A Visit to Round Barn

Once a summer, our family has what we call Grandparent Camp. We send our daughter to Indianapolis for a week to spend time with the grandparents, all four of them. When we were thinking about what to do that week, returning to Lake Michigan Shore wine country was on the top of the list. The wrinkle was that we would have the baby with us, since he’s still too little for Grandparent Camp. As most parents can tell you, taking a baby along on trips is actually much easier than taking a toddler or an older child, though. The baby doesn’t complain about getting bored or knock over shelves or have temper tantrums. If the baby cries changing the diaper or feeding will usually do the trick.

Anyway, we wanted to visit some new places but also hit some old favorites in our limited two-night stay. On the way over, we stopped at Lawton Ridge in Kalamazoo for a tasty crepe supper and some wine tasting. The whites were good as was the service. Friendly, homey, neighborhood type place. The next day (Thursday) was our busy day. We started off with a visit to Fenn Valley in Fennville (north of the cluster of wineries around Baroda but worth the trip), got lunch at Crane’s Pie Pantry (good pie and cider but mediocre food otherwise) and then headed back south stopping at old favorites Domaine Berrien (great as always), neighboring Lemon Creek (cozy tasting room) and newbies Dablon with their beautiful hilltop tasting room.

I had wanted to do a “A Visit To…” profile on one of the LMS wineries and I thought Round

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The round barn

Barn would be the perfect choice. I had a nice conversation with winemaker Matt and then Brand Ambassador Bethany of Round Barn/Free Run Cellars at the Michigan Wine Showcase so I thought I’d send Bethany and email and ask if she’d be available to give us a tour for blogging purposes. A man named RJ replied that Bethany was no longer brand ambassador, but he was now and he’d be able to give us a tour. Unfortunately, he ended up having a conflict himself, and we got our tour from veteran tour guide Jessica.

Round Barn opened as a winery in 1992. It was founded by Rick Moersch, who was winemaker at nearby Tabor Hill at the time. He had owned vineyards since 1981, so he used them as the basis for his own winery which he named Heart of the Vineyard. In 1997 the round barn was purchased and moved from Rochester, Indiana to the property where it was reassembled by Amish builders. Rick intended it to serve as a home for a brandy distillery. In 2004 the winery was renamed after the remarkable building. The spirits and brewing program began then as well.

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Tasting bar

We arrived at Round Barn shortly after opening. The place has changed quite a bit since our first visit several years ago. When we last visited, the eponymous round barn was used for production and the tasting room was in the other barn. The round one has been beautifully remodeled and now serves as the tasting room. The bar runs in a circle around the interior with bottles on the wall opposite. The second level has another bar

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Bottles

and six compartments for small group tastings. The group tastings are a popular bachelorette party activity according to Jessica.

Our tasting was on ground level and went through the usual tasting procedure with a few add ons. The system has been in use since mid May. You can see the tasting menu and the format they use in the photo. The menu changes wp-1470317891964.jpgmonthly. Nothing we tasted was bad, but the standouts were Vineyard Tears (dry Riesling/Pinot Gris/Chardonnay blend), Albariño (American, but estate grown grapes are in the mix), estate Merlot (we had a lot of  Merlot on this trip!), Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve (also estate). Farm Market Blueberry and the wine-based Black Walnut Crème were standouts in the dessert arena (also the name of my new gameshow). When I mentioned that I wanted to try the Farm Market Blueberry, Jessica and had a short discussion about fruit wines. We agreed that fruit wines are really their own category that shouldn’t be judged by the standards of wine grape wines.* As I put it, it would be silly to say that a Chardonnay was bad because it lacked hop character. It’s just as silly to dismiss fruit wines for tasting too much like fruit. That’s entirely the point.

According to another employee, Round Barn has eighteen acres of vines, plus an additional four used for Free Run cellars (see below). Another two acres are used for something else, but I forgot to write it down in my notes (fruit maybe?). The vineyards didn’t suffer much damage in the polar vortex, according to Jessica. The only losses were their black currants, which I thought were illegal in Michigan, but can be grown with a special license.

We also tasted their spirits. The rum and agave spirit (distilled from imported agave juice) are both unaged and of mixer quality (as you can see above, those spirits are offered in cocktail form in the tastings). The real standout was the bourbon which is a very pleasant surprise. It is of limited production and will be reviewed in the near future. They also produce an aged brandy and a “grappa” but those are under the Free Run label and not currently offered for sale at the Round Barn tasting room. They are available at the Public House (see below). According to Jessica, there are no plans to produce an aged rum or agave spirit. There is also a blended American Whiskey on the menu that is a blend of rye and bourbon, according to RJ. I did not taste it. An Applejack is in the works too, made using locally grown apples.

