The genesis of Michigan's modern craft-brewing boom occurred well before it arrived in Chicago, which largely got going in the last ten, if not five years. In the middle to late 1990s, Goose Island existed as one of the few breweries in Chicago who were brewing something a little different...and they remained pretty lonely for quite a while. In contrast, Michigan breweries such as Bell’s Brewery (circa 1985), New Holland Brewing (1996), Dark Horse Brewing (1997), Arcadia Ales (1997), and Founder’s Brewing (1997) spurred the formation of the Michigan Craft Beer Guild as early as 1997. Given the proximity of Michigan breweries to Chicago, Michigan's craft-beer distribution in the 1990s and early 2000s provided many Chicagoans with their first tastes of crafted brews, including this writer. (I wrote about my experience on Sommbeer.com, which also happens to be a Michigan-based beer blog....and the place this writer got his start!)
The legacy of that Michigan-Chicago craft community manifested itself during two early February beer events. Storied Michigan breweries, Founders Brewing and Bell's Brewery invaded Chicago’s very own Headquarters Beercade and DryHop Brewers. On Feb. 5tth, Founders Brewing brought a host of beers to HQ Beercade, including their legendary Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS) and Canadian Breakfast Stout (CBS). Meanwhile, Bell’s Brewery took over the taps at DryHop on Feb. 9th and served their famed Hopslam, Roundhouse, and other great offerings.
The connection goes beyond tap takeover events, though. For instance, the burgeoning Michigan hop farm industry has provided Chicago brewers with ample opportunity to transform nearby harvests into delectable brews. John Wyzkiewicz, co-founder and head brewer of Miskatonic Brewing Company in Darien, IL, commented, “The hops in Michigan are really moving at a much faster clip than I thought. There's Hop Head Farms, and then there is a guy that’s co-oping a bunch of small farms in Michigan - they are taking in terms of large acreages. They’re incredibly aromatic hops. It’s really good...it has forced me to think about a lot of new possibilities that exist because of their hops.” Miskatonic uses Michigan Chinook hops in their Chapter 2 American Red IPA. The combination of Michigan hops, Lake Michigan water, and German Red-X malt provide for a noticeably unique IPA that balances citrus, bitterness, and sweet maltiness for a brew that’s as fragrant as it is delicious.
Meanwhile, Chicago’s Dryhop Brewery incorporates Michigan hops into their Fantastic Damage American IPA - another terrific brew. It’s described as a “fabulous concoction [that] highlights the freshest of Michigan grown Centennial and Cascade hops.” They dry hop them the minute the hops arrive at the brewery. As well, in the past, they brewed, Little Fog Feet, which was a “Wet Hop Wheat Ale...brewed with [more than] 100 lbs of ‘wet’ Michigan hops from Hop Head Farms.”
Simply put, there’s a great craft-beer connection between Michigan and Chicago that's only grown since the 1980s. Many Michigan breweries offered Chicagoans their first taste of craft beer and, today, Michigan hop farms are helping make Chicago beer great. It's one of the best examples of how community can mean more than just one town; it can unite an entire region of craft beer lovers, farmers, brewers, and bars. DryHop Brewery said it best, when they described their use of Hop Head Farms' hops, "This is our homage to the hard working farmers who help make our jobs easier, cheers.”
I think that says it all.
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