Category Archives: Road Trip 2015

.:going it alone:.

“I felt I could turn the earth upside down with my littlest finger. I wanted to dance, to fly in the air and kiss the sun and stars with my singing heart. I, alone with myself, was enjoying myself for the first time as with grandest company.” — Anzia Yezierska, Bread Givers.

map roadtrip plan

I had been at my firm for 2.75 years and, stupidly, had never taken a vacation in all that time. By then, my boss and paralegal were both fairly pushing me out the door, so I found myself being ordered to take a week off in August, coincidentally my birthday month.

I wasn’t entirely sure what I would do with my week off, but I’m a planner, so I sat down at my desk one day to figure it out. I knew I wanted to leave – to travel somewhere. I wasn’t sure I wanted to shell out money for a plane ticket, a rental car, a hotel, a cruise, whatever.

But I knew I wanted to leave. Being raised a traditional Muslim girl, I live at home with my parents and my younger brother. Even though I was turning 29 years old a week after my trip. Pathetic, I know.

I’m miserable living at home, but have proven too cowardly to have the big blow-out fight with my parents that would result from me saying I was moving out. My father has been a domineering rage-monster for most of my life (it never turned physical) until my early twenties when a heart attack forced him to mellow out and my mother is one of the most emotionally manipulative people I have ever known. Growing up in this has left me with considerable anxiety; when my dad raises his voice, for example, suddenly I’m a scared 4yo all over again.

So obviously I wanted to get the hell away. I looked at a map and randomly picked Michigan. It was close to Illinois, after all, but still far enough. It had big cities and small towns, cultural centers and historic ones, as well as beaches and lakes.

And craft breweries.

Another terrible thing about living at home is that I’m living a double life. I was raised Muslim, and my parents still believe I am one. I am not. I started drinking when I was 26, and it took me until I was 28 to finally stop calling myself a Muslim, although I will probably always culturally be a Muslim.

But keeping up that pretense can be exhausting, and once the idea of spending a week roadtripping through Michigan while drinking a shit ton of craft beer took hold, there was no stopping me.

I asked one of my friends, a fellow attorney working at a big firm downtown. She loves beer and road trips, but mused that she’d only really want to do 3-4 days, because she couldn’t justify being away from work that long. So that pairing went nowhere quick, because just considering the logistics of taking one car for two people, one of whom wanted to come home halfway, made my head hurt.

I asked a second friend, a guy I’d met through book club who was in the process of founding his baby, Sustain DuPage, an environmental and sustainability organization in our county of DuPage. He had just been laid off from his firm downtown and had opted to take 1 years’ worth of ‘funemployment’ to focus on building Sustain DuPage. He asked me, very prudently, what we were looking at in terms of money. This made me price it all out: hotels and guesstimates on meals, and perhaps a rental car. When I gave him the number, he politely demurred, citing his limited finances that he had allotted for careful use during his funemployment. This was a very good reason, and he was smart to say no to me.

I asked my final friend. She and I had gone to high school together, but never really became friends until our tenth high school reunion the year before. At this time, we were hanging out once a week at a local brewery, Solemn Oath. Jamie was good to go and excited about it … until she was asked to be in a wedding out of state and didn’t have the funds to do both comfortably. Again, another good reason, and I didn’t blame her one bit.

At this point I had two choices: take the fact that three friends didn’t work out and not go … or go alone.

To put this in context, I am a petite South Asian woman with glasses who has never traveled out of state for more than a day without her parents because patriarchal cultures are fucking bullshit.

I had never done a road trip by myself. If I did this, I would be going alone, driving around in places I’d never been before, watching my alcohol consumption because I was driving alone, and doing all of it in secret while pretending that I was actually attending a criminal defense conference in Grand Rapids, the lie that I had used for this one-week sojourn.

I had a paid off car that drove like a dream. I had GPS on my car and phone. I would be at most 4 hours away from home at almost all times. It was summer and I hadn’t yet even been to the beach. Additionally, I had just finished a round of therapy and counseling following a 1.5 year downward spiral that ended in some pretty serious situational depression and suicidal ideation, and I was finally starting to feel the sunlight again.

I decided to go alone.

.: i swear i’m not going to drink, mom :.

“The best lies about me are the ones I told.” – Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind.

bag

Sunday, August 2, 2015, came like a dare.

I woke up that morning and stared at my ceiling, consumed with the enormity of even turning off my alarm to start the day. I lay there for a bit, telling myself that I didn’t have to do this, that I could say the conference was cancelled and we were getting our money back, or that I could just drive to my best friend and his wife’s house and stay there for a week.

But I got up, and I dragged myself to the shower, and I blow-dried my hair and put on sunscreen. I put on a little sundress, and then threw a maxi-dress on over that because my parents were around and would say goodbye before I left. Traditional Muslims believe you’re going to hell if you wear a knee-length dress or some shit, and I’m not one to rock the boat. I’d rather sneak out of the house in a mini-skirt like a 16yo than have any kind of prolonged interaction, much less confrontation, with them.

I said goodbye to my grandmother, who lives with us, and tried not to wince as she clutched me and said a bunch of prayers for my safety. Yeah, I trust AAA more than I do a bunch of guardian angels supposedly circling my car while I drive, but, hey, different strokes, I guess.

I said goodbye to my little brother, six years my junior and easily one of my favorite people on the planet. He was barely awake and just grunted in reply. I said goodbye to my dad, and then made my way to the kitchen, and the door to the garage, where my mother was.

She asked me to write down the name of the hotel I was staying at, which is ridiculous and an Old Person thing to do – who even calls the front desk anymore? I resisted and finally wrote something vague like Marriott Grand Rapids. She asked me when I’d arrive and to text her when I did, blah blah blah. Then she hugged me and told me “not to do anything unIslamic.”

Fuck that. That was the whole point of the trip!

I don’t know what made me do it, but I chose that moment to flip out. She had found a few wine bottles in my room the year before and had promptly taken to bed, like a dramatic heroine from a 1940s film, and took ill for a week from the shock of it or some bullshit. So then there were tears and arguments and her promise not to tell my dad if I quit, so obviously I pretended to have a Come to Muhammad moment and find religion again.

Obviously not. But we do what we have to do, especially if we are cowards.

I must have flipped out at her well enough for not trusting me, because she apologized and said she just worried, and then she wanted to take a picture of me before I left. Fine. I posed like a jackass, grabbed my carryon, and got the hell out of there.

