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Monday, April 30, 2012

The best dive bar in Michigan?

Tim Chilcote
This just in! We're giving writer and longtime Siciliano's friend Tim Chilcote free and unfettered access to cover events at the 9th Annual Homebrew Party at Johnson Park.

Why the need for press credentials? Partly we thought it would be interesting if someone other than a Siciliano's employee wrote an account of the event. We're also just big fans of Tim's workevident in the many, many times we've reposted content from his blog, The Great Lakes Guru.

Here's another instance of us pulling something good straight from Tim's blog. It's an entertaining review of that most venerable of Kalamazoo institutions, The Green Top Tavern, which Tim suggests might well be the best dive bar in Michigan. (Originally published on October 5, 2010 as "Green Top Olympics".)

By Tim Chilcote

The Green Top in downtown Kalamazoo might well be the best dive bar in Michigan. Dark and grimy with a wood bar that runs the length of the room, the Green Top is populated by local drunks and WMU students. But the Green Top is not a hipster dive bar. Oh no, the WMU students who frequent the Green Top are generally in search of cheap drinks and hometown flavor, and are not at all interested in making any hipster dive-bar scene. On almost any night or day, the owners, an older married couple, play bartender. They pour stiff drinks and make average sandwiches to soak up the booze.

For the purposes of this blog post, it’s important to note that the Green Top has a front and back door. The back door opens into an alley and a downtown Kalamazoo parking lot. The front door opens onto Michigan Avenue, Kalamazoo’s downtown thoroughfare.

In the winter of 2002 I was sitting at a banquet table between the jukebox and the pool table. The snow was coming down like a bastard; the kind of wet snow that sounds hypnotic, like television fuzz, the kind of snow that turns a city into a ghost town. So the Green Top was sparsely populated that night with a few die-hards at the bar, and maybe a couple students sitting in the corner.

But the person of note was playing pool, or rather, hovering around the pool table and leaning on his cue. A smallish Mexican man, he looked to be around 50, never removed his stocking cap. To this day, he is hands-down the most intoxicated human being I’ve ever seen standing. He threw back shots of bourbon and glasses of beer at an alarming pace. At some point I remember predicting to my table that he would soon go down.

And then he did. The stout little drunk stepped to the bar, brought his beer to his mouth, and in one fluid motion fell straight back. But the interesting part is he didn’t fall like a normal person, didn’t crumple or try to brace himself, just fell, stiff as a chopped tree. I’d like to think someone said “timber,” but I doubt there was time, because about halfway to the floor, he cracked the back of his head square on the corner of the pool table. I swear to god, I thought he died.

One of the drunks from the bar, likely destined for the same eventual fate, jumped from his seat and pulled the little drunk back to his feet. To my astonishment, he stood again. This noble do-gooder from the bar offered the little drunk a ride home and told him that he just had to run out back and pull his car up, to which the drunk may or may not have replied.

So the good Samaritan went out the back door to get the car, and the little drunk hurriedly stumbled out the front door, whether in an escape attempt or because of an impending prior obligation was unclear. He then walked straight onto Michigan Avenue without even considering traffic; perhaps didn’t even know it was a road thanks to the snow cover.

I stepped outside to watch him disappear down a side street. He wore only jeans, a flannel button-up, and his stocking cap, a cap that might have gone on to save his life twice that night; first as a knit helmet, second as his only protection against the snow storm.

Flash forward six years…

So last time I was in the Green Top (about two years ago) I was with my wife after attending a wedding reception. We were still dressed in formal evening garb.

Unlike the 2002 winter tale, the Green Top was packed; chalk it up to a home football game and nice weather. We were lucky to find one open seat at the end of the bar. I stood. Within minutes, a middle-aged woman appeared on my right and asked if my name was Leroy. No context.

“Leroy?” I said.

“Yeah, Bad Bad Leroy Brown. You’re wearing that suit.”

Fortunately, I’d been drinking scotch at the wedding reception, which tends to make me witty and clever. “Yes, I said, Leroy is the name.”

Then a white-haired man (too young to have white hair) stepped over from the pool table on our left. “Hey, it’s Michael Phelps,” he said, pointing at me, quizzing my wife on the matter. Note: The 2008 Summer Olympics were in full swing. “He’s Michael Phelps, right, the swimmer?” Knowing the Green Top, there was a 50/50 chance that he was messing with us or really thought I was an Olympic gold-medalist.

“In fact, I am Michael Phelps. Pleased to meet you.”

After our brief introductions, the conversation quickly devolved into a good-spirited argument between the two, with a point of contention having something to do with a “dolphin stroke,” including physical reenactments from both parties.

Finally the woman left a dollar at the bar for a diet Coke - shocking - and asked that I pay the bartender and hand her the drink at the table behind us when it arrived.

When the bartender brought the Coke, the cost was $1.25 (probably the Green Top’s most expensive drink). I covered the extra quarter for my new friend and delivered the drink to the table, announcing, “Here’s your goddamn diet Coke,” to which her fellow drunks erupted in laughter.

Bad Bad Leroy Brown indeed.

Friday, April 27, 2012

New Beer Friday - April 27 Edition

Southern Tier 2X Milk Stout
By Chris Siciliano

With judging complete in the homebrew contest, it's time we turn our full attention to the homebrew party. Yes we know we've been peppering you with near daily reminders. But think how bad we'd feel if the party came and went and somebody missed it for some unnecessary failure on our part. Anyway here's a quick rundown of what (and what not) to expect at this year's celebration.

Do expect lots of great beer, mostly homebrewed, served up and shared amongst 150 or so like-minded individuals. Do not expect kegs of Bartles & James Wild Berry Spritzer.

Do expect great food and live entertainment and also to take home a selection of party favors including a Siciliano's beer mug, guaranteed to make you the envy of all your friends. Do not expect magical winged creatures to scoop you up at party's end to deliver you safely to your home. Arrange for a DD or cab to do the driving instead.

Do expect more reminders from us to come as the party approaches. Do not expect tickets to remain until the very last minute. Supplies are limited; get your tickets today!

New (and Returning) Beer

  • Saugatuck Brewing Neapolitan Milk Stout, $1.99/12oz - "Dark roasty notes balanced with creamy flavors of chocolate, strawberry and vanilla" (source).
  • Southern Tier Double 2X Milk Stout, $1.99/12oz - "We couldn’t stop at a traditional milk stout. Ours is a double, an addition to our 2X line, and at 7.5% abv is every bit as delicious as it sounds" (source).
  • Magic Hat Elder Betty, $1.59/12oz - "A weiss-style ale with a bready malt flavor balanced by a touch of hops and complimented by tart berry flavors of elderberry" (source).
  • Brooklyn Summer Ale, $1.69/12oz - "Brooklyn Summer Ale is a modern rendition of the "Light Dinner Ales" brewed in England throughout the 1800's right up until the 1940's. They were also called "luncheon ales" or even "family ales", because they were refreshing and flavorful without being too heavy. We brew our Brooklyn Summer Ale from premium English barley malt, which gives this light-bodied golden beer a fresh bready flavor. German and American hops lend a light crisp bitterness and a citrus/floral aroma, resulting in a beer with a very sunny disposition" (source).
  • Anderson Valley Summer Solstice, $1.89/12oz (cans & bottles) - "This unique copper colored ale is smooth, malty, and lightly sweet, with a delicate hint of spice for that oh-so-drinkable, extra velvety flavor" (source).
  • Anderson Valley Brother David's Double, $8.19/22oz - "Winner of the 2011 Great American Beer Festival Gold Medal, Brother David’s Double is rich, dark brown ode to maltiness, with rich dark-chocolate creaminess, and the scent of banana and tropical fruit esters. Faint hop notes linger in the background against classic belgian carbonation" (source).
  • Anderson Valley Brother David's Triple, $8.19/22oz - "Brother David’s Triple features a bright, dry fragrance, with aroma overtones of malt, fruit, and freshly mown fields. A 10% ABV ale, it is balanced by a rich malt backbone, spicy hops, and fruity yeast esters. Surprisingly light bodied, the brewers add candy sugar during the brewing process to add alcohol and a medium-high carbonation" (source).
Picture of the Week

Grey Dove oyster mushrooms, mid-growth.
Kits for sale at Siciliano's!


