Thousand mile brewery, folks. We found one.
Marshall, Michigan is not a convenient city to get to. The center-west of the state suffers from a minor transportation issue; while it is a straight shot for me to get to Lansing or Kalamazoo in a short amount of time, there is no highway directly between Grand Rapids and Marshall. One needs to drive through Kalamazoo and Battle Creek to get there – inevitably passing Bell's and Arcadia brewing companies, two top notch breweries. It begs the question, is it worth driving the extra time to get to Dark Horse?
|The answer is "yes."|
Aaron Morse started Dark Horse brewery in an old, rough looking building behind the party store owned by his parents. The cedar shank siding and low, squat appearance give the building a definite ramshackle feel to it, but don't assume that's a negative. The feeling is one of a friendly old community where (dare I use a cliché) everybody knows your name. Blended with that feeling is a definite undercurrent of either skater punk or biker, depending on your generation and familiarity with those stereotypes. There's a tattoo shop on campus and several of the artwork is clearly aimed at creating a feeling of a biker bar.
|Or a skater bar...or something..|
Inside continues this feeling of biker/skater comfortability, with old wooden tables and floors worn smooth from use. The windows let in plenty of natural light, and the atmosphere was certainly one of regulars, even later in the evening when the live music was playing. That said, there's one decoration inside that must be mentioned; the mug club at Dark Horse brewery is phenomenal. Thousands of mugs adorn the ceiling, the walls...everywhere that they could fit a hook, a mug hangs. Our guide told us that there was an excess of 2400 members, and every single one of their mugs was on display. It was an eerie yet thrilling testament to the commitment to drinking the Dark Horse clientele share.
|stretches for miles...|
This is Wiggs.
|No last name of which I'm aware.|
He's the operations manager and second in command of the brewing facility, after the owner and master brewer. He was also our tour guide for the morning. Here's a quote from him to our readers: “a guy once told me that you can't trust a skinny brewer, because he's not drinking enough of his own product. That's bullshit – with the amount of heavy work we do in this building, hauling around hundreds of pounds of malts and hops and constantly checking the flow and temperature of our mash, I can drink as much as I want and stay skinny.” Yep – he's a bad ass.
|This hose will eff you up.|
The Dark Horse brewing facility is an extremely clean, well run organization. Their five brewers work hard to keep the consistency of the beer up to par while studiously avoiding issues that would mar the flavor of the beer. Given their popularity and the ubiquity of their beer, I was surprised to learn they only ship about 4000 barrels of their product annually. Of course, with the favorable market for Michigan craft beer and the recent purchase of an entire new brewing facility, Dark Horse expects to break shipping records every year, so expect that number to increase swiftly.
See below for the pictures of the tour:
|brew kettle -- water and malt boils here|
|Intense carbonation system!|
Typically, I avoid going into specific detail of beer I taste at a brewery. I prefer to keep it “high level” in the interest of brevity. In the case of Dark Horse's beer, however, I would be doing the reader a disservice if I did not spend a few words concerning a couple of their beers. The brewers here really represent art in fermented form, to steal a tag line form one of their competitors.
|you thought I was kidding about the skater vibe.|
The Crooked Tree IPA is by far their most popular beer, both in bottled and draft form. It also happened to be Wiggs's favorite beer, and it's not difficult to understand why. Their IPA is aggressively hopped without breaking your face open with flowers and grapefruit. The mouthfeel is slightly thicker than I would expect, with a layer of sweet malt finishing the flavor. There's no strong alcohol feel that you may pick up in a double IPA or even a single IPA.
The Pam's Kitchen ale is an experimental beer made from hours upon hours of hand zesting limes, squeezing their juice, and hand cutting cilantro into the mash. Yes, it's a cilantro lime beer, and it's fantastic – and that's coming from someone who avoids lime in his beer like the plague. The spice from the cilantro mixes with the tart from the lime and sweet malt in a very light way, making this beer an excellent beginner beer, a perfect pairing with spicy food, and a great choice just to sit out on a summer day and watch the clouds amble by. This beer is well worth the effort from its brewers.
The food did not disappoint, either. I had the reuben, which was a very respectable version of the classic sandwich, with a crusty ciabatta roll that complimented the soft sauerkraut well. Laura's pumpkin seed and cilantro pesto sub, served with sausage, chicken, and artichoke hearts was a taste I've never had before, and it was fantastic. The real star of the night, however, was the side: a spicy Asian coleslaw with an aggressive heat to back up the cabbage from which it was made.
The Dark Horse brewery is the whole, bonafide package. It sports some of the greatest beer in Michigan, a delicious and exciting menu, a personality that blends skateboard punk with biker flair, and a brewstaff that knows exactly what they're doing and they do it well. We had such a great time at Dark Horse that we ended up returning in the evening for some of their great live entertainment – even twelve hours after our tour, they were going strong, offering a comfortable and easygoing place to have fun for anyone around. Because Dark Horse blends the best beer with great food and entertainment, I have no reservations about calling them a thousand mile brewery; it doesn't matter where you are, Dark Horse is worth the trip.
|Some Pam's Kitchen for the road|