Monday, August 9, 2010

Michigan: Right Brain Brewery (Traverse City)

I need to clear a guilty conscience. When I started this review, I was waiting impatiently at the bar, not getting served. I typed out something rather rude about this and then sat there with my screen fully exposed. That was a mistake. But I was in a hurry, there was no beer coming my way, and Right Brain has a long and tasty-sounding menu. Another patron suddenly appeared behind me, ninja-like, to likewise order beer. I shrunk my screen immediately—in the way only someone with a guilty conscience would do—but I was sure I had been busted. I had. And he was a regular. And a brewer at a brewery in Detroit. One that’s on my list, that I will be visiting later this week. Dang. The lesson here: don’t taste beer in a hurry, or as a pretentious jerk.

Anyway, I got to picking the brain (don’t know which side) of Detroit Brewer to find out what kind of beers he’s into. I love the subjectivity, accessibility, and simplicity of this question, so I tend to ask it a lot. You don’t have to be a professional to know what you like; there’s no wrong answer. But it’s also interesting to find out what brewers are drinking. Detroit Brewer mentioned Black IPAs. It’s a new category at GABF this year. He’s also really into good wheat beers. Like Oberon? Not like Oberon. When I mentioned Oberon, he just smiled broadly, like he was acknowledging a point, and then went on to say that he likes wheat beers that have a real flavor quality, or something. Sour wheats, Belgians, perhaps a saison.. The smile was the more interesting component of his answer. It said, rather plainly, that, “Oberon is loved by everyone because it is the Bud Light of craft beers.” It’s a sentiment I can appreciate even though Bell’s beers have long been the highlight of my drinking life.

Enough with the forewords. Right Brain, as the name suggests, focuses on the creative. The beers are nearly all combinations you would never find anywhere else. The taproom itself is abundant with creativity. Art lines the walls and dangles from the ceiling. They offer some good merch, including a sharp looking hockey jersey. Their mug club rack is very colorful and diverse. Evidently one of those do-it-yourself ceramics places is around the corner, so each clubby gets to decorate his/her own mug. Even the location is creative. There is a “Warehouse District” in Traverse City that is about a block long, and Right Brain managed to hide themselves deep within it. Seriously, bring your GPS.

Before I get to the beers themselves, I want to say that I really like this brewery. I like their attitude and I like their beers. Chuck will tell you that starting a brewery with 15 different beers that change all the time is a terrible marketing move. Chuck’s probably right—he tends to be. But starting a brewery with 15, rotating flavors will get me in the door every time, again and again. This approach is a definite trend (if you can have a trend across two test subjects) in northern Michigan brewing: creative, interesting beer. I hope they prove Chuck very wrong.

Black Berry Rush. The official description: “light body blackberry nose with a hop finish.” 5.15%. Very good fruit beer, hits the combination of fruit and beer just right. This is an extremely difficult to do. Refreshing, tasty, not a girlie beer.

River Raft Brown. Nutty, dry, good. Bartender did not like it much, but I thought it was very drinkable. Made for the summer, so a little lighter, and it works.

Trotsky Stout. Good, roasty stout. Nothing weird or different about this, which is unusual for this place.

TC 350 IPA. Imperial IPA, 7.8%. SO very hoppy. Nice orange-amber color. Wonderful aroma. Very floral. Delicious. Taste does not overwhelm.

Distill My Heart Bourbon Stout
. aged in Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels. “Absolutely a must try!” 7.1%. Bartender described it as “really bourbony.” Aroma was amazing: sweet bourbon, almost candy-like. Tasted like it smelled, but was not overpowering like some bourbon beers. Had that nice mellow woodiness to it.

Something Bright. Description: extra pale ale for the “something light” crowd. Bartender warned me away from this one. I heeded his advice.

Black (Eye) PA. “Chocolate in the nose. Made with 6 hop varieties and infused with Amarillo hops.” 6.6%. Huge hoppiness on the nose, can’t say I got much chocolate. Not expected from such a dark beer. Has a little bit of a bite on it. Heavy on the flavor, solid maltiness. I could definitely drink a couple of these, but then I’d need something a little lighter.

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