Craft brewers, as a rule, pride themselves on their creativity when it comes to devising clever new beers and ales for every season.
Except spring. Spring beers seem to get no respect.
Even here in Traverse City, the Los Alamos of the Brewniverse, there doesn’t seem to be a big push for spring beers. Which is strange, since we’re always eager to observe the first opening day of golf, the first sailboat on the bay, the first day in shorts and flipflops and other springtime firsts. What’s the first eagerly-awaited warm-weather beer that everybody gets excited about around here? Hint: it’s made in Kalamazoo, and it’s named after the King of the Fairies.
This isn’t a purely local phenomenon, either. There’s only one beer I know of that’s brewed especially for spring, and that’s Maibock (May Bock) a malty bottom-fermented beer that probably got its start in German monasteries to mark the end of the Lenten fast. I haven’t seen any local bock in the Traverse City area, though the closest I’ve tasted is “Mr. Helles,” a traditional Munich-style lager brewed with pilsner malt and noble hopes and served up at the delightful new Earthen Ales brewery in the Village at Grand Traverse Commons. (This is a very cool place with some extremely creative brewing going on, BTW.)
Another bock-style beer – a little heavier – is “Light Years to Trappist” a Belgian Dubbel brewed in Cedar at the Big Cat Brewery. It’s a strong beer, to help you get your strength back after all that fasting and abstinence.
Since St. Patrick’s Day falls in spring, I suppose Irish stouts and reds would be an appropriate brew for the season (the early part of it, at least). I’m a fan of stouts as long as the weather isn’t too warm (in Ireland, of course, it never is) and one of the tastiest I’ve tried lately is the “Milky McMilkerson” milk stout at Hop Lot Brewing in Suttons Bay. Not for the lactose intolerant drinker, this is a smooth, creamy dark brew with some sweetness that speaks of strong coffee and chocolate.
For my money, though, there’s nothing like a good Irish Red, and I’m fond of the “Marble City Red” on tap at Kilkenny’s Irish Public House. It’s a nitro ale with beautiful deep red color, a rich malty flavor and a lovely creamy head like the beard of God Himself.
But as the weather warms up, these beers may be a bit too heavy. What we’re looking for by May is something light, with a hint of spice. Wheat beers – especially the ones flavored with a hint of coriander, ginger or orange peel – are just the thing. And there are plenty of local candidates that can compete with the Brew from Kalamazoo.
Lake Ann Brewing, for instance, has a lovely wheat beer called “Auggie’s Garden Glo” brewed with all three of the above spices, plus a little lemon peel. The menu at the bar waxes especially poetic over this one: A citrusy summer wheat brewed with orange and lemon peels along with coriander. This beer pays homage to Dick Therrien’s favorite dive bar on the East side of Flint. Whether it was stopping to meet Uncle Dave for a cold PBR, dropping off John Drinkwine on a rainy day, or just stopping in to see if Gypsy Jack was sitting naked at a barstool.
Another refreshing Belgian is the “Mitten Wit” at Brewery Ferment, an understated but tart white ale brewed from wheat and oats. Also, Mackinaw Brewing has a fine Belgian wheat ale called “Belgian Whitecap,” so light that it’s nearly colorless, while North Peak’s familiar “Majestic” is a golden-hued American-style wheat ale – cloudy because it’s unfiltered – that’s very refreshing on warm spring days. And the “Sickle” at Workshop Brewing is a different kind of springtime beer: a saison. Originally these were thirst-quenching farmhouse ales brewed during the winter to be drunk in warm weather, low in alcohol and nicely aromatic.
And since India Pale Ales can also be refreshing if they’re not over hopped, I’ve got to mention three IPAs that fit the bill. One is the “Concrete Dinosaur” at Right Brain Brewery; brewed from brown rye, it’s spicy and complex with a hint of citrus. The other two are from Short’s Brewing: “Space Rock” – technically an American Pale Ale – that has nice flowery and citrus aromas and a slightly bitter aftertaste, and “Ermagerdness” a light-bodied IPA with some delicate pineapple and tangerine notes.
Finally, there are fruit beers – the kind where the fruity taste comes, not from hops but from actual fruit. Like Brewery Terra Firma’s “Blackberries in Space” (haven’t tried it yet, but it sounds interesting ) – a session IPA infused with blackberries. Or the tropical-tasting ”La Pasion” at Rare Bird Brewery, where passion fruit is added to an IPA recipe that features Simcoe and Mosaic hops.
Come to think of it, this isn’t a bad list. So what if they weren’t explicitly brewed with spring in mind? These tasty beers should keep us going until summer!