Whether it’s beer, wine, cider, mead, spirits or a booze-free delight; Northern Michigan is full of delectable craft beverages. Sip your way through the North with this “where to drink” guide created by long-time locals.
*Before visiting local businesses, please check their website or call to be prepared for COVID-19 health and safety restrictions.*
Where to Drink in Benzie, Manistee and Cadillac
Gratefully, classic Up North taverns still abound in this region. But just as great: know that a hip, one-of-a-kind microbrewery, microdistillery and local wine and hard cider scene are growing up right alongside those good ol’ boys.
When brewer Brian Confer decided to start a microbrewery in beautiful but sleepy Frankfort it seemed to some people like, well, a stretch. But his Stormcloud Brewing Company has put Frankfort on the cool map. You could say the same for Jamesport Brewing Company and Ludington Bay Brewing Co. in Ludington, North Channel in Manistee and Cadillac’s Clam Lake Beer Co. Each establishment has is own beer profile, but they share conviviality, great live music and an eclectic mix of entertainment from bingo and trivia to Stormcloud’s curling court.
Around the same time Confer was making beer magic, brewer Matt Therrien had a similar idea—in once equally sleepy Lake Ann with Lake Ann Brewing Co. Nowadays, good luck trying to find a seat at this hopping spot where the brew is noteworthy, the live music is fab and the pizza from the restaurant next door, Stone Oven, (that you can bring in and eat with your brew) just plain rounds out the experience.
If Confer and Therrien were upstarts, Richard and Sarah Anderson and Heidi Bolger and her husband David Wallace, were downright renegades for their dream of a farm-to-flask distillery on a 120-acre former wheat farm surrounded by forest in Thompsonville. The couples purchased the farm as a retirement getaway but changed course after a visit to a farm distillery on the Scottish Isle of Islay. What they began in 2013 has been nothing short of a revolution in the Benzie hinterlands. Besides handcrafted spirits from grains and other ingredients grown on the farm and locally, Iron Fish Distillery (named for the steelhead in the nearby Betsie River) has become a notable tourist destination.
Photo by Courtney Jerome
Produce a handcrafted local spirit and then create an oasis out in the country where folks can come and sip, enjoy the scenery and kick back and listen to live music. As it has worked for grain alcohol, it has worked for Douglas Valley Winery in Manistee (sip in the renovated bunkhouse for passengers on the Manistee & North Eastern Railroad) with wine and hard cider. And over in Kaleva, a postage stamp-sized town in Bear Lake Township, Northern Natural Cider House and Winery boasts five varieties of USDA certified organic cider. One of them, Northern Star, is a World Cider Competition Gold Medal winner. Enjoy all of this in Northern Natural’s relaxed, hip tasting room.
What the others have done with whiskey and wine, St. Ambrose Cellars did with mead—the ancient alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey. Mead was a logical step for the founders of Sleeping Bear Honey—who have been letting bees turn their apiary into gold for 40 years. But just like Stormcloud, Iron Fish and the others, St. Ambrose Cellars has taken on a life of its own, now offering local wine, craft beer, braggots (a scary name for honey-made ales) live music and a food truck.
For all you coffee lovers, there are plenty of options. A few faves: Yellow Dog Cafe in Onekama, Red Rooster Coffee in Ludington, Conundrum Cafe in sweet Elberta, and Frankfort’s Petals & Perks and Crescent Bakery.
Want a drink in Benzie? It’s bound to be the best and most memorable you’ve ever had.
Where to Drink in Torch Lake
The gorgeous Torch Lake Tour includes stops at Northern Michigan breweries, cideries, distilleries, meaderies and wineries that surround beautiful Torch Lake. Sip craft cocktails and local brews while you take in breathtaking views.
The Torch Lake Tour brings together craftsmen and women who strive to create high-quality, local products and help you learn about where the ingredients are sourced. The tour includes nine stops. Groups can book a bus and driver through the Brew Bus or Traverse City Wine and Beer Tours. You can also go on a self-guided adventure (designated driver always necessary).
Start your journey at Royal Farms Winery. Owner Sara McGuire has created a cherry-filled oasis complete with a wine tasting room and market with homemade baked goods. The tasting room showcases beautiful views of the farm and nearby flower garden. Next up is Mammoth Distilling in Central Lake. The tasting room has a hip, urban vibe and concoctions like “The Dude,” a vodka drink with cream, coffee liqueur and Coca-Cola.
Photo by Tess Crowley
In nearby Bellaire, grab a bite with your beer at the well-loved Short’s Brewing Company, housed in a former hardware store. When you’re finished sip across the street at the equally tasty Bee Well Meadery where owner Jeremy VanSice, a former head brewer at Short’s Brewing, is creating delectable meads and ciders. Bee Well gives patrons a true taste of Northern Michigan. Honey from local bees and apples from local orchards make Bee Well’s meads and ciders truly products of their surroundings.
Not far from downtown Bellaire sits Torch Lake Cellars. The Sheneman family, who has owned the farm for several decades, puts care into every product. Wines are named after local attractions that encircle the 19-mile body of freshwater. Try the Deep Water Point Pinot Grigio or Kalchik Cherry Wine, made from, you guessed it, locally grown cherries.
Hit up Elk Rapids next, where you’ll encounter the science and art of distillation at Ethanology. Owners Nick and Geri Lefebre are believers of natural and sustainable practices. Ethanology sources ingredients from local farmers to provide flavor profiles that encompass Torch Lake and the offerings of the area. In the industrial chic distillery and tasting room, enjoy live music, cocktails resembling works of art and some of the finest spirits imaginable. Not far from Ethanology is Townline Ciderworks. Townline sits on an expansive property giving you wide open views and picturesque scenery. Ciders range from dry to sweet and everything in between.
