The bartender pulls the faucet handle forward. The liquid flows into the waiting pint glass, filling it with color and foam.
She stops the pour to let the head settle. You eye the slowly lowering layer of suds.
The bartender draws the rest of your drink and sets it on a coaster in front of you. You rub a runaway streak on the glass with your thumb and then raise your pint. Your mouth swells with a fresh flavor you won’t find anywhere else but where you sit.
America’s microbrew craze rages on. According to U.S. Today, as of 2018 the number of regional craft breweries has grown to more than 7,300. They are producing around 26 million barrels of beer each year (up 4% over 2017), and retail sales have reached around $28 billion, a 24.2% share of the U.S. beer market.
An early adopter of the craft-beer movement, Michigan has helped lead the surge. Its 330 microbreweries put it behind only California (764), Washington (369) and Colorado (348) for the most in the country. The state can attribute much of its beer success to having a pervasive artisan mindset, abundant Great Lakes water and glacier-rich soil for beer-making crops.
That thriving beer culture includes the Make It Van Buren Craft Beverage Coalition, a co-op of 12 of Van Buren County’s independent beer, cider and mead producers. Together, they raise awareness of the area’s microbrewing and offer a distinctive “beer trail” for visitors.
“The beverage coalition represents the wonderful individuality of both our bigger cities and our small towns,” says Market Van Buren Executive Director Zachary Morris. “Several of the locations are run by people born and raised near the neighborhood. Stopping in at the breweries lets you enjoy true Americana during all four seasons.”
The beer trail is arranged such that you might visit a few in a day for a short rest and a fresh pint while exploring Van Buren County’s diverse attractions, which also include downtown South Haven, South Haven bars and restaurants, 14 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline and more than 300 inland lakes and ponds.
“Because the coalition’s locations aren’t heavily commercialized, you’ll have an authentic experience with an original pour in a setting all its own,” says Morris. “You might even chat with the brewers themselves, many of whom left corporate day jobs to pursue a passion for brewing.”
The coalition members’ ownership is intergenerational as well, with six Millennials, two Gen Xers and four Baby Boomers. Almost all are Michigan natives.
“I recommend visiting at least a couple of the breweries during each visit to Van Buren County,” says Morris. “Once you become familiar with them, you’ll want to keep track of what they offer in the peak of each season. That’s when it really starts to get fun.”
Barn Brewers Brewery (Lawton) / A place to sit back, listen to good music and sip fresh beer made with hops from the family farm
Cognito Brewing Company (Bangor) / Site of the historic Bangor Elevator built in 1873; artfully crafted beers; brew kitchen offering organic meats, fruits and veggies (all locally sourced when possible)
Final Gravity Brewing Company (Decatur and Kalamazoo) / Experimental handcrafted beers made by a father-and-son team; food menu
Harbor Light Brewery (South Haven) / Craft brewery in a 130-year-old building; named for the South Haven South Pier Lighthouse; food menu; delicious beer and cider on tap
Lucky Girl Brewing Co. Crossroads (Paw Paw) / Three tiers of beers including ales, ciders, IPAs, lagers, porters, shandys and stouts; food menu; live music Thurs–Sun
Paw Paw Brewing Company (Paw Paw) / Tasty food and handcrafted beer enjoyed on the banks of the Paw Paw River
Sister Lakes Brewing Company (Dowagiac) / Craft brews made from scratch with locally sourced ingredients; gathering place for the community; food menu
South Haven Brewpub (South Haven) / The city’s first brewery, located on the Black River in Old Harbor Village (a South Haven point of interest); handcrafted beers and a food menu; a great choice for happy hour
The Strand Brewery & Grill (Dowagiac) / Former bowling alley next to Round Lake; in-house brewery; full-service restaurant; tables made from the alley’s original lanes
Three Blondes Brewing (South Haven) / Inspired craft beers that complement pub fare such as pizza, hamburgers and sandwiches; indoor and outdoor seating
Peat's Original Cider (Paw Paw) / Hard cider crafted from southwest Michigan apples
Great Mead Hall & Brewing Company (Bangor) / Mead made from fresh fruit and raw honey, much of it locally sourced; varieties such as Old Scrumpy (traditional cyser) and Herminator (spiced cyser)
Some of Zach’s Favorites
Dewey Lake Monster Double IPA (Sister Lakes)
Eye Opener Russian Imperial Stout (Final Gravity)
St. James Ale (Paw Paw)
Photos courtesy of Chris McGuire.
About the Author
A creative writer for many years, Jon Davis (eloquentarrow.com) paints pictures with his words and captivates readers with distinctive language. He now shares his love for South Haven with us, writing about the experiences you can have only in the Haven. Jon resides in Oswego, IL, with his wife, Kristie, and two daughters. They visit South Haven often to take in the scenic beauty and spend meaningful time as a family.