Traverse City Beer Week Nov. 12-19, 2021

It’s that quiet lull between summer and skiing in Northern Michigan, but, we’ve found the fix: Traverse City Beer Week. The self-guided tour runs Nov. 12-19 and includes specials at participating breweries and restaurants all week long. You can find all the details when you sign-up online for the Beer Week pass (no download or app required!). 

Be sure to visit at least five spots to qualify for prizes – plus you’ll be rewarded with a “My Hoppy Place: Traverse City” Beer Week t-shirt or a Traverse City fanny pack!

It was a tough assignment but someone had to do it: I was tasked with providing a “Beer Week” preview. Within seconds, I had three willing comrades. The only problem was coordinating schedules, which winnowed down to a single Tuesday night.

Tuesday? We could do it if we started early enough. We decided we’d hit three of the Beer Week spots, but we’d only sip at each one, and we would be in bed by 10 p.m. with no regrets at work on Wednesday. A solid plan for a bunch of 40-somethings.

Rare Bird Beer Flight

1st stop: Rare Bird Brewpub

It was criminally early for a wild night out: 5 p.m. My husband, Tim, and I picked up our friends, Megan and Ross, and headed into town. We had expected TC to be quiet on a Tuesday night, but, no, we realized we were actually late to the party.

When we walked into the historic 1931 red brick building of Rare Bird, we found the place comfortably full. Families and friends of all ages filled the massive wood-slab tables laid out like a German beer hall. We were seated right away, a few seats down from another group. Everyone was chatting with their neighbors.

A hint of Cheers washed over me.

First, our drinks. An easy choice: Their pre-set flight features four in-house Rare Bird brews. We tried them all, while our designated driver, Tim (a hard-cider-lover), took a sip and looked at us all skeptically.

The four in the flight:

Blood Orange You Witty? (A Blood Orange Witbier made with a local malt. I didn’t get the “witty” part until I literally sat down to write this! According to a Witbier is a Belgian-style ale that’s pale and cloudy. Always spiced, generally with coriander, orange peel, and other spices, Witbiers offer a crispness and slight twang with a lively level of carbonation. Witbiers are also commonly referred to as “white beers.”)

El Guante (“Extremely light and easy drinking. Made with a traditional Mexican Lager yeast and grain bill to give you an authentic south of the border beer. Salud!”)

Kushy Punch (“A brew with a huge hop finish that will punch your taste buds. Equinox, Citra, Galaxy and Mosaic hops. Winner of the 2018 IPA Challenge!”)

No Pressure (“The 3-time TC Stout Challenge winner! Made with TC’s Higher Grounds French Roast coffee, chocolate and a touch of vanilla.”)

Our “best of” vote went to Kushy for its, well, “punch.” We also tried a handful of other Rare Bird brews: La Alemana (deemed a “fast and easy” drink by Megan), What the Kveik (which was called a good “session” beer by the guy next to us named Dave, the owner of Out and Back Bikes in TC) and Struggle Bus (which Ross said was good for making one’s wife think you’re funny).

Food was secondary on our minds, but it made a strong showing upon arrival. Our meals included Korean Pork Belly tacos, Grilled Chicken tacos (perfect for the picky eater in your group) and Rare Bird’s quiiiite popular Buffalo Chicken Sandwich. Everyone loved their choices!

It’s cool to note that this pub’s co-owners include one of the few women in the industry: Tina Schuett and Nate Crane. Tina operates the brewery while Nate is the front of house manager. They have a fun story on how they met and came up with the name “Rare Bird.”

Our overall feel by 6:30 p.m.? We were alive and well on a Tuesday night. No one has said a thing about kids, work or Wednesday morning.

Sipping Beer at Right Brain Brewery

2nd stop: Right Brain Brewery

What in the world?

When we arrived, there was a corn hole tournament going on. Inside. We watched in wonder before making our way around the out-for-beer competitors and headed for the bar. Right Brain is big and booming, with classic arcade games lining the walls and tons of eclectic art hanging above. This is a family-friendly place but also, with 30+ beers on tap, a place to be “Beer Curious” as their website says.

The most impressive thing (after corn hole): The size of their sampler trays.

They are hefty. Six pours. Tall ones. We decided on two sampler trays (12 total to try!), which was enough to put us to the test. We started to think a little more seriously about how Wednesday would feel.