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hey Kevin: "Should GR get more national recognition?"

Welcome back to Hey Kevin, our advice and information column. Let's get right to this week's question.

Hey Kevin,

I live in Portland, OR but I was born and lived for a long time in Grand Rapids. I try at least once a year to get back to Michigan and from visit to visit I'm always amazed at the advances in the craft beer scene. My beer geek friends here in Portland don't believe GR is the hotbed for beer I say it is. Frankly they don't pay it much mind. Whatevs. It still makes me wonder: Is Grand Rapids the most under-appreciated beer city in the country?

Pauly from Portland, formerly GR

Hey Pauly,

It's true Grand Rapids doesn't always get the national recognition it deserves for being a great place to find a pint. But I think most people would tell you that's changing. With places like Founders, HopCat, Brewery Vivant, and even Siciliano's firmly established, and with new breweries and beer bars opening all the time, not to mention the Winter Beer Festival and other events, it's hard to deny that something real and good is happening here. Eventually that will become to clear to anyone who cares.

To answer your question, the most under-appreciated beer city in America is actually a small town in Pennsylvania called Rye. Now, I admit, I've never been to Rye and I don't know anyone who has. To the best of my knowledge there are no breweries in Rye nor is there any great beer bars or stores. In fact, I don't know anything about Rye other than what Wikipedia tells me, which isn't much.

Nevertheless, in the grand scheme of things having a name like "Rye" should be worth something, and a whole lot of it. Yet to this day I've never read nor heard anything that gives ol' Rye, PA the respect it deserves. And that, dear Pauly, is a shame.

Hope this helps.


The views expressed here are Kevin's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of The Buzz staff nor its parent company, Siciliano's Market. Have a question in need of answering? Submit it to

*Rye, PA Map located originally at this source.

Head Cheese - Your weekly ration

It's a fact.* Mimes are the most likely of all street performers to seek professional help due to existential crisis. Which makes sense. When was the last time anybody said, boy, I sure could use a good mime right now. It almost never happens, and that's a lonely feeling for mime.

*Not necessarily a statement of fact.

Head Cheese
by Mark Siciliano

Find more Queso de la Cabeza by going here:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The rise of craft beer: A different kind of progress

Here's the latest from Weston Easton, PhD candidate in Sociology at Michigan State and monthly Buzz columnist. This month Professor Wes describes how the craft beer movement evolved partly in response to the industrial food system. He also warns against being a beer snob, which is always good advice.

By Weston Eaton

In the United States, the rise of the craft beer movement paralleled a broader awareness of the social and environmental importance of food and agriculture. Exploring the common roots of these two movements can yield some insights into some common trends we see today—as well as some common failings critics are increasingly likely to point out. What I’d like to do here is give a less than scientific account of these co-histories and then point out ways we can all dodge the pitfalls of consumer-based food and drink movements, namely the slippery slope to elitism, snobbery, and indulgent exclusivity.

The years following WWII saw the rise in a number of interlocking trends resulting in full-on modernity, particularly for the realms of food and agriculture, including beer and wine. Social and industrial trends such as increased efficiency, mechanization, standardization, and rational thinking combined with technological advances in farm production to create an abundance of new consumer products and commodities which quickly turned novelty to new-necessity. But what were the costs of all this progress, and who was paying? The environmental backlash, as embodied in Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, published in 1962, highlights the way the industrialization and modernization of our food and agricultural system disconnected society and nature in some very dangerous ways. Some people decided they no longer wished to participate in a food culture that was destroying our planet, and set out not only to oppose what others termed “progress”, but more importantly, to devise more sustainable lifestyles. Thus was born many movements—environmental, women’s, peace, civil rights. Indeed some deemed the U.S. a “movement society.”

This was also the birth of the do-it-yourself, back-to-the-land, “prosumer” movements, as well as a crystallization of organic farming as a political, socially and ecologically aware practice. Chefs and brewers both played an active role in defining how the alternatives to modernized cuisine were to look and taste and also determined the systems by which they were produced. In 1971, Frances Moore Lappe's Diet for a Small Planet linked health to plant-based agricultural systems. Katzen’s time devising and defining vegetarianism at the Moosewood Collective in Ithaca, NY, resulted in the most popular vegetarian cookbook of all time, the Moosewood Cookbook, published in 1977. That same year the Sierra Club published Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America, a scathing counterattack on U.S. agricultural policies which culturally and financially devastated American farmers. A bit later, Alice Water’s insistence that Chez Panisse serve seasonal and local produce showed the hidden deficiencies of industrialized agriculture. These mythical figures, and many others, were bent on redefining what food and agriculture should be by attempting to relink in the minds of the public the political, social justice, and ecological linkages between farm and plate.

Within this paradigm shift brewers began to question the industrialist ethic of corporate captured beer. Homebrewers like Charlie Papazian scoured for ingredients to brew their own, and recorded their success in how-to guides such as Papazian’s The Complete Joy of Home Brewing, published in 1984. As I’ve written about many times before, brewers, such as Michigan’s own Larry Bell, reached back through history and time to recreate styles of ales that for all practical purposes were extinct; and in the process create entirely new ones. Yet opening a business as a craft brewer is but one example of this new beer culture. Larger trends include homebrewing (there are more home brewers than professionals) and the do-it-yourself movements in general, generally defined. In this camp I include everything from canning one’s own home grown veggies to baking bread at home to planning and digging one’s own root cellar for storage and lagering. While each person has their own interpretations of the meaning and experience of this movement (broadly defined), like the food movements sketched above, its roots were in dissatisfaction with elite, mechanistic, and environmentally and socially unsustainable processes of production and consumption. It is my argument that this swing of the pendulum, a result of global shifts in power and production post-WWII, spurred the awareness of some few iconoclasts which eventually ‘struck a fundamental chord’ in the hearts of more and more people and yielded the victories and popularity we all celebrate today.

