Detroit has been in the micro-brew business since before microbreweries were even classified. We have been fermenting starches since the 1840s, took a short break (*cough cough*) during Prohibition, reclaimed the goods in the late 1930s, and really caught our beer brewing steam over the last few decades.
According to 2018 statistics, Michigan is number four in most craft breweries in the state, with 330 microbreweries across the state. There are 40-50 breweries in the Detroit metro area, alone. Some are known for their wacky flavor combinations, while others have walls of foam or mug clubs. Each are a clever blend in their own way, making Detroit a beer-lover’s destination.
In fact, in the last few years Detroit has experienced a sort of Beer Renaissance. Small batch brewing has become the goal of many establishments, with brewers each finding something different to malt together in a different way than their competitors. Notable mashups include Grand River Brewing‘s chicken-flavored Ramen-inspired mash called Hop Brew, Schmohz Brewing‘s lavender beer with other seasonings called Cannibal’s Marinade, and Batch Brewing‘s Zrbtt – a sour gose that’s a sweet and salty mix of raspberry- my second favorite fruit after lemons! Perfectenschlag.
I don't drink a lot of beer. At all, actually. But I have tasted at each location and know what I like and what I don't. Amber and Alex will back me up here by detailing my do-not-like faces. Super pretty. You can believe I've curated a list of flavors of beer that I actually do enjoy, but I'm always down for pub food. So read on for a sample of my favorite spots for brews and chews around the city.
1. Brew Detroit
Brew Detroit likes to double dip in the beer game. They are the home team for many local companies looking to bottle and can, such as Altes, Old Nation, and Stroh’s. Their 68,000 square foot facility is the largest in Michigan. Yet on top of all of this production, they even carry their own line of award winning brews. They want it all!
Brewmaster Joe Thorner lives and breathes beer, beginning his career in the Stroh’s factory in 1978 and working with some of the best regional and national beer brands. His journey came full circle when Stroh’s was brought back to Brew Detroit in 2016, into his capable hands. An example of Joe’s capabilities is Brew Detroit’s Cerveza Delray winning bronze in the International Pilsner category at the 2018 Great American Beer Fest. As a fan favorite at home in Detroit, trying it is a must.
Brew Detroit is located at 1401 West Abbott Street, a stone’s throw from the Detroit River. At their Tasting Rooms, not only is the beer selection top notch, but the atmosphere that this gang creates is always fun. Graffiti artists have decorated the walls as only Detroiters can. The shuffleboard table and classic arcade games both have a proverbial quarter waiting for the next play. And the second story has all of your local bar faves like pool, bocce balls, and darts. Even their pop art inspired cans “bring da noise and bring da funk.”
Though they don’t have a food menu, Brew Detroit is happy to let you bring your own in. Food trucks come and go, and local culinary artists have been known to set up shop inside for special events (Holla, Kara, for the best cornbread!). If you do plan to book an event at Brew, Kevin can help you choose which local cuisine cart to call or put together a nice looking menu of delivery options for every table. It's an extra touch that makes coming here worth while.
Plus, these guys are legitimately the nicest people in town! As part of Brew Detroit’s commitment to Detroit, they have donated 2% equity ownership to the New Common School Foundation, which raises scholarship funds for the city’s Cornerstone Schools. Ya see? The nicest.
Brew Detroit is the ‘Cheers’ of Corktown. Everyone greets you with smiles and you’ll be treated like an old friend. I’ve even seen a uniformed postal worker sitting at the counter. Why? Because Brew Detroit is where you come to while away the hours with your friends.
I like watching them put together the to-go beers in their giant cans. It makes me feel like Leslie Knope with her can of Whoop Ass for Kim Terlando at the Pawnee Sun. If there's any take away from Brew for a Parks fan, it's this.
Beers to try: Cerveza Delray, Blackberry Cloud 19
2. Batch Brewing
Batch Brewing, located at 1400 Porter Street, seems like the place where coworkers hang out during the afternoon. It all started with a home brewer and an idea for creativity in the beer. It quickly took off, creating a world of intoxicating (pun) flavors so outside of the box that they’re in a brand new box.
