Friday, August 20, 2010

Michigan: Jolly Pumpkin Artesian Ales (Ann Arbor)

My visit to Jolly Pumpkin emerged from a lucky confluence of time, location, and necessity. I was driving to Detroit Metro Airport from Flint, by way of MBC, celebrating the arrest of the Flint Stabber along the way. Ann Arbor is only marginally out of the way, I had a late flight, and Jolly Pumpkin was on my list. I had already failed to reach Kalamazoo during this trip (and so no Bell’s). And I was stymied by an awkwardly managed Atwater Block (they are in transition right now, sure, pick up your phone or post your hours, man). I really needed a win. Plus, Jolly Pumpkin has shown up on a number of “best of” brewery lists, and anyone in my Detroit crew who had been there only had good things to say. So I fought the drive-time traffic through downtown Ann Arbor and pulled up a stool.

Sometimes breweries—like bands—produce variations on a theme. Jolly Pumpkin is such a brewery. I don’t mean this as a criticism. Their palate is sophisticated, rich, and spicy. They advertise their style as: “traditional rustic country style beers.” Everything was really enjoyable. This might be the best beer I’ve found brewed in Lower (non “Up North”) Michigan. I wouldn’t normally expect such bold brewing from a place that pays Main Street rent. Downtown breweries are generally more concerned with volume, and therefore value accessibility over creativity in brewing. Jolly Pumpkin actually brews off-site, in nearby Dexter, and uses the downtown location for tasting. This probably allows for more productive use of their pub space, which, in turn, frees them up to make more than just a pale, a blonde, and an IPA.

Final note: Eric Asimov, a wine critic for the New York Times, recently conducted a blind taste test to determine who made the best Belgian beer. 20 different beers, from the U.S. and from Belgium, were tasted. The number one Belgian beer, internationally? Jolly motherloving Pumpkin. Read the article here.

Weizen Bam Biere
. Super sour. Gets into the corners of your jaw kind of sour. Not at all subtle. Good little sting at the end. The Detroit Brewer I ran into in Traverse recommended this beer. Solid recommendation.

Beliportico. VERY woody aroma. A little darker than copper. Strong woody taste, but chaperoned by sweetness. Enjoyable grapefruit on the back end. Very sophisticated brew. I really like it, but I don’t know if I could have 16 oz of it.

IPA. Again, this beer tastes like it’s being served out of a wooden barrel; again, this is a really positive element. And again, this is a complex and interesting beer. Not too hoppy or flowery, as many IPAs are these days.

Bam Biere. Grapefruit on the back end (I sense a number of themes here). Rich and spicy taste. Bronze medal winner at GABF in 2009, according to their website.

Bam Noire. Finally, some malt. Keeps the spiciness, but ventures out from the theme unifying the first four beers. Still has that bite on the end. Still very tasty.

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