I’m finally there! All of the brewpubs I’ve ever been to are now uploaded and catalogued to 50 States of Brew. I say almost, because I’ve neglected visits within the past couple of months as well as a very select few I’ve been saving. So now it is time for the top ten list.
Dark Horse Brewing Company
511 S Kalamazoo Ave
Visited on several occasions
Cracking my brewpub top ten list of all-time is a fairly small operation out of Marshall, Michigan, just about an hour south of my former home of Lansing. I’ll have to admit, I wasn’t all that into it the first time I visited. They don’t offer flights and they were a little low on variety due to a recent giant festival/party that they had hosted. The beers I had weren’t all that impressive, and I left a little down on the place.
I absolutely love Dark Horse. The building is the definition of local funk grown up through local roots. The mugs are beautiful, intricate, wooden pieces of arts and hang from every available inch of the ceiling. The taproom and patio manage to straddle the line between eccentric, local, and cozily familiar all at the same time. And the food and beer are out of this world.
You can find Crooked Tree IPA in just about any decent beer bar across the state. And their Amber Ale is my favorite of the style I’ve come across yet, somehow managing to be sweet and complex at the same time. But what Dark Horse really does well is stout. Strong, imperial styles abound during the winter, each one a 10 on the holy-shit-this-is-amazing meter.
And despite the apparently lack of any sort of professional-looking kitchen, the food is always a homerun. Local ingredients, delicious bread, interesting combinations, and portions big enough to keep you semi-sober during a long session is all I need in the world.
Dark Horse, I salute you.
Dark Horse is definitely different. I’m not sure what’s so historic about Marshall, Michigan, but the brewery lays just outside of the main square along a road lined with your typical small brewery surroundings; big warehouses with lots of space.
But Dark Horse breaks the mold. Attached to the warehouse building housing the brewing operation is a small trailer-like structure that has been modified to resemble a wooden, rustic building. The exterior seems to be wooden, and stepping inside you’re greeted with wooden pillars, wooden artistically crafted mugs hanging everywhere from the ceilings, walls, and most every exposed surface, and a bar featuring Indian-styled mosaic tiles on the top. It’s small – only 56 people are technically allowed in – but it works. And I like it.
The beer is just on the cusp of being on par with Founders, Bell’s, Shorts and the other truly great breweries in Michigan. The Crooked Tree IPA is their flagship, and with good reason. It’s their best, but unfortunately falls short of the other great IPAs of the region. They had 10 of their own beers on tap when I visited filling the full range of beers usually expected with the notable absence of a pale ale and a wheat beer. The American red was a bit hoppy and less sweet than I expected, the black bier was a bit too bitter and resembling coffee for my tastes, but the brown bear was right on target. All in all, it’s definitely good beer, just not quite up to the state’s exceptional standards.
The menu is rather small featuring a range of sandwiches, toasted subs, calzones and pizzas, but the quality is high. It seems like Founders or Bells but on a much smaller scale. Or maybe it just gives the impression of a larger kitchen with the wait staff and non-visible kitchen. Either way, I truly enjoyed my bourbon turkey/pesto maynoaise/onion/ciabatta bread sandwich. And though it comes with bagged chips, the spicy asian slaw was obviously made in-house with fresh chunks of chopped cabbage.
The service is good. Though they don’t offer a sampler platter, they’re more than happy to give you small tastes of their various beers. Sitting at the bar, I didn’t go thirsty, but this is definitely a local establishment. Everyone from the brewers to the patrons to the bartenders seems to know each other.