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

wp-1470317645093.jpg
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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Sumatra Mountain

Maker: Founders, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USAwp-1469491924785.jpg

Style: Coffee flavored Imperial Brown Ale

ABV: 9%

MSRP: $12 (4 pack)

Appearance: Light coffee brown with a big foamy head.

Nose: Roasted coffee, chocolate syrup, brown sugar.

Palate: Dark roast coffee with 3-4 packets of sugar in the raw, a little malt and bitterness, dark chocolate.

Finish: Sticky but not really sweet. Almost exactly like dark roast Sumatra but without the smoke I often get in that coffee.

Parting words: From the folks who brought the world Breakfast Stout, now we have another coffee beer. I like that it’s more than just that, though. They’re using Sumatran coffee (working my way through a bag of Sumatra Mandheling from Chazzano right now, actually) provided by Ferris & Co. roasters of Grand Rapids (details on their Sumatra are here). They also used two types of malt, Aromatic and Munich, and two types of hops, German and Perle. In sum, Founders put a lot of effort and care into this, as they do with everything.

That said, I think this beer missed the mark. There’s too much sweetness here for my taste. It comes off closer to a fudge or milkshake stout than a coffee-flavored brown ale. $12 isn’t crazy for an imperial seasonal offering but it’s too much for something I’m not particularly fond of. Sumatra Mountain is mildly recommended.

Mr. Bluesky

Maker: Griffin Claw, Birmingham, Michigan, USA20160425_131117-1.jpg

Style: Wheat beer with grapefruit peel and coriander seed

ABV: 4.5%

Appearance: Cloudy gold with a lasting foamy head.

Nose: Wheat bread dough, citrus peel.

Palate: Citrusy, slightly sour, with a little spice.

Finish: Sour and a little bitter.

Parting words: Griffin Claw is located in Birmingham, Michigan, the affluent suburb just north of Royal Oak, location of Sipology Blog HQ. Birmingham is a women with big hats and little dogs kinda place. Which makes the quote that appears at the top a little #problematic. It’s a quote from Elmore Leonard: “There are cities that get by on their good looks. Detroit has to work for a living.” I’m sure Leonard meant it as a tribute of sorts, but coming from a brewery in one of the wealthiest, whitest cities in the metro area, it sounds more like a dig than a compliment.

That aside, there’s nothing wrong with this beer. It’s something I would order at the brewpub or someone else if I was in the mood for a spiced wheat beer. This is Michigan, though, and the competition here is fierce. If a brewery is going to make a beer in the style of the most popular beer from the most popular brewery in the state, it needs to stand out. Bluesky doesn’t. It’s not worth seeking out if unavailable near you. Mildly recommended.

Consecrator Dopplebock

Maker: Bell’s, Comstock, Michigan, USA2016-03-14-17.17.58.jpg.jpeg

ABV: 8%

Purchased for $15/6 pack (Hollywood Market, Madison Heights, Michigan)

Appearance: Ruddy brown with a short-lived head. Leaves a thin, lacy layer of foam on top.

Nose: Toasted malt, cherry juice, faint alcohol

Palate: Easy drinking but flavorful. Relatively fruity. Sweet, toasty malt, leather, plum juice.

Finish: mixed berry, hops, roasted malt.

Parting words: Bock is a style of beer that drinks like an ale but is brewed like a lager. It’s also one of my favorite styles. Bock has a long history in Germany but was hard to find in the US for many years. The microbrewer movement changed all that and now almost every small brewery makes one or more. The story goes that the style was originally made in the Lower Saxon town of Einbeck, but the name was corrupted to ein Bock (a billy goat) by brewers in Munich. That story sounds fishy to me, but beer history is not my field, so I’ll let it go for now. At any rate, most bocks carry a picture of one or more goats on the label as a play on the name.

Doppelbocks (i.e. double bocks) are brewed at a higher ABV than the standard bock. They usually have a name that ends in -ator as a tribute to the first brewers of the style, the Paulaner Franciscan friars, who called their beer Salvator. Consecrator is a good example of the style, but as noted above it shows more fruit than most. It still works very well, though. I don’t normally buy beer that’s this expense (I admit that I probably overpaid), but this one is just worth the price. Consecrator is recommended.

El Rojo Red Ale

Maker: Griffin Claw, Birmingham, Michigan, USA2016-01-04-15.00.40.jpg.jpeg

Style: Red ale

ABV: 6.5%

Price: $8/4 pint cans (Holiday Market)

Nose: Roasted malt, caramel, dried fig.

