ON AND OFF THE BEATEN PATH :: Michigan is for BEER Lovers!

by David Daugherty on September 11, 2012

The last time I was in Ohio, I took a little time and popped over to Michigan. I haven’t made it to the U.P. (yet), but what I’ve seen proves out that Michigan has more to offer, given the accepted craft brew hotbeds, than you might think. There are more than 90 breweries up there and if you go to Michigan for just that one reason, you won’t be disappointed. We have, of course, reviewed beer and breweries from Michigan on our Facebook page as well as the website on more that one occasion, and I enjoy physically visiting these breweries, smelling the smells and talking to the owners, the brewers, and the people behind the bar who all have a passion for the craft.

One such brewery is the Kuhnhenn Brewing Company, in Warren, Michigan. From the outside, it didn’t look much like a brewery. With the barrels out front, it presented more like a hardware store; after talking to owner Bret Kuhnhenn, it turns out I was right. It used to be Lutz Hardware, which Bret and his brother Eric owned, as Bret tells it, for a long time. But what seems to happen more and more to small town stores, eventually seeing the bigger brand stores moving in right down the street, putting a strain on their business, happened to them. Brewing was (as it still is) wildly popular, and Eric thought it would be a great idea to offer brewing supplies out of the store. Not long after that, they started brewing, and little by little, the hardware store became a full blown brewery.

Bret dragged himself away from his friends and clients to give me the 10¢ tour of the brewery. The place is deceiving, bigger than it looks from the street, and they place the brew kettles and fermenters in a very efficient manner.

We got back to the bar and Bret went in the back and emerged with a bottle simply called Kuhnhenn 9. At 9.2% ABV, this is one fine Belgian Strong Ale. With its brown pour into the glass, the aroma was very inviting – heavy on the malt and the alcohol. The taste had the expected dark fruit right up front, but again, the alcohol was ever present, which is nice with this style. Caramel, bready, but not that heavy. Kuhnhenn 9 was perfect to start the session.

Bourbon Barrel Aged 4th Dementia Ale

Next, I ordered the sampler, all very fine beers, but before I could dig into them, Cellar Master, Todd Schwem came out to the bar and brought me a glass of their Bourbon barrel-aged Fourth Dementia Olde Ale, directly from the barrel. This was a treat! There is so much going on with this brew I just wanted to devour it, but I needed to take it easy considering the ABV came in at 13.5%. So, I gave it a swirl in the glass, to perk up the aroma, and everything from chocolate to bourbon, caramel, coconut, dark fruit and toffee scents emerged. I see this as the perfect barley wine although the Kuhnhenns classify it as an Old Ale.

The first taste was unbelievable, coffee, chocolate, and strong alcohol come up front thanks to the time spent in the bourbon barrel.  Take a growler of this home, pour it into a snifter and let this one warm to close to room temperature. Oh, and if you grab your favorite cigar to go with, you’ll be glad you did. This is one of my favorites to date, and I really wish I could get more of it. Thanks Todd!

Back to the sampler, and their version of Oktoberfest, a Marzen. Reddish brown color with a fruity, malty aroma and a touch of sweetness to the tongue. I am not really a fan of this style but for Marzen’s, this one came across nice. I also get hints of orange and it came in both a little bitter and a little sweet. There’s a bit of a kick with a 6.5% ABV.

Next up, Kuhnhenn Wit, again, not my favorite style. Belgian style wheat beer, Wit pours light yellow with a sweet, citrusy aroma. It was a little too weak for me. With coriander spice as the main taste throughout, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that no matter how hard I try, I’ll never be a fan. Probably a fine session beer if you’re into this style with an ABV of 5.5%.

I simply could not get enough of the next one (big surprise). It’s called Loonie Kuhnie Pale Ale. I’m a sucker for Cascade hops and this one delivers. The bonus is it’s dry hopped! This involves adding dry hops during first or secondary fermentation. I absolutely loved it! Nice citrus hop aroma but it was the mouth feel that won me over. Caramel malt as well as apricot, lemon, a little honey and grapefruit took turns with my taste buds. With an ABV of 5.8%, this is a beer I could enjoy more than just one…or 5 of? Don’t judge me! You need to try this for yourself!

Voted “Best IPA in the World,” and the next for me on my paddle, was DRIPA, a 2012 Gold Medal winner at the World Beer Cup (scroll down to category #88), and deservingly so. DRIPA or Double Rice India Pale Ale, is made with American long grain rice, giving the beer a very crisp finish. The high hop content is amazing and flavorful. Gold in color, everything I described hits the nose hard, hoppy and citrusy. The mouth feel is another story. Pick a citrus and you might find it on the tongue, oranges, tangerines, lemons, grapefruit, with some mango thrown into the mix! I wanted to get a pint after the tasting but at 9.2% ABV, I thought better of it. I still had to drive and I still have more samples to get through!

If you want a stout with every characteristic possible, Kuhnhenn Export Stout has it.  Malty, chocolaty, roasty, and coffee notes.  And that’s just to the nose!  A nice 8% but this is a stout I could have had more of.  The nose and the mouth coincided perfectly.  There was one stout, though, that beat this one to death though and it’s next!

Kuhnhenn Imperial Crème Brule Java Stout: what a mouthful, in more ways than one! This is Cellar Master Todd Schwem’s creation and something he is very proud of. Black in color and a 7.5% ABV, this creation has a wonderful aroma. Strong smell of chocolate and vanilla. The mouth gives way to those two characters as well as a little coffee, a little brown sugar and faint lemon zest. What a huge stout!

…with love in his eyes.

Last beer for me in this sitting was Kuhnhenn Simcoe Silly, taking a Silver Medal at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival. Immediately, you get citrus fruit to the nose. The taste is remarkable with strong hints of grapefruit and mango which is blended splendidly with Belgian yeast. The operative word here is Simcoe, plenty of Simcoe Hops. I guess that’s what makes it Silly! You get the sweetness of the fruit, followed by dryness at the end, thanks to those hops. This is one great Belgian IPA which also packs a pretty good kick at 9.0% ABV.

All in all, the time I spent at Kuhnhenn’s was great. The patron’s were nice, the staff is excellent and it’s always a thrill to be able to sit down with the owner to drink and talk about his passion. I love what I do which is why I believe, Michigan is for Beer Lovers!

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Carol, the beer doctor September 12, 2012 at 10:13 pm

You’re right about Michigan being a great beer state. Did you know MI also grows hops? This weekend I’m going to set up my home-brew IPA using Cascade hops from Empire Hops Farm in Glen Arbor, MI.


admin September 13, 2012 at 11:12 pm

Can’t wait to taste it!


dj November 9, 2012 at 1:48 am

Dave – I’m one of the guys that was at the brewery the day you were there. Great meeting you! Great review of the beers and brewery as well!


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