Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My Hometown Brewery

Liberty Street Brewing Company
grew up in Plymouth, Michigan. I moved away in 1988 when I went to college, and left Michigan for good in 1993 when I moved to Colorado. After aclimating to both the altitude and beer culture in Colorado, I was always convinced that Plymouth would be a great place for a brewery. I am happy to report that I was correct in my assessment.

I had first discovered that Plymouth had a brewery via beermapping.com about 9 months ago. Needless to say, I was excited. I believe there should be a brewery in every town, and the fact that the craft beer industry came to my old home town, means that there is a certain respectability to the craft. It is becoming less and less of a niche industry, and more of a local staple product (as it should be). Local breweries are cropping up in towns all over the United States, and there
are currently 60 breweries and brewpubs in Michigan.

The Liberty Street Brewery is my hometown brewery. It is the brewery that I wish existed when I was a wee sprite. It is located at 149 W. Liberty Street in Plymouth's Old Town. The street itself is a commercial block between Mill Street and Starkweather, and if you didn't know it was there, you
could miss it in this old railroad town. The building itself is an 1880's-era Victorian storefront that originally housed a grocery store. A more recent incarnation of this location
was a Martini Bar. It was in this condition that Joe Walters, Owner/Master Brewer took over the property. The bar area was largely unchanged from the Martini Bar, allowing them to concentrate on converting the small space up front for brewing. Although this is a pub, they only offer limited snack selections and only have a closet's worth of kitchen space. The emphasis is their beer, but if you want, there are a large selection of excellent restaurants in the area that will deliver their food directly to your table at Liberty. Ask the server for menus.

I have gotten so used to being in large brewery facilities, I was amazed at the lack of space devoted to brewing at this location. The brewery itself is a 10 hectoliter (or was it nine?) system from a company out of Canada. Joe typically brews in 6 barrel batches. The brewing area and fermentation tanks are located in only a couple of hundred of square feet with nice windows to the street and to the taproom. He also showed me his pilot system which is his home made homebrew system installed in the dock area out back. At this point, I was ready to roll up my sleeves and get brewing.

When I found out I was visiting Detroit, I took the opportunity to shoot Joe an e-mail, and he graciously allowed us a tour of his facility. He is a busy person as it is not easy to maintain a pub and brewing operation. I wasted way too much of his time, but I enjoyed the beer and atmosphere enough to show up three more times during the weekend with my brother and friends. I was only in town for three days.

The beers were good. My favorites turned out to be the Mild Brown Ale (as Joe had suggested I might like), an all malt dark session beer. Often, Milds are made with sugars and adjuncts to increase the alcohol and lighten the body, but not this beer; it is surprisingly full-flavored, but with a light mouthfeel (which is kind of like an oxymoron). I appreciated this beer, and would have liked to bring some home as it is not a beer that is made here in Denver much. Liberty does sell growlers, and I did drive back to Colorado, I am in the mood for one now (a week later), and growlers are not intended to keep all that long. So I didn't buy one, but should have. My other favorite was the IPA. I felt it was a more traditional English IPA, but with American Hops.
Although the calculated IBU's were up there, it wasn't nearly as big and hoppy of a beer as IPA's (or AIPA's or I-IPA's) made here in Denver and Westward. Is this a starter or session IPA? If there is such a thing, this is it. It is smooth, and dangerous as the alcohol content is that of a normal IPA. I suggest only one of these, as Liberty's beers are served in a straight sided Imperial Pint glass (20 oz. instead of standard pint 16 oz size). Switch to the Mild or their lighter fare. One thing that they didn't currently have avaliable was their Tart Cherry Porter. This beer won a gold medal at the 2009 World Expo of Beer as the best fruit beer. The medal is proudly displayed behind the bar.

Detroit's brewing tradition is similar to those of Milwaukee, and St. Louis, dominated by German expats and the German brewing tradition. The result was Stroh's, Miller, and Anheuser Busch and predominately, lager. Detroiter's have a lot to learn about craft beer, but are catching up quickly. This is mostly due to the tireless efforts of the small upstarts like Liberty. Liberty's best seller is their IPA, no doubt to the aggressive hop schedule and alcohol content. This is not unsimilar to most breweries I have visited. Newer beer aficionados are attracted to unusual beers: hoppy, strong; stuff they can't get from their local liquor store shelf. Otherwise, the brewery is forced by their local tradition (and customer preferences) to provide a cadre of lighter (yet full-flavored) products to satisfy local tastes. Liberty offered a Blonde ale, a Clementine Thyme Wheat, and a Pilsner (as their lighter fare) as well as an Amber and a Foreign Extra Stout. My brother's and the rest of my party's favorite beer was the Clementine, and my group drank a lot of them.

Overall, the experience at Liberty was top-notch. Their staff was friendly, attentive, and knowledgable about the beers that they served. Sadly, this is not the norm at a lot of brew pubs I have visited. I can excuse non-friendly, and non-attentive as a bad day, but knowledgable is a must. The building is beautiful, comfortable, and the entire building is smoke-free. There is a small patio out back that allows smoking and a chance to enjoy the weather. The brewery has an upstairs that hosts trivia on Tuesdays and has bands on the weekend. This upstairs space has its own bar and restroom facilities, and is also avaliable for special events. When I am back in-town, this is my new favorite hang out, and should be yours too.

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