Yeah, Ammi, I promise I won’t drink. For a week. At all the craft breweries that I have listed on the two page single-spaced itinerary I made for myself off the Michigan Craft Brewers’ Guild website. Uh-huh.

.: roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer – at Greenbush!:.

sunglasses on gravel

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby. 

Depression is like a nightmare in reverse. You wake up from a horrible dream and your heart is pounding and you’re breaking out in a sweat, but then you realize you’re awake and you feel a flooding sense of relief. Depression is the opposite: you wake up into the nightmare, and there’s no end. It’s insidious, pervasive, it compounds daily like the interest on your student loans, and there is no end in sight. Just sinking.

And so when you’re finally able to see beyond it, to lift your foot up from the quicksand, to angle your mouth above water, whatever metaphor you want to use, it is cause for celebration.

For me, that celebration was exploring a place I’d never been before, and trusting that I’d make it through in one piece. That might seem dramatic, but review what you know about me: I’m a woman who has lived a rather sheltered life thanks to her parents and a deeply misogynist patriarchal culture, and I’ve never traveled alone. One week roadtripping through Michigan and hoping my AirBnB hosts wouldn’t murder me was my fucking Odyssey, man.

I left the house feeling light and relieved. It was the longest I’d have to go before I was back home again. That might seem melodramatic, yet again, but remember, home is more like a prison to me than a sanctuary, a place of respite.

I consulted my itinerary at the gas station. I was to leave at 9AM, which I had done, which would get me to Greenbush in Sawyer, Michigan, by 11:30. I had planned to eat there, and budgeted from 11:30-1pm to take my time and enjoy the spot and its offerings.

This was all well and good until you take into account that I’m a moron and didn’t account for the time difference. I got to Greenbush in a right state of panic, because 15 minutes earlier the clock in my car had said 11:15, and now it was somehow 12:30, and I didn’t have much time AT ALL if I wanted to keep to my schedule, which I absolutely did, because if you didn’t plan in all your fun, were you really having all the fun you could?

(No, you were not. FUN DEMANDS SCHEDULES, guys!)

I arrived at Greenbush and, miracle of miracles, promptly got a seat at the bar. If you’ve ever been to Greenbush, you know what a feat this is, even for one person seeking to sit alone at the bar. The last time I was there, I stood in the corner for a half hour before something opened up, and I wasn’t the only one.

greenbush 1

I looked at the list and wasn’t super enthused, as this trip was before I was a proper IPA lover. (It took me about 200 unique IPAs for my palate to actually come to understand and appreciate them. I like them a lot now, but boy, did it take a while.)

I settled on a number of small pours and some food. Mulehead was a Belgian saison at 7.2%, and I also got a Traktor to start, which was a golden creame ale at just 6.1%. They were okay. Good, but not remarkable. I was a little bummed about the lackluster start to my trip – I mean, I was supposed to be blown away by some super flavorful, inventive beer right out of the gate, right?

I got Sunspot and Jukebox Hero, which I liked better, and ordered some kind of brisket sandwich which was great.

greenbush 3

Yeah, a world-class photographer, I am NOT.

All in all, I’m glad I started my trip with Greenbush. I feel like you can’t make the mini-pilgrimage from IL to MI without stopping there, especially if one of the main focuses of the trip is beer. The thing is, Sawyer is a tiny little town. Super cute, but tiny. They’ve got cute stores, don’t get me wrong: there’s a fancy coffee shop and a fancy boutique and some other stuff. But it doesn’t have a lot going on, and Greenbush is the main act in town, so that’s where everyone goes.

My time at Greenbush was slightly rushed, very crowded, and little underwhelming. I wouldn’t return for a little more than two years, and I wouldn’t particularly miss it.

.: i don’t really care for german beers :.

“It will be very interesting one day to follow the pattern of our life as it is spread out like a beautiful tapestry. As long as we live here we see only the reverse side of the weaving, and very often the pattern, with its threads running wildly, doesn’t seem to make sense. Someday, however, we shall understand.” — Maria Augusta von Trapp.

Tapistry brewing

My handy itinerary – built of hours spent slaving over 30 Google tabs, powered by FOMO – told me that Tapistry Brewing was only 15 minutes away from Greenbush. I hopped in my car, slightly sobered by a rather lackluster first stop, and headed on over.

Tapistry Brewing is in the little town of Bridgman. You get off the highway and you’ll come across a historic-looking house that’s actually a winery. Turn right at the first big light and you’ll be on what is the busiest street in town. It’s adorable – lots of cute little shops, lots of brick. It makes you feel transported, perhaps into the America Trump thinks was great, but without all the white supremacy.

(Still probably a little bit of white supremacy. It’s Michigan, after all. I didn’t have my first horrible racial experience until beer trip #3, but it was a possibility I was always aware of.)

It was a bright, hot summer day, and Tapistry was dark and cool. I always feel like a little mole when I go into breweries in the summer: here I am, eschewing the warm sunlight in favor of a dimly lit room filled with a bunch of people’s farts, probably.

That was how I felt going into Tapistry; it was so nice out that I almost didn’t want to. But I parallel parked my car right in front and told myself I was going in.

And I would have right then, except I got a text from my paralegal.

Hey, listen. I know you’re really excited about your trip because it’s your first big one by yourself, but I’m a little concerned, it started out.

Nicole is ten years older than me, and had been with the firm for about 8 years at that point. She was my boss’s right hand woman and basically ran the operation. She is a very soft, sweet, maternal figure, but strong as steel and able to calm down even the most raving asshole client of ours. She’s a gem. And when she says something, I tend to listen, because she hasn’t yet steered me wrong.

You’re traveling through Michigan on your own, staying in strangers’ houses at night, and your parents don’t know about it. I know you think it’s going to be fine, and that’s good, but can you please check in with me every now and then? And maybe send me your itinerary?Just so I know you’re okay.

I hate being checked up on. I hate people asking me where I’m going, when I’ll be back, why I’m going. I always cringe slightly when a friend says, “text me when you get home!” I’m rather fanatical about freedom, probably because I’m denied much of mine, and all of those things seem like impositions meant to cage me in, even when they’re objectively not. My friends ask me to text them when I get home (after a night of all of us out drinking) because that’s how they know how to say they love me. I get it.

But Nicole’s text didn’t chafe that way. It was a very reasonable request, and it was the Mom in her. I had no problem complying.

