A wave of mostly unremarkable New England-style IPAs poured across Michigan in 2017, as brewers caught the trend of juicy, hazy, hop-loaded-yet-not-so-bitter beer.
But the stuff coming from Old Nation Brewing Co. in Williamston was phenomenal. And there's a great story behind it: The brewery invited people from a Facebook beer group to the brewery after an online discussion of the style, and the resulting experiment led to its M-43 New England IPA. By summer, the beer was a huge hit and had caused production to increase by six-fold at the previously struggling brewery.
M-43 cracked into the top 20 of Beer Advocate's highest-rated American IPAs, the highest ranking of any Michigan beer in a category loaded with New England IPAs. It was first released in fall 2016. And this year, the brewery added Boss Tweed double New England-style IPA to its lineup. More on that below.
Virtually none of the top new beers I tried in 2017 conformed to traditional styles. Perhaps that's because brewers lately are having to do more than ever to stand out in an increasingly crowded market. Also, bold experiments, when pulled off well, really stand out.
Beyond the IPA variants, this year brought a slew of new sours, especially goses, as well as ever more bourbon-barrel-aged stouts and barleywines.
This is the golden age of beer. Drink it up:
Spirits of Detroit columnist Robert Allen picks the top new Michigan beers of 2017.
Montmorency (6% ABV) oak-aged sour with cherries by Transient Artisan Ales of Bridgman: This brewery, opened in 2016 in southwest Michigan, makes some of the best wild, sour beers in the state. The addition of tart cherries to an oak-aged sour created an easy-drinking experience with just enough sweet to balance it out. I also recommend the Purple Grain gose with beets, and the Cranberry Maigre and Imperial Peach Maigre – a couple Berliner Weisses with fruit added.
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Boss Tweed (9.3% ABV) double New England IPA by Old Nation Brewing Co. of Williamston: Since it opened in 2015, Old Nation hadn't attracted a ton of attention. That changed with its acclaimed line of New England IPAs. This double-NE-IPA bursts with hop flavors: pineapple, tangerine, tart grapefruit, a little cantaloupe and some floral, grassy notes over a creamy, smooth mouthfeel.
Flying Buffalo Raspberry Chocolate (14% ABV) bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout by Griffin Claw Brewing Co: This one reminds me of chocolate-covered raspberries dipped in bourbon, in a hearty imperial stout that finishes with a nice, warming booziness. It's a pretty rich dessert beer with a velvety mouthfeel and a sweetness that isn't too overwhelming.
Oil of Gladness (11% ABV) barleywine, a collaboration by Dark Horse Brewing Co. of Marshall and 3 Floyds Brewing Co. of Munster, Ind.: This complex, black barleywine is packed with flavors ranging from smokey and dark fruit to toffee, sweet malts, bitter espresso and a bunch of piney hops. It's named for the stuff Union Army soldiers from Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin brewed "on the warpath" during the U.S. Civil War, according to the 3 Floyds website.
Blurb (5% ABV) kettle sour ale brewed with blueberries and aged on fresh basil by Homes Brewery of Ann Arbor: This mouthwatering beers is tart and a little salty with just enough notes of blueberries and basil. HOMES Brewery, an acronym for the Great Lakes, opened in April 2017.
Spirits of Detroit columnist Robert Allen covers craft alcohol for the Free Press. Contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Untappd, raDetroit; Twitter @rallenMI, and Facebook robertallen.news.