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Day 23: Wyoming, MI to Kalamazoo, MI

Yes, Virginia, there really is a Kalamazoo, and I am there. It also happens to be the beer capital of the Midwest, in terms of most breweries per capita. (By this measure, Portland, ME is the beer capital of the Northeast; Asheville, NC is the beer capital of the South; Bend, OR is the beer capital of the West Coast; and Boulder, CO is the beer capital of the Mountain West.) But enough with the beer for the moment. I should start with the biking.

After my late night in Grand Rapids, I slept in until 10 this morning. (In fairness, my body’s still on Central time.) Checked out of my hotel at 11, grabbed some food at Tim Horton’s (Dunkin’ Donuts is better), and hit the road a little before noon.

It would be an exaggeration to say it was sweltering, but 85 and humid isn’t great biking weather. And I was facing a bit of a headwind for most of the day. In fact, the heat and the wind did enough of a number on me that by the time I hit the small city of Wayland 16 miles in, I didn’t even notice that there was an open brewery in the center of town that I biked right by. I think that’s a first for me this trip, unintentionally biking by an open brewery.

The ride itself was pretty boring, which probably contributed to my lack of concentration. Grand Rapids suburbs extended all the way to the county line. Even once I was in Allegan County it was like biking in the more rural parts of Eastern Massachusetts, where if there’s a farm on one side of the road there are probably still houses on the other side. The only particular highlight was stopping at Plainwell Ice Cream Company 32 miles in. I heard from a reliable source that they have the best ice cream in greater Kalamazoo. They certainly have some of the best ice cream I’ve had on this trip, much better than most of the small-town homemade ice cream shops I’ve hit.

From Grand Rapids to Plainwell there were surprisingly many rolling hills. None of them were big, but in the heat of the day and with a headwind they had really worn me down. So from Plainwell to Kalamazoo I took a route about a mile longer than the standard route, just because it was much flatter. As luck would have it, just as I was getting into the Kalamazoo suburbs I hit about a mile of road construction. It was unpaved for most of that and closed to through traffic (though I could get through on a bike). It must drive the people who live and work along it absolutely crazy.

At length I finally entered Kalamazoo and headed straight for Boatyard Brewing. Believe it or not, this was one of the very few breweries in Kalamazoo County that I’d never been to, mostly because I don’t like going to the north side of the city. (Boatyard itself is in a nondescript industrial area, but there are some sketchy areas between it and downtown.)

As for the beer itself, I definitely think the weather biased me in favor of lighter, fruity beers because I particularly enjoyed both the Kalamazoo Shandy (a cream ale with lemon) and the Farmhouse Fruit beer with cranberry. Certainly both good beers for a hot summer day. For a more year-round beer I’d recommend the Fast Eddie red ale. Not a mind-blowing red ale, but solid.

I also took advantage of visiting Boatyard to pick up a beer passport for Kalamazoo County. We’ll see how far I get with it. They give you a bottle opener at 8 stamps and a t-shirt at 17. Might take me a few visits to get the t-shirt.

From Boatyard I headed a mile south to Final Gravity, at the north end of downtown. Final Gravity is actually based out of Decatur, about 25 miles to the southwest, but they opened a Kalamazoo taproom a year and a half ago. I checked it out last time I was in town and quickly discovered that they do some really good stuff! They also have a really cool mug club, where the mugs are hand-blown by a local glass blower.

As luck would have it, that glass blower was sitting next to me at the bar, so we had a nice chat about the Kalamazoo beer scene and southwest Michigan in general. As for the beer itself, this is another one of those places where it’s hard to go wrong, but my favorites today were the Final Empire ESB and the Baby Maker, which is a Russian imperial stout with Irish cream flavors. I’m glad my visit to Raised Grain on Thursday made me rethink ESBs or I would never have thought to try the ESB here.

While I was enjoying my beers and chatting with the glass blower, I noticed a man on the other side of the room wearing a Lord Hobo t-shirt. Considering Lord Hobo brews their beers in Woburn, MA, this is not a shirt you’d expect to see in Michigan. So I went over to ask about it. Turns out the guy works for a distribution company that recently started distributing Lord Hobo in Michigan. I didn’t know they’d gone so far afield! Anyway, I wound up in a loooong conversation with him and his partner. He was actually interested to read my reviews of out-of-state breweries on here to see if there were any beers that might be worth trying to distribute in Michigan!

Once I finally left Final Gravity it was already 7 and I was itching to get to my hotel and take a shower. Post-shower, I treated myself to dinner at this great restaurant on the Kalamazoo Mall called Principle. Probably the best meal of the trip so far.

Being on the Mall also put me a block away from Tibbs Brewing, so I headed there next. I’ll admit, I have a bit of a soft spot for Tibbs. My first visit there was in February 2014, when they had only been open for 2 months and had a tiny space and very limited hours. It’s been great to watch them thrive over the past 5+ years to the point where they’ve expanded downstairs and are now open 7 days a week.

Tasting the beers also gave me a good lesson in knowing what you’re getting and managing expectations accordingly. While I was deciding what to get, the bartender mentioned that the Strawberry Blondeshell had kicked and recommended that I get the Strawberry-Rhubarb instead. I hadn’t read to the bottom of the menu and seen that the latter was an IPA, and the bartender didn’t mention it. So when I took a sip, I was expecting a tart strawberry ale like the Blondeshell. Instead I had a “What the hell is this?” moment and told the bartender that the beer didn’t work for me. Just then someone walked in and ordered the Strawberry-Rhubarb IPA, specifying the IPA part. Suddenly everything clicked and I realized I was drinking an entirely different style of beer than I was expecting! As an IPA it’s a great beer. But if you’re drinking an IPA and expect to be drinking a sour, you’re going to think they did an awful job making a sour. For actual sours, the Sour Patch Tibbs key lime sour was very good but incredibly sour. You have to be really in the mood for a sour to want to order this beer!

While I was drinking here, I wound up chatting with a guy named Doug, who recognized me from Boatyard earlier. He looked familiar too, and I honestly think I’ve chatted with him at Tibbs before. Shortly after we started chatting, another guy named Jeff came in and also started chatting. Doug insisted on getting a photo of the three of us, specifically so I could post it here.

Jeff also requested that the bartender put on the Sox-Yankees game. As a result, I wound up staying at Tibbs 40 minutes past closing to watch the game to its bitter end. At least no one there liked the Yankees.

To cap off the evening, I headed over to Rupert’s, which has stand-up comedy on Sunday night. (Fun fact: The last brewery where I went to a stand-up show was Dancing Camel in Tel Aviv.) Rupert’s has an unusual vibe. It’s the sort of place where if you see people smoking in front, they’re not smoking tobacco. Yes, I’m aware Michigan legalized recreational use, and yes, I support marijuana legalization. I’m more just amused than anything else that Kalamazoo has such a big beer scene that there’s a particular brewery where people go to have beer and pot together.

For beer, the peanut butter porter is always a safe bet. Just to do something different, I decided to go for the milk stout instead. It was surprisingly light in color for a stout, and it was on nitro and therefore uncomfortably warm to drink in a brewery without air conditioning on an 80-degree night, but it was tasty.

So that does it for today. Tomorrow I’ll rest in Kalamazoo on what will probably be my final rest day for a while. After that it’s time for a big push to just get home. Conveniently the weather forecast is calling for thunderstorms most of tomorrow afternoon, followed by cooler, drier weather the rest of the week. Hopefully that’s a good sign!

Total distance: 47.3 miles
Average speed: 14.1 mph

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