Of course, I texted back. I’ll check in with you and I’ll email you my itinerary tonight, when I have wifi at my airBnb. And I’ll text you the airBnB addresses so if I’m murdered you’ll know where to send the cops. I’m currently in Bridgman, about to head into Tapistry Brewing. 

Awesome, she texted back almost immediately. Have fun, sweetie. 

That done, I got out of my car and headed into Tapistry. It’s in a lovely red brick building, and the space next door is all the brewery, which you can see from windows that separate it from the taproom. The first thing I noticed was the merchandise – it was everywhere. I felt no impulse to buy any. The shirts were lovely, but they all said beer or brewing on them. I couldn’t wear them any time my parents or my Muslim friends/community members would see me in it, or see a picture of me wearing the shirt.

Living a double life is ridiculous sometimes.

I ordered a flight, which I thought was slightly overpriced, but, hey, first-of-its-kind trip, right?

tapistry brewing1

The Gretel was a Dunkelweiss, which smelled of chocolate and banana. It was dark and medium-bodied, and I didn’t care for it much. It reminded me of someone I didn’t care for, as well, so maybe that had something to do with my reaction. I’m a fickle, temperamental little thing sometimes.

I struck up a conversation with the bartender. This was another thing I wanted to get out of the trip: overcoming shyness. I have self-diagnosed social anxiety – who doesn’t? We’re all afraid of looking like weak loser assholes in public, to some extent.

I am painfully shy, and deeply self-conscious, which surprises people who have just met me and people who have been my closest friends for years. Fake it ’til you make it works for me, and people never presume I’m shy based on my demeanor when we interact. I fake being gregarious, confident, and self-assured. I’m really none of those things, but getting better and better at it.

With this trip, there was no one constantly around to talk to, as there would have been had any of my three friends been able to come. I had to sit alone with my thoughts (not a terrible struggle, as I was enjoying finally being out from the dark, soupy haze of a paralyzing situational depression that had plagued me for more than a year), or strike up conversations with those around me that seemed receptive.

The bartender was a super nice guy – they all are. Almost. He told me a little about the brewery, that it had been open two years, and more about the town. When I commented that I wasn’t wild about dark beers in the summer, he recommended a brewery just ten minutes down the road called Cultivate. It had a dark beer or two on tap, but focused on light, sessionable beers, often with a Belgian twist. I adore Belgians, and so this was an easy sell even though it wasn’t on my itinerary. I penciled it in and told him I’d go there straightaway.

The Hansel Hefeweizen was actually very nice. I took some notes in the blue Mead five star mini notebook I brought just for this trip. Yes, I was That Girl – ugh, That Trixie – sitting at the bar in a sun dress, writing down tasting notes. Yikes. Whatever, it’s funny in retrospect.

Mr. Orange was a Belgian Wit that tasted like a Blue Moon with an orange slice already added. Not bad but not great. Reactor with Coconut was a variant of their IPA, and you could really taste the coconut. I liked it even though I dislike coconut. For the Enigma Double IPA (DIPA, which makes me laugh because it reminds me of ‘double penetration’ and I’m twelve), I simply wrote “ugh.”

That’s a common theme: my notes start out all pretty and thoughtful and nuanced, and then as the beer starts to hit my writing becomes an uninhibited scrawl of one word reactions.

Thankfully, I was still good to drive. More than, in fact. I had ordered flight size samples at both Greenbush and Tapistry and only drank at most half of each glass. Plus, I’d had a big sandwich (carbs + protein) at Greenbush. I was perfectly fine. Which was good, because I had another brewery to hit that wasn’t on my list.

Before I left, I ended up hitting it off with an older couple. They were in from South Bend, Indiana, and seemed to make the trip up to Bridgman often. “Weko beach is fantastic!” they told me enthusiastically. “One of the best! And it’s only $7!”

Hard to go wrong with an endorsement like that. Had I had the time, I would have liked to check out Weko beach; I was wearing a bathing suit under my dress, anyway, because I hoped to be at St. Joe’s that afternoon. But it was either go to this beach or go to the brewery that had been recommended, and I picked the brewery.

Tapistry was a good stop, but I wasn’t crazy about it. It had a lot of german beers – hefz, dunkels, bocks – and those just aren’t my jam. If you’re in the area, though, they’re a good one to check out. So is Transient Artisan Ales, with a more varied offering, but we won’t get there until my third beer trip. 😉

tapistry brewing 2

.: the best little brewery that is no more :.

“Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault. Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty.” — Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray.  

cultivate brewing company

Cultivate was magic.

I think it was Roald Dahl, one of my most favorite childhood authors, who said that the greatest things were often hidden away in the most unlikely places, and for me that was the most romantic little brewery tucked away in Berrien Springs.

It was about ten minutes down the road from Tapistry, but it was far removed from anything else. Tapistry was at least in the middle of a (tiny) downtown; Cultivate was surrounded on three sides by super tall trees, and there was basically no cell service.

I parked and just looked around, then up. The clouds were unreal.

cultivate brewing 2

That’s the thing about flat, wide open country spaces: they give the sky such a chance.

When you pulled into Cultivate (RIP – I was deeply saddened to learn in the summer of 2017 that they’d closed their doors for good), the first thing you saw were the hops. They had a great concept: grow some hops, and use them a few steps away to make beer on site. Of course, they ordered more hops – you’d never be able to grow enough hops to sustain a brewery like this unless you had acres and acres. And I’m sure they did the roasting of the malts off-site (they grew those, too). Just a fantastic little extra when visiting this place.

cultivate brewing 1

I walked in and was greeted by hands down the most attractive bartenders I’ve ever seen. DAMMIT WHY DID THEY HAVE TO CLOSE DOWN. Anyway, I perused the menu and noticed that, sure enough, they had a great offering of light summer beers, along with a few dark ones. I ordered a flight by writing down the names of the beers on a lovely flight paddle that I low-key contemplated stealing. (For like 0.2 seconds. I was wearing a little sundress; I’d never be able to smuggle it out.)

cultivate brewing 4

Words to live by, right? I certainly thought so – it was why I snapped the pic. A great reminder, because all of these words resonate with me and how I try to live my life. They were even kind of the theme of my trip!

The Extraordinarily Good Looking Bartender chatted with me as he put my flight together. I made sure to let him know that I’d heard about them from the guys at Tapistry. The craft brewery scene is so incestuous; it’s great. Breweries are not shy at all about recommending other good ones to try, and I think that’s really nice and try to let the staff know about it. It just fosters/encourages a nice camaraderie.

