Consistently ranking in the top 10 beer-making states, Michigan is no stranger to the beer tourism industry. Craft breweries have blossomed all across the state in the past decade as training and apprenticeship programs, beer-making cooperatives, and craft enthusiasts join forces.
It’s easier than ever to find your favorite locally made session IPA or brown ale in party stores and craft breweries.
The Michigan Brewers Guild estimates that there are just over 300 independent breweries in the state, and more are added every month. Once concentrated around hubs like Grand Rapids and Detroit, they’re now dotted across the state, from beachside resort towns like Saugatuck to industrial centers like Pontiac. Wine, beer, and spirits trails abound all over Michigan. That makes it a breeze to whip up a beer-based tour itinerary just about anywhere you visit.
We’ve compiled some highlights from two of the state’s most popular beer tour destinations. Traverse City and Grand Rapids are relatively bicycle-friendly, and since many of the breweries are tucked together on the cities’ main drags, spending an afternoon brewery hopping is a relaxing way to see the city from a fresh perspective.
Both cities have bike-and-brew trail maps available online, but since finding new favorites is part of the fun, a few minutes with a map and an internet search should help you plan out the ideal visit for your party.
The Michigan craft beer industry had some of its first taprooms in west Michigan, and the region continues to flourish when it comes to innovative and on-trend brewing. Global giants helped make Grand Rapids into Beer City USA, a title bestowed by voters in an online poll on Examiner.com in 2012 (and confirmed once again by USA Today in its 2022 readers’ choice awards).
Almost 30 years after those early taprooms opened, beer culture is steeped into the city’s daily life.Nearly 100,000 tourists visit Grand Rapids every year just to experience the vibrant beer scene. Bike and bus tours, hotel and brewery packages, and even an app celebrate all things sudsy, making it easy to put together a beer tour itinerary.
The long-term megabreweries are easy to spot, especially when it’s new-release time and lines snake out the door, but there are loads of newer and less familiar places to check out, too. Here are just a few of the city’s many taprooms to consider when planning a visit.
The west side of the state is well known for its German and Dutch culture, so when this Bavarian beer hall opened its doors in August of 2022, it fit right in to the bustling strip of downtown Grand Rapids alongside mainstays like New Holland Brewing Co. and Jolly Pumpkin.
Timbered ceilings, stacks of beer steins, and colorful flags transport imbibers to a cozy German setting, and the atmosphere is enhanced with frequent international music performances and televised soccer matches from Germany.
The hall keeps 10 beers on tap, including several styles of bock beer, pilsners, and weiss beer. The brewery follows the strict German Reinheitsgebot, or purity law, using only malt, hops, water, and yeast to create its beers.
Visit grbrauhaus.com for more information.
City Built Brewing Co.
In the shadow of the historic Sixth Street Bridge and nestled along the Grand River Edges Trail, City Built is ideally located for a pit stop on a long summer’s ride.
A changing rotation of about 20 draft beers, plus house-made cider and kombucha, will satisfy even the pickiest drinkers. Looking to chase away a dry, dusty feeling on a hot summer day?
Try a Prague Underground Czech pilsner or a fruited sour. Other highlights from the menu include barrel-aged barley wines, hop-forward IPAs, and a pre-Prohibition-style porter that hearkens back to the city’s 19th-century heritage.
Visit citybuiltbrewing.com for more information.
With a motto of “We promise we’ve never made a beer we wouldn’t drink,” TwoGuys located in Wyoming, just outside of Grand Rapids — shows that it’s a laid-back and mellow kind of brewery. That doesn’t mean its selection of beer, cider, and seltzers is boring, though: Grand Rapids Magazine readers voted TwoGuys all the way to the top spot in 2020’s Battle of the Breweries.
TwoGuys boasts a deeper food menu than the average brewery, too, with house-smoked pork, beef, and turkey; homemade soups; and two pages’ worth of sandwiches, salads, apps, and tacos to satisfy just about any craving. Just a few miles down the road from downtown Grand Rapids, TwoGuys is worth the detour.
Visit twoguys-brewing.com for more information.
Speciation Artisan Ales
Speciation is a beer nerd’s beer bar. The brewers there take a bottoms-up approach, crafting their signature “wild beers from natural yeast that is native to the environment, rather than starting with commercially grown strains of yeast.
Speciation starts with basic, unfermented beer recipes, then allows the beer to ferment with natural yeast for anywhere from a few months to a few years. This means that every batch of its popular sour ales and beers is unique, the result of its serendipitous blend of yeasts and flavorings available at one given time.
In addition to its beer and seltzer collection, which is ever-changing, the taproom also offers wild-fermented, low-intervention Michigan wines.
