Life has never been better for a beer drinker on the shores of Lake Michigan. Two decades ago, there wasn’t the faintest whiff of wort in the air, and now we have a brewery for every day of the week—and then some. From crispy lagers to hoppy ales, here’s a shout-out to some of our favorites on a route that follows the lakeshore before heading just a little inland. All within 25 minutes of New Buffalo, great beer really is just around the corner.
Beer Church Brewing
The bright colors, big murals, and Napoli-built pizza ovens of Beer Church would shock the German immigrants who built this house of worship almost 200 years ago. Though their attitudes might soften over 350 mLs of Danke Bitte dunkelweizen, a style originating in Bavaria. The juicy haze of Pontius Pilate IPA and corny sweetness of Crooked Cross cream ale continue to win converts, but devotees look a little further down the beer menu. From toasted rice lagers to Italian-style pilsners, even a winter warmer brewed with pineapple, there is a restless spirit at work in the brewhouse that rewards repeat visits.
Ghost Isle Brewery
The fact that Ghost Isle doesn’t distribute might trigger concern for experienced beer drinkers. We’ve all visited an underwhelming brewpub or two—you know the type, with muddy, indistinguishable house beers and tap lines that haven’t been cleaned for months. But rest easy brew fans, Ghost Isle is absolutely nothing like that. From the crushable New Buffalo Pilsner to the hoppy Surf Gardens IPA, the beers here are crisp, clean, and hit all the right notes for the style.
The newest brewery in our guide happens to be the most old-fashioned. Crafting delicate, European-style beers from artisan and locally-sourced grain, Seedz has an uncompromising focus on quality. The resulting brews are among the tastiest lagers in Michigan—you may have to leave the continent to find this level of nuance and attention to detail in a half-liter stein. But be warned, flights and growlers aren’t a thing here. Seedz believes their beer tastes best slow-poured from the tap. One taste of the foamy head, and you’ll understand why they make such a fuss.
Just over a decade ago, Greenbush was the first brewery to grace our corner of Michigan, famously debuting an aggressive roster of beers clocking in at 6% ABV and above. Though recent years have softened the edges and lowered the alcohol-by-volume a little, Greenbush is still the best bet for those who believe bigger is better. Consider Brother Benjamin, the 10.1% Imperial IPA that launched a thousand Michigan homebrewers. Or 9.3% Belgian-style 1825, with a rock-candy sweetness that casts a warm glow on even the chilliest Michigan evenings.
Transient Artisan Ales
If the words ‘Double Dry-Hopped Double IPA’ cause a stirring deep in your soul, Transient is your Southwest Michigan mecca. The hop-related output from this boutique brewery is mind-blowing. We’re not sure what’s more impressive, the sheer number of IPAs, or the ability to name them all. Though the hops get all the press, do not sleep on other styles in the taproom. The fruited sours, like strawberry-flavored Shmargs and the brilliantly-named Skittlebrau, are some of the tastiest tart ales in the region.
When the urge strikes to down a pint of beer as black as night in a dark-walled, dimly-lit room, head to Tapistry. Not to say that they don’t offer some of the more perky accouterments of their peers—they do. Soulmate, a sour wheat ale, delivers a puckering punch of peach, great for midday people-watching outside. Yet as the sky gets dark and the malts get roast-ier, Tapistry starts to shine. The chocolate java stout can be breakfast or dessert, and the sessionable Amother One red ale (a rarity in these parts) fits the bill for Thursday night Euchre fans.
New England-style or ‘hazy’ IPAs are all the rage for young beer drinkers. But these murky, juicy hop-bombs lower on the bitterness scale tend to elicit dismissive ‘back in my day…’ comments from more seasoned craft fans. Sound familiar? Don’t fret—we’ve got a place for people like you. Haymarket—fueled by classic west-coast style IPAs and plenty of summer camp vibes—is the perfect place for drinkers of a certain age to post up. With plenty of outdoor space for parents and progeny to play, you may even be tempted to try something new. 100% Chance of Change, a hazy-fied version of their flagship IPA, is on a mission to change the minds of the most stubborn hazy-haters.
If you’re headed to Watermark, throw on a pair of sunglasses and turn your speakers way up because the party at this taproom never stops. We’re talking impromptu birthdays, bike rides, pro wrestling, polar plunges, live music (…the list goes on). Watermark’s freewheeling ethos spills directly from the brew house. An IPA with lime juice here, a tropical IPA with papaya there. A stout aged with coconut, a stout with maple and cinnamon. A German-style kolsch called Buy This, a Baltic-style porter called Don’t Buy This. Even Tiny Creatures, a foeder-aged sour with sumac and beet juice, is as delicious as it is unorthodox.
River Saint Joe
Like a beer-themed Field of Dreams, River St. Joe rises like a mirage from the hop yards of Flatwater Farm. And just like the fantasy ball field, there is some magic at work here as a short stop easily becomes an all-afternoon adventure. Lean into the agrarian theme and opt for one of the saisons, where the house yeast’s bubble gum and clove flavors mingle with hops recently found swinging in the breeze on trellises just visible in the distance.
Joe Lindsay is the co-owner of David’s Delicatessen and The False Front. He fell in love with craft beer as a college kid drinking west coast IPA drafts and rare imported bottles at the legendary Moan & Dove in Amherst, MA. In addition to crafting creative, locally-inspired sandwiches at the deli, Joe and team curate an ever-changing local tap list and international beer cellar at his (almost) nightly pop-up bar.