On a recent trip across southern Michigan my wife and I spent a couple hours at the Null Taphouse, the taproom for Northern United Liquid Libations, in Dexter, Michigan. We’d spent the previous evening in Ann Arbor, and Dexter is just a short drive outside of town. The taphouse is in the middle of an unappealing newish industrial park, but the interior – part faux-industrial, part warm wood and vintage upholstery – is cozy and cool. NULL is the parent company of several breweries – Grizzly Peak, North Peak, and most notably Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales. That last one is why we visited.
Jolly Pumpkin is a one of the most interesting breweries I’m aware of. Their bottle art is wicked cool (and that does matter, shut up), and their commitment to offbeat, style-bending, wild-fermented beers sets them apart from the septuple-IPA crowd. They’re both rustic and wild, honoring classic Belgian brewing traditions but injecting those styles with mischievous twists.
Aside from a snifter of Baudelaire IO Saison – a tart take on the style with tart apple (not kind representative of an off flavor, the good kind), grass, and plenty of floral notes, with a faint whisper of pepper before a dry finish – my wife and I went with flights, as we had another brewery on the schedule for the day.
We worked our way through several of Jolly Pumpkin’s twists on classic styles – the Calabaza Blanca witbier with its reminiscences of the lemon drop candies from our childhoods, the Madrugada Obscura, a truly unique sour stout with notes of anise and black truffles and a very round, smooth tartness, and the Noel de Calabaza Christmas ale, with mild funk and earthiness, light spicing, and plenty of boozy warmth for cold December nights.
The highlight of their beers for me, at least on this particular March afternoon, was their Fuego del Otoño, an autumn seasonal loosely based on the biere de garde style. On a trip to any brewery I don’t ask for every beer to speak to me, to sing in the glass. Connecting to a beer is such an ephemeral thing; I can taste a beer and know it’s a fine beer and enjoy it as such, but not feel my spirit sigh along with it. To love a beer trip, to remember the brewery, I need at least one beer to snap my memory back to some other place, to sit with me and read a story from my mind, to make me want to describe it with emotional and narrative references rather than tasting notes. Fuego del Otoño was that beer. Smelling and tasting this beer made me think of fallen leaves, yellow and drying and floating in a mirror smooth puddle on a trail, rain dripping through a brush pile in early November, all the earthen brusqueness that makes you close your eyes when the late afternoon sky turns the color of ash on a fall day, making your heart feel like it will burst. Needless to say, we’re stocking a few bottles of this one away for just such a day this autumn.
The people at Jolly Pumpkin – led by the quirky but indomitable Ron Jeffries – know what they’re doing. Their beer is weird, wonderful, and infused with passion. Check them out when you get a chance.
Brewery: Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales
Location: Dexter, Michigan
Beer Advocate Average: 3.96/5