Quirky brews and a warm atmosphere make Odd Side Ales a perfect fit for west Michigan’s eccentric, hometown beer scene. Varieties include Candy Cane Red, Kentucky Jackalope, and Morning Wood -- fun for craft beer novices and interesting enough for geeks and experts. The odd brews are reminiscent of fellow west side envelope-pushers Right Brain and Short’s, and hold their own next to any Michigan beer. Perhaps as interesting as the beer, the brewing operation is housed in Grand Haven’s old Story & Clark piano factory, providing a unique industrial backdrop of large wood beams and pillars, and a sense of Grand Haven history.
Owners Chris and Alyson Michner have been going strong for nearly a year. Chris, a former accountant, brews the beer, and his wife Alyson is manager and beer-slinger, that is, when she’s not busy at her other full-time job as an assistant dean at Hope College. The Odd Side couple has enjoyed success in their first year. The Michners now employ five people and, as Alyson says, “a brother and sister-in-law who work for beer.” Their business model seems relatively simple compared to their complex beers: no business loans, 80 hour work weeks, and over 50 different varieties of beer (though not all at once).
Local Grand Haven business Ceramic Cafe helps mug club members make their own unique mug artwork. Alyson proudly points out that mug club members can “bring a growler to drink while they paint.” An upright piano pays homage to the building’s original factory and is perfect for open-mic night or an impromptu tickling of the ivories. Fun lamps and artwork line the walls, along with a mounted jackalope that watches over the bar.
Here are a few of the beers I sampled, all tasty:
1. Blueberry Coffee (Nitro): Creamy and smooth with understated berry flavors.
2. Candy Cane Red: Odd, indeed. Starts like a normal beer but ends with a mint aftertaste. A good choice for a casual beer drinker on an adventure.
3. Fat Bottom IPA: Light on hops, heavy on citrus and sweet, almost fruity. My wife, who normally doesn’t like IPA’s, was a big fan.
4. Fudge Brown Coffee Stout: Heavy stout, with a hint of fudge and a lot of coffee flavor. Good for fighting a cold wind blowing off Lake Michigan.
5. Kentucky Jackalope: Barrel-aged amber. Fantastic, one-of-a-kind flavor. My amateur palate can’t do this beer justice. I liked it, but I can’t pinpoint exactly why.
6. Morning Wood: Barrel-aged breakfast stout. Medium-bodied, tangy, and whiskey-y.
7. White Grape: Made with Paw Paw wine grapes. Easy - too easy - to drink.
8. Rabid Jackalope: An 8% imperial version of the Kentucky Jackalope, as evil as it sounds. I bought a growler, which I lost or gave away sometime on New Year’s Eve. Oops.
Incidentally, I worked on the third floor of Odd Side’s Harbourfront Building during my post-undergrad days at Expedia.com, and surely would have squandered my rent had they been brewing downstairs. I also happen to own a Story & Clark upright, so I’m pretty well sold on the entire experience. And having spent a winter living in Grand Haven, I know just how slow things can get downtown -- I’ve definitely been one of two people sitting in the Kirby during a Saturday snowstorm. That Odd Side was full on a Wednesday night is a positive sign for these strange brews.