It's Alive! Kombucha & Brews Are Crucial to Northern Michigan's Superior Culture
Thursday was my second day in Michigan, but it was a very different Michigan than Wednesday's stop in Grosse Pointe Park, where I played outdoors in roughly 90 degree heat. Thursday's stop was in Marquette, MI, which is about seven hours northwest of Detroit on the north coast of the Michigan's Upper Peninsula (UP), and home to Northern Michigan University, and my host for the evening, Superior Culture. Around noon it was only 60 degrees and windy, but I think it got a little warmer when the sun finally came out, but I dont think the frigid lake got any warmer than insanely cold.
This was my first visit to the UP, and I think also my first visit to Lake Superior. The UP is mostly remote vacation properties and lodges and things like that, and outside of that you can drive for several hours without seeing much more than trees and the lake. Marquette is probably the largest community on the UP, and NMU is definitely the UP's largest university.
Superior Culture - Marquette, MI
Drinks are available at the taproom, and limited distribution in Michigan and northern Wisconsin. You can find them here.
Superior Culture is in a converted house in an area not far from the university, on a street that definitely has the feel of a college area (the cool kind... mom and pop shops rather than national chains, etc.), and the taproom has the feel of a college type crash pad... living room furniture adding a little comfort and character to the room.
I knew when we booked this gig that it would be a little different, as their primary business is is making Kombucha, ciders, and only recently did they start brewing beers, and on this night they had three varieties: a wheat, a maple porter, and a strawberry basil wheat. Alex Rowland is the owner and brewmeister, and while I stuck to beers throughout the night not only for consistency but also to help them promote them here, he kept serving me interesting samples of his kombucha... both available varieties as well as some concoctions that are still in the lab and not quite ready for prime time. I'm not actually sure which ones I'm allowed to speak to (as some aren't readily available yet), but suffice it to say that Alex loves to experiment, and Superior Culture will have no problem keeping a variety of interesting choices in the rotation.
Sustainability and local sourcing are mantras here, and their smaller scale allows them to utilize local farmers and vendors for their ingredients (Alex started, actually, selling his kombucha at local farmers markets and street fairs before opening the taproom). Because of that, everything here is fresh and natural/organic, which makes a big difference particularly when you starting thinking about infusing beers with fruit or spices or coffee, or kombucha.
With the taproom being a converted house, the show itself felt like a house party, at a college, with a somewhat hippie/artsy crowd (which for me feels like a time machine back to my own college days). A fair number of Deadheads in the mix kinda pushed the night's music in that direction a bit, which I don't get to do too often, so that was fun.
As for the beers, my favorite was the UP Maple Porter (5%). Brewed with dark malts and maple sap, and then finished off with a bit of maple syrup and cacoa, this was a tasty porter with the maple adding a little complexity to the flavor, but without being overpowering (and maple can very easily overpower a brew, in my experience). The pour was a nice brown, fairly clear, with a little maple in the scent, and a medium to light-medium body, and crisp finish. The malts provide a rich roasted body, and the maple was well balanced with beer and just added a little something without making it sweet.
The Citra Session Wheat (3.2%) is an aptly named American wheat made with dry hopped citra hops. A fairly light beer, it was very crisp and refreshing, nicely hopped with hints of tropical citrus (grapefruit, maybe a touch of orange peel) fruit and a floral aroma, this is a beer that you could drink all day (hence them calling it a session), and with a 3.2% ABV you could probably do that and still walk home.
The Strawberry Basil Wheat (4.0%) was equally enjoyable, essentially using the above mentioned wheat ale as the base, but infused with organic strawberries and basil. The strawberry was not overpowering, just enough to add a little extra refreshment to the mix without being too perfumy or sweet, and honestly I'm not sure whether I detected the basil at the time. It's not in my notes, and I don't recall noticing it... so it must have been rather subtle at best! Either way, I sipped this one throughout the latter part of my set, and enjoyed it all the way through.
Alex and his crew of help and friends at Superior Culture are good people, and have a good thing going on with the taproom. I obviously didn't write much about the kombucha, as honestly I'm not very educated on the medium outside of drinking it from time to time, always enjoying the varieties that are out there, and knowing that it's healthy.... so all I can really tell you is that tried quite a bit of the current offerings and some of the lab stuff, and it was all good... definitely worth stopping by for!
After a fun evening at Superior Culture I headed into Wisconsin for Friday night's show at Rocky Reef Brewing in Woodruff...
Have you grabbed a Great Brewery Tour t-shirt or one of my CDs yet? You can get them both at the store.... this whole project is completely grass roots, and your support is appreciated!