Archive for March, 2023


Several years ago, I asked a Canadian brewer what the greatest challenges were in getting drinkers of mass-produced pale American lagers to try craft beers.

“The first challenge is to overcome the notion that if it ain’t clear, it ain’t beer,” he told me. So many of the new craft beers were unfiltered and you couldn’t hold up a glass, look through it, and see your beer-drinking buddy on the other side of the table. “Many craft beers are unfiltered and a lot are very dark in color.”

“The second was to explain that bitter isn’t a four-letter word. Many mass-market lagers are very, very mildly hopped and often quite sweet. Craft India Pale Ales are all about hops, which give bitterness to counteract the malt sweetness and add a wonderful variety of subtle flavors.”

“And, finally, I have to tell them: don’t be afraid of the dark. Long ago, all beers were dark — you couldn’t see through them. Pale ales weren’t that pale — only pale in comparison to the other beers. Now, nearly all the mass-market beers are, to use a polite term, almost the color of straw. But craft brewers starting to make some of the old, dark styles.”

I thought of this third challenge last summer when I visited the Houghton taproom of Keweenaw Brewing Company during my field trip doing interviews at UP craft breweries for Yooper Ale Trails: the Craft Breweries and Brewpubs of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Each of the servers wore a black t-shirt with the words “Don’t be Afraid of the Dark” on the back. The phrase was a reference to the brewery’s best-selling beer and perhaps the Upper Peninsula’s top-selling craft beer Widow Maker Black Ale.

Widow Maker is the complete opposite of mass-produced pale lagers — it is dark and filled with coffee and molasses flavor along with just enough German hops to offset the sweetness. Clean and light-bodied, it has a crisp finish. “If you can’t finish a Widow Maker,” co-owner Paul Boissevain told me, “you have a problem.”

After I’d finished my travels and was compiling a list of beer styles with UP examples, I included six that could definitely be called dark beers: Schwarzbier (from the German word for black), Dunkel lager (from the German for dark), Cascadian dark ale (aka Black IPA), English Dark Mild, Dunkelweizen (German dark wheat beer), Porter, and, not surprisingly stout (I found 23 different UP examples).

I sampled many of these dark beers and enjoyed nearly all of them. In addition to Widow Maker there were three I particularly enjoyed. Nighthawk Onyx Ale, from ByGeorge Brewing in Munising has been compared to a German schwarzbier and an English stout. Deep brown/black and opaque, it is a toasty beer with a rich flavor. It finishes clean and is fairly light-bodied. “We call it the beer with a dark body and a blonde soul,” brewer George Schultz told me.

One of my favorite all-time dark beer styles is English Dark Mild, a beer that’s rich in flavor, low in alcohol. Cockney Mild from Blackrocks Brewery in Marquette is a 4 percent alcohol by volume ale that’s dark and malty and perfect for evening when the fireplace is glowing and a nippy breeze is shaking the tree limbs outside. If you stop by Cognition Brewing in Ishpeming, see if Graven-Tosk Gravel is on tap. The brewery is noted for its interesting and interestingly named ales, and this one is no exception. It’s named after a “funeral” beer in a European board game and featured both smoked malts and an unusual juniper taste.

In just over three months, I’ll be celebrating the solstice, sitting on the dock of the bay in front of my cabin, sipping Laughing Fish Ale a light-bodied, golden, kolsch-style ale from Upper Hand and watching the sun set at the north end of the lake. But the next night, when I watch the sunset, I’ll be sipping an Upper Peninsula dark beer. That evening, there will be two seconds less daylight.

The dark will be rising.

NOTE: Yooper Ale Trails: Craft Breweries and Brewpubs of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula will be published in May 2023 by Modern History Press.



Quarter Celtic Brewpub, 1100 San Mateo Blvd NE Albuquerque NM, 87110


Shortly after it opened in 2017, Quarter Celtic Brewpub became our “local.” It’s usually easy to find parking, especially handicapped parking, which is vital for us. We like the food, especially the fish and chips; the beer is great; and sitting on the patio on a warm spring or fall afternoon or a not-to-hot summer one is a great way to spend a quiet and relaxing couple of hours.

When my daughter, her partner, and I arrived there a few days ago, one of the first things we did (and usually do) was look at the chalkboard listing the beers currently on tap. The standards — Pedro O’Flannigan Mexican Lager, MacLomas Stout, Crimson Lass Irish Red, and Mor Buck IPA were there — along with a range of seasonal and occasional beers.

What was interesting to me was that, including “the Pedro,” there were five lagers on tap. One was Mexican, one Bohemian, and two German. On earlier visits there had also been a Vienna Lager and an Italian Pilsner.

Clare and her partner chose the Pedro (a standby for us) and I tried the Bro-hemian Pilsner. I’m very partial to Czech-style pilsners.

After our lunch, I chatted for a few minutes with Brady McKeown, co-owner and head brewer, about the lagers. I remarked that, when he first started brewing for Il Vicino Restaurant in the mid 1990s, there were no lagers on the menu. “We simply didn’t have the space for them in the very small brewhouse and, at that time, people were interested in IPAs and darker ales.” Those IPAs and dark beers (stouts, porters, English bitter, browns) started winning Brady medals at the Great American Beer Festival — ten between 1995 and 2013.

By the time Quarter Celtic was about to open, lagers were making a comeback. Brady decided to make one of his four core beers a Mexican lager. “They were becoming popular and we were in New Mexico.” In 2018, Pedro O’Flanagan won a bronze medal in the International Pilsner category of the World Beer Cup competition. It has a nice hop/malt balance and a clean, crisp finish. The flaked maize gives a slight chewiness. And it goes well with fish and chips.

Brady and I also talked about a lager that wasn’t on tap that day but that, I hope, soon will be: The Prince of DORTness. It’s a German style Dortmunder Export Lager and, in 2020 won a Great American Beer Festival silver medal. When I learned that, I wasn’t surprised: it’s one of the two best North American examples of the style I’ve tasted (the other is made by Great Lakes Brewery in Cleveland). It’s a darker lager which uses pilsner malt but adds caramel malts for added color and flavor. And, it, too, goes well with fish and chips.

If you’re looking for something startlingly different or funky to go with your fish and chips, you probably won’t find it at Quarter Celtic. But if you want a really solid lager, something that is a classic example of the style, something that, as Brady describes it, is “beer flavored beer” do try one of the lagers on their list.

There’s nothing fishy about them.

NEXT WEEK We’ll talk about “The Dark Is Rising” — darker beers in the Upper Peninsula, land of “light lagers”