I got my flight and sat down at one of the hightops.

cultivate brewing 5

Pursue was a gentle, pleasant wit that I really enjoyed. Strive was an unusually fruity saison. Explore was a very chocolatey, almost too sweet stout, and Smile was a Belgian single that I liked most of all.

I was starting to sip my beers at the high top but the allure of the patio proved too much, so I moved outside to finish. This was my lovely, peaceful view:

cultivate brewing 3

 

Like I said, surrounded on all three sides by tall, tall trees. With no phone to play with (I was trying not to use it too much on this trip, anyway, and just really be alone with my thoughts or making new friends), I focused on my beer and the greenery. I swear, just looking at something green and natural relaxes me.

It was such a nice escape for an hour or two. I just sat and drank and sighed and relaxed. It’s nice to be able to turn off your mind for a while. Criminal defense work is tough, and you have to be mentally strong, and manipulative, and anticipate all sorts of problems, and get a read on people real quick so you can best communicate with them (at their level, in a manner they understand), and you have to be able to think things through on seventeen different levels at once.

It’s really, really nice to be able to turn that off. (It just takes some time.)

The beer helped, though. 😉 Beer always helps turn my brain off, but in a good way.

I like who I am when I have one good beer in me. Not like a 4 or 5%, but like a 7%-8%. Get one of those in me and my uptightness kind of bleeds away. I’m a little flirty, more self-assured, very relaxed, almost irreverent. I like who I am with one beer in me.

And I liked who I was at Cultivate. I was calm and serene and content. Those things can be difficult to achieve – for me, because of my high stress job, cultural restrictions and emotional manipulation always awaiting me at home, and because of how dependent I sometimes am on my phone, on social media, on distraction.

I have never been to a brewery that I would describe as romantic. But that was the word that sprung most readily to mind. It was ensconced by tall trees. The temptation of phones was removed. There was growth and greenery. The beers were light and tasted like summer. There were picnic tables and lounge chairs and everything was so completely comfortable. It would have been the perfect place to go with a girlfriend or boyfriend, a wife or husband. So romantic.

It’s fitting then, I think, that I would use that word to describe a place that is now closed for good. F. Scott Fitzgerald defined the sentimental person as one who thinks things will last, and the romantic  as one who has a desperate confidence that they won’t.

cultivate 6

.: beer along the beaches :.

“I am one of the searchers. There are, I believe, millions of us. We are not unhappy, but neither are we really content. We continue to explore life, hoping to uncover its ultimate secret. We continue to explore ourselves, hoping to understand. We like to walk along the beach, we are drawn by the ocean, taken by its power, its unceasing motion, its mystery and unspeakable beauty. We like forests and mountains, deserts and hidden rivers, and the lonely cities as well. Our sadness is as much a part of our lives as is our laughter. To share our sadness with one we love is perhaps as great a joy as we can know – unless it be to share our laughter. We searchers are ambitious only for life itself, for everything beautiful it can provide. Most of all we love and want to be loved. We want to live in a relationship that will not impede our wandering, nor prevent our search, nor lock us in prison walls; that will take us for what little we have to give. We do not want to prove ourselves to another or compete for love. For wanderers, dreamers, and lovers, for lonely men and women who dare to ask of life everything good and beautiful. It is for those who are too gentle to live among wolves.” — James Kavanaugh, There Are Men Too Gentle To Love Among Wolves. 

The Livery.jpg
I left Cultivate reluctantly. Frankly, the only thing that could have persuaded me to leave such a romantic place – and yes, you can experience a sense of romance even in solitude – was Lake Michigan.

I love Lake Michigan. I grew up very close to the Atlantic Ocean; we spent about every other weekend in the summer in Cape Cod. I have wonderful memories of splashing around in the ocean and eating staggering amounts of its seafood.

But I don’t remember loving the Atlantic the way I love Lake Michigan. I can’t even imagine moving somewhere such that I wasn’t about an hour away from it. And that’s mildly ridiculous, that a lake would be that important to me.

I had never been to St. Joe’s before, but I’d heard it was lovely. Two of my high school teachers, married to each other with three kids, had been there a week or so before and posted the pictures on Facebook. I took one look and knew I wanted to check out St. Joe’s.

I drove along, making my way toward the Livery, a brewery in Benton Harbor, a small town right over the bridge from St. Joseph. The two towns have a storied and problematic history, with St. Joe’s being where the white people lived, so it was a much more affluent area that got more state funds, and Benton Harbor being a poorer, predominantly Black area that … didn’t. This blog post gets into it a bit, and is worth a read.

As I drove, I got closer to the lake, and eventually, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I pulled off onto the side of the road (turned out to be Lookout Park in St. Joseph) because I just had to take the time to admire the view. And honestly, can you blame me?

lake michigan

It’s a panorama, and I think it should convert to its real size if you click on it. But honestly, look at that gorgeous lake, clear blue sky, and all that greenery.

I don’t remember how long I stood there, but it must have been some time. No matter how many times I’m there, I’m always a little dumbstruck by Lake Michigan. She’s not so great on our side, in Illinois, but damn, in Michigan, she is pristine.

And I don’t know what it is, but Lake Michigan always seems to put my problems, my tensions, my anxieties, my worries, in perspective. Wallace Stevens once said that sometimes the truth depends on a walk around the lake. I don’t know which lake he was talking about, but I know which lake I’m thinking about when I remember that quote from the best and most representative American poet of the time, who spent most of his life as an insurance company executive.

Finally, I dragged myself away and drove through a few roundabouts, over a bridge, and I was at the Livery. It’s in a big square brick building with a great patio, and I headed inside (like the little mole I am) to see what they had to offer.

the livery 2

A varied selection, to be sure. I carefully considered the list as I selected my flight, listening to the beer gossip from the bartender and two of the regulars. Haymarket was going to be opening in Bridgman soon, they said, because one of the owners had a summer home there. A summer home in Bridgman must be pretty nice. I added it to my list of Wants for the future, a random, helter skelter sort of list I toss into the Universe now and then with no serious hope of being heard.

