Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Jesus Loves Michigan and Beer, Hates Yankees and Mojitos

Michigan proved itself on Saturday to be the great beer state. Even with severe weather and flooded grounds, the beer drinkers came out in droves to sample over 400 beers from 50 some breweries at the 13th annual Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival at Riverside Park in Ypsilanti. In celebration of @JoshSikkega’s birthday, @TimMaleski and @ErickGrimmer (homebrewer extraordinaire) joined my lovely wife and me for a day of boozing in the sun. This blog post is a collection of our thoughts and photos:

Favorite Beers:
1. Strawberry Fields Strawberry Ale from Right Brain Brewery, Traverse City: Right Brain’s new brewmaster’s strawberry ale lived up to the hype, and the fruit beer was perfect for the hot weather.
2. Hangin’ Frank IPA from Short’s Brewing Co., Bellaire/Elk Rapids: Don’t remember why, but it was on our list. Must have been good.
3. Vanilla Java Porter from Atwater Block Brewery, Detroit: Banana bread aroma, it tasted like the name.

Pleasant Surprises:
1. Ginger Lee Ginger Pilsner from Hideout Brewing Co., Grand Rapids. Super gingery in a great way.
2. AXL Pale Ale from Millking It Productions, Royal Oak: Went into the food tent for a pulled pork sandwich, came out with a microbrew from a can, full pour, a smooth, refreshing pilsner for the oppressive heat.
3. Agave Peach Wheat from Shorts Brewing Co., Bellaire/Elk Rapids: The first beer of the day, a solid start.
4. Ghettoblaster English Mild from Motor City Brewing Works, Detroit: Ghettoblaster wasn’t number one for anyone, but on average, probably ranked the highest.
5. OG Ginger Ale from Original Gravity Brewing Co., Milan: Grown-up version of Vernor’s. Read my Review of Original Gravity.

Weirdest Beers:
1. E.T.’s Reese’s Pieces from Kuhnhenn Brewing Co., Warren: Flecks of dry ice made the beer extra cold and billowy with smoke for a nice awe factor. Good dessert beer. Cool E.T. tap handle (see photos).
2. Infernal Chili Beer from Bastone Brewery, Royal Oak: Chili beers are always interesting, but only for a sip or two.

Favorite Moments:
1. Mad Hatter piñata from New Holland Brewing Co., Holland: Can’t beat blind drunks swinging a wiffle ball bat.
Occasional breezes.
2. Woodstock-esque mud sliding and impromptu mud wrestling.
Chatted about the Great Lakes and Michigan’s secessionist movement with AnnArbor.com beer writer, @dbardallis.
3. When great shirts come together: Jesus hates the Yankees, Jesus hates mojitos.

Odds and Ends:
1. Best pours from Right Brain Brewery, Traverse City: Always full cups, rarely took tokens, and very friendly bartenders (wink).
2. Best swag from Keweenaw Brewing Co., Houghton: Pick Axe Blonde bumper stickers for everyone. Read my post, Ten Reasons Keweenaw Brewing is Tops, Eh!
3. Maybe move to higher ground for next year. Sure, those were some freak thunderstorms, but I spent half the day ankle-deep in mud.
4. After the beer fest we hydrated at the homestead, killed three large Domino’s pizzas, and watched a Jersey Shore marathon on MTV - yeah, I was that beat.

One Word Summary:
Me: Hot
Josh: Sweaty
Erick: Remarkable
Tim M: Hoppss
Wife: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

7 Reasons to Blog About Michigan

ProBlogger recently sent out a “7 Link Challenge” to bloggers – basically a clever way to link to old posts and think about your blog. It seemed like a cool idea, but I figured I hadn’t been back at blogging long enough to have a good back-log of posts to draw from. Plus, I’ve been lamenting the fact that I deleted all my old posts a couple years back, and I didn’t want to revisit the painful memory of all my lost writing (over 200 posts).

Then yesterday Becks Davis took the 7 Link Challenge at Detroit Moxie. I liked her post, and decided it was worth a shot, if for no other reason than to keep me thinking about my blog’s past, present, and future. Some of the seven questions I can’t even answer, and many I can’t answer well, but I’m going to give it a shot anyway. Here it goes:

1. Your First Post: When I first blogged at Great Lakes Guru, sometime in 2007, my first post was “Reasons I Love Michigan.” This post is long gone, deleted like the others. When I undeleted my blog I found I’d only saved a handful of old posts in Google Docs and on my hard drive. The first post I was able to save was “Help Open Muskegon Brewing & Distilling Co.,” which is now Great Lakes Guru’s “first” post.

