Beer Trip: Short’s Brewing Company

Though it hasn’t made as many appearances on these pages as I would expect, it’s fair to say that all three contributors to  this site are big fans of Short’s Brewing. Their beers can be hit-or-miss, sure, but the main thing is this: they’re trying crazy shit. We’re big fans of experimentation in brewing, and there aren’t many widely-distributed breweries that are willing to do things like make a bloody mary-themed beer, complete with salty flavor, etc.

So, I’ve said all this to preface an admission: despite our love for Short’s, and numerous experiences drinking their products, none of us has ever made the trip to Northern Michigan to experience Short’s in the flesh.

Until now.

Thanks to a wedding in Traverse City, I found myself in the wild North of Michigan, and – as the plus-one of a member of the bridal party – an entire day with nothing to do. It is common sense what Short’s is, but I continued to journey on.

Location

I knew Bellaire was in the middle of nowhere, but man, Bellaire is in the middle of nowhere. From Traverse City, there are primary routes to take: along the Grand Traverse Bay, or around the other side of Torch and Elk Lakes to the East.

Short's Brewing Company factory

Short’s production facility. “Glory” is a term used loosely in this instance. Sweet rearview, bro.

Since the Short’s production facility is actually in Elk Rapids, about 30 miles from Bellaire, I took the Western route on the way up, and swung by the factory to experience its glory. It was not thrilling, and certainly not while I was just swinging by as I hustled to make it to the brewpub itself.

Elk Rapids is no metropolis itself, but is actually in a pretty cool location, on the channel between Elk Lake and the Grand Traverse Bay. As I said, I didn’t head into the town itself too much.

As for the brewpub itself, I’ve already mentioned that it’s… remote… and that’s the case. The town of Bellaire consisted entirely of a couple blocks, and the brewery is on the Western edge of that town.

Setting and Atmosphere

Bellaire is a quintessential resort town (but with no real reason to visit, other than the variety of lakes a short distance away, I guess), and Short’s is one of the few things that seems like it would bring people into the town. From the outside, it’s an unassuming building as part of a city block.

Short's Brewing Company Brewpub

The calm before the storm.

Stepping inside, however, thinks go from up North casual to that bustling feeling we’ve all come to know and love in brewpubs. All orders are taken at the counter – be they for food or beer – but wait staff actually brings the product to you once you grab a table flag and find a seat in one of two rooms.

The bar room is the one you enter walking into the storefront, but near the back of the space, there is a short set of stairs down into a larger (or at least more spacious) room. In that room, there is a nice stage for live music, and a number of hightop tables along the walls, and standard low-top tables with seating along the middle.

I would have love to have the opportunity to see some live music there, and if it wasn’t so remote, I would make a trip just to see that (and to get some more interesting beers – more about that in a moment). As it stands, it’s likely something that won’t happen without a special set of circumstances.

The Beer

So, I mention that there weren’t many great beers – or at least not exciting ones – on my trip to Short’s. That is in direct contradiction with my opening paragraphs, no?

Well, my speculation (the place was busy enough that I didn’t want to hassle any waitstaff about it) is that, thanks to the Michigan Brewer’s Guild summer festival in just a couple weeks, they’re holding off on presenting many creative offerings in the brewpub until after that event.

Short's Brewing Company beers

Flight paddle.

Regardless, I wasn’t going to drive that far North without trying a few brews – albeit a couple I’d had before – so I picked up a flight. The image at right shows (from near to far): 2009 Golden Rule, Alter Spalter, Autumn Ale, Spruce Pils, and The Magician.

The Spruce Pils tastes downright earthy, green, planty… it has the same flavor of the smell of a certain substance. I’ve had it before, this came as no surprise.

The beer that did surprise me – and again, it’s one I’d had before – was The Magician. It’s a nice brown ale, with plenty of toffee and caramel tastes in the malt experience. It’s lightly hopped – though the Short’s menu mentioned that makes it ideal for newcomers to beer (with the implication that it’s not good for anyone else), about which I couldn’t roll my eyes hard enough.

The other three beers were mostly non-notable. They were good, solid beers, as is expected. Any other week(s) of the year, however, I wouldn’t have even bothered ordering them, instead opting for one of the more creative offerings you’d typically see on draft.

Summary

Short’s is known as a good brewery, and making the trip didn’t do anything to dissuade me from thinking that. It’s in the middle of nowhere, both an annoyance and part of what makes it so special. It’s worth making the journey only if you’re headed in that direction anyway, but on a standard week with a more creative beer list – and the chance to see a bit of live music 0 it can make for an excellent experience.

