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In Northern Michigan, crafting wine & beer that are both well balanced and memorably flavorful requires the harmony of handpicked ingredients and years of acquired knowledge. For those of us who hold craft brew and locally produced wine dear to the heart, there has never been a better time to live Up North.
This past Saturday I had the great pleasure of raising a toast to the superb accomplishments of Michigan wine & beer with my long-time friend and Weebeejammin’ Bee Keeper, Sarah Scarpace. We kicked off our day at the Leland Lodge, where we met with other Northern Michigan Media Makers to embark on the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Tour. Like the better things in life our tastings were carefully picked and consumed modestly. Absolutely, we discovered a few crown jewels worth sharing.
Until Saturday pinot noir was not a locally grown variety that I would recommend to a wine-seeking traveler in the tip of the mitt. Northern Michigan winemakers know the difficulty of producing a memorable red, and so now more than ever they strive to make impressive reds a conquerable challenge. When I chose the 2010 Pinot Noir for a taste at Boathouse Vineyard I didn’t know what to expect, so I expected nothing, but the first sip was music to my tongue! Bright, with notes of strawberry, rhubarb, cinnamon and a touch of leathery tannin to round out its dimension. Certainly a wine I’d serve with grilled flank steak, rack of lamb, or duck confit.
Even in the dreary gray day, Blustone was a feast for the eyes. Surrounded by 360 degrees of rolling hills lined with naked cherry trees and bordered by maples, the Blustone tasting room sat atop the orchard like a contemporary masterpiece. Inside we were offered a wine tasting experience to connect with the beauty and bounty before us. Buttery smooth and flavored like freshly picked summer strawberries, the 2013 Blustone Pinot Noir Rose lulled me into a daydream. Just one taste had me digging through my wallet. Sarah and I both left with a bottle, excited to uncork it on the next gorgeous spring day.
When we opened the doors to Tandem Ciders, we were greeted by the smell of late harvest apples. For a moment it felt like we bypassed summer and fell face forward into autumn. Walking in took me back to my study-abroad days in Glasgow, Scotland, where the bars showcased large mirrors encased by beautiful woodwork and the barstools were always filled with rowdy good cheer. A big jar of pickled eggs sat on the counter and a faded old print featuring apple varieties hung on the wall. I’ve never been much of a cider fan, but then again, I hadn’t had the opportunity to try too many. As it turned out, Tandem found me a match! The Early Day cider was a refreshing and crisp combination of interesting apples I’d never heard of like farmeuse, winter banana, ozark, and musu. This cider had a subtle sweetness and a nice effervescence--a raise your glass sort-of-quality. A quality we were looking forward to celebrate after a ninety-minute journey back to home base where thousands of people were patiently waiting to partake in a historical day for Short’s Brewing Company.
Sarah and I headed back to Bellaire where Short’s Brewing Company was celebrating its tenth anniversary with an all out block party. For one epic day, Bellaire was transformed into a top-notch outdoor music venue to host an impressive line-up of talented musicians like Billy Strings & Don Julin, Breathe Owl Breathe, Steppin’ In It, and the Ragbirds. Founder Joe Short lived a dream ten-years in the making by bringing Dean Ween and the Brown Outs to the stage, too. What better way to close the night than with Joe joining Dean to sing a Ween favorite.
You know that song ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall? Well basically that was a dream come true, too. Short’s had over ninety beers on tap to choose from. Even a beer-o-phobe could have found a flavor to suit their fancy. I stuck to one of my favorites, Uncle Steve’s Irish Stout, a traditional Irish stout with a creamy head, light body and subtle coffee flavor. As a lightweight, Uncle Steve treated me well at just 4.5%. If there is one thing I can say to relay the greatness of this year’s Short's anniversary party, it’s don’t miss out next year!
As I reflect on the festivities and good cheer of this past weekend, it’s clear as day: Today we’re witnessing a wine & beer renaissance in Northern Michigan. There are twenty-five wineries on the Leelanau Peninsula alone, and they bagged an impressive number of awards at this year’s Pacific Rim Wine Competition in California. Year after year Short’s Brewing Company continues to impress fans by breaking records, and still they remain steadfast in their loyalty to serving Michigan. So sometime this spring, gather your cronies and raise a toast to the wine & beer craftsmen of Northern Michigan to whom we owe many thanks!