Heaven, North of the Bridge
“And if you’re looking for heaven, it’s north of the bridge.”
That’s the way we see it in Michigan.
So when native son, actor and filmmaker Jeff Daniels included that line in his movie, Escanaba in da Moonlight, no one here was surprised.
That entrance to the pearly gates is the Mackinac Bridge, which connects the Lower and Upper Peninsulas. This five-mile-long suspension bridge, one of the world’s longest, is Michigan’s most recognizable icon. The two peninsulas may now be connected by the bridge, but there’s still a rivalry between them. We call UPers “yoopers.” They retaliate by calling us “trolls”—as in creatures who live beneath the bridge.
Fortunately, the rivalry is friendly.
To call the UP remote is an understatement. Parts of it are closer to Madison, WI than our state capital, Lansing. Only about three percent of the state’s population live there. Never the less, it’s home to eight breweries. Even more amazing, in the entire modern history of Michigan craft brewing, no UP brewery has closed its doors. Like the scenery, the beer is also blessed by the gods.
Come and join us for a few hundred miles around heaven…
But before you climb into the Beer Traveler Mobile with us, a word of warning: this trip is a vacation, not just a long weekend. We’ll be driving on two lane roads because, well, all roads in the UP have two lanes. And we’ll make frequent stops to gaze at incredible rock formations, marvel at the deep, deep blue color of Lake Superior and stare at the perfectly clear sky.
Still willing? O.K. Roll down the window and make yourself comfortable.
A Brew with a View
Our first stop is Upper Tahquamenon Falls State Park in the northeast corner. It’s home to the second-largest waterfall east of the Mississippi, and the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery and Pub. Odd place for a brewpub? Not to owner and brewer Lark Ludlow. Many years ago, her grandfather owned the land surrounding the falls, land that the state wanted to buy to ensure it was preserved.
Long story made short, when the sale was completed, Jack Barrett retained a small parcel of land, within walking distance from the falls. Today, the brewpub occupies that site. It’s a beautiful, rustic lodge with a 10-barrel Bohemian brewing system that fits right into its surroundings.
Lark normally has four beers on tap. Lumberjack Lager and Falls Tannin are year-round staples. Over the course of the year, she offers approximately 15 different beers to her customers. Before you leave, make sure you follow the trail to the falls. It’s worth the walk. In fact, this is might be the most incredible view of nature you’ll ever have visiting a brewery.
Our next stop is Marquette, where many years ago iron ore and copper from nearby mines were shipped to the rest of the world on the Great Lakes. But the local economy turned so gloomy that banks stopped investing downtown. Refusing to give up on their dream of owning a restaurant, newlyweds Terry and Kristi Doyle found out that miracles do occasionally happen. They bought the Finlandia Restaurant, which occupied the site of a Civil War-era saloon once owned by magnate Martin Vierling.
The pair lovingly restored the building. Diners once again enjoy a beautiful view of Marquette Harbor. In 1995, the Doyles added a 5-barrel Bohemian brewing system and long time employee “Chumley” Anderson stepped in as brewer. You can look down into the brewery through the ceiling-to-floor glass as you walk up the hill from the harbor.
The blueberry wheat, topped off with fresh blueberries, is very popular in the summer. However, the stout reminded us of something we’ve enjoyed in Ireland. Terry’s father, by the way, worked at the Guinness Brewery in Dublin and is no doubt proud of today’s Vierling Restaurant and Marquette Harbor Brewery.
Eco-Friendly in Houghton
On to Houghton, an old copper mining town and home to Michigan Tech, where owners Dick Gray and Paul Boissevain met as students long before they opened the Keweenaw Brewing Co. They spent some time in Colorado and discovered craft beer at Wynkoop Brewing, where they met brewer Dave Lawrence.
The three of them decided to build an eco-friendly local watering hole in Houghton. They did much of the restoration work on the hundred year-old building themselves, using recycled materials whenever possible. The result is a comfortable, rustic taproom with a mining theme.
One of their boldest decisions was to can their beer. Cans can go many places where bottles can’t, such as hiking trails and beaches, which are plentiful in these parts. They’re also easy to ship and, as Dave pointed out, canning is much easier than bottling because he rarely has to stop the line once it starts.
Don’t scoff. Keweenaw recently opened a second manufacturing facility in nearby South Range with a 50-bbl brewhouse. The 8-bbl Pub Brewing system is now used mostly for experimental batches and to supply the tasting room. The flagship beer is Pick Axe Blonde, but you’ll find all the beers top notch.
Red Jacket Brewing at the Michigan House Café in Calumet is Michigan’s smallest brewery. A century ago, the Keweenaw Peninsula was a booming mining region and Calumet was its capital. In fact, five trains a day from Chicago stopped here. Back then, a brewer named Joseph Bosch saw an opportunity. He built a deluxe hotel and watering hole, complete with a smoking room and a ticker tape.
Until recently, Calumet was down on its luck—almost a ghost town. The old hotel had a foreclosure notice on it after standing vacant for fifteen years. That’s when current owners Tim and Sue Bies arrived. They were looking to buy a bar in the UP and, well, you can guess much of the story. The fact that Tim had been in the beer distribution business and knew something about local government certainly helped.
The restaurant and bar opened in 1996. It offers about thirty microbrews, many of which are from Michigan, and a great collection of imports. In 2004, Tim, who had homebrewed for years, added another dimension. He bought a half-barrel Sabco (“Save a Barrel”) system. He brews one batch of oatmeal stout every Wednesday. The Bieses describe themselves as “cooks who brew beer.” It’s pretty darn good beer, though.
Want a brewery tour? Tim chuckles and says “Sure, I’ll roll it out.” He loves to chat about beer, history and snow. Calumet usually gets about 20 feet of the white stuff every year.
Of course, we can’t leave the UP without taking you to Escanaba. Even if you don’t visit in da moonlight, a visit to Hereford and Hops #1 won’t disappoint. It, too, is found in a restored historic building, the old Delta Hotel that’s listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Its other claim to fame is that it’s the only brewpub in the state where customers can grill their own steaks.
Hereford is a breed of cattle. And hops, well, you know what they’re used for. And, hoppy beers are a favorite of brewer Mike Sattem. He brews a wide range of beer, including a schwarzbier and a high alcohol English-style brown ale. They’re the best in the UP, in our opinion. Whitetail Ale and Cleary Red are his flagship beers. Now that the locals have come to love craft brew, the lineup is becoming more adventuresome.
Sadly, our trip has come to an end. But, as we head south across the bridge, at least we get one final look at heaven in the rear view mirror.
Paul Ruschmann is a writer, editor and researcher. Maryanne Nasiatka is a writer and photographer. They travel as much as their budget permits visiting many of the places where great beer is brewed and enjoyed.