But like any successful social movement, the risks of co-optation are high. The organic movement is a prime example. How much of the grit of the values previously embodied in organic farming has been whittled away since control over its definition shifted scales from local producers to centralized standards? The essential point I want to make here about food, in order to make a connection to craft and home brewing, is the co-option of the meaning and values of organic food by corporate interests and the often uncritical way we consumers have responded. As a result, it's difficult to tease apart the specific usefulness of the organic label—is it meant to give consumers assurance that they are not participating in an unsustainable food system, or that they are eating healthy, untainted food? Or is this just a fashionable trend, a culinary expenditure that begets distinction and attention? What about producers, does this really help their local environments, or just allow them to sell food at a higher price? Obviously such binaries cannot be absolutely true on either extreme, yet the conundrum is clear: the purpose and meaning is open for debate within a field comprised of actors with unequal access to resources and claims to legitimacy and expertise.

What does this mean for craft beer and home brewers? The first point I want to make, and the original impetus of this short tale, is that as a movement, and an increasingly successful one at that, we are all vulnerable for co-optation by higher powers who are keeping an eye on us. In 1989 organics rose above one percent of the market share for the first time, and are now at least twenty percent. Last year craft beer represented almost ten percent of the market. These changes are scary for the powers that be, and by cutting into their profits, they will react. But the co-optation I am concerned about here is more cultural than financial. What does it mean to drink and brew craft beer, professionally and recreationally? Well, did it ever really mean anything in particular in the first place? As demonstrated above, my argument is that it did. Like participants of food and agricultural movements, craft beer drinkers, brewers, and homebrewers come from a long line of iconoclastic visionaries who were dissatisfied with the norms of the world they were born into. They wanted to change things and, importantly, to share the fruits of their labor with others. These challenged norms included the prioritizing of technological modernization and efficiency above all else, including the well-being of workers, consumers, the environment, and of course taste.

In short, good beer is meant to make you feel good, and part of this includes introducing others to the joy you have found in brewing or at least enjoying a beer whose values inherently challenge the Ellulian techniques of efficiency and technocracy. There’s something democratic here and that is my final point. Exclusivity, especially as an attitude, as represented by elitism and snobbery, is the opposite of democracy, a concept that does not imply mediocracy, or “par”, but rather the mutual, collective struggle for something better. So keep sharing the good stuff, and remember, craft beer potentially embodies a range of diverse values—what do you see when you look into your glass?

Life is a carnival (believe it or not)

A ferris wheel to some.
To others, an object of terror.
The title of today's post is a tribute to the great Levon Helm, who passed away last week; it's also a fitting lead-in to the boss' latest Buzz contribution. A lost set of car keys, paying several times market value for some cheap stuffed animals, it's all part of a good night at the carnival (believe it or not).

By Steve Siciliano

In the spring of each year a traveling carnival comes to town and for a week takes over a field on the eastern edge of John Ball Park. I grew up three blocks from that park and when I was a kid I would spend a months’ worth of allowances on games and rides, cotton candy and bags of popcorn, hot dogs, peanuts and elephant ears.

Last Saturday Barb and I were planning a quiet evening—the Tip Top for a beer then a pizza from Vinnie’s. Things changed when Siciliano’s staffer Sarah Derylo walked into the tavern.

“What are you doing tonight?” she asked.

“Nothing,” I answered.

“I’m meeting Doug and then we’re going to the carnival,” Sarah said. “Why don’t you join us?”

“No,” I said.

“Why not?” Sarah asked. “It’ll be fun.”

“No,” I said again. Carnivals, I told her, were for kids.

A few minutes later Doug Dorda joined us. We had a pint of Crooked Tree and then another. After the third, going to the carnival didn’t seem like such a bad idea.

We parked our cars on a side street and began walking through the quiet neighborhood. As we got closer to the park I began hearing the familiar cacophony—the calliope music, the muffled din of the crowd punctuated by occasional shrills of ride-caused screams. As we got closer still I saw the high rising Ferris wheel. When we walked into the bright lights of the midway I suddenly became a kid again.

For the next half hour the goal of acquiring a collection of colorful stuffed animals became the only thing that mattered. I tried shooting basketballs through a hoop and tossed softballs at stacked pyramids of milk cans. I threw darts at balloons and when two popped I proudly presented to my wife a green frog and a purple cow. When I popped another ballon with a concentrated stream of water from a toy rifle I won another stuffed prize, a pink poodle, and yelled with delight.

With Barb clutching her prizes we strolled through the midway. We walked past the Fun House, the kiddie rides and on to the Ferris wheel. On the way I stopped at a concession stand a bought a bag of caramel corn.

We had to coax my wife onto the Ferris wheel. When the car began moving upward she scrunched down in the seat and pulled her jacket tight over her head. Every time the car was at the apex, Sarah, Doug and I tried unsuccesfully to get her to look at the bright downtown lights of the city.

After the Ferris wheel, Barb, Sarah and Doug went for a ride on the Zipper. My wife was terrified of the rather innocuous Ferris wheel but thoroughly enjoyed the Zipper. While they were riding I walked to another concession stand to buy a hot dog and it was then that I found that I had lost my car keys. I bought the hot dog anyway. It tasted so good that I bought another.

The next morning I straightened out the wads of bills in my pockets and tried to determine how much the carnival had cost me. Fifty, maybe sixty dollars and a lost set of car keys. A fair price, I thought, for an hour of becoming a kid again.

Steve with prizes in all his glory

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

To the brewer goes the spoils

By Chris Siciliano

Winning an all-expense paid trip to Sierra Nevada Beer Camp is cool and all, but it isn't the only perk of having your beer named Best of Show in the 9th Annual Siciliano's Market Homebrew Contest.

As in previous years, the winner of our current contest will take custody of the coveted Siciliano Cup. For a predetermined number of days the top homebrewer is free to involve the trophy in any activity he/she chooses, providing said activity is (a) legal; (b) more or less in line with prevailing social norms; and (c) generally within the bounds of common decency.

Last year's Best of Show winner Ross Ziegenthaler converted the trophy for a few days into a glorious cereal bowl. It's true what they say, you know—bran flakes just taste better when imbibed from the Siciliano Cup.

Rather than finding a prize in his cereal,
Ross finds cereal in his prize. 
Open wide!
Safety first

The Tuesday Review: Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill

The Tip Top's taps
By Steve Siciliano

I spend a fair amount of time drinking craft beer in shiny new brewpubs and polished taverns but there are times when I prefer old watering holes that serve nothing but classic American lagers. You can always find interesting folks at these establishments and I like hanging out with them, drinking with them and listening to their stories. I enjoy the time-worn ambiance of these old saloons—the creaky floors and tattered stools, the smoked stained walls, the classic tunes playing on vintage juke boxes.

I think it’s unfortunate that these venerable establishments are slowly disappearing. In our younger days my brother Mark and I would occasionally spend an afternoon hopping a succession of neighborhood saloons that today are nothing but a growing collection of fading memories. A few of those old West Side saloons have survived, albeit sometimes only in name, because renovations have essentially transformed them into completely new entities. The renovations are probably what kept them alive, but sadly they have effectively erased the distinctive character, the unique charm and the appealing idiosyncrasies of these old neighborhood taverns. An exception to this poignant reality is the recent transformation of an old West Side tavern called The Loading Zone into a new entity called the Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill.

I have a particular nostalgia for The Loading Zone because it was one of the three drinking establishments in which I had been strongly advised to leave. In an effort to keep my reputation unsullied I won’t go into details. I will say, however, that one of the other times was in an establishment Up North and was in actuality simply the result of condemnation by association. The incidents at the Loading Zone and in a Kalamazoo establishment that shall remain unnamed on the other hand were completely my fault.

