As we discovered firsthand, the Big 10 rivalry between Michigan and Wisconsin expands well beyond the football field.
Michigan craft beer fans don't see any reason to schlep all the way across Lake Michigan for a craft beer vacation when its 85 craft breweries are diverse enough for a multiday beer tour through Wolverine and Spartan country. The roughly 50-mile stretch between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo and its roughly eight to nine breweries (depending on the geographic leeway given by the person asked) constitute the heart of Michigan craft brewing, as do the two biggest breweries within it: Bell's and Founders.
Kalamazoo-based Bell's has become a craft brewing beast by producing 154,000 barrels last year. That's more than Harpoon, A-B's Goose Island, Dogfish Head, Stone or Brooklyn. Its Third Coast Beer, Kalamzoo Porter and Oarsman Ale stand up fairly well on their own, while its wheat ale and Oracle double IPA grab a seasonal drinker's attention. Its brewery tour, Eccentric Cafe brewpub and live music venue and sponsorship of events, including the Ore to Shore mountain bike race after party and Bayview Mackinac sailing race earlier this month, keep a visitor's attention once that first pint is gone.Bell's has some friendly craft brewing neighbors in Battle Creek's Arcadia Brewing and Kalamazoo's Olde Peninsula Brewpub, but there's a bigger payoff about an hour north on Route 131 in Grand Rapids. Founder's Brewing isn't for the faint of heart or the closed-minded, and neither is its tap room, which is full of tasty concoctions such as the Devil Dancer Triple IPA with 12% alcohol by volume and enough hops to smack an unprepared drinker right in the nostrils. Even standards such as the Dirty Bastard Scottish-style ale and Centennial IPA are packed with 8.5% and 7.2% alcohol, respectively. If you want to keep your wits about you by the time the bands hit the taproom's stage, throttle it down by ordering a sandwich from the deli and nursing a lower ABV beverage such as the 6.5% Cerise Michigan cherry-fermented ale. For greater extremes, however, beer lovers have to head either to Lake Michigan or the outskirts of Wolverine territory. In the Western Michigan town of Holland, New Holland Brewing has been dry hopping, aging and experimenting with beers such as its oak barrel-aged Dragon's Milk strong ale, its barrel-soured Blue Sunday sour beer and its chile- and coffee-concocted El Mole Ocho experimental brew. The tours are just as unique, with participants getting a look inside the brew kettles, the storage rooms with towering stacks of barrels, the bottling line, the packing process and tasting room. New Holland also has a separate distillery where it makes rum, whiskey, "hopquila" and other stronger spirits. A bit east in Dexter and Ann Arbor, Jolly Pumpkin Brewing concocts Belgian-style brews such as the spicy Oro de Calabaza golden ale, Calabaza Blanca witbier, La Roja sour red and Bam Biere farmhouse ale while serving guests vegetable pizzas, thick burgers and pumpkin whoopie pies in the sidewalk seats or roof deck of its Main Street Ann Arbor brew pub. There's no real tour to speak of and the Dexter outpost is really just a production facility, but a lakefront brewpub and restaurant in Traverse City is a huge payoff for those willing to travel well north. They've even put themselves close to North Peak Brewing, Right Brain Brewery and Traverse Brewing in Traverse City and the pub, deli and hyperlocal brews such as Pontius Road Pilsner and Bellaire Brown at Short's Brewing in Bellaire.