Round Barn’s best known spirit is DeVine Vodka, made from grapes. As I’ve ranted about on Twitter a few times, I don’t understand the desire to take perfectly good fruit like grapes or apples and turn them into a spirit that is by nature flavorless. It’s always seemed like a waste, but as the saying goes, you can’t argue with success and DeVine Vodka has been a success. They recently followed up the success of DeVine with 269 Gin, named after their area code. It’s a basket infused gin made using the grape spirit used for the vodka and will be reviewed in the future as well.

After touring the upstairs, Jessica led us through a beautiful courtyard to the not-

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Beer Menu

roundbarn (built in 1907 on the property), now christened the Round Barn. Upstairs is a smallish bar and gift shop with seven Round Barn beers on tap and all their spirits behind the bar. It’s a decent size space with a good sized deck attached. It seems like it would have a good flow of people between the two spaces when busy (and warm). We tried a sample of Vanilla ‘Stache, a vanilla porter, there. The vanilla comes through but in a subdued way. I liked it.

The next stop was the production facility. It’s a non-descript industrial building set several yards away from the barns. It houses the winemaking equipment, automated bottling line, still and oak barrels, (all French for the wine). Since 2014, all brewing has been located adjacent to the Round Barn Public House in downtown Baroda (such as it is). That was our next stop. RJ’s meeting was over so he was able to meet us there.

The Public House is a red building with a bar and a large seating area and a large covered patio. It once served as a tool and die shop, owned by RJ’s father, as a matter of fact. The food is limited but good. Sandwiches mostly. Our lunch (RJ comped us for this) was good. They exclusively serve their own beer and spirits. With my lunch (turkey Bahn Mi and a cup of chili) I ordered a pint of Escaped Goat, the Hef PA. It was good. I told RJ that I was a fan of wheats, so brought me a couple samples of their current wheats (Vacation wheat ale and Straw Beery Strawberry wheat ale, both good) plus a couple experiments. The first experiment was a Saison they had been working on. It was good, but was not as flavorful as I had hoped. The second was a dry, tannic cider with Balaton cherry juice added. It was really intriguing. The result was closer to a sour beer than a fruit cider. It was not ready for prime time, but it had a lot of potential that I hope is realized soon!

The one aspect of Round Barn’s business that we didn’t get to see was Free Run Cellars. Free Run is a multifaceted project. The name comes from the juice produced from the initial pressing of the wine, called free run juice, but also from the Rick’s sons (Matt and Christian) being given “free run” in the Round Barn Cellars. All the wines under the Free Run label are from free run juice (appropriately), and are single vineyard, estate wines. Free Run also has its own facility (opening later this month) that will host four wine, four appetizer pairing tastings with an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients.

Many businesses that try to do a lot of different things end up letting their ambition getting the best of them. They are mediocre at everything instead of being good at one or two things. Round Barn does not fall into this trap. Some products are better than others, obviously, and wine is what they do best, but their beers and spirits were good too, some of them very good. If anything maybe they to be more ambitious with their beers and spirits. An aged rum could be very good. Ramping up their production of brandy might be a good idea as well. Bourbon is hot right now, but rum is also popular and getting more so. Brandy is on the way up as well. Copper & Kings in Kentucky is getting a lot of attention for bottling and selling Michigan-made brandy. Michigan producers need to be getting that attention.

Beautiful grounds, well run facilities and delicious products. Round Barn does it all and does it well. A visit to Round Barn is highly recommended.

Note: I received a free lunch at the Public House and a 25% media discount on purchases on this visit.

*”Wine grape wines” may seem redundant but the phrasing is intentional. In my opinion, wine made from grapes like Concord, Niagara or table grape varieties belongs in the “fruit wine” category. While they are grapes, they are not grown for the express purpose of winemaking. The line gets fuzzy when it comes to some native North American grapes like Muscadine that are eaten as fruit but also have a long history of being made into wine. Maybe this discussion would make a good My Two Ounces post.

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Strange Stout

Maker: Lily’s Seafood Grill and Brewery, Royal Oak, Michigan, USA

Style: Oatmeal stout

ABV: 5.2%

Price: $5/pint, $12 growler refill

Appearance: Dark chocolate with a light lacy head.