Visit speciationartisanales.com for more information.
A former funeral-home chapel may seem an unlikely place for one of Grand Rapids’ most celebrated taprooms, but the building’s lofty ceilings and ample space are ideal for elevated and friendly conversation at Brewery Vivant.
For more than a dozen years, the brewery has been serving up Belgian-style beers with an emphasis on sustainable practices, local sourcing for food and drink ingredients, and convivial gatherings.
Brewery Vivant mainstays like the farmhouse ale and Rapid IPA are supplemented with seasonal offerings focused on French- and Belgian-style fruited sours and ales.
Visit breweryvivant.com for more information.
Bikes, kayaks, pedal pubs, and bus tours: There are plenty of ways to venture out to some of the popular region’s many breweries and distilleries without having to get in your car.
Several outfitters offer tours and group packages, including a combined bike and kayak tour from Kayak, Bike & Brew and a six-hour urban kayaking brewery tour from Paddle for Pints.
Many of Traverse City’s breweries are clustered downtown, along Front Street and radiating down to the SoFo (south of 14th Street) district, with just a couple of miles of road encompassing a dozen breweries, taprooms, and distillery
Stop in and share a sampler or grab some cans or growlers to enjoy a Lake Michigan sunset with a local brew in hand.
Right Brain Brewery
Housed in a nondescript warehouse along the shore of Boardman Lake, the plain exterior of Right Brain belies the spacious, colorful interior packed with pinball machines, Skee-Ball, hand-painted mugs, original art and murals — and of course, several dozen taps of the experimental beers, ciders, and seltzers that have earned Right Brain a reputation for wild and creative brews.
The sky’s the limit for Right Brain’s zany concoctions. Whether sharp, creamy, dank, and dark or bright and fruity, there’s a drink here for every palate and mood. With a mission to “Keep Beer Curious,” the brewery curates a collection of flavors that decidedly delivers just that.
Visit rightbrainbrewery.com for more information.
North Peak Brewing Co.
The influence of North Peak on the craft brewing industry in Michigan is evident in the number of brewers who learned the craft there and moved on to build their own businesses.
North Peak was one of the first microbreweries in northern Michigan, founded in 1995. By now, North Peak and its partner organization Jolly Pumpkin are favorites of beer drinkers all over the state.
North Peak’s spacious taproom, housed in a former candy factory, has two floors of seating and ample outdoor space for large groups looking to sample its signature Diabolical IPA and Siren ale or any of a dozen or more rotating taps.
Visit pub.northpeak.net for more information.
Silver Spruce Brewing
Homegrown talent Leah Tyrell and Scott Stuhr, the husband-and-wife team behind Silver Spruce, got their start in the brewing scene in Asheville, North Carolina, before moving back to Traverse City in late 2018.
One of the city’s most family-friendly taprooms, it offers kids’ juice boxes but also features plenty of adult fare, including its brilliant and crisp German pilsner.
Traditional brews are well represented here, making the brewery a great stop for anyone looking for an approachable, easy-drinking beer crafted with precision and care.
There’s also an on-site food truck. Bonus nostalgia points for the building itself, a former Family Video.
Visit silversprucebrewing.com for more information.
Fresh Coast Beer Works
Over the course of a whirlwind six years, Fresh Coast has grown from a home brewers’ supply company, to a nanobrewery, to a taproom with frontage one block from one of Traverse City’s most walkable streets.
The company’s evolution is still apparent in the decidedly unfussy exterior and interior decor, but it’s refreshing to see a brewery that hearkens back to the early days of bare-bones brewing.
The emphasis here is on a solid selection of ales, porters, and other traditional beers, made meticulously with an eye for science. The home-brew supply store is also a great place to learn about how to become one of Michigan’s many independent home brewers. Friendly, knowledgeable staff are happy to help with challenges and questions for budding and experienced brewers alike.
Visit fcbeerworks.com for more information.
Rare Bird Brewpub
Variety is king at Rare Bird, a brewpub with (typically) six house-made brews and a selection of 30 or so other Michigan-made beers, plus a full liquor bar. State standouts like Short’s and Old Nation have shared space with lesser-known breweries like Wixom’s Drafting Table and Traverse City’s Brewery Terra Firma.
Rare Bird’s own offerings include a gluten-reduced blood orange witbier, an award-winning coffee stout, and an intensely hopped IPA. The brewpub also has quite a few nonalcoholic options on hand. Midtour is a great time to pause for a dry-hopped nonalcoholic IPA, an alcohol-free stout, or a Dry Secco.
The red-brick building’s interior is homey and welcoming, with wood- paneled walls and booths.
Visit rarebirdbrewpub.com for more information.
This story is from the July 2023 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more in our digital edition.