Old Nation's M-43 inspires brewers at Summer Beer Fest

Tom Gromak
The Detroit News

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Old Nation Brewing is floating in flattery.

Mark Logusz, marketer for Old Nation Brewing, with a sample pour of the brewery's instant-classic M-43 New England IPA.

The brewers of M-43, arguably the state's hottest beer right now, have spawned a host of clones as others try to capitalize on the New England IPA phenomenon. Many were on tap for trial at the Michigan Brewers' Guild Summer Beer Festival in Ypsilanti Friday.

"It seems so," Old Nation marketer Mark Logusz said of the attention given to the style. "It helps legitimize us, frankly. It makes us feel good. We're humbled by the outpouring. We don't completely understand it, but we like it."

The summer fest in Riverside Park runs Friday and Saturday and boasts more than 1,140 beers from over 145 Michigan breweries. Many of those beers will have "New England" in the title, thanks to Old Nation. Its "M-43" is a New England style IPA, known for cloudiness and fullness, and for a flavor profile that favors bright, fruity hops and de-emphasizes the bitter finish associated with other styles, like West Coast IPAs. M-43 itself can sometimes taste a little more like a glass of orange juice than beer, despite having no juice in it. The flavor comes from the citra and mosaic hops.

"The addition in the boil of the right hops at the right time, and the proteins in the oat and wheat and malt, make the hop aroma and mouthfeel pillowing. That's what makes a New England IPA," Logusz said.

But that doesn't mean it's definitive. He said Old Nation's take on the style is still different from such New England stalwart brewers as Trillium Treehouse, Foundation, and Bissell Brothers. In fact, when developing M-43, the brewers brought back 16 native New England IPAs and blind taste-tested them to determine what they wanted M-43 to be. They ended up with a beer that flies off shelves and spawns imitators.

At the festival were such takes as B.O.B.'s Brewery's The Hoptist, Tapistry's Northern Trippin', Griffin Claw's Nawt a Cop, and Brewery Vivant's Neon Immersion, a Belgian-styled take on the style. In all, we counted at least 20. Among them, the cheekily-named "Peer Pressure New England IPA" from Detroit Beer Company.

With New England IPA as the new hotness in Michigan beer, sister brewery Detroit Beer Co., like many others in Michigan, felt the peer pressure to follow Old Nation's lead.

It's definitely a nod, said Richard Chessnutt, assistant brewer for Detroit Beer Co., a sister brewery to Old Nation and Royal Oak Brewery.

"We tried to make an IPA that's as close as possible," he said. "I feel M-43 is the top when it comes to New England IPAs. Peer Pressure is 'as similar as we can get. It's such a weird style anyway."

While Logusz is taken aback by the attention to the beer's flavor profile, Chessnutt puts it simply: "I'm not a huge IPA guy, but I really like New England styles. It's the bitterness of IPAs that kills me. This is different."

The Peer Pressure on tap at the beer festival is Detroit's second take on the style. While M-43 leans on citra and mosaic hops, Peer Pressure goes down under for ekuanot and motueka hops. And it comes very close to M-43, but with a little less of the full orange/citrus flavor. Still, it's tasty. And it's not the last.

"We knew it was good beer," Logusz said of M-43. "I think it's super accessible. It's the IPA for folks that don't like IPAs. At the same time, it's its own type of beer.

"We did not know it was going to take hold like it has. Ever since it has, all we've tried to do is catch up."

He said the Williamston brewery was originally built to over-capacity. But, as M-43 demand ramped up, so did production. Now they're at full capacity thanks to heavy demand from Michigan bottle shops and big-box retailers like Meijer.

New tanks are on order and expected to be installed within the next few months to further meet demand. And, Logusz hopes, to try out some other beer styles. It turns out Old Nation didn't start out as a New England IPA brewery. The brewers, many of them had stints at Detroit Beer Co., are trained in classic German styles. There will be more of those, and more of other beers like Boxer and Boss Tweed, a New England-styled double IPA that should be out in cans in retail distribution within a few months.

Find Old Nation near the "back 40" of the Michigan Brewers' Guild Summer Beer Festival in Riverside Park in Ypsilanti.