Sunday, August 8, 2010

Michigan: Short's Brewing Company (Elk Rapids)

Short’s was born and raised in Bellaire, MI, but recently opened a sprawling production facility in Elk Rapids. They still operate the brewpub in Bellaire, which is where you would normally have to go to sample the brews; there is not so much as a taproom in Elk Rapids. But today I get lucky. Through an odd series of events, I stumble onto the production facility and poke around. It turns out that, today only, and for the first time ever, they are holding “Short’s Fest.” The town has a summer festival every year called Harbor Days (Elk Rapids is a picturesque little town that sits on the East Arm of the Grand Traverse Bay), and Short’s Fest is the brewery’s participation. They have a good chunk of property cordoned off with long tables set up on one side and huge pile of beach sand in the middle. At the far end are two bars serving up 18 different Short’s brews. This is the best part quite independent of the beer. The “bars” are actually two halves of a boat, outfitted with wheels, that Short’s used as their float in the parade earlier this morning. I’ll throw a picture up so you know what I’m talking about.

Short’s is a young company (six years old this past May) that will not remain Michigan beer’s best kept secret for long. All the locals I spoke with assured me this company was about to explode, though their distribution appeared to be in-state only at the moment. But Short’s’ production and the beers themselves indicate the locals know exactly what they are talking about. To give you an idea of their production: Jack, our friendly and informative tour guide, told us the grain silo on the west side of the building holds 72,000 pounds of barley, and that Short’s goes through that supply in a month. Another production note, under the heading “You know you’re in Michigan when . . . “: some of the large brewing vats were created for that purpose, but many of them were just reappointed dairy containers.

The beers were most notably creative (on the order of Flying Dog), and secondly good. Unique flavors like Key Lime Pie and Agave Peach What were weird enough to want to sample, even if they were not all successful attempts. I did not get to try all 18 flavors since the samples came in 8 oz. glasses and I just didn’t have the time for alcohol poisoning. So I polled my table mates about a few of them, but I’m going to have to return another time to finish my research. I did notice that I generally enjoyed their darker beers more.

Agave Peach Wheat
. The color of apricot nectar and very carbonated. Not a lot of flavor, though. Mostly just tasted like a wheat beer, with very vague hints of peach. Bob, a new friend, claimed to taste some banana, but I’m pretty sure I overheard the bartender telling him this.

Black Cherry Porter. The first thing I wrote down after tasting this was “Awesome.” I even underlined it. Great combination of maltiness with sweet cherry flavor. Elk Rapids is in the region of Michigan that claims to be the cherry capital of the world. Whether it is out of obligation or because it really sells, most local food and beverage businesses will have something on the menu that involves cherries. For dinner tonight, I ate at a bistro in downtown Traverse City and had a pork chop in a dried cherry sauce. That sauce, like the Cherry Porter, was awesome. I also think cherries themselves are awesome. I should totally move here.

Locals Light. Bob’s wife—can’t remember her name—admitted that she is not a beer connoisseur and generally only drinks Bud Light. So she naturally started with the Locals Light. She was pleased; it was very reminiscent of Bud Light. That was good enough for me. I did not bother with this beer.

Pontius Road Pilsner
. Light, of course, with a medium bread flavor. Decent, but not really notable.

Plum Rye Bock
. If the Cherry Porter was the best offering today (it was), the plum was runner up. I couldn’t find a description online and I wasn’t taking too many notes at this point, but I think this was one of the barrel-aged beers. Short’s ages a few of its beers in old bourbon barrels. The Plum had that soft bourbon sting to it and a background of oaky goodness. It reminded me a little of that bourbon beer Breckenridge Brewery had out a little while ago.

Nicie Spicie
. Another beer that was reviewed by a kindly table mate. Her description: okay, better than the Key Lime.

Key Lime Pie
: I was more or less warned off this one by the Nicie Spicie reviewer. It was said to be too thick and heavy. She assured me that she is normally a huge key lime pie lover.

The Liberator
. Extremely hoppy, very strong flavor. The bartender was nice enough to pour me just a sip-sized sample, and that was all I needed. It was good, just overpowering. I could sit down and drink one and enjoy it. But it wasn’t great in the context of tasting lots of other beers.

Bellaire Brown
. Very woody, oaky taste. I heard a lot of good things about this beer. Maybe it was too built up, maybe my palette was overwhelmed by this point, I don’t know, but I didn’t think it lived up to the hype. Still, a solid brown.

Note for the Punctuation Police: Whether there is an apostrophe in their name is up for grabs. There isn’t one in their logo, as it appears on their building or on their website. But the logo on the sweet bike jersey they sell has one, as does their slogan (“Life is Short’s, drink it while you’re here.”), and they generally refer to themselves on the website that way. Plus, the company was started by a guy named “Short,” so the brewery name probably deserves an apostrophe.

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