Batch is pretty cool because it’s the pub version of the burgeoning art scene coming back to Detroit. It is art. In 2018 they participated in the Detroit Beer Experiment – where breweries create beers with a single theme. In 2018 the theme was Faygo Pop, a Midwestern pop (not soda) company. So, like any true Detroiter, Batch took the theme to that of any kitchen counter full of refreshments at any house party in the area – Faygo pop and Better Made snacks. These geniuses created a sour gose style out of grape Faygo syrup and Better Made potato chips. The result was a dark purple beer that is reminiscent of the times you stuck your finger into Kool-Aid powder and licked it off. I CAN"'T be the only kid who did that more than once...
That’s what we’re working with here. They have a lengthy list of beers, all with great names like Dead Irish Writers, C3PO, and Old Witty Bastard. Their selection seems mostly on the yellow side, as there was only one stout when I last visited. Shame.
Batch Brewing’s food is just as cleverly done. They feature a gorgeous menu of hand-crafted, artfully cared for food choices as well as the most Instagram-able brunch offerings around. I (Chris, really) recommend the pork belly bolillo sandwich with extra tomato preserves if you’re really hungry. I also tried the nacho platter, which was all right. The jalapenos were so fresh they hurt, which, if that’s your thing, is awesome. The pepper cheese sauce was really awesome while warm. But eat it fast – because when it cools and congeals it has the strange mouthfeel of really thin boxed mashed potatoes (still tastes good, though).
The Tap Room’s atmosphere is welcoming, but I did feel like an old lady. It’s pretty loud, dimly lit, and crowded, due to it being so popular and delish. Perhaps it’s different on, say, a Tuesday night, but on a Friday it feels like you need to eat, drink, and get out. There are always a few vultures behind you politely waiting to take your seats.
For me, Batch Brewing is a fun stop along the way, but not necessarily a night-long destination. Eat, have a beer, and hang out a spell for a game of Uno. Try a raspberry gose slushee (or two). Take some pics for the 'gram.
Beers to try: Dear Irish Writers Stout, The Audacity Kolsch
3. Atwater Brewery
Established in 1997, Atwater Brewery has been reinventing the German style lagers that Detroit became known for, for over 100 years. After the fall of Stroh’s Pilsner, Atwater moved in to fill the void by creating a new level of German lagers and ‘unique boutique’ ales. Atwater is a little more mainstream than some of the others on the list, but their humble beginnings from nothing but a single brewer, a wooden bar, and a picnic table turned it into the Cinderella of breweries. You can find their main location at 237 Jos Campau in Detroit’s Rivertown Warehouse District.
Atwater Brewery pays close attention to detail in their flavor combinations, mixing coffee flavors, fruit cobblers, chocolates, and so much more. Many of their flavors are unmatched and award winning, yet are still a homegrown favorite at local establishments and family BBQs.
The food menu is pretty great as well – their house made tortilla chips are worth every calorie and the tangy Dirty Blonde ale mustard is addictive on their Bavarian soft pretzels. At first bite I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, but I kept coming back. Now I can’t stop thinking about it two months later.
Much of their menu is German inspired, as is their Biergarten called Atwater in the Park in Grosse Pointe Park. Atwater in the Park is located in the former Grace United Church on Lakepointe. It is a German style Gastropub slinging Detroit’s finest, and also has an excellent event space with beautiful windows and an incredible bar staff (like my cousin Gary- totally unbiased).
Atwater Brewery has come a long way in this town, and if you ask any local where to get some good brews they will quickly ask “Have you been to Atwater?” So be sure to stop by Atwater Brewery so you can become one of those incredulous people asking why someone hasn’t visited Atwater yet. Life’s better on this side.
Beers to try: Decadent Dark Chocolate Ale, Vanilla Java Porter
4. Founders Brewing
Starting out as Canal Street Brewing in 1996, this brewery soon transformed into Founders Brewing and expanded beyond being a craft brewery. Founders has opened doors around the Midwest, including Detroit’s Cass Corridor in 2017, which makes it a good addition to this list. Though Founders Brewing has a location in downtown Detroit, I like the location in Grand Rapids, found at 235 Grandville Avenue SW.