I ordered my flight and settled in.

the livery 3

Harbor Shores was an amber ale that I thought was balanced and pretty solid. Summit Extra Pale Ale was next, and it was all right. I wasn’t super into pale ales at the time, so it was hard to get excited about them, even though I love them now. Silver Queen was mediocre, and Butterfly Effect, their lager, was not good. But then again, I barely understand lagers now and I sure as fuck didn’t understand them then, so don’t let that throw you. I had the Rusty Ale, which I didn’t care for, and I didn’t like Old Man Mason at all, either. Slow Peach was pretty okay.

As you might have guessed, I wasn’t wild about the Livery. I have never been back and have no real plans to go back. It didn’t impress me at all. Maybe if I hear they’ve changed brewers or have gotten super amazing somehow, I’d check it out, but as it stands – I’m not going back.

(Sorry! Everyone was super nice, though!)

My itinerary told me that I would go to Paw Paw Brewing next, before they closed, en route to Kalamazoo, but that didn’t happen. I love, love, love the beach and I LOVE Lake Michigan, so I spent more time hanging out in St. Joe’s.

I never park in the parking lot at the beach; instead, I find a spot on the street (free!) or in the residential area, and then just cross the bridge to get there.

bridge in st joseph.JPG

I find railroad tracks so romantic.

There are super cute little shops along the way, where you can rent kayaks and boards and stuff.

kayaks and paddle boards in st joseph

And then I bummed around the beach for a while, soaking up the sun and enjoying the sunset. Here are my feet:

feet on the beach in st joseph.JPG

By the time I left, it was almost sunset and Paw Paw was already closed. So I headed into Kalamazoo, sad because I thought I’d blown my itinerary and missed a great brewery. But it was warm and pretty and the apartment complex I was staying at was lovely, as were the hosts.

Irene and her roommate had a huge spread out to welcome me, and the room I stayed in was spacious and comfortable. They cooked me dinner and we watched some random movie about God taking on a human form and visiting some diner (it’s always a diner) in a total liminal space and even though I LOVE liminal spaces (or the concept of them, because in reality they can be terrifying), it was so fucking stupid.

So then we decided that we wanted to go out, and they wanted to show me around downtown Kalamazoo, which would have been awesome except we got rained out and the bar where we were going to go (I was told there was dancing and karaoke, both of which are terrifying) was closed, so it was kind of a bust. But I had a nice first evening, and when I got to sleep later, I slept like a rock.

 

.: bells brewery is fucking amazing :.

“Lend your ear then to this tutti of steeples; diffuse over the whole the buzz of half a million of human beings, the eternal murmur of the river, the infinite piping of the wind, the grave and distant quartet of the four forests placed like immense organs on the four hills of the horizon; soften down, as with a demi-tint, all that is too shrill and too harsh in the central mass of sound, and say if you know any thing in the world more rich, more gladdening, more dazzling than that tumult of bells; than that furnace of music; than those ten thousand brazen tones breathed all at once from flutes of stone three hundred feet high; than that city which is but one orchestra; than that symphony rushing and roaring like a tempest.” — Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

bells eccentric cafe kalamazoo.jpeg

I woke up to natural light and the chirping of birds. The bed was huge and so comfortable that it was a struggle to get up and shower (and then spend a half hour blow drying my damn hair). But I did, and then I headed out onto the balcony attached to my room. There was no direct sunlight, although there was plenty of light, because it was filtered through a woodsy area that surrounded the back end of the gorgeous apartment complex.

trees in kalamazoo.JPG

I bummed around and then eventually left, timing my departure with when Bell’s Eccentric Cafe opened.

If you’re ever in Kalamazoo, you NEED to go to Bell’s. The food is amazing, and the beer is so, so good. I don’t love everything I have there, but that’s almost never going to happen anyway. I have been to Bell’s repeatedly since this trip and have never once been disappointed.

bells eccentric cafe kalamazoo exterior.JPG

I got there right when they opened and, seeing as I hadn’t eaten since fairly early the night before, put in a food order right away with my beer. I got a BLT, which was amazing. I’m so glad I eat bacon now. Muslims are told that if you eat pork you will go to Hell, and I’m embarrassed to say that I believed that until I was about 28 – believed in the sense that, sure, I believed it as a younger person because that’s what religious brainwashing does, but as I got older and started to question more and more things I had been taught, I abstained from pork mostly because I was afraid not to. Even after I’d started drinking and thus was already regularly engaging in another activity for the Hellbound or whatever.

I swear, the first time I had a piece of bacon in my friend’s kitchen, I was low-key convinced that the floor would open up and swallow me whole, or I’d get in a fiery car crash on the drive home.

No such fears plagued me in Kalamazoo. I ordered a BLT, which was AMAZING, one of the best I’ve had in a while, and four beers.

bells eccentric cafe kalamazoo beer flight list

The Oarsman was slightly tart with good carbonation, which I always like. I like bubbles. Downtowner was pretty hop forward and “a little chewy,” per the notes I wrote in my tasting notebook. (Yes, I was the asshole that had a tasting notebook, leave me alone.)

I also wrote “I am totally going to steal this pen from Bells” in my notebook, which was an indication that even though I’d ordered food, the beer was hitting me faster than it probably should have.

The Kalamazoo IPA was slightly grapefruity. My notes on this one are scant, mostly because my palate didn’t quite understand IPAs yet. I’d need about 50-100 more IPAs before I’d truly start to “get” them, and this trip just wasn’t it. Le Bretteur was sour and fantastic and got a 4.5 out of 5 on Untapped, which is rare for me. But I’m a huge fan of Brettanomyces, and unless you REALLY fuck it up (which is possible, trust me), I’m going to enjoy myself.

bells eccentric cafe kalamazoo beer flight.JPG

Like I said, if you’re there, stop by. You won’t regret it. You will be greeted by friendly faces, good food, and great beer. The space is wonderful: lots of beautiful wood (pine, I’m guessing? I’m bad at wood), brick interior walls, stained glass, tapestries, banners, all sorts of cool shit.

I’ve been lucky enough to go when it wasn’t packed – 11 in the morning and 11 at night, usually – and to be honest, I don’t know that I’d enjoy it as much if it were busy. When it’s only got a relatively small crowd going, it’s great for people watching. I’m thinking of all the seats and tables and it must feel so congested when there’s a lunch rush or something.

My timing normally works out that I’m there right at open, though, so it’s not a concern. It’s one of the best places to go to if you’re in Kalamazoo, and I’ve always had a great time drinking fantastic beer and chatting with fun, interesting people.

 

.: pull up a chair at paw paw :.

