A work hard, play hard mentality embodies the city of Detroit—and no surprise, given the city’s roots lie in the automotive industry. And, despite the stomach punch of the recession that led the city to declare bankruptcy in 2013, Detroit has come roaring back. The dead zone that was once downtown now boasts sports stadiums, flagship retail, and a burgeoning cultural scene anchored by a few pioneer spots that braved the hard years and now deliver some of the best food and drink in the country. Beyond the sky scrapers, neighborhoods like Corktown and locales along the W. Canfield corridor have carried the mantle producing inventive beer and cocktails, along with a record-making factory and Detroit-born retail. Bottle shops and beer bars have also popped up all over the city, making the city’s 134-square-mile footprint a full-on drink-lover’s scavenger hunt. Here’s a quick primer to orient yourself in Detroit’s brave new beverage scene.
The taproom for Atwater sits right on the Detroit river front, where both the brewery and tap room were first established in 1997. They first focused on resurrecting the Bohemian-style lager largely typified by Stroh’s back in the mid-1800s, and today they make a host of German style beers along with “boutique” brews. Beyond the expected styles like pilsners, dopplebocks, and lagers, also expect legit pales, IPAs, and a great rye IPA on draft, as well as quirky concoctions like a vanilla java porter and Pumpkin Spice Latte Ale.
Batch Brewing Co
Located in the trendy Corktown neighborhood, Batch is Detroit’s first nanobrewery. The open and airy taproom—and adjoining, dog-friendly patio framed by dirt beds planted with hops—pours a rotating mix of small-batch brews in styles both traditional (saisons, pale ales, and rye IPAs) and left-of-center (spiced herb beers, a gruit herbal ale, an altbier, and goses, to name a few). They also established the Feelgood Tap project; each month they partner with a local NGO to help raise funds for charities and causes that align with their give-back philosophy, a program that has since expanded across the state.
Proudly proclaiming that they make “hard working beer for hard working people” this contract brewery sits in the trending ‘hood of Corktown, with a tap room that includes arcade games and shuffleboard. The menu largely reflects whatever craft brewers are using their 100 barrel tanks, though those brewers are mostly local, and the beers are often their seasonal releases. It’s a great way to sample a lot of what Detroit and Michigan have to offer in one spot.
Though Jolly Pumpkin’s HQ resides in Dexter, MI, their Detroit outpost is a welcome addition to the scene, boasting a huge range of the brewery’s signature funky, sour beers on tap, as well as an extensive collection of large format bottles, merch, and other beers from sister brewers North Peaks. They also make great pizza, and are located next to two examples of Detroit’s new industrial heritage: Jack White’s Third Man Records and Shinola.
Motor City Brewing Works
Opened since 1994, Motor City was the first operating craft brewery in the city. The building was built from salvaged equipment and scraps from the city’s industrial era by a cadre of Detroit artists, fabricators, and craftsmen. It sits on W. Canfield, close to Jolly Pumpkin’s brew-pub, and tours are available—but must be scheduled in advance. Flagship brews include the Bohemian Lager, the Motor City Pale Ale, a honey porter, a stout, a nut brown, and an IPA, as well as Ghettoblaster, an English-style wild ale. They also brew a handful of seasonals as well as Muscle Series beers like Motor City Ale barley wine and Old Gear Oil, a spontaneously fermented sour brown with a modest 5.3% ABV. Oh, and their brick-oven pizza has garnished lots of accolades.
Grand Trunk Pub
One of the best bars, full stop, in downtown, Grand Trunk Pub specializes in carrying mostly Michigan beers, with 21 on tap as well as 49 bottles and 15 cans—and you can get those bottles and cans to go at prices comparable to most bottle shops. You’ll find the usual MI suspects like Bell’s, New Holland, and Founders, along with hidden treasures like the Cellerman’s Saigon Sin, a cider-style beer made from star-thistle honey, cinnamon, and Mexican vanilla beans. The property also has a whiskey parlor and serves lunch and dinner daily (save Sundays) using locally sourced ingredients.
The Detroit outpost of this Grand Rapids, MI-based chain offers a rowdy-yet-casual atmosphere and a crazy amount of beers on tap—130 at last count—along with bottles and special releases. Most are sourced from Michigan, including Witch’s Hat, Vander Mill, Short’s, Blackrocks, North Peak, as well as a cadre of other U.S. and European beer-makers. The voluminous list is organized by style—pales and IPAs, ambers and browns, wheats, porters and stouts, strong ales, Belgians, sour and wilds—along with ciders and meads. The enthusiastic staff can help navigate those frozen with indecision.
Cocktails and Wine
Wright & Co
Located on the second floor of one of Detroit’s most iconic buildings, this cocktail-and-restaurant spot stood as a shining example of what was possible in downtown when they opened three years ago, back when the city was largely a ghost town. Their list of Old World wines is extensive, and they boast a hearty selection of European beers. But come for the cocktail program, an ever-evolving example of what mixology really means. This spring, they offered the Les Fleurs du Mal, made from McKenna bonded bourbon, coffee- and habanero-infused Campari, and Dolin Blanc, the glass rimmed with black sea salt—easily one of the most complex, interesting cocktails in the city. They also offer all the classics, as well as Detroit’s quintessential cocktail, the Last Word, a mix of gin, green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur, and freshly-pressed lime juice.
See our Q&A with Wright and Co. here.
Focused on local and seasonal, most come to Selden Standard for the New American cuisine, helmed by three-time James Beard semi-finalist Andy Hollyday. But their beverage program rivals the food. All the wine comes from small producers, and their beer list covers both local brews like the Dark Horse Crooked Tree IPA alongside a few unexpected European varieties like an American wild ale from Denmark. The cocktail list is smartly curated—short and inventive, with drinks like Age of Discoveries (Montenegro, Madeira, and Averna with lemon, thyme, and black tea bitters) and the Science of Life, a bracing mix of scotch, Amontillado, and Drambuie with turmeric, lemon, and ginger.
8 Degrees Plato
Order one of the Detroit-made beers on tap from the back bar—or get your growler filled—and then take your time to explore the extensive selection of bottled and canned beer, ciders, and meads. The shop sits on the Cass Corridor, another of Detroit’s many up-and-coming neighborhoods, once the city’s dodgy red light district. The beers sit on antique baker’s racks and wood from old bleachers, while the dark mahogany tables were made from reclaimed wood.