Beard Bender

Maker: Blake’s Hard Cider, Armada (ar-MAY-duh), Michigan, USA20160202_121545.jpg

Style: Dry cider

ABV: 6.5%

Purchased for $10/6 pack (cans)

Appearance: At first pour has a big, fizzy, soda pop head. Light gold and slightly cloudy.

Nose: Homemade applesauce, medium sweet aroma.

Palate: Semi-dry. A little apple character and minerality. Tannin on the back end.

Finish: Tannic and bone dry. Apple core, fresh picked apple, gravel dust. Progressively less apple and more dryness as one moves throught nose, palate and finish.

Parting words: I reviewed Blake’s (semi-) sweet cider Flannel Mouth a couple weeks ago. It was fine as an entry level cider or something for the casual drinker. Beard Bender is drier but still very accessible. Drinkers who are used to sweet corporate ciders might be taken off guard a little, but by the time they finish it, they’ll love it.

Beard Bender is an ideal table cider as well. It works best with the sort of cuisine that naturally pairs with dry white or pink wines, but no need to get picky. I had it with a porterhouse steak once and it still did very well. Not as well as a big dry red wine or a porter, it still did well. $10 is a solid price, too. Beard Bender is recommended.

Blake’s Flannel Mouth Hard Cider

Maker: Blake’s, Armada, Michigan, USA2016-01-19-10.54.28.jpg.jpeg

Style: Semi-sweet apple cider

ABV: 6.5%

Price: $10/6 pack of cans

Appearance: Pale gold with a fizzy but short-lived head.

Nose: Apple juice, fresh off the tree apples, gravel, citrus blossom.

Palate: Semi-sweet and slightly effervescent. Light and easy drinking with good apple flavor and some structure-providing tannin.

Finish: Sweetness with some minerals in the background.

Parting words: Blake’s, like Uncle John’s, is an cidery and an agricultural attraction like Uncle John’s. Blake’s is closer to Detroit, though, just twenty-five miles north of Sterling Heights, Michigan in Macomb county, one of the three counties in the metro area. They produce a line of ciders including the dry Beard Bender, spiced El Chavo, hopped Catawampus, farmhouse Cider Dayze and sweet Flannel Mouth. They also produce a line of seasonal ciders and limited editions.

Flannel Mouth is a pretty good entry-level cider. It’s pretty sweet, so it may not be one to serve to those who think cider is too sweet, but for the casual cider drinkers or the ci-curious it’s a good choice. Acessible, but with depth. $10 for a six pack isn’t cheap but it isn’t bananas either. Flannel Mouth 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.

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.

Bon Chrétien: An American Perry, 2013

Maker: Vander Mill, Spring Lake, Michigan, USAwpid-2015-11-10-21.22.43.jpg.jpeg

Style: Bartlett pear perry (pear cider).

ABV: 6.8%

Purchased for $11/750 ml (Holiday Market)

Appearance: Bright gold and effervescent. Even some crystals near the bottom.

Nose: Canned pears, apple juice, flint.

Palate: Fizzy and medium bodied. Fresh cut ripe pear, but without the sweetness. Semi-dry, with some mineral water on the back end.

Finish: Crisp and clean at first, but the pear creeps back to linger for a nice long time.

Parting words: Vander Mill is not a Johnny-come-lately winery or agricultural attraction that has decided to turn to cider to fill out its portfolio. It is about cider and has been since its beginning in 2006. As far as I can tell, this is their only perry. The name is from the original 15th century (my favorite century) French name for Bartlett pears. It’s a part of their Heritage series of specialty ciders in 750 ml bottles. The others in that series are the all heritage variety Chapman’s Blend (named for John Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed, early American apple evangelist and eccentric), Chapman’s Oak (self-explanatory) and Too Gold, a blend of three golden heirloom varieties.

I think this is the first perry I’ve reviewed since the blog started, so I don’t have much to compare it with, but this is a delicious product. It has all the flavor of a good, ripe Bartlett pear, but has an elegant dryness that takes it beyond what I expected. That and it’s great price makes this an easy buy. Bon Chrétien is highly recommended.

Totally Roasted

Maker: Vander Mill, Spring Lake, Michigan, USAwpid-2015-10-26-12.18.27.jpg.jpeg

Style: Cider with pecans, vanilla and cinnamon (sugar added).

ABV: 6.9%

Purchased for $11/4 pint cans (Holiday Market)

Appearance: Pale gold with a little effervescence.

Nose: Toffee apples, toasted pecans.

Palate: Still effervescent. Light and semi-sweet. Candy apple with nuts, but never sticky or cloying.

Finish: Crisp and clean with a lingering nuttiness.

Parting words: This is the third Vander Mill cider I’ve reviewed and they’ve all been good. This one is no exception. It’s flavorful without being obnoxiously so. What keeps the flavor in check is a solid dry cider base. It’s so well balanced that it even drinks well with a meal, not just after one. I had it with everything from Pierogis and Kielbasa to rum-soused halibut and it held up well. The price is fair for an artisanal cider of this quality. I like the pint cans too. Vander Mill’s Totally Roasted 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.

Uncle John’s Hard Cider: Apple

Maker: Uncle John’s Fruit House, St. John, Michigan, USAwpid-2015-08-11-15.19.18.jpg.jpeg

Style: Semi-dry hard apple cider.

ABV: 6.5%

Note: Old can design pictured.

Appearance: Light gold with lots of bubbles, but a short lived, bubbly head.

Nose: Gravel, apple juice, aged late harvest Riesling.

Palate: Light bodied and semi-dry. Mildly tart apples, mineral water. Effervescent.

Finish: A touch of tartness on the front end, but then long and dry with a little sweetness just to hold it together.

Parting words: Uncle John’s empire is located about twenty-five miles north of Lansing, our proud state capital. It’s an agricultural attraction. U-pick blueberries, a market featuring asparagus, sweet corn, strawberries, sweet cherries, peaches, apples and probably more (all seasonal of course). They also have doughnuts, caramel apples, unfermented cider by the glass (mulled or unmulled), pies, jam, apple butter and just about everything else one would expect.

They also have a winery. They mostly make fruit wines, but they do offer a red blend (Merlot-led), a white blend (Chardonnay, Vignoles, Pinot Gris, Riesling), Concord, a few styles of mead and hard cider. Cider is what they’re best known for, and with good reason. They do a very good job. They make a very full line of different apple cider styles and flavors, perry and even a fortified apple wine. They have a still, too and make an apple brandy. If you’re into wasting high quality produce by turning it into a colorless, flavorless beverage, they also make an apple vodka that should be right up your alley.

At any rate, this Draught Hard Cider (now simply labeled “apple” on their new, snappy-looking white cans) is their flagship hard cider. I like it a lot. It’s dry enough to enjoy anytime but has enough sweetness to keep it from tasting like Perrier with an apple slice. It’s well balanced and I like it a lot. I can’t wait to explore some more and, better yet, take a short road trip to see the whole operation in person some time!

Uncle John’s Hard Apple Cider is highly 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.