“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage. 

community at paw paw brewing company in paw paw michigan.jpg

Of all the breweries I went to back in 2015, Paw Paw felt the most like a little community. And now, if you go on their website and hit their History page, you’ll see that that’s what they emphasize, that’s what their mission is all about: creating community.

I had meant to go to Paw Paw the day before, but ended up spending too much time at the beach. (I know, problems, right?)

So after having lunch at Bell’s and drinking some great beer, I looked at my itinerary and figured, hey, I could make the trip out to Paw Paw. It was a little bit of a drive and kind of out of my way because it was between yesterday’s stop (St. Joe’s) and Kalamazoo, but whatever. I was spending two nights in Kalamazoo, anyway, and could spare the time. Even though my itinerary was painstaking, I was fine flexing it a little and dropping one thing for another if I felt like it.

I headed over to Paw Paw Brewing Company, located in Paw Paw, Michigan. It’s a tiny town, and the brewery structure itself isn’t all that impressive. I kind of side-eyed it, actually, when I arrived.

But I headed in anyway and BOY, was I glad I did!

It was dark and felt a bit cramped, even though it was spacious enough and there weren’t even that many people there yet. This was the view from the front window where I was seated at the bar.

view from paw paw window

I joined 2-3 older men at the bar, and I could tell they were regulars and knew what they were about. I hemmed and hawwed over the beer list and, in the process, struck up a delightful conversation with the bartender, who was wearing a leather vest over his t-shirt and a bandana. He talked me through some of the beers and I made my selections.

flight of beer at paw paw.JPG

Here’s a partial shot of my flight. I had several beers and enjoyed them all. The South Branch Summer was “great,” per my notes. You can tell pretty easily if the beer is hitting me because my notes get shorter and my pretty handwriting turns into a bit of  a scrawl. I was still fine to drive when I got to Paw Paw, but that doesn’t mean I was unaffected by the beer I’d already consumed.

The King James Scotch Ale was “perfectly sweet,” and I really enjoyed it. I love Scotch Ales – even in the summer, although I don’t drink as many of them when it’s hot and sunny, obviously. But I’m an all weather girl when it comes to beers: I’ll enjoy a barrel aged Russian Imperial Stout even if it’s 98* outside, I don’t care, and I’ll sip a delicate Berliner Weisse while a snowstorm rages outside. Who gives a fuck?

Another regular walked in, a middle aged man with salt and pepper hair and a large growler in his hands. He’d home-brewed a pineapple mint julep IPA, and offered me some. Ken, my best friend beer nerd who converted me into a craft beer fanatic, has a thing against home brews, and he’s always low-key convinced that I’m going to get myself roofie-d by accepting home brewed concoctions from strange men I meet in breweries.

I mean, he’s not wrong, but hey, with a description like “pineapple mint julep IPA,” I had to try it. You’d think that with those ingredients, it would be sickly sweet (for an IPA), but it wasn’t. The pineapple sweetness was mostly in the aroma, and the IPA was hoppy with citrusy notes. The mint on the finish cooled it off. I just loved it.

Paw Paw’s Citra Melon IPA smelled of citra hops, which I found very pleasant, and Mr. Sunday was kind of meh.

In the meantime, that gentleman from earlier had produced another home brew, and obviously I was going to try it. It was a Chocolate Chip Cookie Stout, he said, and it was sweet and smooth and very enjoyable.

He told me that next Saturday, he planned to bring in a caramel brownie porter, which sounded amazing and I was quite disappointed that I wouldn’t be around for it.

Beer always makes me hungry – duh, alcohol tends to do that to most people – and so I ordered some nachos despite having just eaten. Frankly, I think I just wasn’t quite ready to leave Paw Paw. I ordered another small pour with the nachos, knowing I was drinking a little more than I budgeted for, but not particularly caring.

It was their Gusmeister Amber Ale, and it smelled tart for an amber. I thought it was lovely, despite not being a huge fan of the style. That’s a credit to the brewer and his abilities, to be sure.

I was told that Paw Paw was actually moving down the street in a month, to a better facility. I haven’t been back there since, but I do want to go check out the new space. The pictures on the website are lovely, and I’m sure it’s tons of fun, especially in the winter.

If you’re on the fence about Paw Paw, swing on through. At least, when I went, it felt very cozy and friendly. That’s what I love about the craft beer community: it’s very much a White Male thing, and obviously has a history of racism, but it’s still quite welcoming. I realize I have some privilege over other minority groups as a (South) Asian female, but I’ve never had difficulty navigating the craft beer world, even as a total newbie. Everyone I have talked to was very happy to share their opinions, listen to mine, discuss styles and stories, teach me the methods, provide recommendations, and more. And never have I felt the welcoming aspect of the craft beer community more than at Paw Paw in 2015.

As I was preparing to drive out of town, I noticed the courthouse. I hadn’t yet started my #CourthouseSelfies, but I still liked checking out courthouses. I stopped and looked at it, and the adjoining jail, and was charmed by this old-timey patrol car parked on the corner.

old timey police car in paw paw michiganPaw Paw is a delightful, tiny little town, and if you’re in the vicinity, I can confidently say that this lovely little brewery will not disappoint.

.: out on the town (and the Shire!) in kalamazoo :.

“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. 

kalamazoo park.jpg

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 the great dane kalamazoo ruperts brewering.JPG

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.

ruperts beer flight kalamazoo.JPG

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.

gonzos bigdogg brewing.JPG

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.

gonzos biggdogg brewing beer flight

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.

tibbs brewing company kalamazoo.JPG

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:

tibbs brewing company beer list

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!

bilbos pizzeria kalamazoo

I was so fucking excited. And look at the menu!

bilbos pizzeria kalamazoo menu 1.JPGbilbos pizzeria kalamazoo menu 2.JPG

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.

.: barging into Millgrove in Allegan :.

“I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I’m gone which would not have happened if I had not come.” Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children.

Millgrove Brewing Old Mill Brew Pub.jpg

I put off writing this one because I didn’t think I could do a good job telling it, but that’s not a good reason to be deterred from anything, is it? It’s the perfectionist in me, the perfectionist that I thought – with some therapy, some serious research into the subject, much introspection and journaling, and a bit of hard work – I had partly dissolved, partly suppressed.

