Kalamazoo Trippin’ – Bell’s and the Beer Exchange

First things first ladies and gentleman, a huge thanks to beeritors who’ve visited the site in the last week – I had taken an extended break from writing to get things in order here in San Francisco and it was a pleasant surprise to have so many folks read my last post. I was tremendously honored and hope that moving forward people continue to enjoy the combo of awkward prose and poor photography that has made this popular so far!

Exhibit A - I thought this would be an interesting shot... Yeah.

Moving on, the story for this morning consists of a long drive across Ohio wrapping past Lake Erie and up into the heart of Michigan. Here’s the map for those of you curious as to how we made our way. This was state 27 I’d never been to before (I’m guessing) and I was starting to get the hang of being somewhere I’d never been before, which is to say I was learning to get less upset when I got lost by being an idiot.

For those of you in the know, and those of you who cleverly looked at the first photo, it should be obvious that we were on a beeline for Bell’s Brewery. Bell’s is one of those places that belongs in the travel plans of beer geeks and non-beer people alike. While I tend to ignore the opinions of the latter, they do exist and they should check out Bell’s for the Eccentric Cafe stained glass alone.

Exhibit B: I am an amazing photographer.

And for people more like myself, you're here for this.

But we’ll return to the beer list in a bit, first we must away to the tour of the premises and the photos that once again prove I could have survived with a considerably less expensive camera. The tour starts in the Eccentric Cafe with a rounding up of all the nerds and lenses, then quickly wanders out the back door to a parking lot. I forgot to take photos of the lot, so those of you with nice things to say about my amazing framing of cars and their spaces will have to wait until next time. In the meantime we made our way into one of the breweries there, the aptly named Brewery 1.

Beer is made here. You may kneel and worship if you wish.

Enough fermenters to hold about 300 barrels of beer in this room IIRC, so almost 100,000 bottles of beer. Just waiting.

The tour goes through some of the history of Bell’s from founding to present day. The trip from 1985 to 2011 only takes about 15 minutes to listen to, and is filled with tremendous stories which is another reason Bell’s is great for everyone. There’s some history and cool links on this page on the Bell’s website, as well as one of my favorite brewer photos of all time. I can only hope that someday I am able to look like an awesomely disoriented beer Indiana Jones and pull it off – step one is the beard. Below are some photos of the other side of the room, occupied by the other half of the fermenters and a sizable barrel rack that made me jealous.

And more beer, all the better for me to drink.

Not gonna lie, the barrel rack was a semi waiting to happen.

And after all that there was even more to be seen – another room contained most of the actual plumbing that powered the brewhouse and I grabbed a shot there before we got to hang outside again and chat about the brewery and ask questions. I had a beer brought with me on the tour from the cafe and so I just sipped along and listened to other questions rather than interject my own. Plenty of fun facts to be had from more than 25 years in operation and I had enough beer waiting for me inside that I decided to form my own opinions on the brews rather than ask copious questions.

I must be weird, photos of Hot Liquor Tanks and plumbing really do it for me.

I'm guessing this was a Wild One barrel from reading the Bell's website, I just love the markings.

Now I’m going to jump to the evening of our visit to Kalamazoo before I do any talk of the beers we tried, because we visited the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange and it was too awesome to leave out. For the uninitiated the KBE brings together the stock market and beer, for a drunkenly confusing combination that works in a mysterious but satisfying way.

Kalamazoo Beer Exchange Menu - courtesy of dr4ward.com

Each beer has a price based on how many are ordered each 15 minute period of the evening, and occasionally the market crashes bringing every beer down to $2/pint. Needless to say we sat for a long while and drank our way through the menu, which happened to be part of Michigan Beer Month. So let’s get to it:

Bell’s Two Hearted – The staple IPA of the midwest by which all others are judged. This reminds me of the original grouping of IPAs, meeting the style head-on and quite tasty. Being a person who leans toward malty beers I appreciated the biscuity quality, though it was quickly covered by strong hop. Definitely not my style, but still quite enjoyable and drinkable. Up there with Blind Pig among my favorite IPAs regardless.

Kalamazoo Stout – A tremendously good stout, lovely and dark with huge dark chocolate notes on a whiff. Background of dry fruit and sweets make for a fun smelling adventure, and I tended to sniff before each sip for a kick. A nice foamy head that didn’t give in after the pour and solid lace all the way down the pint made for an awesome half hour of drinking. Among my favorites in Michigan.

Brewery Vivant Farm Hand – I really enjoyed this light and crisp Saison from Vivant. I would visit them a few days later, and was glad to get to try some of their beer on draft before hand. Quite nice and floral, with the amount of hop I like in my saisons, which is minimal. Fruity esters and a mildly sour bite made for a reminder of time spent in Belgium two years earlier.

Short’s Soft Parade – A nice pour from a local bottle shop and poured into a pint glass. Surprising amount of up front fruit smell and flavor, with a decent malty backbone. Fun to sniff and sip, and completely covers the high alcohol content. A cute pink color and surprising flavor profile make for an enjoyable bottle, not something I would go for a six-pack of though.

Unknown Brett Cider – I could use some help here, this was on tap at KBE and made in Michigan by a cider maker that had a few unique ciders available. It was a super dry cider made with brettanomyces and other sour elements that made for a uniquely medium high alcohol content and lack of sweetness. I enjoyed one glass, but didn’t go back for a second because of the distinct drying effect. I’ve gone through my notes but can’t find it anywhere, so maybe someone can give me a lead!

All in all Kalamazoo was tremendous fun, and we spent the day bouncing from Bell’s to the Beer Exchange and a local bottle shop to make sure we got to try everything. We had entered the middle distance sprint portion of the trip, and we were only going to start moving faster in the days to come. Lots of fun to be had, and plenty of pedal to the floor in our future. Cheers!

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