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Beer O'Clock GR

It's 11.44am On Saturday January 23 And It's Happy Hour Right Now at 4 Bars In GR

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Craft Beers of Michigan: A Brief Detour into Hell (a.k.a. Ohio)

By Paul Baxter

While I have not been writing this column for very long, I already feel compelled to change gears slightly. Variety is the spice of life, as they say, and I’m as big a fan of Mrs. Dash as the next guy. So what does this mean, I can hear you asking. As opposed to beer, are you going to talk about orange juice this month or something?

I’m not going to lie. Such a thought has indeed crossed my mind. Could you imagine how many puns I would be able to squeeze into a column about apple juice’s less bowel instigating cousin? Frankly, I feel like I could beat the subject to a pulp.

Oh god, it’s happening already.

No, when I say I want to change gears slightly, what I am alluding to is that I want to step outside the confines of Michigan, if only briefly. Do not fret, however, as next month we will most assuredly be back within the borders of our beloved Wolverine State.  Whether it be in the mitten shaped Lower Peninsula or that amorphous blob to the north we call the U.P., we will once again be discussing a delicious Michigan made beer that will, no doubt, give the neurotransmitters in your brain a much needed Christmas vacation.

Why would you ever want to leave Michigan, though, I can once again hear you asking. We have the Great Lakes and Kid Rock. While I agree that’s totally a winning combination, except the whole Kid Rock part (just kidding, he’s great), I feel it is essential we broaden our horizons.

Broaden our horizons???!!! This is Michigan! We’re home to Beer City, U.S.A.! There are literally microbreweries and craft beer producers everywhere in this state now! Breweries are popping up like Starbucks franchises, only they probably have less homeless gentlemen urinating in the bathrooms!

First of all, gross. Second, please stop yelling at me in italicized form. And, thirdly, I have a very good reason for doing what I’m about to do.

Which is?

Uh, I forget. No, wait, now I remember. It is because it is going to allow me to espouse liberally on two subjects I find quite enthralling, those areas of interest being Great Lakes shipwrecks and the practice of mocking the ever loving heck out of the state of Ohio.

Lest you think my Buckeye State poking fun has anything to do with the big Michigan vs. Ohio State game coming up, let it be said that I am actually interested very little in any football that doesn’t involve the Honolulu Blue and Silver in some way. If I wanted to see a bunch of twenty-one year olds damage their brains while not being compensated, I’d go to a frat party, not that I have or will ever be invited to one, unless the fraternity having the party happens to be Alpha Delta I Own Multiple Seasons of Star Trek on DVD.

Not sure what the Greek sign is for that last part.

Yes, Ohio, the land where dreams and presidential elections go to die. Also, my car on the turnpike that one time. Ohio, where their state motto is, “You don’t have to be a miserable son of a bitch to live here, but it sure helps!” Ohio, home to the glorious city of Cleveland, which itself is home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the ghost of fat Drew Carey.

Cleveland is also home to Great Lakes Brewing Company, which is a company name some might think more suited for a Michigan based beer producer, whereas one from Ohio’s second largest city would be better off going with “Holy Crap! The River’s on Fire!” or “Remember When LeBron Used to Play Here?” Brewing Company or some such thing.

When your establishment produces a beer like their Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, though, you can call yourself whatever the heck you want.

A bittersweet hoppy beer with a distinct chocolate-coffee taste, a bottle of Edmund Fitzgerald, despite it being birthed in Ohio, is a welcome addition to any Michigan beer lover’s refrigerator, not just because it is a pleasure to drink, which it totally is, but because it also pays tribute to a ship and a piece of history that is a small part of our Michiganian and Midwestern experience.

Who amongst us, as Michiganders, hasn’t heard the heartbreaking tale of the mighty freighter that sank thirty-eight years ago this month and came to be known as the “Titanic of the Great Lakes”? Perhaps, at some point in our life, on a vacation to the Upper Peninsula, you’ve visited the Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point, or maybe, like me, you’ve listened to Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” more times than you can count. However you know the story, it’s a tragic piece of history that, once it enters your psyche, is hard to shake.

The Edmund Fitzgerald’s namesake beer similarly does not pull any punches lodging itself into your consciousness, albeit for completely different reasons. Pouring a healthy brown, nearly black color with limited carbonation, upon first taste its notes of coffee and roasted malt are readily evident, each sip finishing strong on your pallet. It is, without question, a dark beer on every level (appearance, flavor, name, packaging…) Drinking it from a chilled glass, one can indeed imagine themselves transported to the deck of a freighter on Lake Superior on a stormy night, looking out into the blinding snow as the waves crash around and over the hull. 

The Edmund Fitzgerald Porter is a brave beer meant to celebrate the lives and spirits of the brave men who worked on Big Fitz. Many of the men who sailed on her came from the Northern Ohio region and therefore Cleveland’s Great Lake Brewing Company is more than suited to pay homage to the fabled lost vessel. As the company describes the beer on their website, the Edmund Fitzgerald Porter is “a meticulously crafted love letter in a bottle, an epic and flavorful voyage, each sip a bittersweet tribute.”

This Michigander couldn’t agree more.

Incidentally, I take back most of, if not all, of the mean things I said about Ohio, especially that part about the state smelling like feet. What’s that? I never actually said that? Well, I meant to, so I’m apologizing anyway.

In closing, I strongly urge you to go out and buy yourself a six pack or two of Edmund Fitzgerald Porter from Great Lakes Brewing Company and remember that, in the end, drinking beer, if I can get a touch preachy here for a second, should never be an attempt to “forget our lives” but instead should be used a means to celebrate life and all the people we have the pleasure of sharing it with.

So gather your family and friends around this Thanksgiving, raise a toast, and say, in the famed last words of Captain Ernest M. McSorley of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, “We are holding our own.”

Cheers, friends, Happy holidays.