By Brian Martucci
Thus far, the Growler has chased the beer scene in all of the states that share a land border with Minnesota, plus the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. In this issue, it’s only fitting that we traipse across the northern Wisconsin wilderness to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, which shares an extensive water border with Minnesota via Lake Superior. Isolated from the Lower Peninsula by Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, the U.P.’s sole connection to “downstate” is the five-mile-long bridge known simply as The Bridge. Despite its geographical isolation, the U.P. has more breweries and brewpubs per capita than brew-happy Lower Michigan, and we profile six of them in this edition of Chasing the Beer Scene. We make sure to hit old standbys like Keweenaw Brewing Company and Marquette’s Vierling, but we also cover up-and-comers like the ambitious Ore Dock Brewing Company, and eclectic Blackrocks. And since the Upper Peninsula has plenty of wide-open spaces, we’ll pair each stop on our tour with an outdoor activity that’s worth the trip.
The Library Restaurant & Brewpub’s Whiteout Wheat
Bridgefest in Houghton/Hancock
Houghton is built into a hillside along the scenic Portage River, a partially manmade waterway that separates the northern half of the Keweenaw Peninsula from its base. Drive the 215 miles from Duluth for Bridgefest, an early-summer celebration named for the distinctive lift bridge that links Houghton with its twin town of Hancock. Arrive early for the parade, then grab a bite at the simultaneous Seafood Fest celebration. In the afternoon, stroll along Shelden Avenue to the Library Restaurant & Brewpub, a local institution that’s one part small-town bar and two parts new-American chophouse.
The Library’s take on both Cajun chicken and top sirloin are commendable, but the real stars are the homemade brews. Quench your thirst with a couple of floral pints of the bright, relatively low-gravity Whiteout Wheat, or the unique Rock Harbor Light session ale. For a nightcap, try the strongest summer brew on tap at this Upper Peninsula brewpub: the Miner’s IPA, a hoppy ode to Copper Country. After clearing your head with an evening walk along the city’s Portage River waterfront, drive or bike to Sheridan on the Lake, a charming and secluded bed and breakfast located on Portage Lake. If you feel like roughing it instead, head to the nearby Lake Superior shore to reserve one of the 97 individual campsites at McLean State Park.
Keweenaw Brewing Company’s November Gale Pale Ale
Michigan Tech Winter Carnival
Houghton has a well-deserved reputation as one of the country’s premier “Winter Cities.” Thanks to its location in the bull’s-eye of Lake Superior’s snow belt, the city receives over 200 inches of snow per year, and a particular city ordinance has raised downstaters’ eyebrows: granting snowmobiles the right-of-way on downtown streets. Michigan Tech’s early-February Winter Carnival celebration, followed by a trip to the cozy confines of the Keweenaw Brewing Company Tap Room, should be high on every snow-lover’s bucket list.
Arise early for the “human dogsled” race on Friday morning (or for the real dogsled race on Saturday), then follow the crowd to Mont Ripley in Hancock for some competitive downhill skiing and snowboarding. After your walk back to town, warm up with a pint or two at Keweenaw, whose midwinter highlights include the hoppy, balanced, wholly-satisfying November Gale Pale Ale and the malty, stiff Old Ore Dock Scotch Ale. As a volume U.P. brewery that distributes in several states, Keweenaw has lately tightened its reputation for quality, and the spacious tap room’s roaring gas fireplace puts the finishing touches on many a Yooper’s boozy pilgrimage.
Blackrocks’ Fox Fire Cream Ale
Ore to Shore Epic
As a bona fide nanobrewery that’s attracted a dedicated regional following, Blackrocks rolls out new creations on a weekly basis. By its owners’ own estimation, the smallest brewery in Marquette has run through over 150 distinct brews since its 2010 inception. Nevertheless, some of the most popular make repeat appearances; if you come in early August, you’re likely to be treated to a late-summer medley of classics like the tasty Drunk Yoda Amber and the high-gravity, but surprisingly crisp Fox Fire Cream Ale.
First, work up your appetite—and thirst—with an appearance at Marquette County’s annual Ore to Shore Mountain Bike Epic. Rent a bike from Down Wind Sports, then head out to Negaunee for the start of the 48-mile race. Starting nearly 1,000 vertical feet above Lake Superior’s surface, you’ll pass rocky outcroppings and sparkling inland lakes as you glide (and pedal) down to the shore of the big lake, near downtown Marquette. Once you’ve composed yourself with a window-shopping detour along the boutique-lined Third Street, grab yourself a seat on the Blackrocks patio. If you’re lucky, you might catch wind of an early fall favorite like the well-balanced Ben’s English Style Brown Ale or the hearty-but-ever-drinkable Plaid Shirt Scotch Ale.
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