In transforming The Loading Zone into the Tip Top Deluxe the new owners gutted and redecorated the inside and replaced the worn and tattered furnishings. The outside was also given a much needed facelift. But despite the cosmetic changes the Tip Top has succeeded in retaining the comfortable feel of a neighborhood tavern. Some of this is no doubt due to the kitschy posters adorning the walls—a Leave-It-to-Beaver-like 50's-era housewife gazing at her reflection in a sparkling frying pan and old Elvis and B movie posters. But there is something besides that, something intangible. Maybe it’s the fact that you have the option of ordering up a can of PBR, Stroh’s, Black Label or Schlitz if you’re not in the mood for one of the craft beers listed on the solid tap list. Could be too it’s the friendly bartenders, the unpretentious but tasty hamburgers, the Patsy Kline tunes and the eclectic mix of the patrons.

On a recent Saturday evening four of those patrons were at a table playing dominoes. A regular who was sipping on a Jack and Coke at the bar told us that he had made millions in the stock market. He also told us that he just got out of jail and that he rents a room in a rundown house across the street. I offered to buy him a drink and he gratefully accepted. After Barb and I downed a couple of pints of Dark Horse Crooked Tree we drank a Schlitz tall boy and sang along with Patsy.

The Tip Top Deluxe is located at 760 Butterworth Street in Grand Rapids and also features a wide variety of live entertainment. Their website is currently under construction but you can visit their Facebook page or call 616-272-3910 for more information.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Homebrew contest update: Judging complete!

IMG_2719By Steve Siciliano

Judging for the 9th Annual Siciliano’s Homebrew Competition was held yesterday from noon to three in the brew house at Brewery Vivant. There were 220 entries this year, the most ever, and from that number the winner of Best of Show was determined from among the eight entries that received the highest scores. The lucky (talented) brewer of that beer will not only have his/her name inscribed on the prestigious Siciliano’s Cup, they will also be receiving an all-expenses paid trip to a future Sierra Nevada Beer Camp in Chico, California. Competition results, including Best of Show, will be announced at the Ninth Annual Siciliano’s Homebrew Party on Saturday, May 5th in the enclosed pavilion at Johnson Park. (Tickets are still available.) Anyone not attending the party may pick up score sheets and medals at Siciliano’s beginning on May 6th.

I would like to express my appreciation to the judges and stewards and to all those who contributed their time in helping make this a smooth-running event. Special thanks to Brewery Vivant owner Jason Spaulding for allowing us the use of his facilities, to head brewer Jacob Derylo who made room for us in his brew house and to pub general manager Lauron Turnipseed who presented us with a wonderful patio lunch.

I would also like to recognize the great job that Siciliano’s staffer Greg Johnson did in organizing this year’s competition.

One final note. In my opinion the word “competition” does not accurately describe the overall spirit of this event. Brewers do, of course, ultimately compete for Best of Show, but just as importantly they receive personal recognition in the form of medals for entries that are competently brewed to style. In addition to this, they receive constructive comments on their score sheets that will enable them to hone their craft and become better brewers. I would like to come up with a better moniker than "competition". Any suggestion would be appreciated.

Special thanks to...

Brewery Vivant
Judges and stewards like Matt
Greg (left) for organizing the event,
and Jason Spaulding (right) for letting us use his brewery

Friday, April 20, 2012

New Beer Friday - April 20 Edition

I should get one of those for home
(Pike 51 Brewing Company)
By Chris Siciliano

Looks like the next GR-area brewery to hang its shingle will be Pike 51 Brewing Company in Hudsonville, MI. According to head brewer Jeff Williams, formerly of HopCat, the brewhouse (see left) will be up-and-running and producing beer sometime within the next few weeks.

We'll keep in you in the loop with regard to specific dates. In the meantime, if you have an evening free we suggest you cruise on out to Hudsonville now. Even though there isn't any beer to try (Jeff plans to eventually have sixteen on tap), you can and should sample the large variety of wine that owners Ken, Steve, and Ron have been producing and selling on-site for the last three years.

That's the thing about Pike 51. It's also a winery. Hudsonville Winery to be exact. Like Hall and Oates in easy-listening awesomeness, beer and wine will soon happily co-exist in the recently renovated pub/production facility at 3768 Chicago Drive.

I visited for the first time just a few weeks ago and man am I glad I did. Not only was I impressed by the wine they're making (here's a tip, try the Bruno) I felt genuinely welcomed by the owners and the staff. When the beer is finally flowing—and, like I say, even now—this will be (is already) a terrific destination.

New (and Returning) Beer

  • Ovila Dubbel, $3.29/12.7oz - "Clear and deep copper in color, this Abbey Dubbel has a complex and rich malty sweetness with hints of caramelized sugar. The aroma is a heady and layered mix of fruit and spice, with hints of clove, raisin, and black pepper from the use of an abbey style yeast" (source).
  • Brau Brothers Rye Wyne Ale 2011, $16.49/750ml - "One of the few small grains still grown in southwestern Minnesota, malted rye is the base for this one of a kind ale brewed and aged in tiny Lucan, MN. Following a long, slow fermentation, the beer is stored away in used rye whiskey barrels brought north from our friends at Templeton, located in the equally tiny town of Templeton, Iowa" (label).
  • Great Lakes Holy Moses White Ale, $1.79/12oz - "A Belgian wit ale spiced with orange peel, chamomile and coriander" (source).
  • Epic Smoked Porter, $509/22oz - "This nostalgic porter evokes memories of chocolate and coffee around a campfire. The cherry wood smoked malt used in this beer gives it a heavy smokiness that blends smoothly into the chocolate malty body. With a silky finish this porter is ideal for sipping on a cold winters eve" (source).
  • Epic Copper Cone Pale Ale, $6.69/22oz - "Typically this beer is an “over the top” pale ale with a deep copper color and loads of dry hopping going into each batch. The fresh hop aroma of this beer makes it a stand out. Stronger in alcohol and body than CAPT’N CROMPTON’S PALE ALE and appeals to beer aficionados" (source).
  • Epic 825 State Stout, $5.09/22oz - "This stout can range from dry stouts to foreign stouts, creamy or bitter. Flavors EPIC explores within this stout are roast chocolate, toffee, mocha, coffee, burnt marshmallow and roasted nuts or combinations there-of. All these flavors are derived from specialty malts or other grains and hops, no specialty, natural or other flavorings are added in our Elevated Series, look for natural ingredients like real coffee and chocolate in our Exponential Series" (source). No specific information yet available for release #17.
  • Wolverine Premium Lager, $1.69/12oz - "Made with all American ingredients, including water straight from the Huron River in Washtenaw County, Michigan, this brew is designed to quench your thirst for a flavorful, easy-drinking smooth lager beer. The brilliant, golden color enhances the experience of the true malt flavor and crisp finish of your new everyday beer" (source).
  • Wolverine Premium Dark Lager, $1.69/12oz - "Wolverine Dark will win you over with a smooth maltiness balanced by a crisp feel on your tongue without any of the chunky chewy taste that some dark beers have" (source).
  • Jolly Pumpkin Biere De Mars, $13.79/750ml - "A sustaining beer that is brewed to comfort in the gusty Ides of March and welcome in a wealth of warmer weather" (source).
  • Jolly Pumpkin E.S. Bam, $9.49/750ml - "Extra Special Farmhouse Ale. A Bam celebration of excess. More malt, more hops, same vivacious personality" (source).
New Scotch

