Harper’s Restaurant and Brewpub
131 Albert Ave
East Lansing, Michigan
Visited many times 2010-2012
My first ever brewpub in Michigan was, unfortunately, Harper’s. I visited the night before a job interview that would eventually lead me to be able to get to nearly 50 Michigan breweries. And Harper’s is near the bottom of that list.
The issue comes in its location and the clients it’s going after. It’s in the heart of East Lansing and a shit ton of retard MSU students. Not that all MSU students are retards, but when you have 40,000 of them, at least 30,000 are going to be fuckwits. So Harper’s business model is basically to attract as many of them as they can every single night and serve them the beer that will make the most profit – a.k.a. cheap, fruity, flavorless concoctions.
As the years went on, I did come to gain a slight appreciation for the place. Their pale ale is actually pretty decent and a dopplebock once pleased me. But they can never make anything too daring or too high in alcohol, or else they will end up with fights and ass-hat college kids passed out all over the place.
Walking up to Harper’s I feel a swell of hope rising in my chest despite the awful reviews I have read from fellow beer connoisseurs. A wide stairway of stone steps leads to two gigantic wooden doors below a large, colorful sign on a gorgeous brick building featuring gigantic half-moon windows. Unfortunately, the reviews would prove to be correct.
This place has so much potential, but it wastes it catering to the college party crowd.
As I open the door and step into Harper’s I’m immediately blasted by the sound of a DJ pumping up a small crowed of drunk co-eds. Putting this setback aside, I survey the place. It’s dimly lit with two sets of brewing equipment shining proudly; one towards the back and one off to the right behind glass walls. Most of the place features beautiful, light woodwork and dark bricks. There are plenty of tables, televisions, and space. An oddly-shaped yet gorgeous circular bar sits in the center and is lit by Christmas lights hanging overhead. A giant semi-private room sits to the right. It looks like a great party room. Picture frames hang from the ceilings and wall with objects inside rather than pictures.
Believe it or not, the food is damn good. It was half-price pizza night so I ordered what sounded like a delicious combination of spinach, goat cheese, pine nuts, red onion and feta cheese on top of a pesto sauce. It comes out not quite sliced all the way through, but absolutely delicious. The crust is crispy on the bottom and chewy in the middle, and quite flavorful on its own. Some of the best bar pizza I’ve ever had.
The beer, however, greatly disappoints. I order a sampler of their six beers, which comes out in a weird assortment of misshapen PLASTIC glasses of roughly four ounces each. These are like small wine or champagne glasses. Weird.
Harpers ale looks like Bud. Dry. It is not sweet, which is surprising. Low hops with no citrus notes. It is very close to a German pilsner but seems to be missing German malts or maybe German hops, which give good pilsners that distinctive taste.
Spartan Wheat has but one note – sweet. It lacks any true citrus flavor and is low on hops. Okay fine, on a second taste, it has a single orange note as well. But it’s terrible.
Raspberry Wheat takes the original terrible Spartan Wheat and adds way too much fruit concentrate, serving only to make a bad beer undrinkable.
The Pale Ale is actually not too bad. Though the board says it is malty, it really isn’t, though compared to the rest of their beers I guess it is. It is again a little low on hops. There is not much bitterness though it does have some floral notes. So far, it is the only beer I’d order a pint of.
The Brown starts promising, full of nutty goodness, but soon fades as the brew is thin and without depth.
The Stout is the best of the bunch simply because it is nearly impossible to make a non-malty, flavorless stout. There is enough of dark, malty goodness here to qualify it as drinkable, though it still does not linger on the palette for any respectable period of time.
The service wasn’t bad, except that the servers know absolutely nothing about beer and would rather grab you a bottle than take the time to pour you a pint.
All in all, this place could be so much more if it would just aim higher. The location is prime. The building is beautiful. Even the décor is great. But it tries to be a club. It produces cheap, thin beer so that college kids can drink plenty of it without filling their belly or emptying their wallet. The one saving grace – besides the building – is the food. It is definitely worth a stop for some top-notch bar grub.