We had only one requirement, as Ross had declared in the car on the way in: “We can only try brews we haven’t tried before!”

Our top three Right Brain picks:

Chubby Squirrel: This name lent itself to several jokes and insults, which were well-received by all. Their description: “This is a seasonal spiced ale brewed with Madagascar vanilla beans, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and lemon peel. Spice aromas balance out notes of toffee, brown sugar, and vanilla. Medium-bodied with a nice dry finish. Perfect for sipping on the porch with friends while watching the leaves fall.” Or, in our case, sitting around with your middle-aged friends breaking out on a Tuesday night.

Cool Hand Cuke: First, their description: “Our house Saison is aged over fresh cucumber, basil, and coriander. It’s a light-bodied Belgiany brew packed with strong vegetable and herb notes.” Now, ours: I’m sorry to say this wasn’t a “win” with our group. However, it was the one I had the MOST fun making my clueless friends taste and guess what it was.

Spinal Tapper: This is one of Right Brain’s flagship brews: “A well-balanced IPA with 55 IBU's, made with two blends of North American malts. Brewed with Calypso Hops, and dry-hopped with Amarillo... Get ready for an IPA sensory overload.” This one did pack a punch, so much so, that Ross forgot the name altogether and just called it “The Crusher” the rest of the night.

Everyone was full from dinner, but when I picked up one of Right Brain’s local treats on offer -- Pop Kie’s Gourmet Popcorn from downtown TC -- it was gone in a flash. We tried the “Front Street Blend” (sharp cheddar and caramel popcorn), washed down with cuke ale – see? So easy to have fun torturing your friends with unexpected taste.

The cool thing about this brewery is that owner Russell Springsteen started out by cutting hair for a living – and his vision was to combine it with brewing beer. You’ll notice “Salon Saloon” is also housed inside this big warehouse overlooking the Boardman River.

His vision prevails: “You sip, we snip!”

Brewery Terra Firma

3rd Stop: Brewery Terra Firma

It was getting late; time to hit our last spot to make our self-imposed bedtime.

We left the world of cornhole and landed promptly in the world of Trivia at Terra Firma. They had a DJ calling out questions in a bright, welcoming room filled with teams bent over the paper, furiously consulting. We found four seats at the bar. I immediately notice an amazing piece of art hanging behind the bar featuring the local legend of Sleeping Bear Dunes. Brews and beauty!

We asked for a flight, but instead, the bartender grabbed a piece of chalk and wrote our choices out on the bar top. “Unlimited flights here,” he said with a laugh. He then poured each one in a tall curvy glass, lining them up next to their chalked names.

Between trivia questions, the DJ played a song. Between songs, we made wild guesses. I floored everyone when I came up with “Etch a Sketch” But it turned out none of us knew anything about anything after that, so we returned to studying the beer instead.

We picked these three first, based purely on the buzz they’d received on Terra Firma’s Facebook page:

InfiniBee Honey Blonde (This is brewed with honey farmed right on site! The bartender said this was the lightest beer, and right away, this took off as a favorite among the ladies.)

Fire Roasted Sweet Corn Cream Ale (Made with hand-shucked corn from Stonyfield Acres in Empire. This drink offered a new and unusual taste – they describe it as having a “corn nose”!)

Soul Butter Triple IPA (This one’s name alone felt transcendent, enough said.)

Then, out of nowhere – Brown Donkey Smasher – “big, strong, and brown with a good solid kick of hops in the finish” – took a lead with the boys. With Tim taking the tiniest taste, it was indeed declared the perfect finale for our night.

The cool thing about this place is that it’s more a tasting room than a pub. It’s family-friendly, airy, and well-lit. They offer local snacks, and outside food is also allowed in. John Niedermaier, the Brew Master at Brewery Terra Firma, is a Traverse City native with – get this – over 1,000 recipes in the vault!

As the trivia night raged on, we headed back home. It was 9:30 p.m., and we’d survived a Tuesday night double-date-beer-tour. Beer Week Preview was declared a victory, and we made plans to visit more on the list during the official event, Nov. 12-19. (With a goal of five stops throughout the week to get the free Hoppy in TC t-shirt!)

If you get a chance to get to Traverse City that week, we hope you’ll take this sage advice from Ross: Only try brews you haven’t tried before!