Monday, August 8, 2011

Trek Northwards to Michigan

This past weekend, we headed to Northern Michigan for a wedding - to Spring Lake to be specific. Two short (and tiny) plane flights after leaving LaGuardia, I touched down in Grand Rapids airport. We headed out to Spring Lake for a lovely ceremony along the shore and reception and party at the Spring Lake Country Club. Shockingly, I brought my camera but didn't take pictures most of the weekend...I think I am still on hiatus after the 500 pics from my Europe trip. That being said, I did catalog our craft beverage experience.

Upon arrival at our hotel, our welcome bag awaited us, brimming with goodies! One of the treats was a bottle of Vander Mill Apple Blueberry Cider. Paul Vander Heide, one of the groomsmen, is the owner of Vander Mill and secured the cider for all of the wedding guests. My experience with cider recalls memories of a viscose, cloying beverage, generally flavored to the nth degree with some sort of nauseating fruit smell. Naturally, that sort of experience doesn't inspire a repeat beverage order so I ventured a taste of my boyfriend's cider, which was on tap at the wedding reception. And I was genuinely surprised and impressed. Only a hint of sweet, a refreshing effervescence, and a robust flavor that didn't leave a sticky aftertaste. Over the weekend we tried a variety of cider's, including my favorite, a Michigan Wit Cider, which was styled after a Belgium wheat beer. If you're in the Northern Michigan or Chicago areas, check out these locations that currently carry Vander Mill and give it a try!

Our other imbibing adventures brought us to two breweries, both of which are representative of the explosion of the craft brewery culture in Michigan, a surge competing with the likes of San Diego, Portland, and Colorado. Our first stop was at Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids. Housed in a former funeral home, the brewery dining room is the former chapel converted into a pseudo Belgian Monastery. The actual bar counter mimics the shape of the Romanesque arch welcoming you as you enter the hall and rustic communal tables offer a shared dining experience. The lunch menu offered standard gastropub fare with an above par burger garnished with an amazing onion & bacon marmalade and bernaise-mayo (mustard and ketchup need not apply) served on a pretzel bun and alongside truffled pommes frites. Delectable. We also perused the dinner menu, whose virtues had been extolled by our dining companions. I'd consider flying back there just to try some of those mouthwatering items!

Brewery Vivant: Farm Hand Ale & IPA
We ordered a variety of their beers including the Farm Hand, the standard IPA, and the Big Red Coq (a double IPA that I'm convinced the boys kept ordering just so they could say Coq - glad we're all grown ups.) Kidding aside, that was certainly the winner - great balance of strong hops and caramel with a hint of grapefruit on the nose.

Our second brewery experience was at New Holland Brewing Company in Holland, Michigan, about 40 miles east of Grand Rapids, and the hometown of Hope College, where the wedding's groom attended. The Brewery is located in a former hardware store on 8th Street, the main strip running through downtown Holland. While much more commercial of a scene than our experience at Brewery Vivant, New Holland offered a great variety of distinct beers as well as specialty spirits brewed on-site by the brew masters. This list inclused a $16 whiskey, The Zeppelin Blend, which according to people in the know is worth the freight. As it was lunchtime, I figured the Zeppelin might do me in so I stuck with my go to favorite, the IPA, tasting the Imperial Hatter IPA. Slightly lighter than the IPA and Red Coq at Vivant, this IPA still packs a punch with heavy citrus after-notes and a hoptastic bite!

New Holland Brewing Company: Imperial Hatter IPA
The weekend wasn't just about friends were made, old friendships revisited, beautiful sunsets on the lake, gallivanting around Northern Michigan, and great conversations. There was just a phenomenal variety of high quality ciders and beers to accompany those activities. Slainte!

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