  • The Macallan 12 Year, $52.94/750ml - "Exclusively matured for a minimum of twelve years in Spanish oak casks, hand-crafted and sherry-seasoned in Jerez, Spain. This delivers a classic Macallan style, wonderfully rich in color with dried fruits, spice and chocolate orange" (source).
  • Glenmorangie 12 Nectar D'Or, $59.95/750ml - "Lime and orange rind, sultanas and dates give a rich fruity flavor laced with tantalizing spices of coconut and nutmeg. Ginger, nutmeg and toasted almonds bring a deep, warming taste interwoven with a syrupy lemon meringue and honeycomb middle. Long and lusciously sweet finish with lemon zest, white chocolate, vanilla and traces of ginger and nutmeg" (source).
Mini Photo Essay of the Week
"Chef Ryan's Vietnamese Bahn Mi Sandwich"

When the kitchen finally opens at Pike 51
Chef Ryan here will be in charge.*

Ryan currently works in the tasting room and slips away
when he can to fire up the grill.

Grilled & marinated mushrooms
(if I remember correctly).

Trust me, the final product was incredible.**

Though a kitchen is definitely in the plans, from what I understand the focus for now is on getting the brewery established. In other words, there is no time table for when food will be available, which would be a shame if it wasn't so logical. Well, it's still sort of shame. I'm telling you, that sandwich was something else.

*Chef Ryan earned his chops in restaurants in New York City. He's excited to be back in West Michigan in part for the chance to work with the huge variety of food that's grown here.

**I built this sandwich for the camera, to show off the different layers that comprise it. The sandwiches Chef Ryan built were constructed with far more skill.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Head Cheese - Your weekly ration

Well it's over. Head Cheese creator Mark Siciliano outlasted like a million other cartoonists but came up just short in the final round of judging in the "Best Cartoonist" contest over at

Fortunately for us the cartoon gods would rather Mark toil away in relative obscurity than enjoy the unspeakable riches of a syndicated illustrator—at least for now. Until Mark lands in cheesier pastures, you can still find your weekly ration of Head Cheese right here on The Buzz. Here's one of our favorites.

Head Cheese
by Mark Siciliano

Hungry for more Head Cheese? Help yourself to seconds over on Mark's new blog, Mark's Siciliano's Head Cheese. (Never was a blog so aptly named.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Story of an old mead

By Chris Siciliano

When I met Matt Steigenga, my grandparents' next door neighbor, he immediately offered to crack open and share a bottle of mead almost fifteen years old. That's the way it is with some people, generous through and through.

While the homemade mead was surprisingly good—rich and big-bodied up front, dissipating eventually with distinct and delicate notes of apple—the story of how it came into Matt's possession is even better. Though he didn't make it and he doesn't know the man who did, he counts the man who gave it to him among his greatest friends.

Only a small part of the mead's long history could be inferred from the old contest ID tag taped to the bottle. The remaining story—more to do with friendship than with mead—came out in a series of emails like this one (below), which Matt sent me just today.
"My wife and I met Jim and Wendy Suchy while we were camping many years ago. We saw them walking around with beer steins and thought, 'Those are people we have to meet.' After trying Jim's hefeweizen (Jim is an exceptional brewer) and Wendy’s cornbread I was hooked. We all became great friends and my wife and I visited them in Westland (over by Ann Arbor) many times. 
Jim taught me more about homebrew than any book could, and it was during our visits that Jim introduced me to the beer and mead library in his basement. Being the registrar for the Mazer Cup and I believe for the Michigan State Fair as well, Jim had access to an extensive collection of beer and mead from brewers all over the state/country—rather than tossing anything out, Jim kept the entries that didn't make the final rounds of judging. I would guess he had 20 cases in his cellar. Each bottle had a slip of paper wrapped around it, some on which the brewer's name was written, some with only a number that Jim would have to look up. 
Over the years it became my tradition to venture into Jim's beer library and pull out a few for the weekend while we stayed with them. Some were good and some were not so good. Some didn’t keep their seal and went bad after awhile. The ones that weren’t so great we put into a sauce pan and reduced to make a marinade or sauce. 
With the exceptional meads we went so far as to make contact with the original brewer/meadster just to let them know we appreciated their craft. The one that stands out in my mind is the one where the meadster wrote back. If I remember right it started as follows: 'I write you this almost with tears in my eyes.' The meadster then went on to tell the story of how the mead we tried was laughed at by his local homebrew club and he hadn’t brewed anything since. 
Jim and Wendy ended up moving to Florence, South Carolina and more recently to Bend, Oregon. My wife and I still visit them almost every year over Christmas and New Year’s, each time continuing our mead tradition. On our trip to SC two years ago Jim gave me an entire case to take back to Michigan in order to have a small library of my own. Since then I have taken three or four out and shared them with various people, the 14-year-old mead being the most recent.
Honda used to have a tag line: 'You meet the nicest people on a Honda'. My experience has led me to believe that it should be changed to 'You meet the nicest people over homebrew.'
Strange to think how long and how far that 14-year-old mead traveled before it ended up the focal point in and catalyst for a story on The Buzz. It makes you wonder if one of your own beers, unbeknownst to you, passed from friend to friend to friend, is sitting in some complete stranger's cellar, maybe in Oregon, maybe in South Carolina, waiting for its own story to play out. Cheers to that.

"What? No mead for me?"

Monday, April 16, 2012

And the (April) winner is...

Thanks to everyone who participated in the latest cartoon caption contest. Top honor this month goes to Jon VanderMolen, whose timely caption relates a conversation we hope none of you experience this tax season.

Jon should contact the Buzz editors for details on claiming his prize (a Ricki's cheese making kit for Ricotta and Mozzarella). Everyone else will have another shot at comedy glory starting May 7, when the next caption contest is scheduled to begin.

The April Winner

"You forgot to attach the 1099 for your hunting and gathering income Mr. Ug.
Looks like we'll have to audit you.

First Runner-up, Todd "TH" Huizingh
"What do you say after we close this deal you and I go out clubbing."

A special congrats and well-done to Todd "TH" Huizingh, who has been the first runner-up in every cartoon caption contest to date. Chin up, Todd, your time is going to come.

Friday, April 13, 2012

New Beer Friday - April 13 Edition

By Chris Siciliano

Somebody asked me recently if there has ever been a week without any new beer. It happened all the time in the old-old days.

Before say, 1997, the beer department was only a handful of brands and in perusing the warm shelves you were far more likely to find a jar of mayonaise or Yoo-Hoo than anything resembling a "selection" of craft beer. I won't count that though. Siciliano's was a completely different store back then. (Gallon of milk, anyone?)

It's hard to believe, but since I started writing New Beer Friday last June—45 weeks ago—we've never had a week without at least one new beer*. To be honest, I don't know what I'd do if it were to happen. It's likely I'd kick off early and head to Founders. Sometimes I do that anyway.

I'm sure I'm jinxing myself and next Friday will arrive without a single new item. Let's say that does happen—I think the run we're on is still remarkable, a testament to the variety and vigor of the current craft beer scene.