Review: New Holland Cabin Fever

New Holland Cabin Fever

New Holland Cabin Fever, Complete with Commemorative Big Chill Glass

I spent last weekend in Northern Michigan snowboarding, and what better beer to commemorate such an occasion than one called “Cabin Fever?” I picked up an individual bottle in a mix-and-match six pack on my way to the eponymous cabin.

The head is a nice tan color, and sticks around for a loooong time. I tend to be lazy when I pour, leading to a tall head on my beer, and I had to wait quite a while before I could even finish pouring from the bottle into the glass, because the head did not recede. The beer itself was clear, but a rather dark brown.

The aroma is pretty nutty, with both “brown” and “black” (hazelnut) notes. Yes, I describe flavors by color. I also describe body by terms like “tastes wet,” so I guess readers should be used to a… different style from me.

The first sip… wow. There’s a very strong alcohol flavor on the tongue, but it doesn’t linger for long. The taste is deceptively strong, as this is “only” a 6.25% beer. There are the standard flavors you expect from a brown, with malt and nutty flavors, though it’s maybe a bit drier than you might expect from some browns.

The aftertaste is mostly nutty, with some malt. There’s bit hop bitterness, but not a whole lot. The important flavors here, clearly, are the malts and nuts.

Review: Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale

Samuel Smith Nut Brown AleAfter moving to Colorado, what many call the beer capital of the United States, I discovered something very upsetting: There aren’t true Multitaps in the mountains. The most extensive selection any non-brewery has out here on-tap: Five. Always, 2 of those are New Belgium’s Fat Tire (based in Ft. Collins) and Coors Light (Coors is located in Golden, CO, just outside of Denver). Sadly, in the state of more than 80 microbreweries, no one has any other micro on tap.

Alas, to sate my need for a beer with an actual malt flavor, and having no car here, I purchased a bottle of Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown; not regional, I know, but it was the best I could do.

Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale – 5.0% 31 IBU

This beer pours with a thick 3 finger head, but it fades fairly quickly. This head releases a nice, earthy, deciduous aroma. This lessens as the head fades leaving a light aroma that compliments the flavor while sipping nicely.

Even after the large head falls, the beer is a bit more carbonated than I like for this style. I’m not exactly sure if drinking this beer at 9k feet would affect that, but if I had everything in the world my way, I’d like a little less CO2.

It tastes like a typical Nut Brown does: a very woody and sweet malt flavor. The dark roasted malts you find in such beers are very prevalent and if you’re ever trying to teach someone what individual malts and roasts contribute to flavor, this would be a great way to isolate darker varieties.

Suprising me, this beer finished much cleaner than you average nut brown would. I find they tend to linger a bit longer than most beers, but this cleaned up quite quickly. The carbonation may have had something to do with that, but the effect was creating a very drinkable beer. and by the end of my imperial pint, I found myself wanting more.

This is a great example of an English Brown ale, more so, I think, than Newcastle BA. I enjoyed it and would love to try a draft of it.

Tasting Sesh Goes Canning: Keweenaw Brewing Co.

I visited Paul in Chicago for my last free weekend in the Midwest. With me on my trip, I brought two canned brews from Keweenaw Brewing Company. Over recent years, microbreweries have been switching to canned beer for several reasons. Cans are cheaper to produce, more environmentally friendly/recyclable, and, for the consumer, often more convenient.

These beers came in standard 6-pack plastic duck traps. I liked the design of the cans, which, when giving up the aesthetics of a bottle, is at least something to consider. The two we had were the Widow Maker Black Ale, and the Lift Bridge Brown Ale.

Kewanaw Brewing

Canned Black and Brown ales

We’ll start with the black ale. Let me first say this: Ow. I felt like I was drinking tinfoil. 100% of the aroma was metal. No hops, no malt, just metal. It gave me a pain at the base of my skull just sniffing it. The flavor was little better. Metal again was the dominant force in the mouth, with a few nutty malt notes, but little else. It was over-carbonated, and had the texture of Sprite. Paul and I fought over who had to finish it.

The brown ale was a little better, but, well, not normal. Here, the metal was significantly reduced, and the nose had a noticeable malt aroma, with a few notes of chocolate. The head was extremely frothy, almost milky, and mixed with the chocolate malt notes, gave it a strange milk chocolate taste. This, strangely, didn’t translate to the heavy body you’d expect, and left me feeling confused. As with the black, there was almost no hop aroma or flavor, and while the metallic taste was less than the black, it was still there, scraping across my tastebuds.

Now, I don’t want to come out and say all canned beers are bad and metallic and damn close to undrinkable, but, wow: D+ would not buy again. I don’t know if we just got a few bad cans, but even through the metal, there wasn’t much there in the beer to really interest me. The brown wasn’t awful, but I didn’t feel like I was drinking beer. I felt like I was drinking carbonated chocolate metalmilk. I want to try these same beers, non-canned, for comparison, but as it stands, if you some brown cans with a nifty design chilling at your local beer store, take a sidestep and try something else.

