Last winter I picked my girlfriend (now wife) up from a foggy airport in the middle of nowhere and we drove to Ann Arbor for a long weekend. I’d been to the city once before for a concert, but it was our first time really exploring this vibrant little college town, and we left several days later discussing how much we’d like to live there someday. We mostly plan our trips (and lives, really) around books and good beer, and Ann Arbor has plenty of both.
On that trip a year ago our first brewery stop was to Arbor Brewing, a busy but cozy brewpub downtown with rich wood furnishings accented with retro bar signs and framed posters of their bottle art. Last weekend we took another Michigan trip, and decided once again to make Arbor Brewing our first stop. We got there around 5:30, beating the evening rush that still had the bar stacked several rows deep when we left around 11:00. We nestled into a deep booth and set about trying Arbor’s offerings.
The food was warm and hearty, but we were there for the beer. Arbor’s brewing aesthetic is on the adventurous side of safe, appealing to a wide base but taking some risks around the edges of their portfolio. My staple here is Bollywood Blonde, gentle but flavorful, with green citrus notes under a soft blanket of spice. The Sour to Believe is all sour and no funk (I swear to god you can taste Cry Baby sour gum in there), and while the tropical fruit notes were tasty it left us wishing for a fuller sour to sink our teeth into, but nothing was on tap. Michael Faricy’s Irish Stout has a delightful peaty note to its dark, singed roast, and it’s a solid choice for a cool Michigan spring evening.
While not a tremendously well-balanced beer, the Espresso Love Breakfast Stout (which incidentally has Arbor’s best bottle art, as seen to the left) might have been my favorite of the evening. Every beer lover has styles they have trouble being objective with, and coffee beers are one of those for me. What I love about the style is that a coffee flavor that wouldn’t actually be a marker of a good coffee – that oily, faintly smoky smell and taste of cheap coffee – tastes magnificent in a good coffee beer, and it’s the flavor I most often encounter in these beers. It’s a taste that makes me think of sitting at a diner on a rainy night, downing cheap Joe from a chipped mug. As I sat in Arbor Brewing with my wife on a Friday night, as college students and couples on nervous first dates filled the room and we nestled back into the tall wooden booth and watched, it was the perfect beer for that moment.
We stepped outside into the kind of weather we hope for on a night like this, weather some people would hate. It was a little too chilly for our hoodies, and a fine mist was falling. We wanted nothing more than to head back to our hotel and get warm and dry, and the few blocks we walked to the bus made that destination all the better as we clung to each other in the gathering chill. We’ll be back to Ann Arbor, and we’ll be back to Arbor Brewing.
Brewery: Arbor Brewing
Location: Downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan
Beer Advocate average: 3.67/5