“I should like to save the Shire, if I could – though there have been times when I thought hte inhabitants too stupid and dull for words, and have felt that an earthquake or an invasion of dragons might be good for them. But I don’t feel like that now. I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again.” — J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring.
After Bell’s, I wandered around Kalamazoo for a bit before ending up at Rupert’s. Rupert’s was a brewery I found out about through the Michigan Craft Brewers’ Guild, as I had found most of the breweries I’d visited so far. It was located on a triangular corner jutting out into the middle of a busy intersection. I found street parking right by the door and ambled on in.
Dark wood floors and furniture greeted me. The place was empty except for one couple sitting by the windows, and one tall, blonde gentleman seated at the bar. I walked over and sat down a few seats down from him. A thin, eminently hip white girl with long blonde hair and a fedora was pouring.
I studied the beer board. There were eight beers available, and the artwork was very well done – very bright and colorful. It took me some time to pick out a flight – FOMO is a bitch sometimes. I selected 2wice Licked Kitty (because the name was hilarious), Farmer’s Daughter (also suggestive), LSD Lime (I know that’s not what they meant, but I thought of Lake Shore Drive), and Britain’s Cream Ale.
In addition to the beer board, I also studied the guy sitting a few seats down. He was tall and lanky, probably a little bit older than me, with sunny blonde hair that kind of flopped about haphazardly. He wore board shorts (we were near enough to the beach, but not that close!) and a t-shirt, and looked like one of the romantic interests right out of the Baby Sitters’ Club books. He seemed relaxed as he lounged on the hard bar chair, and chatted amicably with the bartender as he nursed his beer.
The bartender began pouring what I had selected as 70s music happily blared from the speakers, and I was abruptly made aware of the presence of another patron, one that I had previously overlooked, when a very large, dark head settled onto my lap.
Captain Stoobie is (was) the Great Dane that lived at Rupert’s. He was huge and a total sweetheart. I love breweries that have animals – more of them should! I know that Blue Nose in Hodgkins, IL, has a dog, and there is a great big labradoodle that is almost always at One Trick Pony in Lansing, IL, but I can’t think of any others offhand that have dogs. More should follow suit, to be honest.
The guy a few seats down laughed at my surprise when Captain Stoobie shoved his head into my lap (um, take me out to dinner first, am I right?) and I jumped in surprise.
“That’s Stoobie,” he smiled broadly. “He lives here.”
We struck up a conversation. I learned that his name was Bruce, and he had been convicted of a felony for having 60 marijuana plants. Cool, cool. It didn’t seem like a non-sequitor, so I mentioned my line of work and we commiserated about how dumb marijuana laws were.
He was very interested in watching me sample the beers and take notes. I would soon learn that this wasn’t unusual; nothing attracts men (particularly brewers) faster than a woman alone at a bar with a flight of beer and a small notebook.
2wice Licked Kitty (slurp, slurp) was pretty good. Strong orange and a good amount of coriander, and it was very refreshing for a hot summer day. Farmer’s Daughter was a decent saison – not the best but I liked it well enough. LSD Lime had only a light lime taste and was okay. My notes on Britain’s Cream Ale are rather scant, but I’m sure I liked it.
At the time I was sipping the last one, the cream ale, a gentleman had wandered in off the street and was having a rather bizarre conversation with the bartender. She was protected behind the bar counter, but clearly a little nervous.
Bruce moved to the chair right next to me, now blocking me from the gentleman both in terms of access and sight, and leaned in. His eyes never left the other man.
“There was a mental hospital in Kalamazoo that used to be the largest in the whole state,” he said to me in a low voice. “It was started back in the 1800s. But in the late 1900s, they began passing all these budget cuts that hit the hospital real hard. 1n 1980, they laid off like 100 employees and released about 150 patients out into the street. Out into the street!”
He tipped his chin at the gentleman now benignly arguing (yes, that’s a thing) with the bartender, who was nodding politely but gripping the counter a little too tight. “He’s one of them. We know him around here, and he always does this. There’s no place for him to go, and so he comes in off the street and starts arguing. Sometimes he causes trouble. No one knows how to help him – he won’t accept him. The problem is, now everything is community based and private, and there’s no programs for guys like him.”
The gentleman wandered back out onto the street. Bruce watched him go, and flipped his hair back from his face, raking it back with one hand. “I feel bad talking about him like that, but it’s like this every single time.”
