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via annarbor.com

For our annual football man-trip this year, my buddies and I chose Ann Arbor to catch the Nebraska at Michigan game in the Big House – definitely a stadium that lives up to its consistently high rank on the lists of people who are into such things. But another thing Michigan does well – aside from football – is beer, so I was excited to try offerings from several breweries that are difficult, if not impossible, to obtain in Texas: Founders, Bell’s, Jolly Pumpkin, etc. While doing a little pre-trip research, I stumbled upon Ashley’s – “Michigan’s Premier Multi-Tap” – and its impressive beer list, so I was eager to stop in.

It was in the 30′s when we arrived in Ann Arbor, so after traipsing across campus and to several popular restaurants that were prohibitively crowded with football fans in town for a game at a stadium that holds over 100,000, we Texans were cold, and looking for a warm spot. We had originally thought of hitting Ashley’s on Saturday to catch the Horns game in the evening, but with only a couple of TV’s, and an assurance from a townie that it would be packed on gameday, we audibled and headed over. There was a moderate wait for a table – and this includes spots at the bar. They don’t allow people to stand around and order beer while hovering over and squeezing between patrons actually sitting there – a policy that ensures a comfortable experience, but also can apparently result in lines around the block. We snagged a booth and perused the menu.

Ashley's Ann ArborAshley’s has 72 taps, 3 casks, and numerous bottles available, which makes for a bit of a daunting task. The menu is well-organized though, similar to the Flying Saucer menus here in Texas, arranged by beer style along with an array of flights. While some of us started with flights, I went for the number one beer on my wish list, the Founders Breakfast Stout, considered one of the top stouts in the world, along with its even higher ranked special edition cousins, the Canadian and Kentucky versions. While the latter are tough to find even in Michigan, the former had a thick, creamy head with an immediate nose of coffee which led into a rich, complementary bittersweet chocolate taste with a robust oated body, all of which leaves one without wonder why it’s called a Breakfast Stout.

The cold, blustery day outside and the warm pub inclined me to stick with stouts, but we had seen Stone’s Vertical 11.11.11 Epic Ale on the rotating tap list, so two of us went that direction. Quite a contrast from the breakfast stout I had been drinking, this offering from Stone is a Belgian Strong Pale Ale with huge flavors of banana esters and bubblegum, along with a mild heat which came more from the boozy 9.4% ABV than from the Hatch chiles and other peppers and spices used in this brew. The banana notes were almost in keeping with the breakfast theme, but the other fruitiness and the pale character, while a good beer in its own right, sent me back to the stouts with haste. I ordered Ashley’s stout and porter flight, which included one I had tried before, North Coast’s Old Rasputin RIS, and three I hadn’t: Original Gravity’s Primordial Porter, Great Lakes’ Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, and Bell’s Special Double Cream Stout. The four 5 oz. glasses were a perfect way to sample some new brews, and good ones at that, particularly the Bell’s, which also makes the popular Two Hearted Ale IPA.

Ultimately, it was tough to rouse ourselves from the comfortable booth, leave the friendly waitstaff and impressive beer selection, and head out into the cold. But we had plans to hit up Zingermans Roadhouse for dinner, so left we did. But not without some commemorative Ashley’s pint glasses for a mere $5 each. If you’re a craft beer lover and find yourself in the Ann Arbor area, Ashley’s is the spot for you.


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