I left Kalamazoo after exchanging warm goodbyes with my two lovely hosts. My itinerary told me that my next stop was Plainwell, Michigan, which felt like it was right up the road. I hadn’t been driving long at all until I arrived at a charming house with an old truck parked out front.

old mill brew pub in plainwell michigan

I arrived at 11:00am, just as they opened, but I still wasn’t the first one there. I watched a group of six seniors get out of their cars and carefully traverse the gravel parking lot to the stairs that led up to the door, and followed.

stairway at old mill brew pub

I loved the decor; it looked much like an old farmhouse that had been restored to accomodate restaurant seating on multiple levels as well as a brewery. I didn’t get to see how many barrels the operation was, because it was hard to get a good look at all of it, and there was no one around to chat with who might offer me a closer look. (Turns out, this happens a lot when you’re a woman wandering around alone in a brewery.)

I wasn’t really sure what they were going for with the beaver, though:

beaver at old mill brew pub

But it was taller than me and a pretty impressive piece of wood (that’s what she said), so of course I was going to take a picture.

I was seated on the patio, which was an excellent choice for such a nice summer day. Plainwell is a pretty small town, mostly farmland, and I was on one of the few major streets. Because of very little commercial development, I had a clear, straight view down the road on each side, and an umbrella to shade me from the sun. If you end up here and it’s halfway decent outside, sit on the patio.

The beer list was pretty impressive, and I broke my flight-glasses only rule with a larger pour.

beer at old mill brew pub in plainwell

I had the Crazy Beaver Cream Ale, which in addition to a possibly misogynist name (?), was kind of meh. Large amounts of flaked maize were kind of cool, and made for a good body with good balance, but I did not care for the finish at all. It kind of ruined it for me.

I got a fruit beer called Free Love Passion Fruit Ale (much better name!), which was carbonated with raspberries and passionfruit, and excellent for a light summer lunch on a hot day. It was almost too sweet, but I figured, what the hell, it was summer. And it went nice enough with my chicken quesadilla, which I am sharing only because I love quesadillas and will eat them at any time of the day or night.

quesadilla at old mill brew pub

(This one wasn’t that great, though.)

I’d ordered a pint of the Passionfruit beer but didn’t want to finish it. My eyes were certainly bigger than my stomach on that one.

And, for the first time, I shared a few pics from my trip thus far on Facebook. Remember, my parents thought I was at a conference all day from 9-5 in Grand Rapids. I shared it only to a certain pre-selected list of people who probably knew I drank, and figured I’d wait to see if I was found out. I can be pretty reckless with this stuff at times. I know it doesn’t sound like much to those of you who have always had the freedom (once you turned 21) to drink, but for me this was basically a disown-able offense. It was violating a major, major rule in Islam. Not that I particularly cared.

The food was taking an obscenely long time, and I pondered grabbing my vitamins from the car. I took Phytomatrix at the time, which made me feel pretty good, but turned my pee a mustard color no matter how much water I drank. At the time, I felt like they helped me not feel gross after drinking all day but it certainly could have been a placebo effect.

I had a small pour of the Island City IPA, which was citrusy and hop forward and had a light pine finish. It was completely on the opposite end of intensity (IPA wise) from the Wilbur IPA, which was loaded with Simcoe hops (goodbye, tastebuds, nice knowing you), and was sweet enough from the malt but hands down the piniest beer I have ever had. It was like being punched in the mouth, between the Simcoe and the pine.

I paid up, finally, which also took forever (about as long as the food), and gratefully slipped out the door. Old Mill Brew Pub was pretty enough, but I had no desire to return. The beer was okay, the food was wholly unremarkable, and it felt like the kind of place old people went to feel hip drinking craft beer. Not for me, and I won’t return.

I pushed on to Milllgrove. I returned there many times, unlike Old Mill, largely in thanks to the super cute brewer who very quickly forgave me for barging in uninvited.

millgrove brewing.JPG

The mistake was simple, and all mine. I had planned out my itinerary by consulting mostly Google Maps and the Craft Brewers Guild website. Both had listed Millgrove as opening at noon. So, when I arrived at 12:30PM, I figured it was already open.

The sign outside, however, said they opened at 2PM, which wouldn’t do me any good because I was supposed to be closer to Holland at that point. I stared at the sign, and then at my itinerary, and then for some reason decided that my itinerary controlled. This illogical belief was further buttressed by the fact that the door, when I tested it, opened easily.

(In retrospect, sure, this was probably in compliance with fire codes, which likely stated that if there were occupants within a building then at least one door should be unlocked, but I wasn’t really thinking of fire codes at the time.)

I walked inside and stood on the front mat, looking around. It was a pretty cute place, with wide open seating areas, a small stage, and a bar that spanned much of the length of the room. A little dated, but I could easily see it as a cozy place to hang out in the evenings, especially.

“Uh, can I help you?”

A tall, dark-haired man, probably close to my age, emerged from a back room and stared at me.

I gestured behind me. “The door was open.”

(I’m not super great under pressure.)

He shot me a quizzical look. “We’re….closed, though, actually.”

I’m sure I stared at him dumbly. “But the door was open, though.”

He stared at me a little longer, likely wondering if I was one of those wandering asylum escapees from Kalamazoo, before he relaxed and shrugged. “Well, I guess I can help you. What would you like?”

In that small moment of kindness – perhaps bewilderment? And the thought that maybe he didn’t want to spend the next few minutes engaged in a very circular argument with a random woman that had just barged into his brewery? – I made a friend I’ve known for years. I hopped up at the counter as he slid behind it, and pulled out my little notebook of tasting notes.

“I’d love to do a flight,” I announced, examining the beer list on the board as he eyed my notebook.

I ordered a Wayfarer Cream Ale, the Cherry Porter, the Allegan Oatmeal Stout, and the Inflictor DIPA.

We chatted as he began pouring me a flight. I learned that his name was Chris, and he grew up in Grand Rapids. He learned that I was from Chicago and loved craft beer. I felt kind of awkward starting to drink my beer as he stood just behind the counter, empty-handed, and with the two of us alone in the bar. Culturally, in my culture, at least, it’s rude to eat or drink something when the person with you isn’t also eating or drinking. Like, it’s a source of anxiety. Normally, what Desi aunties do is just pester and cajole and harangue you until you accept at least a glass of water.

But I was saved from the awkwardness by a little girl who rollerbladed (on one rollerbade) into the main space from a back room with a small stack of papers and a mischievous smile. Chris rolled his eyes and gently suggested that she might perhaps want to sit down to work on her homework instead of skating around the brewery, especially when they had “a guest.”

It was immediately apparent she was his daughter, and I remember discreetly glancing for a ring. None.

