. I liked their sassy beer names and labels. Tomboy Red. That’s probably the only one I remember. Their taproom had two levels and was kind of cool, and was near a happy hippie organic grocery that sold good imported beer. Was it Vic’s? Mike didn’t like the tri-colored chips in Local Color’s nachos (call him a racist). But he’s really not racist. He just doesn’t like the blue-green poo resulting from eating blue tortilla chips.
Jackson Brewing Company, located in the same spot as the recently closed Local Pub & Brewery. What’s up with that space anyway? Is it haunted? And if so, why would that hurt business? Just bring out the “Ghost Hunters” squad. Seriously, I think there have been two different brewpubs there over the past 10 or so years, not including the one that is there now. Can’t Jackson get a break? You’d think having a state penitentiary, daily newspaper (a dinosaur in this electronic day and age), county fairgrounds, an airport, and a Shakespeare festival would be enough to justify having a great place for craft beer. Come on, Jackson residents! Drink some craft beer, damn it! You can drink your PBR while you’re at home!
Bonfire Bistro, Northville. I remember going to this place before going to see “American Psycho” in Livonia’s AMC Theater with Mike and a couple of friends. Aside from the wood-fired pizzas, I seem to recall it wasn’t too vegetarian friendly, and might have been pricey. But alas, this place is closed, so how detailed of a review do you really need? Now, don’t panic! There are plenty of other beer places to visit in Michigan for great beer (fourth Douglas Adams reference). Michigan’s brewpub/microbrewery universe is ever-changing.
Closing almost as soon as it opened, Jackson’s The Local Pub and Brewery, boasted several German-themed beers as well as giant pretzels, sandwich and basic dinner fare. The pilsener and kolsch were both pretty true to style, though I thought they were served at too warm of a temperature. It’s too bad this area can’t seem to support a place such as this, as this is the third brewpub in Jackson to close its doors.