2. A post you enjoyed writing the most: “Ten Reasons Keweenaw Brewing is Tops, eh!” I didn’t plan to write this post. I came home from work, cracked open a beer, and found inspiration. The words came from the beer gods and flowed through me.

3. A post which had a great discussion: I’m in the minority here, but I don’t believe comments on blogs or newspapers have much value to anyone. Comments are almost always negative, rarely on point, and can be a real time-suck to moderate. Anonymity breeds a cruel and unproductive environment. As such, I’ve disallowed commenting on my blog. I’d prefer to chat via Twitter if anyone would like to comment. To answer the question though, my post on Muskegon Brewing Co. definitely received the most feedback, but it took place in a Beer Advocate forum with discussion from Larry Bell and other posters. As a result of that heated discussion, I learned a few things: Blogs matter enough to be fact-checked, when I make a mistake I’ll always own up to it, and when I’m accused of a mistake I didn’t make I’ll stick to my guns. The Muskegon Brewing discussion also led me to come out from the shadows of anonymity in all of my online presences and be accountable for my words; no more "TimChi."

4. A post on someone else’s blog you wish you’d written: “Solitary Man” at Detroitblog. Not sure why, but this post sticks with me.

5. A post with a title you’re proud of: “Thumbs up to Michigan’s Thumb” is a about as clever as I get.

6. A post that you wish more people had read: “Michigan Sports Sermon” – I hope non-sports fans read the post. I don’t think it will make anyone a convert, but maybe it will give some credence to sports nuts like me. I’m not a philistine; I just happen to enjoy sweat and collisions.

7. Your most visited post ever: Sadly, my post on Ann Arbor’s German Park Picnic was by far my most visited post of all-time. It’s gone now, but I think I’ll rewrite it soon since there’s two more German Park Picnics happening this year, and it’s Ann Arbor’s best summer event in my opinion. You just can’t go wrong with lederhosen, beer in buckets, and meat and sauerkraut. 

Since my 7 link challenge was sort of a bust, I decided to include a little extra; seven reasons I’m back at blogging:

1. I love Michigan: The Great Lakes State is the greatest state, and I want to do my part to celebrate the corners of Michigan that I know and love.

2. All of Michigan deserves attention: Detroit blogs are all over the place, but it’s more difficult to find blogs that cover West Michigan, the Thumb, the U.P., Northern Michigan, and points between. I enjoy exploring and writing about the entire state.

3. I like to blog: It’s a medium that I enjoy. I’m not as constrained by the professional standards of my job and it allows me to shoot from the hip a little.

4. Blogging is making a comeback: If content truly is king – which I believe it is – then social media is nothing without longer, more thoughtful writing.

5. Proof that I write: When looking for freelance gigs, it’s important to have an online resume. Dear editors, here’s the evidence; writer for hire.

6. A repository for otherwise unpublished writing: Not all my writing is great. Sometimes it’s just random thoughts and musings on the state, but there might still be value, which is why I’m posting it here on the blog.

7. Because blogging helps keep the fire stoked: Sure, it’s not the great American novel or an epic poem, but it keeps the wheels spinning.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bortell’s: West Michigan’s Roadside Fish Fry

There’s a fish-shaped sign on South Lakeshore Drive between Pentwater and Ludington. If you like seafood, head for this sign. From the Oceana Drive off US 31, turn right on Lakeshore Drive and follow the winding lakeside road toward Ludington, past the vacation cabins and beach mansions. Eventually the road comes around a final wooded curve before the tree canopy lifts and the road flattens. There, across from a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, is the sign; it reads simply, "Fish."

