Sitting at the bar at Right Brain Brewery, my attention turns from the cavernous and colorfully eclectic space back to the taps as the bartender announces the arrival of my beer.
“One Mangalitsa Pig Porter.”
The smoky, subtly salty and wildly original brew is aptly named. It’s made with the head and bones of a cherry wood smoked pig, after all. I’m thinking I’ll go for the Concrete Dinosaur—a rye, chocolate and citrus concoction—next.
Right Brain Brewery is just one of 19 microbreweries, brewpubs and craft brew taprooms in and around the cherry, vineyard and Lake Michigan-shoreline filled Traverse City, Michigan. The community encourages creativity and innovation in craft beer, making moves so bold that Traverse City landed on The Travel Channel’s list of the “Top Seven Beer Destinations in North America” and has been called one of America’s “Three Emerging Beer Towns” by DRAFT Magazine (there’s an annual Beer Week, too).
Right Brain Brewery's Mug Club, a lifetime membership program for hardcore craft beer fans
Best of all, it’s mine for the tasting. “I’ll take the Concrete Dinosaur,” I tell the bartender.
Looking around Right Brain Brewery, I take in the happy revelers, the patchwork of local artwork covering the walls, the stacks of worn board games, the comfortable places to relax, and the wall full of personalized ceramic mugs, each belonging to a member of the brewery's Mug Club, a lifetime membership program for hardcore craft beer fans.
The sense of community here, and that community’s love for great craft beer, is so present it’s almost physical—and its effect manifests as a smile on my face as I finish my beer and head out the door for the next brewery.
Pulling up to Brewery Terra Firma, I feel as though I’ve arrived for a wine tasting on account of the brewery’s un-brewery-like setting on a 10-acre farm a little under five miles outside of town.
Inside, I learn from the friendly bartender that head brewer, John Niedermaier, and team grow and produce many of the ingredients used in their beers, including fruits, vegetables, flowers, honey, herbs, spices and even some hops, right here on the property. Plus, byproducts from the brewing process are used to fertilize the fields, and heat captured from the fermentation process is used to heat the taproom during colder months. Talk about environmental stewardship!
I sample some of their signature beers, like the Karma Palace IPA and the Sleeping Bear Brown Ale, but my favorite is the Barrel Aged Maple Cherry Potion.
I sample some of their signature beers, like the Karma Palace IPA (light on hops: good for beginner IPA drinkers) and the Sleeping Bear Brown Ale (balanced and approachable), but my favorite is the Barrel Aged Maple Cherry Potion, a copper-colored ale made using local cherries, maple syrup, hops and wheat, aged in bourbon barrels from Traverse City Whiskey Co. I enjoy it outside on the patio near the herb garden, and pal around with a group having a bachelor party.
By late evening, I move closer to town. My dinner stop is The Filling Station, a former rail depot built in 1927 and set near the edge of Boardman Lake. The old platform is now a picnic table-filled patio great for enjoying on warm days like this one—as is their Bacharach Golden Ale, a smooth and refreshing German pilsner. To go with my beer, I devour a wood-fired flatbread pizza topped with pepperoni, pineapple, jalapeños and mozzarella.
The next day, I explore the town in search of happy hour. I make sure I’m in a centralized spot when it arrives. In downtown, the close proximity of several breweries make hops a skip and a jump away. I start in the Warehouse District (within downtown), where Traverse City’s classic Americana stylings give way to a funky, creative, industrial atmosphere.
Anchoring the neighborhood is Workshop Brewing Company, where founder Pete Kirkwood and head brewer Corey Wentworth’s passion for Michigan and the Traverse City community is contagious. It’s evident in their commitment to using Michigan-grown ingredients “whenever humanly possible,” and in the space itself, in which locals gather around communal tables (some flanked by old church pews), play music and, of course, drink good beer.
Workshop Brewing Company focuses on carefully crafted classic and inspired seasonal offerings.
The brewing philosophy focuses on carefully crafted classics and inspired seasonal offerings. Unable to choose just one, I order a beer flight of samples, including the Sickle (Saison) and the Gandy Dancer (Nitro IPA). The Sickle is brassy in color and easy to drink, but with a 7.5% ABV, I better not.
Continuing my beer odyssey, I visit 7 Monks Taproom, home to 46 ever-changing beers on tap, and Rare Bird Brewery & Taproom, with an equally astonishing 35 beers on tap and six of their own house brews. Both spaces are alive with craft beer fans, joyfully sampling new suds.
A couple beers later, as I make my way back to my hotel, a smile comes across my face, just as it has several times this weekend. It arrives genuinely, brought on by my experiences, and by being in awe of the effortless sense of community and inspiring amount of pride in the Traverse City craft beer scene. It’s the feeling of a win.