12 days of Michigan craft beer, plus two extras for good measure
The holiday season is here, and it is a perfect time for Michigan craft beer. Michigan beer makes for great gifts and is the perfect compliment to any holiday gathering. With the thought of beers as holiday gifts or holiday party shareables, I’ve got Beers for the Holidays selection for you.
To create the list, I enlisted a crack team of Michigan beer enthusiasts with a spectrum of tastes. Everything from hardcore IPA hopheads to Sour newbies and crusty stout mavens. I gathered 25 Michigan beers offering a variety of styles. The instructions for my beer team were simple: Drink a sample of each beer and mark down if you would give it as a gift, bring it to a holiday party, or remove it from the list. Along the way, we would make some tasting notes. The Beers for the Holiday list would end up as the top 14 beers with the most votes for either a great gift, a great holiday party beverage, or both.
Why 14 beers?
The original idea was to seek out 12 as that fits in with the holiday theme (12 days of Christmas and all). However, we really loved these 14 beers. More is better right? Ok, not always, but in this case, more is definitely better.
You may see some entries and think, “Hey, man! That isn’t a Christmas beer!” That’s correct. Not all of these beers are the traditional spiced ales called Christmas or Holiday beers. I wanted to give you a selection of beers that can work in various holiday settings and maybe even all year long (if available).
Finally, you may ask, “What about <Insert your favorite Michigan beer here>???” I couldn’t really try every Michigan beer distributed to stores around the state. My liver and wallet weren’t up to the task. I did try to go beyond the mainstream and seek out some gems. With the preamble behind us, let’s get into the Beers for the Holiday list.
Wax Wings Brewing Company‘s “I’m a King Bee” is a high-octane double IPA featuring Michigan wildflower honey. While this beer clocks in at 9.5% ABV, it is subtle without being boozy. The wildflower honey smell comes through in a big floral nose. Our beer team thought this beer would make for a great gift. However, a couple of folks thought this would be nice at your holiday party.
City Built Brewing Company‘s “Fifth Street Hooligans” was highly praised and enjoyed by our beer team. We all felt it is a wonderful New England (NE) IPA with plenty of tropical notes without the typical astringent aftertaste. It is also a hop lover’s dream with Citra, El Dorado, Sabro, Callista, and Befuddlement hops (don’t you love the word befuddlement?). This is a beautiful beer that scored high on our give-as-a-gift and bring to the party lists.
Austin Brothers Beer Company‘s “Murky Christmas” features festive holiday artwork on the can and a brilliant NE IPA inside. One of our beer team members is nearing retirement and mentioned, “This beer tastes like retirement.” We all made notes to give several four-packs to him for Christmas. This beer has a super orange juice nose with a slightly sweet and creamy finish. The cashmere hops used in this gem come from our friends at Top Hops farms in Goodrich, MI. We unanimously agreed this is your best bet for a holiday shindig.
Arvon Brewing Company’s “Chocolate Dip” provoked several members of our beer team to sigh and say, “Oh my!” upon the first sip of this tantalizing brew. A few of us wondered if you can call this a beer, as it tastes just like raspberries dipped in chocolate. The finish on this kettle sour is oh-so-sweet and full thanks to the lactose. This beer is so thick it is nearly a shake. Everyone on our beer team loved this beer as a holiday gift and as a holiday party treat.
Short’s Brewing Company’s “Pure Michigan Winter Pils” is a fantastic imperial pilsner made with all Michigan ingredients, including malt from Empire Malting, Great Lakes Malting, and Valley View Farms with hops from MI Local Hops and Hop Alliance. The taste is crisp and somewhat sharp, with a hint of sweetness. Overall, this beer was a winner on the holiday party list. Don’t let the 7.3% ABV scare you away; just plan ahead with a designated driver.
Barrel + Beam “Blackberry Butcher” is a sparkling barrel-aged sour featuring blackberries and bloody butcher corn malt. If you are new to sours, this beer is for you. For the wine drinkers looking for a beer to sample, this is it. Featuring a slight fizz, elegant tartness thanks to the blackberry, and a crisp, dry finish, this beer is a winner. It makes a wonderful gift and a fantastic addition to your holiday gathering.
Mothfire Brewing Company’s “Zu” is what Mothfire calls an experimental brut ale. It is brewed with Zappa hops. Yes, the Zappa hops inspired thoughts of “Peaches en Regalia” and “Montana.” Like Uncle Frank, Zu is complex and very refreshing. The crystal clean finish hints at sweetness, making this beer a very easy drinker. This one will be great for all your holiday gatherings. It may also make a fine brew to ring in the new year.
Arbor Brewing Company‘s “Holiday Bake Sale” was a late addition to our Beers for the Holiday round-up. Our friend Rick brought this one to share, and it was a big hit. This double milk stout has tons of body with a rich sweet taste. We felt this one should be given as a gift, shared at your holiday party, and enjoyed every day you can find it. Whether watching the Wolverines win the National Championship or waiting for Santa to arrive, this stout is the perfect companion.
Odd Side Ales’ “Baltic Porter” is a delightful big brew that had me thinking of my great-grandma’s currant cake. Others on our brew team were reminded of boozy Fig Newtons. All around, we loved this intense flavor-rich beer. We all felt this would be a fantastic addition to someone’s Christmas stocking. Be careful, as this big beer comes in at 10.4% ABV.
Mothfire Brewing Company‘s “How Many Skulls” may not scream out “Merry Christmas” but will make for the perfect holiday gift for the craft beer lovers on your list. Big and boldly bodacious, this imperial stout is aged in Two James Rye Whiskey barrels adding to its magnificent taste. You’ll also note roasted marshmallow and chocolate flavors.
Brewery Faisan‘s “No Egrets” coffee stout met with enthusiastic endorsement from our entire team of beer lovers. The roasted coffee flavors come through clear without being overpowering or creating unwanted bitterness. If anything, this coffee stout is extremely easy to drink with a touch of sweetness. It will make a perfect gift or as your contribution to a holiday party.
Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales’ “Noel” is a weirdly wonderful holiday beer. Jolly Pumpkin indicates this beer is a wild dark strong ale aged in oak barrels for six months. Everyone in our beer squad enjoyed the complex character, with some noting fruit and others picking up touches of pecan. I thought this beer was very refreshing. The consensus is this beer would make a wonderful gift, especially for someone who loves to experience beers out of the ordinary.
Frankenmuth Brewery‘s “Christmas Town” lives up to its name with the perfect blend of spices to spread holiday cheer without turning into a cinnamon and nutmeg debacle. This smooth brown ale finishes smooth and light with a hint of ginger. While a few on our crew felt it didn’t have enough punch, the rest of us felt this beer would be perfect for your seasonal celebrations.
Dark Horse Brewing Company‘s “4 Elf” is an oldy but a goody. While many on our beer crew have a long love affair with Dark Horse and their storied 4 Elf parties, we didn’t let nostalgia cloud our judgment. This spiced ale features a nice balance of holiday spice to make everything nice. But you better watch out, as this beer will sneak up on you with its 8.7% ABV. We were split on this beer as a gift or for your party, so do both and enjoy.
Over the last 10 years, Chuck has been writing about and photographing breweries and beer festivals along with his wife Brenda Marshall on LifeInMichigan.com. When Chuck isn’t at a brewery or beer fest, you can find him in the photo pit covering local and national music acts.