Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, Mich.
As we discovered firsthand, the Big 10 rivalry between Michigan and Wisconsin expands well beyond the football field.
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 one of the Top 10 craft brewers in the country by volume, and its Oberon Pale Wheat Ale is a summer staple. 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 has become as well known for high-powered concoctions such as its 12% alcohol by volume Devil Dancer Triple IPA and 7.2% ABV Centennial IPA as it has for its hard-to-find breakfast stouts that have a sad habit of disappearing from shelves as soon as they're stocked. For greater extremes, however, beer lovers have to head to Holland, where New Holland Brewing has been 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. 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 puts guests 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.