Nose: Milk chocolate, caramel, toasted pumpernickel

Palate: Medium bodied. French roast coffee, cocoa powder, dark whole wheat toast.

Finish: Charcoal smoke, roasted barley, lingers for a good length of time.

Parting words: Lily’s is one of Downtown Royal Oak’s best regarded and longest operating restaurants. It’s named after Lily Strange, grandmother of the restaurant’s founders. Lily was born and raised in Scotland so the place has a vaguely Scottish theme.  In addition to serving great seafood (and other stuff), Lily’s is also a brew pub with consistently good beer. It’s a testament to how good that beer actually is it thrives in an area saturated with brewpubs and bars selling craft beer. In addition to this stout, they also make a light lager, hefeweizen, red ale and at least two seasonal offerings.

Strange Stout is a very good example of the style and the smoky finish adds and nice extra dimension not usually found in the competition. Don’t look for something to rival stouts from Bell’s or Founder’s, but this is a solid brewpub stout. Strange Stout is recommended.

A Visit to the Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room

MBTBTR1Address: 45645 Hayes, Shelby Township, Michigan, USA

Web: http://www.mbtbtasting.com, @MBTBTasting, https://www.facebook.com/mbtbtasting, http://instagram.com/mbtbtasting

Hours: Sun- noon- 6 p.m., Mon & Tues- Closed for special events, Wed & Thurs noon- 9 p.m., Fri- noon – 10 p.m., Sat- noon – 10 p.m.

Appearance/atmosphere: Although MBTB Tasting Room was voted best wine bar for 2014 in Hour Detroit Magazine, it doesn’t feel like a wine bar at all. It really does feel like a tasting room at a winery. The difference is that it is a tasting room for six different Michigan wineries at once!

The outside isn’t much to look at, just a store front in a suburban strip mall. The inside is a bit warmer, but still not fancy by any stretch. It’s bright and airy feeling with nice, ample seating and decorated in the MBTB color scheme. The bar isn’t anything fancy either but feels very much like the bar at a winery tasting room. It’s perfectly up to its task, though.

MBTBTR2Service: The service was excellent. We sat at the bar and our server Krystal was quick and attentive. I recognized Shannon from the Michigan by the Bottle blog and I introduced myself. He seemed to remember me from our online interactions (or at least faked it very well) and made us feel very welcome in spite of being busy. Cortney briefly appeared but disappeared into the back before I could introduce myself to her. Maybe next time. Both Krystal and Shannon answered all our questions clearly and politely.

The tastings work as follows: The server places a paper placemat in front of each taster with circles numbered 1-6 for a full flight (mini-flights of three wines are also available). For the standard flight, each taster circles five regular selections on the menu. Glasses are poured in traditional tasting order (starting with dry whites, ending with dry reds). When a “tour” is purchased, two special pours (and bonus cashews) are included. These are usually dessert wines or at least they were when we were there.

Menu/Prices/Selection: The full menu is here. A full flight is $10 or $15 after six (with the extra $5 being applied toward a bottle purchase) with tasty Michigan-made snacks (cheese and chocolate) included. A mini flight is $5/$10. A tour is $17/$22 and a tour for two is double that. If you’re a fan of dessert wines like I am, I would recommend the tour, but if you don’t enjoy them, I would stick to the flight.

They partner with six Michigan wineries from around the state. Those wineries are Chateau Aeronautique, Sandhill Crane (both Pioneer Wine Trail), Chateau de Leelanau, Gill’s Pier (both Leelanau Peninsula AVA), Domaine Berrien (Lake Michigan Shore AVA) and Peninsula Cellars (Old Mission Peninsula AVA).  I expected a broader selection of wines, but I think how they’ve done it works better than carrying something from everybody. They astutely included two wineries known for reds, Domaine Berrien and Chateau Aeronautique, to complement the fine whites Northern Michigan is known for. Cider and fruit wines are also included.

I didn’t love every wine I tried but that’s not really the point. I got to taste some things I would have had to drive several hours to taste and that’s great in itself. The best wines I had that afternoon were the 2012 Dry Riesling from Peninsula Cellars (not surprising given what an Old Mission fanboy I am) and the 2010 Domaine Berrien Pinot Noir. The most surprising selection was DB’s 2011 Marsanne. Michigan is not where one might expect to run into a grape from the northern Rhone valley but it was quite good. All the selections are also available by the bottle, and those prices are helpfully included on the tasting menu.

