Look at the macro breweries. No one claims that they sell a perfect product. No one even claims that they sell a great product, and yet more people drink Miller Light and Budweiser than any craft beer we cover every single day. Truth be told, I drink more macro beers than I let on; it’s tough to beat a three dollar pitcher of mediocre beer while munching on mediocre bar food and watching a mediocre football team play. Let’s pause for a moment and reflect on the fact that in a world of such variety, not everything can be phenomenal.
Now let’s talk about Mackinaw Brewing Company.
The Mackinaw Brewing Company, the third brewery Laura and I stopped at in Traverse City, gave us high hopes as we pulled up. Located in a quaint, village-esque part of Traverse City, the outside reminded me instantly of New Holland Brewing in Holland, Michigan. It had that conservative, hard working, small town vibe to it that I like in my Michigan coastal towns. Walking inside, I was surprised at the size of the place; the small storefront window was certainly misleading, as the Mackinaw Brewing Company progressed back into a generous bar area followed by a large and roomy dining area. The first thing I noticed, however, on my way back to my table, was how much flair the place had. It was certainly reminiscent of a national chain restaurant/grille.
We were seated by a very polite waitress who, as I learned quickly, had no real experience with craft beer other than what she had been asked to memorize prior to working there. The sampler that Mackinaw Brewing Company offers was pretty typical – a 5 ounce tasting of each of their beers, conveniently placed on a laminated sheet with a brief description of each beer. I was excited to try this place’s selections.
I had just come from two powerhouse breweries (Right Brain and North Peak), and perhaps I had set my expectations a bit too high. Of the beers I tried, only one stood out to me. The rest could have all been made from the same recipe, with some slight differences in coloration added at the end. There was no appreciable attempt to add solid hop flavor to any of the beers, making their American Pale Ale and “IPA” (I have to put it in quotes) especially disappointing. The red had a metallic, coppery taste to it, the same one that lingers in a bottle of Killian’s. Indeed, the only beer I found pleasurable was their Belgian Whitecap, a very light and flavorful beer that hit all the notes I expected from a Belgian Wheat.
As I sat there, trying to hide the disappointment in my eyes as I ordered the stuffed mushroom caps from the waitress, I began reading the menu. Here is what Mackinaw Brewing Company says about their Belgian White, the only beer I thought was good: “This amazing beer is a true example of a Belgian style wheat ale. Brewed with Coriander for a unique aroma and a delicate fruity finish...this almost white golden colored ale will satisfy the occasional craft brew drinker or beer snob. . . you gotta try it!!!” (my emphasis)
|This beer clearly not in her wheelhouse.|
So what if they didn’t impress one solitary traveler? The place was busy and I’m sure there’s a whole lot of people, recently coming off years of nothing but macro brewed rice lagers, that consider the baby steps into craft beer that the Mackinaw Brewing Company provides to be sweet ambrosia. Given that both Right Brain Brewery and North Peak Brewery are within walking distance, they don’t need to offer elegant, carefully crafted, single batch items to their clientele; just being a few steps above rice lagers is enough.
And I can’t really fault them for that. Their stuffed mushroom caps were great, after all. I’ll tell you this; if I lived in Traverse City, and wanted to watch my team play while eating a burger and drinking something that I don’t need to think about, I’m heading here.
(Unrelated: that afternoon there happened to be a zombie walk lurching past the Mackinaw Brewing Company as we left. The gentleman in the gas mask was particularly enthusiastic. )