Flying-By-The-Seat-Of-Our-Pants Dry Brown Ale

While often we try to produce a certain type of beer, immitating a certain style, or build a beer with a particular concept in mind, sometimes, raw experimentation and whimsy can lead to a decent brew. Making sure your beer fits the style guide, having just the right amount of CO2, final gravity, etc., is fun and a challenge (artists learn to immitate the greats before they go off and do their own thing), but the most important thing about brewing beer, that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle is this: Beer is for drinking. You don’t need to stress about having just the right grain bill, or just the right length of boil, etc. Just go out there and brew something.

That’s the methodology in this beer. With no idea for what to brew, I happened to be driving by Adventures in Homebrewing, where we generally buy our supplies, and, since it’s normally 45 minutes away from where we live, I thought that I should swing by and pick something up. While many of our beers have had a focus on unique or interesting flavor profiles, I set out on this beer with more of a focus on the aroma, and this is what I threw together.

Mash

  • 6lbs 2 Row Malt
  • 2lb Belgian Aromatic Malt
  • 1lb Flaked Rye
  • 1lb Victory Malt
  • .5lb 40L Crystal

75 minute, mash at about 165ºF

Boil

  • 2/3oz Kent Goldings at 60 minutes

Fermentation

  • White Labs WLPoo8 East Coast Ale Yeast
  • 4/3 oz Kent Goldings Dry Hop

Fermentation really took off on this beer. While the spewing CO2 wasn’t quite to the level of the Barley Wine, the WLP008 rapidly took the beer down from an OG of ~1.052 to our FG of 1.002, which was pretty impressive, considering the attentuation should be around 70-75%

The East Coast Ale yeast has a neutral character that wouldn’t get in the way of the other ingredients allowing us to get a better sense of how each part of the grain bill came out in the nose.

Tasting Notes

This beer is kind of weird, but certainly not in a bad way. When I think of a brown ale, a malty sweetness along with a full body usually comes to mind. With this beer, almost all the sweetness is in the aroma, where it is very forceful. The taste of the beer itself is quite dry with a decent malt backbone. There are some hops, but those too come out mainly in the nose. At about 5.4% ABV, this is, for us, a nice session ale that can provide a bit of refreshment after a couple pints of our chili pepper beer.

Recipe: Return of the Yeast Brown Ale

This was our first attempt to reuse the yeast cake in our carboy. This cake was from the Sullivan Stout (WLP007). Other than that, it was a fairly standard Brown Ale. As predicted, the beer started up very quickly and fermented in a couple days.

Grain

  • 8lbs Maris Otter
  • .75lbs Crystal 60ºL
  • 1lb American Victory
  • .5lb Belgian Special B

Extract

  • 1lbs Dark Malt Extract

Hops

  • .5 oz Kent Goldings (5% AA) 60 minutes
  • .25 oz Kent Goldings (5% AA) 30 minutes
  • .25 oz Kent Goldings (5% AA) 15 minutes

Yeast

  • White Labs Dry English Ale Yeast (WLP007)

We mashed the grain for an hour with about 3gal of 165ºF water and sparged with about 3 gallons of 170ºF water. The final boil volume was 4 gallons and we added another 1 gallon of purified water.

Review: Shorts Bellaire Brown

Shorts Bellaire Brown

Shorts Bellaire Brown

I’ve been a big fan of Brown Ales for a while. The first time I ever really remember tasting a Brown and really enjoying it was at Leopold Brothers’.  For a while, that was the high water mark for that style. Then, I tried the Bellaire Brown from Shorts.

Shorts describes it as:

A brown ale so rich, it’s hardly classifiable as brown. It’s born of copious amounts of hearty pale ale malt, and several specialty selections which make it a dark, rich and delicious masterpiece. Very light hop additions allow the malty sweetness and flavor complexity to be most protuberant. A beer so user friendly, we dub this the “gateway” beer.

It pours very dark with a small, creamy head that faded quickly.  The color, as you can see, is very dark.  It had a strong coffee smell in the aroma along with sweetness and maltiness.  The taste starts with a rich maltiness that is incredibly smooth.  It finished with a light note of cherry. The beer is incredibly well balanced with a very satisfying body.

I’ve had a few offerings from Shorts and have enjoyed them all.  Ashley’s has moved the Bellaire Brown and the Huma Lupa Liscious IPA onto its permanent menu, so I expect to make this a regular drink. I really need to plan a trip up North and hit up their tap house.