On tap, Traverse City Beer Week

Greg Tasker
Special to The Detroit News

            Traverse City -- It’s not always about wine here in Traverse City.

            The northwestern Michigan resort town this week celebrates another one of its popular adult beverages: craft beer. Traverse City Beer Week kicks off Friday and runs through next Friday. More than 20 breweries, bars and restaurants in and around Traverse City are participating in the annual event.

            “We’re a beer city. We’re a wine city. They’re doing a nice job with distilleries here,” says Russell Springsteen, owner of Right Brain Brewery in Traverse City. “Traverse City is a fun place to come and hang out and have some adult beverages. We have the ability to accommodate a lot of different people.”

            While the region’s burgeoning wine industry -- home to more than 40 wineries -- gets a lot of attention, Traverse City boasts a significant beer scene. About a dozen breweries are located in this city of about 15,000 people. They include downtown staples such as North Peak Brewing Co. and Mackinaw Brewing Co., and newer breweries like Rare Bird Brewpub, the Filling Station Microbrewery and the Workshop Brewing Co.

Short’s Brewing Co. in Bellaire is one of several participants in this year's Traverse City Beer Week.

Regional breweries joining the week-long fun include the Short’s Brewing Co. in Bellaire, Stormcloud Brewing Co. in Frankfort and Hop Lot Brewing Co. in Suttons Bay.

“To me, Traverse City is one of the little hot pockets when you think of fun central areas to visit. It’s a great place to go and spend a weekend or a week and check out the local beer,” says Scott Graham, executive director of the Michigan Brewers Guild, which represents about 300 of the state’s 400 breweries. “There’s a great collection of breweries there. You can go a little bit out of town and find other breweries, too.”

Beer week specials and promotions make exploring the city’s vibrant beer scene even more fun, he says. Traverse City Beer Week may very well be the only beer event to be held in Michigan since the pandemic began. It’s one of the few events to remain on Traverse City’s calendar of events as well.

To help visitors safely explore breweries, tourism officials here have launched a digital self-guided tour, Beer Week Ale Trail. The mobile tour includes discounts and coupons at breweries and visitors can check in at participating businesses to win prizes, such as a beer week T-shirt or Traverse City fanny pack.

Visitors will be required to wear masks and practice social distancing. In addition, breweries are following capacity guidelines for the region. Two popular activities -- the Great Beerd Run and the Flapjack and Flannel Festival (pancakes paired with local beer) -- have been canceled because of concerns of drawing larger gatherings. Tourism officials encourage visitors to come during the week to take advantage of fewer wait times and opportunities to engage with brewery staff.

While Michigan beer meccas like Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo get more attention, the Cherry Capital can hold its own on the brew scene. Thrillist deemed Traverse City one of seven small beer cities worthy of national attention.

“We have all kinds of wineries, breweries, great food and you can get outdoors to places like Sleeping Bear (Dunes National Lakeshore). We’ve got the whole package,” says Tina Schuett, brewer and an owner of Rare Bird Brewpub, which opened about seven years ago and offers an eclectic selection of beer.

For Traverse City Beer Week, Rare Bird is releasing a new Imperial IPA. The IPA -- still fermenting and without a name at this point -- is a blend of hops, including Mosaic and Citrus, with local honey, she says.

“It will have a nice tropical juice hop profile. Most of the time our imperial IPAs come out smooth. And I would guess the alcohol is about the 9% range,” Schuett says, adding customers are also welcome to try Rare Bird’s other classics as well.

Right Brain Brewery joins the event again this year with an usual pairing -- six beers with six donuts. Peace, Love and Little Donuts in Traverse City makes the cake doughnuts with various flavored frostings and funky toppings.

            “When we sat down the first time and did two different tastings, I was blown away,” Springsteen says. “My favorite pairing was the Who Gose There Cherry Lime with a lemon doughnut. It was a brilliant combination of flavors.”

            That unusual pairing should come as no surprise to beer aficionados familiar with Right Brain. The brewery, which traces its beginnings to 2007 in the city’s Warehouse District, is known for its unusual offerings, which sometimes include unexpected ingredients such as locally baked cherry pie and asparagus. The pub and production facility are now on 16th Street and Right Brain has more than 30 beers on tap. The brewery attracts about 150,000 visitors a year.

            Also on tap during Traverse City Beer Week will be an oatmeal stout with doughnuts as an ingredient, a sour peach beer and a fresh batch of Thai Peanut, a brown ale inspired by the Pad Thai dish and using the brewery’s own peanut butter.

            “We’re culinary inspired here,” Springsteen says. “We have beers with cherry, lime. Beers with peanut butter. We use only natural ingredients. If you can cook it, we can brew it.”

Traverse City Beer Week

Friday-Nov. 20

More than 20 breweries and businesses in and around Traverse City

Traverse City Beer Week Ale Trail passport offers discount coupons and participants who check in at five locations are eligible for a beer week T-shirt or Traverse City fanny pack. Go to: www.traversecity.com/tcbw/beer-week-ale-trail/