Bruce and I chatted for a bit longer, lazily, and I learned that he was a California native, explaining his demeanor and the perpetual beachy look. Eventually I remembered my itinerary. Reluctantly, I excused myself and headed two blocks down to Gonzo’s BiggDogg Brewing.
Gonzo’s was a fun space – very bright and very active.
Now, Ken and Anne had been on a one week vacation to Michigan the week before (Anne has family in Grand Rapids), and Ken had been interested in my itinerary. So I sent it to him because why not, and that idiot DID MY VACATION HIMSELF BEFORE I GOT THE CHANCE.
He and Anne had come to Gonzo’s, thanks to my research and planning and tendering such materials, and just loved it.
Me, I was a little lukewarm about it. The bartender was super fucking cute and gave me a few small pours on the house without me even trying – always appreciated. (Not that I would “try.” That just seems cheap and beneath me. I’m quite happy to pay for what I consume.)
I picked out a flight (in addition to those small pours that he kept sending my way) and got to work.
Magic Trick was a hefeweizen. Back then, I still liked hefs. Rather, I was still willing to give them a chance. These days? Hell nah. I find them boring, overdone, and uninspired. Just not a fan. But I liked them then, and I liked this one. It had a great banana smell, but was almost TOO sweet. Whatever.
The Dogg Days Ale was a golden ale where you really caught the sweetness from the malt. I enjoyed it, but then again, I tend to like golden ales.
While going through my flight, I struck up a conversation with the bartender, Kevin, because, of course I did. Even though the place was packed, he made the time to hang out near me and tell me about his own beer sojourns. Turns out, he woudl do a beer road trip from Jackson (Dark Horse, kind of halfway between Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor) and Ypsilanti, only drinking half the flight just like me.
The Burning Sun Redd was an amber and I wasn’t crazy about it. I still do not much care for amber ales.
Shoddy Lock Stout had hearty chocolate notes and I really enjoyed it. I had neglected water earlier that day and guzzled it down halfway through the flight, otherwise I knew it would all catch up with me. Good thing, too, because the Vanilla porter was quite strong. And this is where my handwriting got messy and my notes got lazy.
None of that, however, stopped me from driving over to Tibb’s. It was a smaller space back then, just on the corner in a cute little downtown area. My understanding is that they’ve expanded since, and have taken over another floor.
I loved the location, and even though I was pretty sure I was illegally parked, I settled in for a while, thinking I’d try several beers and take it easy.
Eh, not so much. Turns out they’d had a huge party the night before and didn’t have much left on tap:
I got the belgian tripel because I LOVE Belgian yeast. I wasn’t that into IPAs yet, so I didn’t bother. The Hell-Jen Belgian was pretty good, and I finished with some root beer they brew on site.
THere were two girls tending the bar and they were super sweet. I had a great time just sitting around and talking to them. It helped, I’m sure, that I was the only person there, aside from one other guy, clearly a commuter, sitting at the far end of the bar with a beer and his computer. I told the girls what I was up to, and Gin recommended Bilbo’s, which was already on my list, and Arclight over in Watervliet. Rachel recommended Rockford Brewing, which I hadn’t heard of. I thanked them for the recommendations and figured it was time to head on.
I then realized, when I tried to pay, that I’d left my card at Gonzo’s. Inconvenient, but not a big deal. I paid, and returned to Gonzo’s.
This put me slightly behind in terms of my itinerary, especially since I’d lingered while talking to Bruce at Rupert’s. Deviating from my expectations – even if they’re just MY expectations and no one else knows about them – can be pretty frustrating for me. I grouesd silently as I drove to Bilbo’s, which I’d planned to hit last because it was a restaurant AND a brewery, and, get this: TOLKIEN THEMED!
I was so fucking excited. And look at the menu!
The beer – a Wizard Wheat and Duff beer – was alright, but not that great. The pizza was similar – unimpressive. It was loaded with pepperoni, sausage, and bacon, and it’s hard to go wrong with that, but still, it fell flat. I won’t be returning, but it was fun to go there and try it out just for the theme alone.
I returned to my AirBnB for my second night and hung out with Irene and her roommate. They introduced me to Sam Hunt, some country music star, and gushed about how much they loved him. Gamely, I sat and watched several music videos (I hate watching videos on YouTube and will do what I can to avoid it), and he wasn’t half bad.
But I had had a long day of beering about, and was pretty tired. I said goodnight and just crashed.