When you drive toward one of the Great Lakes the horizon changes before you ever catch sight of water. There comes a point when your eyes sense more than see that there is nothing more behind the trees ahead, that very soon they will thin and then part and stretched before you will be the cold expanse of an inland sea. The air brightens, the sky seems larger. I have loved these lakes my whole life, and more trips than I can remember have involved riding in a vehicle toward one of them, this sensation of the horizon opening up before me.
On a recent Sunday morning in March my wife and I crossed western Michigan toward the town of Sawyer, on the coast of Lake Michigan. Our destination was Greenbush Brewing, a small and eclectic brewery with some devastatingly lovely bottle art (yes, that was an influence in planning the trip, which is proof that bottle art matters).
When we got to town we decided to see the lake before heading to the brewery. We pulled into the nearly deserted parking lot of Warren Dunes State Park and walked down the cold sand. The shore ice had piled up into fifteen foot tall hills at the edge of the water, and the wind had coated it in a thin layer of sand. On the landward side of these hills was a stretch of thawing ice over top a foot or so of frigid water. Crossing this expanse (with only a few instances of shoes punching through and getting soaked) and climbing the shore ice felt like mounting an assault on a castle, the moat and walls formed by winter’s bitter nights. We stared out across the lake, coffee in hand, and soaked in the quiet morning sun.
We headed to the brewery and settled in for the afternoon. The cafe was busy but cozy, and had the vibe of a roadside diner with more rustic class. The food was excellent (though I have to question any establishment that doesn’t offer french fries), but we were here for the beer. We were not disappointed.
Greenbush’s beers are classy representations of classic styles, with their own unique twists. Their Looner Eclipse, the first beer I tried, is a witbier with a faint kiss of lemon drop candy. Their Brother Benjamin is officially an imperial IPA, and the hops are certainly there, but a Belgian influence pervades the beer from the addition of clover honey and beet sugar. The 400 Divine Rabbits is an agave wheat ale, which…well, you’ve had agave wheats. They’re a twist all their own.
The beer that stuck with me after the trip was done was the Damn Dirty Ape, a “banana porter”. I’m not sure in what capacity this is a porter, as it comes across far more as an imperial brown, but semantics are irrelevant because the beer is lovely. The mouthfeel is rich and full, the banana is subtle, honey seeps in at the edges, and it all finishes with a boozy swallow. I could have had this all afternoon. (Note: Greenbush Brewing has since cleared up for me that this is, in fact, an imperial brown, and the porter designation on Beer Advocate and Rate Beer is faulty information.)
One note on food: Greenbush has a salted caramel and bacon cheesecake that is worth murdering a fellow drinker for if you have to. If it comes down to you or them, and there’s only one piece left, don’t hesitate to do what you have to. It’s amazing.
Across the street from the main bar is an annex that has a tap room, bottled beer and merchandise, and outdoor seating. We ventured across from a few more drinks and snacks (the charcuterie plate was delightful and the chef was informative and helpful). We finished the afternoon with a glass of Closure, Greenbush’s American pale ale. Closure is a lovely name for a beer (and the bottle is damn pretty), and it felt like the right way to end the trip. This drinks much more like a British variation on the style, gentle, subtle, and dignified. It was the perfect end to the trip.
If you find yourself in southwestern Michigan, drop by Greenbush Brewing. We’ll definitely be back.
Brewery: Greenbush Brewing
Location: Sawyer, Michigan
Beer Advocate: 3.77/5