Palate: Medium bodied and semi-sweet. Toasty on the back end.

Finish: Toasty and slightly bittEl Rojo Red Aleer, with a little sweetness for balance.

Parting words: Griffin Claw is a relatively new (2013) brewery in metro Detroit. Dan Rogers, seasoned craft beer veteran, is the master brewer. They have a limited portfolio but all of it is good. Their Raggedy Ass IPA is probably their best known beer, but they also make Screamin’ Pumpkin Ale, Grind Line Pale, Grand Trunk Pilsner and El Rojo.

Griffin Claw’s website says that they’ve entered El Rojo into contests as an English-style brown ale and I can see why. It’s closer to that style in flavor than it is to what I expect in something called a red ale. Whatever one calls it, it’s good. Pairs well with food. I’m not sure what the story behind the bandito caricature is though. Anyway, El Rojo is recommended.

Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale Triple-Triple Head to Head: 2013, 2014, 2015

Brewer: Unibroue, Chambly, Quebec, Canada2015-12-21-15.33.33.jpg.jpeg

Style: Spiced dark ale

ABV: 9%

Price: $6

Me= Me

Jessica= J

Brian= B

Served in snifters.

Appearance: Coffee brown with a big, but short-lived head (all).

2013

Me: Orange, ginger and malt on the nose. Light on the palate with a little gingerbread. Mild finish.

J: Smells fruity but doesn’t taste fruity.

B: Nose and palate are very different. Much less flavor on the palate than there is aroma in the nose. Mild. Watery.

2014

Me: Mild nose, mildly effervescent on the palate. Spicy and stronger on the palate than 2013. Booze more obvious. Favorite of the three.

J: Not as spicy. More malty. Palate is more consistent with the nose. Finish lingers in the tongue. Elusive whiff of chocolate.

B: “ooh!” Much better on the palate. Agree with J. Malt is prominent but there’s underlying clove and nutmeg. Favorite of the three.

2015

Me: Stronger on the nose and in the palate but less balanced than 2014. Orange peel and potpourri nose, malty on the palate.

J: Stronger “beer” flavor. Lager-like. Smells younger, a little grassy. Favorite of the three.

B: Spices are barely there, except for some clove and nutmeg at the end. Least subtle of the three. Strong tasting.

Parting words: Every year around this time, I buy at least three bottles of that year’s Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale. I always plan to drink them six months to a year apart but sometimes I forget they’re in my cellar or I get thirsty and drink one early. I forgot about my last 2011 and I drank it at about three years old and I drank my last 2012 shortly after that. I decided to get serious this year and do a three way head to head tasting. Normally I would enlist my wife to help, but she’s pregnant, so I enlisted the help of a beer-loving couple we’re friends with, Brian and Jessica.

We tasted over dinner (all three were OK with food) and I tried to take notes as best as I could. 2013 was the least favorite for all of us. It wasn’t bad, it was just bland on the palate. Jessica preferred the stronger taste of the 2015, but Brian and I liked the 2014. That said, we all agreed that 2014 and 2015 were both enjoyable pours. One remaining question is whether this beer rebounds after an apparent dip after two years in the bottle, like wines sometimes do. Maybe next year we can answer this question! Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale is recommended new and at a year old.

Atwater Brewery Michelada

Maker: Atwater/McClure’s, Detroit, Michigan, USAwpid-2015-11-02-11.58.52.jpg.jpeg

Style: Lager with Bloody Mary mix.

ABV: 5.2%

Price: $7.50/4 Pint cans (Holiday Market)

Appearance: Moderately foamy, soapy looking head. Hazy orange.

Nose: Sweet and malty. Tomato, tabasco sauce, celery salt.

Palate: Full bodied and mildly effervescent. Spicy, sweet, tomato juice, pickle juice, pickled jalapenos, salt.

Finish: Sweet, then briny.

Parting words: A Michelada is a beer cocktail. It’s served all over Mexico in different local styles, but it usually includes tomato juice, lime juice and often Worcestershire Sauce, hot sauce and/or soy sauce. In the US it often takes the form of a Bloody Mary made with beer, which isn’t really too far off after all.

This is a joint project from Atwater Brewery and McClure’s pickle factory. After consolidating their operations in Detroit, they branched out to other non-pickle products. They have three varieties of pickle-flavored potato chips, they sell jars of their brine and they also have a Bloody Mary mix. The Bloody Mary mix has lots of fans, but I am not really one of them. There is way too much pickle juice in the mix, rendering it undrinkable (to me anyway) except when cut with V8.

