Traverse City, Michigan – Hidden Beer Gem

Mackinaw Brewing Exterior

Mackinaw Brewing ExteriorJuly 4, 2009 (2 years ago) my wife and I took a road trip from our home in St. Louis, MO to Northern Michigan. We started by driving all the way to the UP for a little camping along the Great Lakes. OK, we may have made a brief stop in Grand Rapids to enjoy an afternoon at the Founders Brewing Taproom (A great time). After that we headed to Traverse City, MI to explore the area for a few days.

We were blown away by Traverse City, and I was especially impressed with the breweries there and the quality of the beer being made. There are several major breweries that call Traverse City home: Mackinaw Brewing, North Peak Brewing, Right Brain Brewery and Jolly Pumpkin brewing. Right outside of Traverse City in Bellaire, MI you will also find Short’s Brewing. The Old Mission Peninsula is also home to some awesome wineries, we won’t go into detail about here, but guys take note that this would be an easy way to sell a trip here to your better half.

Before we get to the beer, I want to give a shout out to the Grey Hare Inn, which is a bed and breakfast on the Old Mission peninsula outside of Traverse City. The innkeepers are very welcoming and friendly. The best part though is the food. Every morning you are treated to a 3 course breakfast and a variety of fresh squeezed juices and fresh baked breads. It is an awesome way to start the day and I cannot recommend this place enough.

Let’s talk about the beer, I mean that’s why you are still reading right?

Mackinaw BeerMackinaw Brewing: Mackinaw Brewing has a prime location on Front Street in downtown Traverse City.  The building is really beautiful.  My wife and I visited in the afternoon while walking around downtown Traverse City.  We decided to order a sampler and split it.  With  sampler, we got to try the G.T. Golden Ale, Peninsula Pale Ale, Red 8 Ale, Belgian Whitecap, West Bay IPA and Stout.  The beer at Mackinaw Brewing was good overall, but nothing really stood out to me as an excellent offering except for the Red 8.  The Red 8 is a red ale with a very malty profile, it had a hop profile like a pale ale, so not overly bitter, but definitely some hop flavor.  Normally a Red ale would not grab my attention, but this one did.  It was definitely the best of the beers we tried here.

Mackinaw Brewing
Check them out at:
Mackinaw Brewing
161 East Front St.
Traverse City, MI 49684
(231) 933-1100

North Peak Brewing: North Peak Brewing is located on West Front Street on the edge of downtown Traverse City in a historic building that once housed a candy factory.  On the outside, as you can see from the picture, it is somewhatNorth Peak Brewing Exteriornondescript.  Once inside though, the place is striking.  It almost has a ski lodge feeling to it, the interior is open with large ceilings and the walls are paneled with wood.  There are a few large fireplaces around the space, it is quite inviting.  North Peak is a great brewery as well as a great restaurant, in fact we actually ate here twice during our stay in Traverse City.  On our first visit, we decided to order a sampler here as well.  With the sampler we tried the North Peak BeerNorthern Light, North Peak Pale Ale, Steelhead Red, Siren Amber, Diabolical IPA and Shirley’s Irish Stout.  The standout here was the IPA.  North Peak actually bottles a few of their beers and the Diabolical IPA is available in bottles as well.  I am a self admitted hop head and I love IPA’s, this was just an all around great IPA.  It had a great body from the malts and a nice citrus-piney quality from the hops.  No visit to Traverse would be complete without checking this place out!

North Peak Brewing Company Logo
Check them out at:
North Peak Brewing
400 West front Street
Traverse City, MI 49684
(231) 941-7325



Right Brain Brewing Exterior

Right Brain Brewing: Right Brain Brewing is located in the warehouse district of Traverse City.  It is easily one of themost unique breweries I have ever been to.  It is in a very modern space and shares space with a hair salon.  Weird right?  Weird is actually the perfect word to describe the place and the owners would agree, it is what they strive for in location, decor and beer.  That should not be taken as bad, in fact, Right Brain Brewing is an awesome place.  First of all, this is a Right Brain Mugsbrewery, not a brewpub.  They offer some snacks from local vendors, but there is no food here, they concentrate on the beer…and doing hair apparently.

One cool thing that they do at Right Brain is allow you to decorate your own beer mug and keep it here.  Then when you come back you simply go over to the wall and retrieve your mug.Right Brain Joe and KimberlyThe beer selection at Right brain is one of the most unique you will ever find.  They also tend to make fairly small batches and their selection changes quite frequently.  When we were there they had an asparagus flavored ale called the Spear Beer made with grilled asparagus.  It was actually pretty amazing.  they also had a vanilla flavored ale that was awesome.  At any given time you might find odd combinations like a Chocolate IPA or an Orange Stout.  These guys are experimental, crazy and really good at what they do.  If you are even remotely close to Traverse City, you must come here for one of the most unique beer experiences you will ever have.


Right Brain Brewing

Check them out at:
Right Brain Brewery
221 Garland St.
Traverse City, MI 49684
(231) 944-1239



Jolly Pumpkin Brewing: Jolly Pumpkin is a Michigan brewery with three locations: Traverse City, Ann Arbor and Jolly Pumpkin ExteriorDexter.  Dexter is the original location and the Traverse City location is the newest.  If you are not familiar with Jolly Pumpkin, their claim to fame is Farmhouse Ales and Sours.  They were a pioneer in this style of beer in America which is rapidly growing.  The Traverse City location is actually outside of traverse City on Old Mission Peninsula.  Old Mission Peninsula is a very unique and cool place, it is home to a lot of wineries, cherry orchards and hop farms as well as Jolly Pumpkin.  Technically, this location is a Brewery, Distillery and Restaurant.  Jolly Pumpkin InteriorI can attest that the food is quite good, but again, we’re here for the beer!

Jolly Pumpkin is part of the same company that owns North Peak Brewing, so in addition to Jolly Pumpkin offerings, they have several North Peak Offerings.  At our visit they only had two actual Jolly Pumpkin offerings on draft: Bam Biere and Bam Noire, so I tried both and we also ordered a bottle of Oro De calabaza.  Jolly Pumpkin BeerThe Bam Biere is their flagship beer and it is a great example of a farmhouse ale.  this style is catching on quickly in the U.S. and I think this beer is a great entry point for anyone who wants to try out a farmhouse ale.  The Bam Noire is actually quite similar to the Bam Biere with a little more malty body and slightly less tart that the Bam Biere.  The beer at Jolly Pumpkin is fantastic, unique and this really is worth the trip alone, but the real winner at Jolly pumpkin is the setting.  I can’t talk about it enough.  The brewery is housed in a historic building on old Mission Peninsula, it is surrounded by the hills, woods and Lake Michigan, it’s just quite frankly stunning.

Jolly Pumpkin Brewing

Jolly Pumpkin Restaurant, Brewery and Distillery
Old Mission Peninsula
13512 Peninsula Drive
Traverse City, MI
(231) 223-4333

Traverse City, Michigan is a great place to visit for beer lovers.  In addition to these four breweries, you will find many other breweries in close vicinity to Traverse City as well.  Michigan in general is a great state to visit for beer, but I think Traverse is it’s hidden gem and I highly recommend you visit as well.

Where to stay:
This discussion begins and ends with the Grey Hare Inn on Old Mission Peninsula for me, but I also recommend Chateau Grand Traverse

Where to Eat:
Blue Tractor Cookshop
Trattoria Stella
Mission Table
Red Ginger
Apache Trout Grill