The prices for bottles are about standard and the tasting prices are reasonable considering the number of pours included and the quality and abundance of the snacks.

It should also be noted that, also like an actual winery, they have their own wine club. Information on that is here.

Transportation/Parking: Unless you’re up for a mile walk or bike ride from the nearest SMART stop on unfriendly roads, public transit isn’t really an option. There is a large parking lot at the shopping center where the tasting room is located, so parking is not a problem, and it’s close to Hall Road/M-59 so getting there is fairly easy. That said, it’s quite a hike out there unless you live in Macomb county. Google maps estimates a 30 minute drive from Sipology HQ and that’s just with good traffic which is a rare thing on Hall Road. Luckily for me and others living in Oakland Co. or Detroit, a Royal Oak location will be opening up on Woodward soon.

Parting Words: Overall a great experience was had. We went home with abundant leftover snacks and a few bottles of wine. Can’t wait for the Royal Oak location! It promises to be good for my tummy but probably bad for my bank account and limited cellar space. Michigan By the Bottle Tasting Room is recommended.

I don’t do much reblogging but this is a great write up of the Drunks of Antiquity historic bar tour I also took last Saturday by my good friend Amy. Enjoy!

bonneamieknits

No, this is not about the likes of Hemmingway or Poe, but rather a tour of old bars in Detroit, where drunks long ago might have gathered.

I must preface this post by saying that I have lived for the last 30 years in Detroit and  most of them in the same neighborhood. It is a quiet, residential neighborhood, what is known in Detroit as a “good” neighborhood. It is strictly residential, no corner stores, no parks, and certainly no corner bars. But on the other hand, no boarded-up abandoned houses either.

Back to the tour. It was put on by http://thedetroitbus.com/specialevents/ (more on this later). The first stop was Jacoby’s in downtown Detroit, http://www.jacobysbar.com/. I have been to this bar many times because it’s in the heart of the business district. I suppose once upon a time it might have been a working man’s bar, but lately it’s the…

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Sugar House Bar

Address: 2130 Michigan Ave., Detroit, Michigan (next to Slow’s BBQ)

Hours: Sun-Thurs. 5 pm- midnight. Fri-Sat 5 pm- 2 am

Type: Cocktail Bar

Appearance/atmosphere: On the outside and inside, The Sugar House Bar is contemporary and appealing, if a little dull. Dark paint and exposed brick on the inside. The bar itself is nice and spacious, although the dazzling array of bottles behind it steal the show. Tables are also available. Bathrooms were clean and matched the muted contemporary décor of the rest of the establishment, but they had those weird waterless urinals. For reasons I can’t explain, they give me the creeps. My friend reported that the women’s bathroom was nice.

The atmosphere is fun and casual. It was fairly easy to hear my drinking companion and the bartender.

Service: Service was excellent. Brandon was our bartender and he did an excellent job of suggesting cocktails for both of us. One of Sugar Bar’s specialties is building a drink around whatever mixer or liquor

Menu/Selection:  The drinks menu was nice, and most of my friend’s drinks came off it, while mine were all time-honored standards. I had the three classic whiskey drinks: Manhattan, Sazerac and an Old Fashioned. I took notes on what my friend had but a toddler walked out with them. From what I recall, she had two flip-type drinks and one called a Petruchio. She is in no way shrewish, but she loved it (you’re welcome English majors). She even loved the ones I had, despite repeatedly stating how she doesn’t care for whiskey (due to a HS experience involving Black Velvet and Grape Faygo).

The selection of mixers and liquors behind the bar was impressive. The bourbon and rye was most impressive of all. Just about every major label rye on the market was there: Sazerac, Rittenhouse, Beam, Wild Turkey, Bulleit, the new Woodford Reserve ryes, and even a four year old Willet rye (used to make my Sazerac cocktail). The bourbon selection was vast as well with plenty of sipping and mixing bourbons. There was also a good selection of Mezcal and Islay Single Malts. Not to mention a truly bewildering selection of liqueurs and other mixers including house-made ones.

Prices: The drinks are pretty expensive, most of them being in the low double digits price-wise, but these are craft cocktails and damn good ones. No complaints. We got what we paid for and more.