There are differing menu options in both the Detroit and Grand Rapids locations. The food in Grand Rapids is just as great as the beer. Last time I visited, I shared the beer cheese dip (killer), a caprese sandwich, and the Cheesy Does It grilled cheese sandwich. All of these options are punch-yourself-in-the-face delicious, but the dip was especially sinful. They also have a vegan Sloppy Joe that’s worth a try for even the biggest of carnivores.
The art on display around the Tap Room is produced by local artists and all for sale. But what’s interesting is that it’s curated to match the style of the beer menu and open atmosphere of the setting. The space is a little more decadent here than most Detroit breweries that's like stepping into a big league field. It’s comfortable, well staffed, and features a great menu for all ages.
Something unique to Founders Grand Rapids is their education program about beer brewing, their specific beer lines, and even food pairings. It’s great for brewers-in-the-making to get some background, or as a fun night out with the gang – especially the food pairing part, am I right? ‘Cause it’s seriously good eats and I like food.
It’s worth the 3-hour drive from my house to theirs. I should have gotten the Rubaeus chapstick.
Beers to try: Green Zebra, Breakfast Stout
5. Baffin Brewing Company
Everyone knows that food and drink are the way to the heart, but in the Detroit area, so is hard work and dedication. Though outside of Detroit’s city walls, the Baffin Brewery Company – located at 25113 Jefferson Avenue in St. Clair Shores – is an important addition to the list because of the way it changed the local community. I grew up in this area of greater Detroit and we joked that the city is all kids and old folks. Stagnant. Middle-aged. Nautical. Kind of boring.
When Baffin – named after a beloved and beautiful Bernese Mountain dog, not the explorer – moved in a few years ago, it changed our culture into something more well-rounded. Baffin Brewing Company opened their doors with environmental sustainability and the local economy in mind. It felt like a new identity was born in my hometown. It was clever, creative, artistic. It was fun. Founders Evan and ‘the Joes’ wanted to create something worthwhile after taking in a brewery tour of their own. They built Baffin Brewing Company from the ground up by crafting their own recipes. They worked by hand to incorporate each brick from the site’s original marine shop back into the Tap Room.
Baffin has the St. Clair Shores community behind them. They very quickly perfected their craft and brought into this town with a rousing and immediate high five in early 2015. They are host to an impressive mug club of 1,000+ members. Each member has tried 150 beers before earning the honor of their own personal ceramic mug, many of which are hanging high above our heads like an art installation. For a little extra dough and a sweet please you can have your mug specially painted by Haylie, the sweetest bar gal in town! As mugs are on display for all to see, why not represent your taste in drinks with a matching taste in sports teams, beloved pets, fictional characters or seascapes?
The brewery has held art festivals and hosted food trucks. I once even watched a full wedding party take photos inside, so it really does feel like there’s room for everyone here. Despite my love of bar food, Baffin has no kitchen. However, Pat O’Briens Tavern, located right next door, and has allegedly created a ‘secret’ menu for Baffin drinkers. This includes items like smoked Gouda cheese sticks which can only be ordered from Baffin. It makes it seem like you’re in a speakeasy with passwords at the door and monkey suits. Good beer, revitalizing an old neighborhood, and being a part of a secret club – what could be better?
Beers to try: Mango Unchained, Bob Barley
In closing, we make beer. Lots of it.
Just like fashion trends, what’s old is new again. After 30 years of hiatus, Stroh’s Bohemian style Pilsner made its comeback in 2016 at Brew Detroit. In more recent can tipping news, the Altes Lager has been making a grand return to Detroit’s surrounding counties for the first time in 20+ years, further cementing Michigan’s claim to retro beer fame for all generations to enjoy. The mixture of old and new, German and everything else – we’re really lucky to live where we do. Detroiters have such a love of generations coming together, our mix of cultures, flavors and ideas to make us a true American melting pot. Detroit is known for a lot of landmark ideas, but our best trait is bringing people together over shared passions and flavors. Between deep dish pizza and beers, Detroit just tastes like home.
Interested in a handmade mug in your own mermaid likeness, or something else? Check out Haylie's incomparable work here on Instagram at @wolfhaylie_
Be kind and honest, my sweets. There is an over-abundance of shit talkers out there, it's up to us to speak.
*I had to reformat my blog themes a few times to adjust for a few upgrades, so my photo format is not how I like it- just squint one eye and stand a little more to your left so that they all seem center.