Right Brain Brewery, located in Traverse City, Michigan, is the most exciting brewery I’ve ever visited. The establishment itself is unassuming, just a large room with a bar and some good, colorful original artwork on the walls. They also don’t have a full menu, just snacks including popcorn and a hummus platter.
The beers at this place are definitely not what you’d expect. I started with the vanilla sour barleywine, which was outstanding. One wouldn’t expect sourness and vanilla together, let alone in a beer, but they paired very well. Seeing my enthusiasm, the bartender offered me a free sample of their other barleywine, “The Exception” which includes pilsen malt, smoked malt, wheat, corn, local honey and maple syrup. Again, one wouldn’t necessarily expect this to work, but it did so beautifully with every flavor coming through distinctly.
Because I would be traveling back to Ohio in a couple days, I took a growler of the Ancho Chile Chocolate Porter to go after requesting a sample. Like everything else, the flavors worked wonderfully (it wasn’t overwhelmingly spicy or sweet).
Later that night I decided to bike back to try some of the beers I’d neglected. I ordered the basil honey, which was very good but made me a bit sad that they don’t serve full entrees as it would be a perfect food beer. They are BYOF (bring your own food), though, so ordering in a pizza could be a good plan. They also gave me a sample of Scarborough Fair (Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme); I could smell the herbs wafting over from a couple feet away. Like everything else, it didn’t disappoint.
One might think that this kind of crazy flavoring would lead to a “malt beverage” à la Mike’s Hard Lemonade. This is not the case: each beer I tried had a “real beer” character with plenty of roasted malt and complex hop flavor. The brewmaster seems to approach beer in a very unique way, looking at the hops as just another herb to be paired with other flavors and aromas.
The brewery also serves root beer for those who want something non-alcoholic, and it was very good as well. I picked up a growler for Sarah on my second visit.
I’m sad that I’ll have to wait until my next visit to Traverse City to have another Right Hand beer. In the meantime, I’ve got my own version of “The Exception” in bottles right now, which may be the subject of a future blog post.