By Sarah Jaquay
Michigan has several nicknames; perhaps “The Great Lakes State” is most apt since it’s the only state touching four of the five Great Lakes. That means plenty of fresh water for producing adult beverages. Visitors can find great coffee too, but Michigan’s becoming renowned for its myriad wine trails, craft beer destinations and distilleries popping up throughout the “mitten” (so called due to its left-handed mitten shape).
Here are some major pathways for wine, craft beer and spirits enthusiasts:
Northern Michigan: Pick your Peninsula
The Traverse City area boasts two wine trails on the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas (www.lpwines.com and www.wineriesofoldmission.com) plus one of the state’s most environmentally-friendly wineries. Elegant Chateau Chantal on Old Mission recently installed a new solar array expected to provide 40 percent of its energy needs. This spring, Rove Estate is slated to open a 2,000-square-foot tasting room just west of Traverse City. It will sit on Leelanau Peninsula’s highest point, and the tasting room will feature a wraparound deck with sweeping vistas. For now, Rove Estate is working with winemakers at Brys Estate, renowned for their delicate reds.
Leelanau restaurateurs Aaron and Nikki Ackley have become brewpub owners by transforming their popular restaurant, Cedar Rustic Inn, into Big Cat Brewing. Big Cat remains a full-service restaurant and features six house-brewed beers on tap. Chris Frederickson opened The Traverse City Whiskey Company in 2015 – a 2,200-square-foot distillery, tasting room and retail operation offering tastings and sales, a cocktail menu and special events. Suttons Bay Ciders opened last fall and offers three to four hard cider styles at a time, including one infused with maple syrup. And the new Taproot Cider House in Traverse City will offer 20 hard ciders on tap, specialty cocktails, beer, mead, in-house craft sodas and a full menu.
On the Petoskey area’s Bayview Wine Trail (www.bayviewwinetrail.com), eight wineries are scattered around Little Traverse Bay in Northeast Michigan. Some offer extreme entertainment, including Harbor Springs Winery at Pond Hill Farms – which also has a brewery – and Mackinaw Trail Winery, which hosts “Woofstock” for guests and their pooches. “Hop heads” shouldn’t miss Petoskey Brewing’s Hopsessed Double IPA. It’s located in a restored, historic brewery dating to 1898.
Southwest Michigan: Wining on the Beach
Blessed with unending coastline and a more moderate climate, the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail (www.miwinetrail.com) has 19 wineries and 10 tasting rooms stretching from New Buffalo, near the Indiana border, to Holland. Most of the wineries are estate wineries and even those that aren’t source their grapes primarily from Michigan growers. The principal varieties grown are Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, says Julie Lankes who represents the trail. Lankes describes the appeal of the trail as its diversity. “You can find a variety you’ll love and the experience you’ll love no matter what your tastes.” Tasting rooms run the gamut from quaint country estates to sleek, modern wineries. Lankes suggests wine fans mark their calendars for June 18, when the 11th annual Lake Shore Trail Festival happens on Weko Beach in Bridgman. “There’s a big tent with bands, tastings from our wineries, food trucks and beautiful views of the Lake and [sand] dunes.”
Southeast Michigan: Pastoral Farms to Urban Garagistes
Southeast Michigan’s Pioneer Wine Trail (www.pioneerwinetrail.com) features seven wineries, from Sandhill Crane Vineyards just outside of Ann Arbor to Cherry Creek Cellars west of Jackson. Five are estate wineries and Pioneer is known for Rieslings, Chardonnays and cold-climate varietals. Perhaps Pioneer’s most unique winery is Chateau Aeronautique in Jackson; its theme is an airpark, complete with vintage planes and a hangar. Assistant Winemaker David Severance says the Chateau makes French-style red and white wines utilizing 100-percent Michigan grapes. They also make a Passito Cabernet Sauvignon dessert wine, using dehydrated or “raisined” grapes. Severance describes it as a “morphic wine that transforms from raisiny on the first sip to a cherry pie by the third sip.”
Many visits start with the Motor City, so wine buffs will be delighted to know about Southeast Michigan’s newest route, the Thumbs Up Wine Trail (www.thumbsupmi.com). Launched in 2015, it consists of 12 wineries in the “thumb region” stretching 270 miles from Metro Detroit to Bad Axe and back down through Port Huron into New Baltimore. And while it’s not doable in a day, a long weekend might work. Superior Lakes Hand-Crafted Mead & Wine is here; try their white and barrel-aged mead made with Michigan wildflower honey. Also check out Blake’s Ciderhouse & Winery – home of Blake’s Hard Cider Company, a family orchard operation started almost 70 years ago. They serve 19 varieties ranging from spicy El Chavo to Chateau Brun, a naturally sweet sparkling cider. Wines of the Thumb Taste Fest 2 is scheduled for May 22.
No beer lover wants to bypass Grand Rapids, considered the mitten’s brew central. There are new destinations beyond the customary Founders and Grand Rapids Brewing Companies, and HopCat. Cedar Springs Brewing Company has a newly opened “Brauhaus” restaurant that pays homage to German cuisine. Some out-of-towners have recently opened new facilities including New Holland Brewing’s taproom, and Detroit’s Atwater Brewery is slated to open a new beer garden and taproom this summer. See http://www.experiencegr.com/things-to-do/beer-city/ for more information.