Thirty yards past the fish is Bortell’s Fisheries, a square cinder block building that’s home to some of west Michigan’s best seafood. Bortell’s has been in business for six generations, since 1898 when Uriah Bortell first put fish to fryer. Six generations of Germans later, the Bortell family continues to run a tidy, utilitarian ship.
The outside of the building is brightly painted in a modern fish décor, but the inside retains the old-world, rustic feel one would expect from a rural fishmonger. The room is occupied by a glass cooler that takes up half the space. Behind the cooler, a deep fryer and a bare-bones menu on the wall. To the left is a small glass refrigerator for pop, and on the front wall, wood slat paneling adorned with historic photos of the building and its family. When I asked if I could take photos of the inside, they told the fish in the cooler to smile for me.
Fish are available fresh or prepared, a la carte or dinners with French fries and coleslaw. Menu items include walleye, whitefish, and a variety of local and imported seafood. I recommend the perch dinner for $13.60: Half pound of lake perch, half pound of fries, and a half cup of slaw, plus a Vernors ginger ale for good measure. The perch is some of the finest I’ve ever tasted – lightly breaded and ubber fresh. Forget tartar sauce, forget lemon, forget salt; the fish is it – crisp on the outside, buttery and flaky on the inside.
Two dining options: To-go, or at outdoor picnic tables. For cooked food, the tables work just fine, and even in rain they’re covered with sizeable umbrellas. For hours of operation, an approximation of lunch to dusk seems about right. Open though Labor Day. 5528 S. Lakeshore Dr., Ludington, Michigan, 231-843-3337.
More Photos:

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Michigan Fiction: Harrison (not Hemingway)

*Originally posted on Great Lakes Guru (back in the old days) then in the BULL: Men's Fiction Parlor. Now back home for the last time (with a few minor revisions) - 

Jim Harrison appeared on my radar about five years ago when my father-in-law recommended True North, which turned out to be one of my favorite books of all-time. I immediately went on to read almost all of Harrison’s works. Though on the surface Harrison would seem to be comparable to Hemingway – rural Michigan, fishing, hunting, ex-patriots – Harrison is really the anti-Hemingway. An academic at heart, Harrison’s thoughtful, sensitive side is often reflected in his lyrically-rich prose.

Even if his name doesn’t immediately ring a bell, you probably already know Jim Harrison. He penned Legends of the Fall and Wolf, both turned into major motion pictures. If you’re from Michigan, you can surely relate to this nature-lovers upbringing and world-view.

In his memoir, Off to the Side, Harrison writes eloquently about his Swedish upbringing on a farm in rural Michigan. Childhood episodes include the loss of his left eye in an accident, high school football, fishing, sexual awakening, and finally, his move away from Michigan, hitchhiking from Grayling to New York with a typewriter and $100. At points, Harrison attends Michigan State University and lives with his family near Traverse City.

Rather than give a rundown of his entire life, I’ll just recommend Off to the Side as the next logical progression from True NorthReturning to Earth, and The Summer He Didn’t Die. I suggest reading Harrison’s catalog backwards. Some of his earlier work is not as good, so it’s more important to read the new stuff first. His poetry and essays are also good, and as an avid drinker he wrote some fine wine reviews.

What I most admire and love about Harrison’s writing is the way the characters are bonded to the Michigan landscape – their personalities seem to blossom from the natural surroundings in a way that is both spiritual and uniquely Michigan. With his careful prose, Harrison is able to reflect this relationship to the Great Lakes. The characters become the land and the physical landscape becomes a character, projecting a natural easiness like the changing of the seasons.

Mostly because I hate driving in traffic, I love that Harrison’s characters lose their strength and easiness when introduced to a metropolitan environment. On the rare occasions when his characters travel down the west coast of Michigan, to Chicago, they are generally disoriented, claustrophobic, paranoid, and frightened. Even in smaller cities like East Lansing, the protagonist of True North, David Burkett, loses his identity because there is no natural world to anchor him to reality. Too many people, too much traffic, or too much sound causes confusion and disconnect from identity.

In my very first Great Lakes Guru post, I mentioned that I loved Michigan because the people are quirky and unspoiled by the influences of Hollywood and the east coast. Harrison put it much better in a 1998 interview with Grand Rapids Magazine, saying, “… character so often arises out of location. You know the media keeps telling us we’re all the same; maybe we’re all the same if you don’t get off the freeway, but if you take the time to talk to anybody, more than an hour, you’re just convulsed again by the mystery of personality.”

The personality of Harrison’s characters is inextricably linked to the Michigan landscape, reflecting a spot-on portrait of this state’s inhabitants. Whether their relationship to the land is spiritual, or simply a marriage of convenience or necessity, there is no way to separate the people from the Great Lakes.

*Addendum: This writer highly recommends Harrison's newest book of poetry, In Search of Small Gods (Copper Canyon Press, 2009) - Pure Michigan.