Leelanau County Breweries


Welcome back! This will be the final post of my Leelanau county visit, but rest assured, I saved the best for last. If you’ve checked any of our check-in’s on Untappd, or Twitter, you may have noticed most of our Michigan beers have IMG_5826high ratings.  Michigan just does well on beer, and they take pride in that fact.

I’ve already mentioned my visit to Sugarfoot Saloon, which I would recommend visiting even though their beers seem quite young.  Today, let’s introduce you to Big Cat Brewing Company. This renovated restaurant turned brew pub is a great place to sit back enjoy a brew or two, and converse with the locals. The bartenders are more than happy to tell you about the history of the brewery or even make a few suggestions on where to visit.

Located 8699 S. Good Harbor Trail  Cedar, Mi, it’s a great place to park and enjoy.  They not only serve freshly prepared food, but also provide live entertainment. I of course had to order a flight to get the most of my experience. You can also order local ciders or wines.  Here’s a few of the beers I was able to try:

Dinosaur DNA will be a beer that does not have to fear extinction. This American Pale ale is a good brew to try and enjoy on a hot summer day. This Pale ale is smooth and malty, and very light. Hints of pine leave a refreshing clean taste.

Daily Grind is a Java Porter. So, if you couldn’t tell, coffee notes will be a key feature, but balanced note in this brew. However, it is not overwhelming, its light enough to enjoy on a hot day, but roasty and dry enough to sip and not take away from the porter characteristic.

Smooth Like Barry is a Cream ale. It has a hazy yellow pour, a lightly bitter finish

Big Cat Brewing 4
            Big Cat Brewing Flight

For a sweet end to the visit, I finished the sampler with a hard cider form a Michigan cidery, St. Ambrose Cellars. I introduce to you, RAZZ! a mead brewed with raspberries. It’s one of those dangerously sweet drinks, very much like a sangria with tart and mellow-sweet notes. Good thing it’s only 6%.

My favorite brewery in the Leelanau area was Hop Lot Brewery. I mentioned this locale in a prior article, but today we are going to discuss the reason for the visit, the BEER!  The brewery is located at 658 S West-Bay Shore Drive, Suttons Bay, Michigan. Food, live music, hand-made soaps, fire pit, this is a great place to grab a seat and take it all in.

Over the week of my visit, I was able to sample 10 of their beers. One thing you will notice, they go against the common practice of low ABV’s that you may find from many local breweries. The following samples are lsited in order from lowest rating to highest.  WARNING: THEY DO NOT SERVE FLIGHTS ON HOLIDAY WEEKENDS.

Before introducing you to my first review, be warned, I am not big on piney beers. That being said, Norseman, by the name alone, makes you expect something strong or bold. This 7% IPA delivers a strong pine kick to the nose. The malty body leans more towards a double, and the pine sits on the tongue at the finish. For me, it’s one saving grace was that is was juicier than I expected.

I always say, it’s really tough to find a good brown ale and Hop Lot Brewing Co. made a diligent effort at this  5.7%  brown. Bayshore Brown pours with a heady froth, and there’s a rich nutty aroma. My one gripe with this brown was its lighter body, however it is smooth with a balanced malty finish.

Satellite Junkie is a 4.5% Cream Ale.  I don’t know about you, but every cream ale I have had seems to taste differently. This was no exception. I was quite surprised with the flavoring, it was funky, wheaty and clovey.  Give it a shot and let us know what you think.

Hop Lot Brewing burger
Bacon Egg Cheeseburger, from one of their vendors

Nowas we increase in ratings, so does the ABV. Next stop, the Trail Ryeder. This 6.2% Rye beer has that characteristic that sets rye’s apart from other IPA’s, that peppery hint that compliments the overall dry hoppiness. Part of the description from Hop Lot’s post on Untappd is, “Rye malt adds a deliciously, distinct bite to this highly drinkable Pale Ale.”  I couldn’t agree more, and on a hot summer Michigan day, the full bodied crisp finish is just quenching enough to make you not turn down another.

Red ales I find to be another hit or miss beer. Hop Lot Brewing Co. has done well with their Rough Sawn red ale. Their description of this 5.7% ale is “Light and medium toasted malts are laid upon a sweet, caramel base to contribute flavors of freshly baked biscuits and toasted bread.” To me, the malts are prevalent in the nose as well as the flavors. This was a smooth and well balanced red.

Now we come to one of my favorite styles of beer, a Belgian (style) Strong. Simply named, Belgian, at 8.2 % there is a certain expectation one awaits with this style.  That’s exactly what this description holds out too, “Fruity & complex aromas & flavors.”  I immediately got the classic banana sweet, cloved nose. While sipping, I detected a spiced quality with herbal overtones. Another plus, there is  no booziness, just a balanced light finish.

Ah, yes, another style I heavily judge, the Scotch Ale or Wee Heavy. Most of the time, these beers can be sweet, surprisingly light in body, with a deep, dark, ruby hue. These are a bit higher in ABV, this one being 8%. The sweet malts make this a great warming beer, and usually the booziness is hidden under the rich flavor. You are in for a treat with Woad Warrior. There was a light hoppiness which complemented the beverage quite well. The beer, in general was tasty and robust, but overall I didn’t feel it was a quite the caliber for it’s class. Would I drink this again? YES! Because as a beer, it still holds well on its own, I just didn’t feel it fit the Scotch ale class.

Red Over Red  is an 8.2 % ABV Imperial Red IPA. Reds are always a fun beer to try. When you expect a certain sweetness from a red ale, the IPA maltiness can leave for a crisp balance. For me, I was surprised at the light maltiness, and enjoyed the pleasant caramel sweetness as it finished. It’s body is full, but not filling, and leaves you with that happy warm feeling. Enjoy this one, but be careful.

Now on to the final two beers. These two concoctions are some of the best beers I have ever tasted, and really set the bar high. Michigan already has a high standard for stouts, and these live up to their standards. I truly hope these will be widely distributed some day.

Hop Lot Brewing leelanau exhange
Perfect Pour, for a Prefect Beer!

First off, Kittywampus, a 5.3% ABV oatmeal stout. Usually I get a little perturbed when a beer is called a stout, and it’s less than 6%, but if done well, I get over it pretty quickly. The body of this beer matches the ABV, meaning it’s light, but the the roasted malts fully satisfy the palate. The toasty coffee-like flavor, with the dark dry finish make this an enjoyable treat.

Finally, we come to my favorite of all their beers, and perhaps of all the local breweries, Leelanau Exchange. This dark, frothy 10.4% ABV leaves nothing in question about a greatness of a well crafted brew. It is pure satisfaction with every sip. Today the markets are flooded with Bourbon Barrel Aged stouts, and sometimes after drinking those styles for a time, even imperial stouts can seem to be missing a certain character about them.  This Russian Imperial will not disappoint.

It pours dark, like molasses, with a cocoa tinted head that bubbles up and tingles your nose with a rich roasty aroma that draws you in to a rich dreamland of malts and nutty goodness. The body, as one can expect, is full and hearty, yet you do not feel full or bloaty. That thick deep sticky sweetness of molasses rolls across the palate, but its balanced with hints of almond. This is the essence of smooth, and in my opinion, a phenomenal beer which can be described in three letters: O.M.G.

In summary, go to Michigan, enjoy the natural beauty, and drink their beer!



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Hop Lot Brewing Sign



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