Homemade Winter Brews

The weekend after Thanksgiving, Adam and I went to my parent’s new home. They moved to Saugatuck, a small beach town in Michigan this summer. They moved in this summer and I was there quickly in September, but have grown up spending summer’s in Saugatuck. It was Adam’s first time to the house and to the town.

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My dad had lined up an afternoon of craft beer making with a brew master at a local brewery. He wanted to create a beer brand for their new home (he is an ex-marketer, for those of you who might be thinking that’s weird…) so, he befriended the Brew Master at Saugatuck Brewing Company, Dexter.

Saugatuck Brewing Company is similar to any other brew pub: Big wooden bar, traditional pub food, only serving good home brews, so on and so on. One major difference is that Saugatuck Brewing Company shakes up the traditional feel with an area for creating your own unique microbrew, literally from start to finish. Or, from milling grains and barley to bottling.

My Dad’s new pal and our Brew Master had prior conversations about what we would be creating so we started our afternoon with a few samples of similar brews. My dad wanted to make winter beers, so we opted for a stout and IPA, but he also wanted to incorporate flavors that have a connection to the new house and our family’s journey to the west coast of Michigan.

The new house is named “Blue Water Lodge” (Yes. The house has a name… And this was done well before the branding extraordinaire knew it even existed, so he can’t take total credit for it.) It sits on the wooded east end of a long property that sprawls westward to the sand dune cliffs that drop into Lake Michigan. Because of all the trees around the home, we added hints of Pine to the IPA.

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The view to the west is the main focus of the exterior, but on the interior the hearth is the focal point.

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The whole home is very open thanks to a large living and dining area that connects to the kitchen. The hearth is large and made of stone, warming the whole space. We added a light smoky flavor to the stout, in addition to Quaker Oats. My parents worked together at Quaker in Chicago during the eighties. There, they met great friends that took them over to Saugatuck for long weekends and they fell in love with the area.

Dexter lead us to the back where we pulled our grains and barley needed to create each beer.

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His knowledge and passion for beer was impressive. He had precise measurements based on his recipes for each.

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Then we ran the grains and barley through a mill that made them fine, catching them in a long, mesh colander, and headed out to the main room to get brewing.

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We used the kettles the brewing company used years ago before they expanded production. This was very cool because we were using the same tools they started with.

It was here that I realized making beer is kind of like making tea, at least that’s how it seemed to me.

We put the mesh collander full of dry grains into hot water where we let it basically “steep” for an hour. To help spread the flavor we twisted and mashed the grains, discovering muscles in our forearms we never even knew existed.

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After the first hour, honey, molasses, Irish moss and hops were added to the kettle at different times throughout the next hour. Hops bring in a bitter, tangy flavor and help balance the sweetness. We learned here that hops are actually flowers related to cannabis flowers. In the dry state, it looked like green little pellets we used to feed my sister’s hamster, but it did have a definite smell similar to marijuana… Or, so I have been told.

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So, hot water. A sieve of dry ingredients put into the hot water adding flavor. Then adding sugar. It’s just like a cup of tea! (Okay, so minus the hops thing…)

But, what is happening in the next thirty days is what makes it beer: The sugars in the liquid mixture (now called wert) will turn into alcohol.

Each batch of beer will make about seventy two bottles and my dad will come back to bottle our brews around the New Year. He also has been working with my younger sister, who is a graphic designer in Chicago, to create a logo for the Blue Water Brews.

While at Saugatuck Brewing Company I tried two of the beers they create in house. I had the Oval Beach Blonde Ale, which was perfect for me. I am not too daring when it comes to beer and this was light and drinkable. I also tried the Michigan Wheat which was 100% made from Michigan grains, barley and hops.

But, the weekend didn’t end with just local Michigan beers. We also visited Fennville Winery, which is maybe seven minutes from my parent’s new house. Um, amazing?

The wine was great. They make them at the estate and use only Michigan grapes, 80% of which are directly from their vineyards.

Fennville Winery Vinyards

Fennville Winery Vinyards

We enjoyed a free tasting of six different award winning wines of our choice and even got to try some warm, mulled cherry wine that seriously tasted like Christmas in a glass.

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Based on the event calendar, there is often something unique going on at Fennville Winery. Adam and I were particularly interested in a chili cook off in January. Wine and Chili? Can you say heaven?!

But, even if there isn’t an event the next time we visit the Michigan coast we will be sure to visit Fennville Winery again. There is a great tasting room and they offer a big discount when you purchase wine in bulk. Their prices per bottle are incredibly reasonable and they are really tasty!

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And with all this booze, we of course needed a little sustenance. My mom took Adam and me to the Farmer’s Market in Holland. The market runs year round and my mom loves it.

I was a little skeptical because I couldn’t imagine there being much there the first week of December, but I was way wrong.

There were huge bunches of kale. Lots of apples. Baked goods. Christmas décor including wreaths made from blueberry branches, which turn red after blueberries are harvested. And this one particular vendor that caught my eye… at this booth you could fill up a department store bag with any and as many root vegetables that you wanted.

I told Adam this was a deal so we got busy selecting carrots, onions, beets, potatoes, yams, celery root and loaded up our bag so much that Adam had to carry it in his arms versus using the handles.

Some of out root  veggie loot... Spuds!

Some of out root veggie loot… Spuds!

More on this and what we did with these veggies next time… 🙂

Adam and I had a ball in snowy Michgan. And we are so looking forward to a lot fun and local food on future visits!

A chilly, winter sunset our last night on the lake.

A chilly, winter sunset our last night on the lake.

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