When I think of Michigan, the first things that come to mind are Eminem, Motown, and car factories. When I received an invitation to visit Ann Arbor, I wasn’t expecting much in the way of fresh food and local ingredients. I was surprised to find a burgeoning food scene with custom cocktails, craft beers, and tons of locally sourced organic foods, fresh off the farm.
All of these local Ann Arbor breweries are independently owned and hand-selected the brews featured on tap.
I had heard good things about their craft brew scene, and I was all about checking out the local hops at the city’s many breweries. All of these local Ann Arbor breweries are independently owned and hand-selected the brews featured on tap. It gets difficult to decide where to go because nobody has time to visit them all. My recommendations are based on the tastiest beer and the best atmosphere. After visiting quite a few breweries, this is a list of my faves. So anyone who takes this trip will have a better idea of where to start their exploration of the craft brew in this city.
Arbor Brewing Company, 114 E Washington St Ann Arbor, MI
Out of all of the breweries, there were two that separated themselves from the rest. Arbor Brewing Company was the OG brewery in town. In 1995, Matt and Rene Greff, a husband- and-wife duo, decided to leave their corporate jobs and open the first brew pub in Ann Arbor. Rene Greff also became the first female brewer in Michigan. They have enormous tanks on-site and ferment some of their impressive selection of sours in house too. I tried their barrel-soured Jackhammer old ale by the name of Brune Wild Roots. It was aged since 2014, which gave it a flavorful tart yet smooth taste. The other must-try was the Anahata Chakra Honey Lavender Ale. Described as a unique ale brewed with honey and fresh lavender flower, it was a cool and crisp taste that was seasonal and perfect for summer.
HOMES Brewery, 2321 Jackson Ave, Ann Arbor, MI
Next up was HOMES Brewery. HOMES is an acronym for the five Great Lakes that touch Michigan—Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior. Walking into this place, I immediately felt like I had somehow been teleported into a space that was the love child of Brooklyn and Portland, with art like a tie-dye astronaut portrait they had found from a local POC Detroit street artist on Instagram. The place was crawling with youthful hipsters as the owners greeted me in denim, sneakerhead shoes, and fitted tees and baseball hats.
Their taster flight trays are designed to match the shape of their triangle logo, hand-crafted by the owners themselves. It’s not just creativity that is overflowing from this place; the flavors are also part of a robust selection. One popular beer earned its moniker from the owner’s son when no one could think of a name for it: Leafy Leaf is a kettle sour-brewed beer with hints of coriander and aged fresh basil.
A sweet surprise was the King Cold Brew Cream Ale, a golden-hued beer that tastes like an actual cold-brew coffee. There’s a rotation of a coffee roasts that they infuse with their beer. This bar specialized in top-notch sour beer that seemed somewhat familiar to me. This may have been because the brewers spent a few weeks apprenticing in Portland, where I live now, at Cascade Brewing, to perfect a lot of their techniques. The location of HOMES is a bit off the beaten path, but it is totally worth the pilgrimage for good vibes and quality hops.
The Last Word, 301 W Huron St, Ann Arbor, MI
Walking into the POC-owned The Last Word, named after its signature drink, which pays homage to a forgotten 1920s cocktail, I saw a man in suspenders and a newsboy cap shaking a cocktail shaker from behind the bar. The Last Word’s ingredients consist of equal parts gin, lime juice, green Chartreuse, and maraschino liqueur, shaken with ice and strained. With the help of occasional guest bartenders, their menu is always rotating. A menu from May gave me a taste of why this bar was voted one of the best craft cocktail bars in Michigan. Many of the drinks are original creations from the bartenders, like Proof ’ the Pudding, a combination of Ford’s gin, pineapple juice, chipotle honey, ginger, and lime. There’s also the Petey Pablo, which is named after the one-hit-wonder rapper and combines Altos tequila, grenadine, Angostura bitters, lime, soda, and a scotch float. The ambience is very dank and basement-like because it’s a below-street-level bar, but the live piano music livens things up. The dim lighting does help achieve an underground vibe of a vintage speakeasy from Prohibition days.
The Ravens Club, 207 S Main St, Ann Arbor, MI
The Ravens Club is where it’s at. Another bar that honors the Prohibition era, the mesmerizing decor shines through the bar’s darkness, with a design that mingles brick and wallpaper. Its shadowy atmosphere matches the melancholy vibe that’s fitting for its name. Unlike drinks in the 1940s, there weren’t any bootleg selections, and moonshine was absent from their menu. Instead they presented an impressive list of spirits that would satisfy the average whiskey lover, including both Kentucky bourbons and ryes. Since I am not about that life, I ordered a Bramble On. This drink was perfectly concocted by a bartender with a funky print shirt, rolled-up sleeves, and a beard, so even before I tasted it I knew it would be official. And it was. The ingredients of vodka, elderflower liqueur (which I had never had before), local blackberry puree (made in-house), and fresh lemon with mint all melded together beautifully.
This drink was perfectly concocted by a bartender with a funky print shirt, rolled-up sleeves, and a beard, so even before I tasted it I knew it would be official. And it was.
Fred’s Ann Arbor, 403 E Washington St, Ann Arbor, MI
And after drinking all of the best drinks, the next morning you can stop by Fred’s Ann Arbor. Aesthetically, this place was like some sort of cross-pollination of an Anthropologie store, a coffee shop, and a deli, with Gwyneth Paltrow as bartender. It was so visually pleasing, and all of the food and drinks were made from locally sourced ingredients. Almost everything was organic. And Fred’s offered in-store cold-pressed juices to aid in your recovery, along with fresh matcha and lattes, all made in-house. This is an excellent option for nondrinkers or anyone in search of a hangover cure. I always need juice after a night of bomb drinks and @Fredslol had exactly what I needed.