BRAVO ZULU BREWING (Traverse City)
Bravo Zulu Brewery was founded just a couple of years ago by an Iraq war vet and a police commander. The brewery reflects its ownership – military uniforms and flags decorate the walls and there is a small room that is like a mini-museum of fire, police and military gear. The main area is a giant box of a room, with a really high (maybe 40 feet) truss metal ceiling. The eight seat bar in one corner is too small for a space that has tables for around 60, and could comfortably fit a good bit more. In an adjacent corner of the giant room is a pool table, a jukebox, two electronic dartboards and a Ms Pac-Man machine. Needless to say, we didn’t love the atmosphere, but the staff were extremely friendly and enthusiastic about the beer.
They didn’t have a traditional American IPA, but I went for the hops-infused Amber and Lauren the light lager (“Golden Valor”). I don’t love Ambers, but found this one pretty drinkable. Lauren thought the same with her lager – unspectacular, but drinkable.
Bravo Zulu does not currently serve food. And they are not yet distributing their beers outside of the tap room.
BREWERY FERMENT (Traverse City)
This modest little brewery was our favorite in Traverse City. It’s located on a residential block in old town TC and the tasting room has a bit of a feel to it like you’re in someone’s living room. There are two outdoor picnic tables on the street side on a little patio in front of the brewery. Inside, it’s a small place, with a little standing-only bar serving the beers in one corner, a couple of dartboards in another and then a handful of tables sprinkled throughout. When I decided on the seasonal, the barkeep had to go down a narrow set of stairs to the basement to pour my beer.
They only brew five staple beers at Ferment. They had two seasonals when we were there, including a very tasty citra-hopped double IPA. In addition to enjoying their beers, Lauren fell for their schwag, specifically the shirts with an outline of northern Michigan drawn with hops.
They don’t serve food at Ferment, unless you count their “interesting bar snacks,” including an assortment of jarred pickled eggs.
Anyway, it was a truly laid back scene in an interesting place and we highly recommend it.
BREWERY TERRA FIRMA (Traverse City)
While many of the breweries we visit tout their environmental and social credentials, Terra Firma is the first that we’ve visited that owns its own farm and produces many of the ingredients used in its beer. The farm also allows it to re-use some of the byproducts of the brewing process itself as the spent grain is used to fertilize their land and the wasted water in the brewing process is used to water the plants.
The tasting room for Terra Firma is located in a stand-alone structure a bit south of Traverse City. It has seating for 60 inside, including an amply-sized bar, plus six picnic tables on a concrete patio outside. Food isn’t served, aside from some basic snacks.
The beer itself was of high quality, but I found the IPA a bit too malty for me, which is seemingly consistent with the style in Michigan. Lauren, on the other hand, absolutely raved about her honey basil ale.
Overall, we really liked the scene at Terra Firma, plus what they stand for, and would go back.
FILLING STATION MICROBREWERY (Traverse City)
The Filling Station Microbrewery is an immensely popular pizzeria and brewery situated in a cool, old former railroad depot in Traverse City. They rotate 10 beers and serve up some pretty good flatbread pizzas.
There are a few things to like about The Filling Station and a number of things that we disliked. Starting with the positive, the building itself is really cool–there is a small, standing-only bar inside with a few tables behind it and then a less-cool room off to the side that seems like perhaps it was an addition at one point and is filled with just tables. Given that there was a wait for a table, we were stuck in the less-cool room, which was like a romper room for small children. Outside, there are rows of picnic tables set right up alongside the railroad tracks.
Another positive –the beer is pretty good, if not spectacular. And, the bartenders seem to know their stuff.
Now for a few things that we disliked:
- It seemed to be almost all families. We’re kid-free heathen, but it’s not too much to ask to not hear kids screaming when you are sipping a pint at a brewery at 8:00pm on a Friday night, is it?
- You provide the service–when you want beer, you go to the bar. When you want to order food, you go to the bar. When you need your water topped off, you go to the bar. Add to that a 45 minute wait for the pizza (which we learned is not that uncommon when they are busy) and it’s just not worth it.
- There is no bar to sit at, or even really to stand at. All of the ordering, as previously mentioned, is done at a fairly small bar (with no seats). We generally prefer sitting at the bar when it is just the two of us. That wasn’t really an option here and when we stood at the bar we had to fight for space with a whole slew of customers trying to wait on themselves.
Anyway, after just 4 years in business, it seems like The Filling Station is a real institution in Traverse City. They won’t miss our business.
RARE BIRD BREWPUB (Traverse City)
Rare Bird’s brewpub is housed in a glorious 1931 former canning facility with walls of exposed brick and dark wood slabs from former canning crates. There is a large bar, some high-walled booths and a number of long beer-hall style tables. It’s got a really nice feel to it. When we were there, however, there was a local blues band playing a bit too loudly to be enjoyable and that dominated the atmosphere.
In addition to serving up a handful of their own brewed beers, the brewpub has an extensive list of beers produced elsewhere, both on draft and in bottles. They also serve an interesting mix of pub-style food that we didn’t try, although we did admire the nachos our neighbor at the bar was eating.
As for the beer, it was probably the best we’ve had in Michigan to date (important note that we have yet to go to Grand Rapids). I had their American IPA and Lauren their pineapple pale ale.
RIGHT BRAIN BREWERY (Traverse City)
Right Brain Brewery holds the distinction for having the biggest room I’ve ever seen at a brewery. Sharing a large industrial building with a much smaller hair salon just off of downtown Traverse City, the tasting room is in a massive open space, complete with a large cardboard Star Wars Tie fighter hanging from the wall. There is a large bar at the back of the space, but most of it is just filled with tables, funky wall and ceiling hangings and different seating areas. It seems a bit chaotic, but for some reason it works.
Lauren was really excited to visit Right Brain because they are brewing an experimental pale ale with asparagus; it was a pretty subtle flavor and she liked it.
In addition to well intentioned oddities like the asparagus beer, Right Brain had an entire section of their beer menu devoted to their four IPAs! I found all of them pretty drinkable and their grapefruit IPA one of the best beers I’d sampled in weeks.
Right Brain bottles and cans a number of their beers for distribution. They also have a small food menu at the brewery, consisting mainly of waffle sandwiches and burgers.
STORMCLOUD BREWING COMPANY (Frankfort)
We went out of our way to Frankfort, MI, a cute little Lake Michigan-side town, to visit three-year-old Stormcloud Brewing, having read that it was selected “best brewery” by a Traverse City lifestyle magazine. Despite it being a really hectic, crowded Memorial Day Sunday afternoon, we found it worth the visit.
Stormcloud resides in a big old historic strip of shops in downtown Frankfort. There is a 12 seat bar and table seating for probably another 60-70, plus a large patio, all of which was packed when we were there. In addition to the taps, the servers stations are also located behind the bar and as they were training new staff for the start of the tourist season, it was packed on the other side of the bar and the buzzing activity a bit distracting for those of us trying to relax with a pint on the happy side of the bar.
While we may have found the scene a bit chaotic, we loved the beer. It’s heavily Belgian influenced, but they also have a number of American-style beers (including two American IPAs) as well as some interesting hybrids. I tried and liked both of the IPAs and settled on their Imperial. Lauren made the more interesting choices, trying both the Belgian blonde brewed with peaches and pecans, and the citrus saison brewed with orange, lemon, lime, and grapefruit. The latter was probably the most unique and solid beer we’ve had since we were in Colorado.
Stormcloud has a small menu that is dominated by tempting mixes of flatbread pizzas; we didn’t try any food. They are not currently canning or bottling any beers for distribution.