Article by: Eric Blumenfeld,
Beerspoke Tours CEO
We love Grand Rapids -- it's a hell of a beer city! But let us tell you about another beer haven 2.5-3.5 hours up Lake Michigan from Grand Rapids. It might not be quite as well known around the country, but a) it soon will be, b) that's a great reason to get here now, and c) that's why you come to us...you're welcome. We're talking Traverse City. A city that offers so much in the way of beer tourism but plenty of non-beer tourism as well.
First off, you'll need to stay somewhere -- we recommend Hotel Indigo. A beautiful spot right on West Grand Traverse Bay, overlooking Lake Michigan, it has very clean comfortable rooms and, also importantly, a rooftop bar with a spectacular view of the lake and surrounding landscape. And the bar also serves a number of local Michigan beers to enjoy while soaking in the view.
Hotel Indigo also happens to be right across the street from The Workshop Brewing Company. One of our favorites in town, they have a large, welcoming indoor and outdoor space, a smallish, mostly hidden, brewing space, and are super Michigan-focused, brewing their beers and crafting their food from local Michigan ingredients as much as possible. In keeping with their love of local, they're a very community-oriented brewery, with regular events in their space, including lots of jazz concerts, and they've created the Comrades Club, to celebrate and offer up specials to their supporters. Stylistically, they say they don't really branch out with wild new experimental beers...but don't let 'em fool you. Their stuff is anything but old. And every style they have that you've heard of before gets Brewmaster Mike's unique interpretation.
From there, it's a quick walk to 7 Monks Taproom (which, actually, also has a location in Grand Rapids...see? Both great towns!). Less than a block off a main drag of Front Street, it's got a nice long indoor space, with more sidewalk seating in good weather, friendly service, and a really nice beer list. Definitely a focus on Michigan, but nicely rounded well outside of just locals.
A few other "must" breweries:
-Earthen Ales. A fairly small 7bbl system in an inviting space on the grounds of a former state run asylum. Where that might have been chilling in the past, it is no longer. Now called The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, the buildings are beautifully designed and feel more like a resort. Not a bad place for a brewery. Try the Juniper Rye, a nice IPA, with no overpowering flavor or bitterness, but a delightful hint of juniper berries.
-Right Brain Brewery. Named for the hemisphere in our heads that governs creativity, the name is truly apt. Russell Springsteen (no relation...probably...) is one hell of a creative guy and brings his passion for new things and experimenting to his brewing process. If it hasn't been done before, or if it's an ingredient that maybe "shouldn't" be used in a beer, Russell's going to take a long hard look at how he can make it work. The brewery is a very open welcoming (and yes, creative) space in an industrial location by Boardman Lake. Try their Concrete Dinosaur, a very impressive brown rye IPA -- smooth, piney with a nice mild spice.
-Brewery Terra Firma. A few miles south of the rest of the above, Brewery Terra Firma isn't just a brewery and tap room...it's an actual certified 10 acre farm. They produce their own ingredients, and are fully committed to environmental conservation while brewing their beers. And the environment at the brewery and taproom is top notch, with a long indoor space, nicely complemented by their outdoor lawn and patio. And their environmental commitment doesn't in any way sacrifice the brews they produce. You'll find a nice variety of beers of all styles, with some more experimental ones included. Make a land grab at Brewery Terra Firma.
-The Filling Station Microbrewery. Clearly a Railroad District brewery, right by active railroad tracks and near Boardman Lake. So, it's established you'll have unique views, but you'll also have some decidedly delicious small-batch beers. They create beers of every style, color, yeast strain, etc. All crafted with a passion by this family-owned brewery...and all perfectly paired with their wood-fired pizzas!
And, as we mentioned above, there's plenty in Traverse City outside of the beer realm. The city is gaining a lot of renown for their food scene as well, with delicious locally-sourcing restaurants popping up right and left. And beer isn't even the only beverage with a hold on the area. Vineyards and the local wine scene are well-established here. There are also plenty of cultural spots, shopping options and the like, but possibly the biggest non-beer draw here is none other than the great outdoors! You'll find almost unlimited gorgeous outdoor trails (like Vasa Trail - which goes on for just over a marathon 26.3 miles) throughout the vast parklands and even more to do and see in and around Lake Michigan. Staying active is the perfect way to prep your body for the necessary electrolyte refill in beer. Perhaps unexpected in a still minimally-tapped area from Michigan outsiders...but there's no way Traverse City is staying a relative secret for long. Our advice...hurry the heck up!!