Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Round Barn Winery, Distillery, & Brewery

Picture the geography of Lower Michigan. Are you thinking of endless rows of corn interspersed with the occasional tree the farmer decided to let stand in order to lessen the effects of Lake Effect Snow on his farmhouse? Boring and monotonous and just something to drive through? Well, forget what you think you know about geography, and head to Baroda, Michigan; nestled amongst the breathtaking hills of the Southwest Michigan countryside, you'll find an ideal location for a vineyard -- a vineyard which just so happens to make some pretty darn tasty micro brews (and vodka and brandy, too!).

It is very apparent during the drive through Baroda that the Round Barn not only takes advantage of its rolling hills location, but has also established one of the most recognizable symbols of the region -- you guessed it: a giant round barn. These types of perfectly cylindrical buildings were not uncommon long ago, but they are rapidly disappearing from the typical American landscape, which only adds to the abundance of charm bursting from every square foot of this place. Being there feels like being at your cool, rich uncle's house in Napa Valley (assuming I had one of those, of course). Whether you feel like grabbing a drink and relaxing on the large deck overlooking the vineyard, sitting in the shade at one of the many picnic tables sprinkled throughout the perfectly manicured grounds, playing a leisurely game of corn hole, or just sitting inside enjoying some afternoon beer/wine/vodka tasting, there really is a little something there for everyone. It's even pet-friendly! It has an atmosphere unlike any other I've experienced.

One of two West Highland Terriers that "lives" at the Round Barn.

Playing a little corn hole..

But it hasn't always looked like this. In fact, it was only about 13 years ago that the owner, Rick Moersch, decided to dismantle, transport, and rebuild a century-old, round Amish barn from rural Indiana in Baroda, Michigan – and to convert the building into a distillery to compliment his existing winery. Today, that structure defines the Round Barn Winery, Distillery, & Brewery, where Moersch and his two sons make award winning brandy, vodka, micro-brews, and wine.

The beer tasting room.

The beers on tap during our visit last weekend included an amber ale, a Kölsch style, a summer wheat, an oaked IPA, a Schwarzbier, and a cocoa stout (served on nitrogen). By the time we had gotten there, they were already out of their newest special release beer, the Motha Pucker, but Seth and I were fortunate enough to have already tried it at the 13th Annual Summer Beer Festival a few weeks ago. It's a sour porter with an earthy, almost musty flavor. The story behind how this sour beer originated is almost as great as the beer itself. It was the result of one of those serendipitous experiences that we all love to have. During all of the chaos during the harvest wine making season in the fall, when the shared space for the wine and beer is mostly occupied with wine barrels, the wrong bag of malt was added to one of the barrels. The brewer decided to get creative and adjusted the recipe by adding even more malt and then barrel aging the beer for eight months. The result was a wonderfully sour porter, which I would highly recommend trying if you ever get the opportunity.

Beer available for purchase.

Since they were all out of Motha Pucker, I decided to sample the summer wheat before committing to a whole pint of it. It's another one of the more recent additions to the Round Barn's already solid repertoire and is based on a Belgian Wit style with a slight hint of orange and pineapple. Though it was extremely refreshing and drinkable, I felt it lacked the body/mouth feel of a typical wheat beer and so I opted to start with a more familiar beer, the Kölsch style. This Kölsch pours a very bright gold and smells of citrus and mild hops right off the bat. Kölsches aren't usually blockbusters from an olfactory standpoint, but this one is pretty decent. The flavor starts small and stays there, but that's just the style of beer it is -- simple and straightforward, with an aftertaste that reminds you that it is a light European style of beer. Truly a fantastic beer for a hot August day.

Next up for me was the amber ale. This copper ale tastes of caramel malt and spicy hops with no apparent sweetness. It has a medium bitterness for an amber, a nice, light body, and a slightly dry hoppy finish . Overall, quite "sessionable" and a very good amber.

We finished up our afternoon of beer sampling with a pint of the Schwarzbier. The aroma of this nearly opaque "black beer" has notes of roasted barley, chocolate, caramel, licorice, and mild hops. The taste is malty and a bit nutty and chocolaty. It goes down creamy and smooth but is not overly thick.

Seth with his "Schwartz"

Before we left, Seth had to try the DiVine vodka, which is made from grapes. It recently won another gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, beating out vodkas from places like Scandinavia and Russia. That's a pretty amazing accomplishment for a small operation in Michigan! If you're ever at the Round Barn, definitely taste the DiVine and buy a bottle to take home and treat your friends.

The ceiling of the wine and spirits tasting barn.

The Round Barn Winery, Distillery, & Brewery is a place that I cannot wait to visit again. It was well worth the 100 mile (2 hour) drive, and I would rate it as AT LEAST a 200 mile brewery, if only for the location and atmosphere. In Seth's words, "Round Barn is as close to heaven as I've experienced in Michigan, ever."


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