The kid was adorable and even though I’m terrible with kids, I engaged her in conversation for a bit as I sipped on my beers. She needed assistance, and so Chris sat down next to her at the bar to help. Algebra. It was my favorite, but I kept my mouth shut and didn’t intervene. I feel like that’s one of my biggest faults; I intervene too often, and inject myself into spaces where people are perfectly fine without me.

So I sat contentedly and sipped my beer, musing that this resembled the start of one of those Lisa Kleypas novels that had literally gotten me through studying for the Bar exam. (That, and videos of cats on Youtube. Still, I nearly lost my mind studying for that horrible hazing-masquerading-as-a-test.)

flight and beer board at millgrove brewing in allegan

The beer was EXCELLENT. Even to a newbie like me, it was apparent that Chris knew what he was doing, and had a talent for it.

The Wayfarer Cream Ale offered just the right amount of sweetness. I can’t help it; I’m a fan of cream ales, especially in the summer. In retrospect, I’m surprised that Chris had one up on the board. More recently, I was complaining to him about some terrible brewery that was upsetting me (I was a bit buzzed at the time, and while I’m a happy, sweet drunk, I’m also easily upsettable).

And the cream ale???? Horrible! I remember texting him a few months ago. How the hell do you mess up a cream ale tbh

By making one, he cracked.

Still, his cream ale was great.

The Cherry Porter was good as well, with just the right amount of tartness. Does this sound like the Goldilocks story yet? I’m not really into porters – I find them boring. But I wanted my selection to be varied, so I added the two dark beers on the list at the time. The other one, the Allegan Oatmeal Stout, was very nice, without being too thick or heavy.

Chris was still helping his daughter with her homework, and I was laughing at some of his disgruntled remarks. I couldn’t relate, though – I’ve always loved math.

My phone buzzed, distracting me. It was Nicole, with whom I’d been checking in regularly, as promised, so she’d know where to send the cops if I was murdered.

I know I’m not supposed to bother you while you’re finally trying to relax, she texted, but I had to share this. [Redacted] got probation, but to the felony child porn charge.

My heart sank. This was a case I had devoted two years to, and I knew the client and his family very well. The charge was horrible, sure, but any halfway intelligent reader should know there’s always more to the case. Context is key, as I’ve told countless juries in my opening statements.

The judge didn’t go for the lesser included? After we fought John so hard to agree to it?

My client had been accused of downloading child pornography. He was a teenage boy raised in a religiously repressive househoad, but what he had going for him was that he was white in a rather prejudiced Illinois county. He had told investigators – with whom he waived Miranda and talked to before we were involved – that he downloaded the child pornography for the purpose of trading it with people who were into it in order to obtain pornography involving girls his age – mid-to-late teens. He was a seventeen year old boy and the thirty-something year olds in most adult pornography just didn’t do anything for him. That was the theory we were also going to present to a jury.

Except that you almost never try child porn to a jury. At the first picture the prosecutor puts up on the flat screen, any jury with even one soccer mom or grandpa on it is fixing to launch your guy. Those things, if they go to trial, often end up a bench trial before a judge. In this one, after months and months of work and wheedling and veiled threats that we could win this (we couldn’t), we had gotten the prosecutor to agree to add a lesser included charge of a misdemeanor Harmful Materials charge that would not carry a felony conviction, a requirement of sex offender probation, or sex offender registration. It would essentially save our guy from a lifetime of registration, onerous housing laws, and ostracization. He was only seventeen.

We had also gotten the prosecutor to agree to a stipulated bench trial. The hope was that the judge would hear the evidence at a very truncated, abbreviated sort of trial and find our guy guilty of the lesser included misdemeanor charge, sparing him the felony. It wasn’t uncommon for judges to split the baby like that in cases with extenuating circumstances, like a young defendant with a plausible theory of defense, facing life time sex offender status.

No. She didn’t go for it. So he’s guilty of the felony child porn, and now he might have to move out of his parents’ house because they’re fifty feet too close to a school. He doesn’t own the house, so he’s not grandfathered in. 

Words didn’t suffice, so I didn’t offer a real word.

Ugggggggggghhh. 

I know right? Nicole texted back. Don’t worry about doing anything, I’m handling it and trying to figure it out with probation to see if he can stay. Just enjoy your trip. I just wanted to tell you so you weren’t in suspense. 

I put my phone down and must have made a noise that indicated my displeasure, because Chris looked up from the math homework. His daughter took this as an opportunity to escape. (Smart kid.)

He asked what was up, and the conversation turned to what I did for a living. He was interested, as many people are; after all, it’s an interesting career and people correctly presume that it means I have a lot of interesting stories. I do. I just feel like kind of a vulture for sharing them. I always have the nagging feeling, when I share a scrubbed down, cleaned up version of the public-record details of a certain case, that I’m making myself seem more interesting by sharing the details of someone else’s trauma.

I get no joy from sharing stories, and while I usually indulge the questioner with 2-3 general stories, I then divert the conversation to something else.

Chris didn’t seem to mind when I did that. He was well versed on things like the failed Drug War, the racist aspects of the prison industrial complex, stop and frisk, and so on.

At a lull in the otherwise spirited conversation, I consulted my itinerary. Chris was taking this opportunity to pour me another beer he thought I should try, but he noticed it when I returned.

I showed him what it was, and he leafed through the three pages of single spaced typing and laughed.

“You’re just like me,” he grinned, handing it back to me. “I do the same thing – plan everything to the last detail.”

It seemed like a good quality for someone responsible for his own business, I thought.

“Probably a good quality in an attorney,” he offered, mimicking my thoughts. “You’ve got some good ones on the list – many that even I haven’t been to, and I live here.”

Still, he suggested one or two more for my list, and I scribbled them in where I thought they belonged, geography-wise. I glanced again at the clock. It was almost time for Chris to open – for real – and I was already late according to my schedule. I had been stretching out my time at Millgrove, enjoying the peace and quiet there.

“I should be heading out,” I said reluctantly, grabbing my purse and notebook. Chris had teased me about the notebook, but I didn’t mind. I wanted to note the beers I had and what I tasted in each of them – how else was I going to learn about craft beer? My palate was already so much more knowledgeable than when I started. (Can knowledgeable be a word used to describe a palate? Whatever.)

I said my goodbyes and that I’d probably return, and another customer walked in as I was leaving. Chris was busy again, and I had a schedule to keep to.