*Note: We include in the definition of "new beer" products which are returning to the shelves after an extended absence, six months or longer. Seasonal beers are a good example of this.

New (and Returning) Beer

  • Sierra Nevada Hoptimum, $2.49/12oz - "Resinous 'new-school' and exclusive hop varieties carry the bold and aromatic nose. The flavor follows the aroma with layers of aggressive hoppiness, featuring notes of grapefruit rind, rose, lilac, cedar, and tropical fruit—all culminating in a dry and lasting finish" (source).
  • Sierra Nevada Summer Fest $1.59/12oz - "A refreshing, pilsner-style lager. Its incredible smoothness comes from an extra-long lagering period. Lighter in body than our ales but just as complex in character, Summerfest® quenches your thirst with big aroma and a tangy hop bite" (source).
  • Troubadour Magma Belgian Triple IPA, $8.39/750ml - "After the succes of Troubadour Blond en Troubadour Obscura, a third Troubadour beer was developed. Inspired by the flavors of IPA (Indian Pale Ale) the new Troubadour was created by combining the bitterness of an IPA, Hoppy flavors from dry-hopping and the body of a Belgian Triple. The first Triple IPA was born" (source).
  • Petrus Oud Bruin, $8.39/12oz - "Top-fermented dark beer brewed with the finest hops and malt varieties. Matured on oaken barrels during 20 months" (source).
  • Goose Island Lolita, $17.89/22oz - "Lolita is a pink rose colored Belgian style pale ale fermented with wild yeast and aged on raspberries in wine barrels. Aromas of fresh raspberries, bright jammy fruit flavors and crisp, refreshing body make Lolita ideal for beer drinkers fond of Belgian Framboise" (source).
  • Goose Island Summertime, $1.59/12oz - "The color of sunshine, with a light fruity aroma and a hint of fruity acidity, Goose Island Summertime is the perfect summer session ale. A Kölsch beer brewed in the traditional German fashion, you’ll find yourself enjoying and savoring each sip of summertime as much as you do those hot summer days and cool summer nights" (source).
  • JW Less Harvest Ale, $11.39/275ml - "Released in limited quantities in December, Harvest Ale gives a rich, strong flavour,beloved by beer connoisseurs. It can be laid down like a vintage wine for enjoying in later years" (source).
  • Weihenstephaner Festbier, $2.09/12oz - "A full rich bodied, hoppy, seasonal lager. Especially brewed for the Festbier season. This beer truly represents the Bavarian way of celebrating. Deep gold color, great mouthfeel and lots of flavor" (source).
  • St. Feuillien Saison, $10.79/750ml - "St-Feuillien’Saison is what the Belgians call a beer of the terroir, a traditional farmhouse ale with all the rich savour of the fertile land of southern Belgium. Saison, a warm golden blonde ale, is a top-fermented classique. Thanks to secondary fermentation in the bottle, Saison has an unmistakable flavour full of rich nuances and a slight tang" (source).
  • Victory Whirlwind, $2.19/12oz - "A swirling dynamo of flavor, with a steady calm of satisfaction at its heart, that’s Whirlwind Witbier. Offering a tamed tempest of flavors both spicy and sublime, this softly fermented ale greets the nose and tingles the tongue. Imported Belgian yeast charges Whirlwind with an energy all its own. It is a refreshing interpretation of the classic, Belgian ‘white beer’ style" (source).
  • New Planet Brewing Company, Boulder, Colorado - "We named our beer company New Planet Beer Company as a way to express our desire for a new and invigorated planet. It’s our core mission to make great tasting gluten-free beers that everyone can enjoy, while donating a portion of our proceeds to environmental efforts" (source). All varieties $2.39/12oz.
      • Tread Lightly Ale - "Tread Lightly Ale is a well-balanced gluten-free ale beer made from sorghum, corn extract, orange peel, hops, and yeast. It’s a bright and light bodied craft beer with a refreshing taste and doesn’t have the after taste of other sorghum-based beers."
      • 3R Raspberry Ale - "An award winning ale with the right balance of fruit flavor and aroma. Made from sorghum, corn extract, natural raspberry puree, orange peel, hops, and yeast. Not overly sweet, the Oregon grown fruit puree creates a beautiful body color with a natural raspberry flavor."
      • Off Grid Pale Ale - "A wonderful interpretation of the classic pale ale style. It has a distinctly deep amber color and great character and body. Three varieties of hops provide a wonderful aroma and a citrus and spicy hop flavor. This smooth gluten-free ale is made from sorghum and brown rice extract, molasses, tapioca maltodextrin, caramel color, hops, and yeast."
  • Short's Freedom of '76 Pure Guava IPA, $2.19/12oz - "A medium bodied IPA with bright clarity and a pleasing bronze hue. The aroma is a unique fusion of citrus fruit combined with subtle pine qualities. The distinct characteristics of the guava nectar are impossible to miss as the sweetness and slightly tart flavors snap across the palate. Comparable attributes of tangerine, nectarine, and even some faint honey flavors are detectable. The finish provides a pleasing bitterness that resonates and turns dry" (source).
  • Mythos Lager, $2.09/12oz - "Excellent Hellenic lager beer tradition" (source).
  • Detroit Brew Co. Radler, $1.69/12oz - "The Radler is a Bavarian style Helles Lager blended with natural lemon and lime extracts. Basically a shandy, but with natural flavors and a bit more body and "beeriness" than other commercial examples. It turned out just as we hoped it would, and I hope our friends in Grand Rapids enjoy it this summer!" (source: see comments section below).
  • MacTarnahan Spine Tingler, $7.69/22oz - "A surprisingly sublime Belgian-style triple offering an electrifying blend of spicy aromatics balanced with a lively malt palate that is so good it's scary" (source).
  • Olympia Lager, $10.09/12-pack - "Olympia lager blends nature's finest raw materials from the fields of the Great Northwest into an icon as stunning as the land itself. Pure mountain water and golden barley tan this smooth sculpted beer like Mount Olympia itself. Crowned with a garland of fresh herbal hops, Olympia beer stands shoulders above other beers" (source).
Picture of the Week

Ron Snider of Hudsonville Winery.

Next week on The Buzz we'll have more from our first trip
to this great little winery, including a look at their new brewing operation,
Pike 51, scheduled to be up-and-running sometime very soon.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Head Cheese - Your weekly ration

This week your meal of Head Cheese comes with a steaming side of funny. Head Cheese creator Mark Siciliano has made the finals in the cartoon contest over at Be a dear and vote for his toon (the same below) and who knows, maybe this time next week Mark will be more famous than Ziggy and Marmaduke combined—now wouldn't that be something! Here's how to vote.
  1. Log on to
  2. Type "Siciliano" into the search field and click SEARCH.
  3. Select this week's entry for Mark Siciliano's Head Cheese.
  4. Click vote, laugh out loud, tell others to vote.
  5. Ponder what other good deeds to do with your day.
Head Cheese
by Mark Siciliano

Remember also to participate in Siciliano's Cartoon Caption Contest, April Edition, which is going on now. This time around the award for best caption receives a Ricki's cheese making kit ($22 value), a prize almost as good as winning $22 worth of actual cheese. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

New Book Wednesday, April 11 Edition

By Chris Siciliano

New books with"epic" bookends
Siciliano's book department has grown significantly over the last ten years, and we couldn't be happier with its development. What started out a tiny selection of homebrew essentialsreally, just The Complete Joy of Homebrewing alongside a few outdated pamphletshas now morphed into a full variety of cookbooks, how-to books, beer & brewing history books, and even fiction (that's the boss' fiction, mind you).