Transportation: We went on a weeknight, but it still seemed like there would be plenty of parking on Michigan Ave. on a weekend, although a multi-block walk might be in required. The 37 DDOT bus runs the length of Michigan Avenue and is a good option for those in Detroit or even Dearborn. From Dearborn and points west the 200 SMART bus goes down Michigan. Transit from the north is more of a challenge, but if timed right, a transfer or even a walk from one of the Woodward SMART stops should do the trick. Taxis are also an option, of course.

Parting Words: My friend and I had a great experience. Great service, fantastic drinks and good service. The Sugar House Bar gets a big recommendation.

The Oakland Art Novelty Company (aka The Oakland Bar)

Address: 201 W 9 mile Rd, Ferndale, Michigan, USA

Hours: Wed-Sat 5 pm-1:30 am, Sun 5-12:30. Closed Mon-Tues. It is highly recommended that you call an hour ahead of time and get your name on the list, especially if going on a weekend.

Type: Cocktail Bar

Appearance/atmosphere: The concept for The Oakland is of a 1920s speakeasy, inspired by The Violet Hour cocktail bar in the Wicker Park neighborhood in Chicago, according to our bartender. The appearance of the place reflects all this. It is very plain on the outside and easy to miss just walking by. Inside the walls and décor are all very dark, punctuated by ornate chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.

The Oakland is fairly new, so there are not many reviews of it online yet, but the few negative reviews I have read all have a common theme. The reviewers don’t like the rules of the place. They complain about the ban on cell phone use, the music, the length of time it takes to make the complicated drinks, the limited seating inside and the “no standing” rule. What the club-hopping D-bags and D-baggettes hated about the Oakland’s atmosphere is what I loved about it. The house rules create a calm¸relaxed atmosphere where conversation and cocktails take the lead, not techno and taking someone home. I was able to sit at the bar without being squashed by sweaty people in tight jeans. I could talk to my friend, my bartender and Sandy the manager without having to shout. The Oakland is a place for civilized drinking. If you seek jagerbombs, seek them elsewhere.

Service: The service was excellent. I didn’t get her name, but our bartender was very friendly and knowledgeable and well-dressed, as was the rest of the staff. She noticed that my friend was wearing an embroidered Four Roses shirt and struck up a conversation about Four Roses with us. Sandy and I had communicated over twitter about whiskey and we had a conversation about the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC) during which the sentence “Nobody gives a rat’s ass about Eagle Rare 17,” passed my lips. The conversation was followed up with a complementary ounce or two of 2011 George T. Stagg. Our drinks did take a while to prepare, but they were prepared right in front of us with a hint of flare. Very good service all the way around.

Menu/Selection: All selections on their cocktail menu are spins on classic cocktails. My friend ordered a manhattan (not on the paper menu). It was prepared very well. They also have a “by request” menu (available by request, oddly enough) populated largely with barrel-aged or otherwise enhanced versions of the cocktails on their menu.

My friend started with a manhattan and followed it with their version of a Martinez, a classic cocktail that is alleged to be an ancestor of the Martini. She enjoyed them both quite a bit. I had two items off the “by request” menu. My first was a barrel-aged version of their cocktail On the Night You Were Born, complete with singed orange rind. The barrel aging added some nice depth. My second one was a fun riff on a tiki drink called the Base Clearing Double. Both were very good. On the weekends they also have a nightly punch available after 8. Check their Facebook page for details on those.

The bar is fairly well-stocked, but built for cocktails. Single malts are few and fine sipping rums, brandies or tequilas are few. The bourbon and rye selections are more extensive and include the BTAC and a couple Pappies. Ryes include Handy, Sazerac, Wild Turkey and Jefferson’s Rye (coming soon).

The only food served (that I remember anyway) was popcorn for $2 an order. More snacks might have been nice, maybe some smoked almonds or pretzels, but it’s not like there’s no place to get food in downtown Ferndale. If you’re feeling peckish, try to work The Oakland in before or after a meal. Or both.

Prices: All standard cocktails are $9. Selections from the “by request” menu are a few dollars more.

Transportation: Parking on a weekend in downtown Ferndale is a PITA no matter how you look at it. If you go early, you might be able to find parking in the lots west of Woodward on either side of 9 mile, but we had to park on the other side of Woodward and walk. Getting to The Oakland via the Woodward or 9 mile SMART bus lines should be fairly easy, and Ferndale does have pretty good taxi service.

Parting Words: I had a great time at The Oakland and I plan to go back again as soon as I can. Not much else to say but The Oakland is highly recommended!