DETOUR: Bridgman, MI – Transient Artisan Ales
"DETOURS" is a travel series by The Hop Review. Being a weary traveler almost always calls for a reward in the form of a pint at the end of the day. Here, we document those beer breaks–as we travel the U.S. and beyond–with quips, photographs and Q&As.
4229 Lake St, Bridgman, MI 49106
After an hour on cruise-control, floating along a stretch of Michigan highway, the mind settles into a lull, seized by the audible thrum of tire on concrete. I’m en route to Transient Artisan Ales, and the small towns whizz by. I’m caught thinking about transience—like reaching the bottom of a glass of beer, we won’t always be here. Sometimes it feels like there are two paths: plant your feet and establish roots, or pick them up and let the breeze lift you away. Chris Betts, Owner and Brewer at Transient, has tread both these lives in full.
Following a couple-year-stint as a gypsy brewer, pin-balling between the likes of Chicago’s Aquanaut Brewing, suburban One Trick Pony and Hailstorm, Betts has put the nightmare of hauling a fermenter in the back of his van to rest. He recently celebrated a third year of business in Bridgman, Michigan solidifying his place as one of the state’s most esteemed brewers. The team has garnered national press for their portfolio jammed with barrel-aged stouts, sours, and hazy IPAs that deserve spots on podiums–but it wasn’t always this way.
Bett’s recalls dropping off small-batch saisons at Chicagoland watering holes like The Green Lady and The Beer Temple, building his brand by word of mouth. “Those were the kind of accounts that got our beer in front of people early on,” Betts said. “We feel indebted.” While he’s since shacked up in Michigan, Illinois maintains a gravitational pull. He denied the possibility, but I wouldn’t bat an eye if we saw a tasting room open across state lines someday.
For now, one location will do… I sat down with Betts to learn about the evolution of his vision and what transience means to him.
What this ends up looking like is a shelf full of beer that indulges the spectrum of Bett’s taste–from helles lager to a series of Berliner-weisse dosed with local fruit. Most reflective of his ideology though are his spontaneous beers, open-fermented and inoculated by yeast native to Berrien County. Anachronism, a Michigan wild ale, has a powerful mission statement right on the label: “[It] stands as a unique representation of time and place, reminding us that nothing is permanent and that is something we should come to embrace and appreciate.” Couldn’t have said it better.
I certainly appreciated the day I visited the taproom, a quiet Thursday afternoon, and a respite from the previous weekend’s insanity. That was the bottle release for Buckley, a 14.5% imperial stout that brings thousands of enthusiasts flocking to Bridgman—a number that eclipses the local population. The fanfare’s nice but in Bett’s eyes, the community’s response feels most heartwarming, “With Buckley, we get a lot of our regulars, and they get emotional when they see all these people turn out for us.” No doubt. The city can take pride in Transient.
For all the attention the beer gets, the taproom itself is pretty utilitarian. You get metal furniture, barrels to rest your beer, and a mural of Buckley, Bett’s beloved German-shepherd mix. No pretensions apparent, the vibe’s a blank canvas to let the beverage do the talking.
Behind the scenes, we discover a barrel-palooza with vessels that have aged every spirit. He mentioned BLiS even offered him a fish sauce barrel. Betts was leery to accept that experiment, but he’s up to fun stuff with his foeders, hydrating them with whiskey to mimic in days what takes bourbon barrels years to accomplish. No one’s tried this before, but when brewers get their lips on Reserve #1, expect that to change.
Our tour concluded and Bett’s lifted the garage doors to a public that immediately filed in for opposing purposes, a few in suits to max out their Buckley bottle limits, some just to grab a lager and feel the warm Michigan summer air whisp into the taproom. Bridgman has all the luster of other lakeshore towns, and yet it’s remained under-the radar. “We’ve always been a brewery that’s not exactly convenient,” Betts said. “We aren’t opposed to being away from the people. We expected that if we did things right they’d find their way here.”
All signs point to Transient as a destination worth seeking out.
What We Drank
The Juice is Loose [DIPA, 8.0%] – Imagine Tropicana in a cryo-chamber of Cascade hops; gold as a dandelion and smells like an orange come alive. It’s a true benchmark for Michigan hazy IPA.
All Jammed Up [Strawberry-raspberry sour, 5.0%] – As pink as Pepto and equally opaque, the flavor is like the best pie your grandma never baked. Tart, zippy and fresh, it tastes like all of Berrien County’s respected fruit pulp-ified into beer.
Bring the Ruckley [BA Imperial Stout, 14.5%] – Aged in Gray Skies Distilling Breakfast Rye Barrels with Tugboat Coffee in the mix, this beer exemplifies the power of having good friends in the industry. It’s is a duvet of flavor. Sweet, but not deliriously so. As it warms it becomes a total coffee bomb. These high caliber parts add up to an almighty whole.
Photographed by Brandon Hartley & authored by Jack Raymond, contributors for The Hop Review. Both Hartley and Raymond are based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This is each of their first contributions to THR.
Read the rest of the DETOURS series as we highlight unique places to drink across the world.