It's a selection we hope will satisfy everyone, from the most voracious reader to the most curious DIY-er to the most desperate last-minute gift seeker. To keep it that way we do our best to bring in more titles all the time. With that in mind, here's a look at the latest books to hit the shelves.

New Books

  • American Terroir by Rowan Jacobsen, $25.00 - "American Terroir will introduce [Americans] to the 'flavor landscapes' of some of our most iconic foods, including apples and cider, honey, maple syrup, oysters, salmon, wild mushrooms, wine, cheese, coffee, and chocolate—and explain why all foods are not created equal. Ultimately, good eating is about romance, and American Terroir finds that romance in the farms, forests, and waters where our great foods live" (source).
  • Tart & Sweet by Kelly Geary and Jessie Knadler, $24.99 - "Tart and Sweet is the essential canning manual for the 21st century, providing a modern tutorial on small-batch canning accompanied by easy-to-follow photos and instructions, as well as more than 101 sweet and savory recipes for preserved and pickled fruits and vegetables, including jams, chutneys, marmalades, syrups, relishes, sauces, and salsas" (source).
  • Hunt, Gather, Cook by Hank Shaw, $25.99 - "In Hunt, Gather, Cook, Hank Shaw shares his experiences both in the field and the kitchen, as well as his extensive knowledge of North America’s edible flora and fauna. Hank provides a user-friendly, food-oriented introduction to tracking down and cooking everything from prickly pears to grouper and snowshoe hares" (flap copy).
  • Mycophilia by Eugenia Bone, $25.99 - "Mushrooms are the fruting bodies of fungi, microscopic organisms so prevalent in nature that there maybe as much as a ton of fungi per vegetated acre. Mycophilia examines the vast diversity of fungi in our worldand the equally singular individuals who populate the world devoted to the study, pursuit, and appreciation of mushrooms in the nearly infinite variety" (back cover).
  • The Rodale Whole Foods Cookbook, $35.00 - "Farmer’s markets, groceries, and natural foods stores today offer a wealth of wholesome ingredients that even a decade ago were considered unfamiliar and exotic. From quinoa to spelt flour to agave nectar and shiitake mushrooms, natural whole foods like these have come into their own as the cornerstone of a healthy, varied diet. Packed with information for purchasing, storing, and serving the full spectrum of whole foods, The Rodale Whole Foods Cookbook is a comprehensive kitchen resource for contemporary cooks" (source).
  • The Imbible by Alex Bash, $13.95 - "This book contains all the drinking game classics, from Quarters to Kings, to today’s newest, coolest, and most debauched drinking games, including Beer Roulette and The Lord of the Rings drinking game (every time a character draws a sword more slowly and cinematic than is pragmatic to do in the heat of the battle, drink). Containing original illustrations and more boob jokes than is necessary, this will truly be the bible of drinking games" (source).

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

2012 Homebrew Seminars: Speaker Lineup

Wendell Banks,
Michigan Malt Company
By Steve Siciliano

We are very pleased to have added to our homebrew inventory Michigan-grown wheat that is being malted in the state’s only malting facility. Yesterday we met with Wendell Banks, founder and president of The Michigan Malt Company which opened in the Mount Pleasant area in 2007. Breweries currently using the locally grown and processed product include New Holland, Old Boys and Kuhnhenn. Brewery Vivant has plans to produce beers from the malted wheat as soon as its new grain mill is operational. Michigan Malt Company’s wheat malt is about 5 Lovibond and retails at Siciliano’s for $1.29 per pound and $47.00 for a 50-lb bag.

Wendell will be giving a presentation on the future of malting in Michigan at our homebrew seminars scheduled for Friday evening, May 4th at Johnson Park (in the enclosed shelterhouse). The following is the complete lineup for this year’s seminars: 

    • Jim Macielak, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
    • Brett Mytys, local homebrewer on how to make stellar sour beers
    • Wendell Banks, Michigan Malt Company
    • Brian Tennis, Michigan Hop Alliance
    • Paul Vander Heide, Vander Mill Winery and Brewery
    • Kim Kowalski, head brewer, Mt. Pleasant Brewing Company
    • A Belgian beer tasting conducted by Matt Polisei from Latis Imports
The seminars will go from 6pm to 930pm. Admission is $5.00 at the door. Please contact Siciliano's with any questions you may have.

Wendell & Corey (middle, right) from Michigan Malt Company
discuss their product with the boss, who pulled the trigger on the malted wheat,
buying all that the malters had to spare.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Cartoon Caption Contest, April Edition

Welcome to the Siciliano's Cartoon Caption Contest, April Edition! This month's comic genius wins a Ricki's Cheese Making Kit for Mozzarella & Ricotta ($22 value), because there is no better prize than cheese, not even an all-expense paid trip to Chico, California. The contest rules are simple, and as follows.
  1. Study the illustration below provided by Mark Siciliano, creator of the über-funny comic strip Head Cheese.
  2. Come up with a hilarious caption. In fact, come up with several. Beer or brewing (or cheese) themed captions are not mandatory, but certainly won't hurt your chances of winning.
  3. Include your caption in the comments section at the bottom of the post. Be sure to also include your full name. Note: captions left by "anonymous" users are fine, but for logistical reasons, they will not be considered for the prize (I'm talking to you, TH!).
  4. Wait with bated breath for the winner to be announced right here on The Buzz on Monday, April 16th, 2012.
The April Cartoon

Your hilarious caption here

Find more Head Cheese at, where Mark has made the finals in a cartoon contest of his own. Voting for Mark in that contest will not win you brownie points in this one (voting over there is anonymous). However, the universe surely takes note of such things and will dole out the karma accordingly.

Obligatory fine print: (1) Please use your best judgment when participating in this contest. Any caption the Buzz staff deems offensive will be deleted without warning or notice. (2) The winner will be selected by a panel of judges to be named later by The Buzz staff. (3) Siciliano's employees & family are not eligible to win this contest; they are nonetheless encouraged to participate by adding captions of their own, hopefully funny ones.

Friday, April 6, 2012

New Beer Friday - April 6 Edition

By Chris Siciliano

This week Scott the sales manager at Saugatuck Brewing sent along a little information concerning SBC's lastest release.

"Most recent is our Delilah DeWylde-Berry Wheat (stacked in your store currently). An unfiltered American wheat with raspberry and other berry flavors. Light hints of the berry aromas and flavors and obvious hop structure make this a summer brew for everyone. Named after the hip rock-a-billy local artise Delilah DeWylde! She will be playing the Tip Top Bar & Grill in GR this Saturday night and the beer will be featured in bottles. Customers can have her sign the bottles too if they like!"

Just a heads up on the Tip Top in case you've never been—it's an awesome place to see a show. Good beers on tap and in the bottle and from what I'm hearing the food is top-notch as well. Or should I say Tip Top Notch. (Ouch. That was bad. Apologies.)

Have fun if you go. And as long as you're on this side of town, remember to check out all the new products at Siciliano's—we're only a couple miles west of the Tip Top.