The can describes this products as “the world’s first craft Michelada”. It also recommends that it be served in a salt-rimmed glass or sipped right out of the can. I drank three out of the four cans in a standard 12 oz glass. It did just fine that way. I tried the fourth one in a salt-rimmed glass. It tasted ok, but I’m not sure if the salt added anything.

I usually don’t purchase premade cocktails, but this one intrigued me and got a recommendation from a friend so I picked it up. I was not disappointed. The beer cuts the briny mix perfectly. It pairs nicely with greasy brunch food and Mexican food. The price is fair, and the cans are really cool looking. Atwater’s Michelada is recommended.

All Day IPA

Maker: Founders, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

Style: Session IPA

ABV: 4.7%

Note: No photo due to phone camera failure.

Appearance: Medium gold with a big foamy head.

Nose: Mild floral hops.

Palate: Spicy hops with a sweet malt background. Bitter, but not obnoxious.

Finish: Mild but with plenty of hoppy bitterness.

Parting words: As always, Founders delivers. All Day IPA delivers plenty of hoppy IPA punch at a low ABV for “all day” enjoyment. This beer has become my go-to beer for parties, lunches at home or having beer drinking friends over. It’s available on tap, in bottles and even in a 15 pack of cans (my preference). It’s also available at just about every party store, grocery store and gas station in these parts. For simple hoppy drinking, All Day IPA can’t be beat. Highly recommended.

Blueberry Cobbler Ale

Maker: Atwater, Detroit, Michigan, USAwpid-2015-08-31-20.11.02.jpg.jpeg

Style: (Dark) Ale brewed with blueberries.

ABV: 6.9%

Appearance: Dark brown, like cola with a bluish tinge.

Nose: Burnt blueberry pie, asphalt, alcohol.

Palate: Dark roasted malt, cooked blueberries.

Finish: Pleasant. Bittersweet stout and blueberry pie.

Parting words: I’ve been reviewing Atwater’s beers for years and they haven’t once made any sort of contact with me on social media or anywhere else. Not even a like or a favorite. That’s a little annoying but I don’t hold it against them. Some companies are good at social media and some aren’t. My annoyance in no way negatively influenced my review, but didn’t help either.

This beer is OK, but the nose is really weird. It’s called blueberry cobbler, but it tastes much more like blueberry pie than cobbler. There’s no biscuity-topping flavors. It’s just all cooked fruit. Heck, even the guy in the Atwater logo is carrying a lattice top pie, not a cobbler. Yes, it’s a minor quibble but it points to the confused state of this beer. There’s some blueberry in there but there’s not enough to make it actually taste like blueberries. I get that they were going for a baked blueberry thing here, but the toasty malt just makes it taste like the burnt drips that stick to the bottom of the oven after the pie is done.

I like, nay, love most of Atwater’s beers but this is a failure. Blueberry Cobbler is not recommended.

Grand Circus IPA

Make: Atwater, Detroit, Michigan, USAwpid-20150622_193214.jpg

Style: Session IPA

ABV: 4.5%

Appearance: Dark copper with a big sudsy head.

Nose: Very sweet malt, citric hops

Palate: Medium bodied. Hops, balanced by malty sweetness. Hops are present but not overwhelming. Bitterness on the back end.

Finish: Bitterness intensifies and lingers.

This is a part of Atwater’s series of beers named for places around Detroit. The name may sound strange but any clowns one may encounter in Grand Circus Park are purely coincidental. Grand Circus is a semi-circular park in Downtown Detroit that was created as a part of a planned (then abandoned) city-wide network of hub and spoke style roads. In 1865 George Armstrong Custer delivered a eulogy for Abraham Lincoln there and now the park is home to the Russell Alger Fountain, which was designed by Henry Bacon with the statue sculpted by Daniel French, who both did the same for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. The park is adjacent to many of downtown’s most important buildings including the David Whitney Building, David Broderick Tower, Central United Methodist Church, The Detroit Opera House and Comerica Park.

Grand Circus the beer is billed as a session beer and it fits that bill. It’s a porch sippin’, food accompanyin’ beer. I got a pack of twelve cans of this for a party so that there would be something hoppy there that everybody could enjoy. It was moderately popular. If you’re a hop head, this probably won’t satisfy your lust, but I liked it, even more since it’s available in cans. Grand Circus IPA is recommended.