New (and Returning) Beers

  • Saugatuck Brewing Delilah DeWylde-Berry Wheat, $1.69/12oz - See above.
  • *Brewery Vivant Zaison, $3.69/16oz - "Zaison takes its inspiration from the famous Saison style of beer madein the southern region of Belgium. Traditionally this beer is made in the coolness of the winter months to be enjoyed in the Spring and Summer. Our special yeast strain gives this beer a little funkiness and is accented with tellicherry black peppercorns and orange peel" (source). *As of press time this beer is not in-store. We expect it to arrive early Friday evening, around 5 or 6pm.
  • Sam Adam's Longshot 2011 Variety Pack, $1.99/12oz - In 1984, Jim Koch, founder and brewer of Samuel Adams beers, brewed his first batch of Samuel Adams Boston Lager in his kitchen. Now you can follow in Jim's footsteps and [like the brewers below] have your homebrew nationally distributed" (source).
      • Derf's Secret Alt, homebrewer Fred Hessler - "Fred wanted to go big or go home with his homebrew and decided to brew a kicked up Sticke Alt. This full-bodied ale has a big, malty character balanced by subtle orange and grapefruit notes from the hops. With a light amber color, this brew has a sweet finish" (source).
      • Five Crown Imperial Stout, homebrewer Joe Formanek - "For the past 15 years, Joe has been brewing his Russian Imperial Stout. This malt-forward brew has a rich complexity, with roasty and chocolate notes, yet enough hop bitterness to balance out the sweetness. This satisfying winter brew is full-bodied with an enjoyable velvety smoothness" (source).
      • A Dark Night in Munich, homebrewer Corey Martin - "Corey has been working on his Munich Dunkel for some time and the result is this amber, medium-bodied brew. With a nice malty backbone, this lager has roasty, slightly spicy notes and a traditional doughy character from the yeast. It is well worth the time he took to perfect it" (source).
  • Shiner Ruby Redbird, $1.49/12oz - "Shiner Ruby Redbird is brewed with genuine Texas Rio Red Grapefruit, the signature sweet citrus of the Rio Grande Valley, and ginger. This lager beer features grapefruit tartness and finishes with a ’lil kick of ginger. With Texas Ruby Red Grapefruit and Ginger, Shiner Ruby Redbird is a crisp and refreshing summer beer" (source).
  • Brooklyn Local #2, $9.89/750ml - "Here in Brooklyn we’ve combined European malt and hops, Belgian dark sugar, and raw wildflower honey from a New York family farm to create Brooklyn Local 2. Our special Belgian yeast adds hints of spice to the dark fruit, caramel, and chocolate flavors. After 100% bottle re-fermentation, this ale reveals a marvelous dry complexity, enjoyable by itself or at the dinner table" (source).
  • Lagunitas Hop Stoopid, $4.79/22oz - "For those mornings when you have to cut right to the chase, this is the one. Sure to blast through just about anything still lingering from the night before, this mouthful of hops and huge rich malt has a gaurantee built right into the name!"
New Mixers

  • Powell & Mahoney Vintage Original Cocktail Mixers, $6.79/750ml - "With over 20 years of combined experience in the cocktail mixer and beverage world, the founders of Powell & Mahoney, Ltd. thought it was high time to bring back the genuine, honest taste of America’s classic cocktails, in an all-natural cocktail mixer you would want to use again and again. Using only the finest juices, essential oils and organic cane sugar, we’ve authentically reproduced the classics" (source). Varieties currently in-stock are listed below, with more to arrive in coming days, including regular Margarita and something called Old Bally Castle Ginger.
      • Peach Bellini 
      • Mojito
      • Bloody Mary
      • Margarita (low cal)
Picture of the Week

HopCat brewers Stuart Crittenden (left) and Jake Brenner (right)
ponder their next brew while Jeff Williams, head brewer at soon-to-open Pike 51
in Hudsonville, looks on from above.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Head Cheese - Your weekly ration

Some of you keeping track might have noticed that the monthly cartoon caption contest was supposed to start on Monday, and didn't. What can we say, sometimes life hands you head cheese. (Like now for instance.) We assure you, another Monday will not pass without the start of our next contest. Here's an appetizer to hold you over until then.

Head Cheese
by Mark Siciliano

Hungry for more Head Cheese? Help yourself to seconds at While you're there, be sure to vote for Mark (pictured below) in the American Idol-like Best Cartoonist contest, which is going on now. (Update: Mark has advanced to round nine!)

This guys needs your vote!*

*Note: This picture of Mark is not a drawing. This is a photo taken by Mark's son, Leo. It's just the lighting that makes him look like that.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Win Best of Show, earn spot at Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp

Together at last
By Steve Siciliano

We are pleased to announce that the Best of Show winner for this year’s Siciliano’s homebrew competition will receive an all-expense paid trip to beautiful Chico, California where he/she will be an attendee at a future Sierra Nevada Beer Camp

Over the course of three days Sierra Nevada Beer Campers will receive tours of the brewery, be treated to meals and beverages in the taproom, participate in a course on lab work and last, but certainly not least, collaborate with other campers on the formulation and brewing of a unique beer recipe. The camper will then be able to purchase a keg of the beer that he/she helped create after it has been delivered to Siciliano’s Market.

So get those entries in, homebrewers. Beer Camping at the Sierra Nevada brewery in Chico, California just might be in your future.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Revisiting the 8th Annual Homebrew Party

With tickets now on sale for our 9th Annual Homebrew Party we think it's fitting to revisit the recap of last year's party. Enjoy!

On Saturday, May 14, 2011, more than 150 revelers descended on Townsend Park in Rockford, MI to celebrate all things homebrew. Despite an ominous forecast, the rain held off and the good times didn't. Excellent brews were in abundance, with growlers, coolers, jockey boxes, and even kegerators brimming over with the sweet (and sour) nectar of the gods. Great beer, good people, incredible food, kick-ass music—that's the easiest way to describe this year's homebrew party. Here's Steve to elaborate further (and randomly) on the day.

My thoughts on this year's party

  • I love how the party has evolved into a mini beer festival. What a great way to taste a wide variety of hand-crafted beers, ciders and meads.
  • The draft systems are getting more elaborate and unique. Hmmm. Maybe we should start awarding a prize for the most innovative mobile bar?
  • Home brewers are expanding their horizons. I tasted some stellar sours and the cask-conditioned cider dispensed from the small barrel it was aged in was extraordinary.
  • I think home brewers are happiest when they are sharing their creations with others.
  • It’s amazing how much fun you can have tossing metal washers into a wooden box and bags of beans through holes in a slanted piece of plywood.
  • Mark and his crew continue to impress by finding innovative ways to cook with beer.
  • We are fortunate to live in an area where we can responsibly enjoy alcoholic beverages in such beautiful outdoor venues.
  • Jimmie Stagger and his band mates are extraordinary talents. Those guys were smoking!
Picture Gallery

Best of Show winner - Ross Ziegenthaler

Ross won with an ESB, soon to be on-tap at Hopcat

Highly collectible items


Corny kegs abound

It ain't kicked yet!

The mead table

All smiles

Cask-aged cider on the right

The line for dinner

The big reveal

Jimmie and Co. laying it down