Don’t miss WaterFire Vineyard on the west side of Torch Lake in Kewadin. Chantal Lefebvre, the resident proprietress, grower and self-proclaimed wino, takes immense care of her burgeoning vineyard. The property’s name pays homage to Torch Lake—water referring to the lake and fire referring to torch. In WaterFire’s whimsical tasting room, you feel like you are lounging at the home of a close friend. Finley, Seymour and Wren, the unofficial four-legged greeting crew and pest control pups, add to the relaxed atmosphere.
Where to Drink in Leelanau
Wine, beer, hard cider and spirits—when the ingredients that go into them are Leelanau-grown (and sipped in the Leelanau countryside), they just taste better.
Sip a glass of wine at one of this peninsula’s 26 wineries with their watery views and bucolic settings and you’ll see why USA Today readers voted the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail #3 in the entire country. But this American Viticultural Area (AVA) is more than just a beautiful face. Grapes thrive in this microclimate buffered from frosts and debilitating heat by Lake Michigan and inland lakes. The complex soil—a tapestry of clay, sand and glacial till—creates complex flavors that a handful of young, talented winemakers are turning into national and international award-winning wines. From the light, stone-fruit sweetness of a riesling to the elegant notes of a pinot noir, Leelanau’s wines are world class.
The Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail (the marketing organization for the wineries) makes it simple to plot your route by mapping the wineries out into three loops: Sleeping Bear, Northern and Grand Traverse Bay. The organization’s website keeps you abreast of all the many fun events happening in wine country from January’s Sips and Soups (soup and wine pairings at the wineries) to September’s Harvest Stompede, a run (or walk) through the vineyards. The website also has extensive information about chauffered tours (DDs being so important!), weddings and other group events at the wineries. Get your tickets to Leelanau wine events at MyNorthTickets.com.
Where grapes flourish, so do apples. Leelanau’s orchards are as ancient as European settlement here—but no one was making commercial hard cider from them until Nikki and Dan Rothwell opened Tandem Ciders a decade ago. Since then, two more cideries, Suttons Bay Ciders and Two K Farms, have grown up on the peninsula and many of the wineries also produce cider. Think you’ve tasted Honeycrisps, Galas, Jonathons, McIntoshes and more? You haven’t until you’ve tasted them made into hard cider—and sipped them surrounded by apple orchards at one of these rustic cideries.
There’s not a town on the Leelanau Peninsula that doesn’t have at least one Up North-style tavern sporting an array of taps and an ice-cold glass waiting for you. The past decade has seen the growth of hops farms dotting the peninsula—and to go with them, a handful of microbreweries, most notably Hop Lot Brewing Co., in Suttons Bay where the majority of hops used in their beer is grown locally.
The spirits produced at Northern Latitudes Distillery in Lake Leelanau are blessed with the essence of this beautiful peninsula. The 15 varieties that include vodkas, gins, rums, liqueurs and bourbon whiskey, are made with Leelanau water and Michigan-grown corn, malt, barley, sugar beets and Leelanau-grown cherries and saskatoon berries. The vibe of this establishment, founded and still owned by Mark and Mandy Moseler, is super fun and relaxed.
Get your caffeine fix in Leland at Blue Boat Coffee, River & Main and Trish’s Dishes. In Lake Leelanau, you’ve gotta head to Pedaling Beans Coffeehouse. Suttons Bay is home to the newly-opened Mundos Roasting & Co. along with 45th Parallel Cafe and Bayside Coffee & Tea.
New Bohemian Cafe in Northport is a European-style cafe serving coffee, tea and espresso. Grab a light breakfast or lunch, and small plates, too. In Glen Arbor, Leelanau Coffee Roasting Co. is almost as well known as Sleeping Bear Dunes. And don’t forget the gals in Empire serving up espresso at Gemma’s Coffee Shop and Tiffany’s Cafe.
Where to Drink in Petoskey & Mackinac Straits
Drain a cold craft beer in a hip microbrewery or sip wines surrounded by bucolic loveliness. When it’s time to chillax with a drink, Petoskey and the Tip of the Mitt have you served!
Photo by Rachel Haggerty
Folks who winter over in this region are just hardier—and maybe happier than people in warmer climes who shy away from celebrating snowy, frigid weather. You might say the same for the grapes grown in the Tip of the Mitt American Viticultural Area, created in 2016. This new AVA—Michigan’s first in 30 years—covers the Petoskey area (and more). It was founded to promote wine-grape growing north of the 45th Parallel, specifically cold-hardy varieties such as Marquette, La Crescent, Frontenac, Petite Pearl and Itasca.
Experience these varietals, as well as genuine Midwest hospitality, at the 12 wineries in the Petoskey Wine Region that runs up the Tip of the Mitt’s left coast. Take a seat on the deck at Petoskey Farms Vineyard & Winery where the vineyards roll out before you and you’ll get a taste of Michigan’s northernmost wine country.
These are serious winemakers, who despite the youth of their AVA are starting to chalk up medals and accolades. This summer, Walloon Lake Winery claimed a silver medal for its Randall Red in the Michigan Wine Competition and two bronzes for its Wildwood White in the Indy International Wine Competition and the Michigan Wine Competition. And across the region, seek out wines made with Marquette grapes—the rosés are especially crisp and refreshing, with notes of tart cherry.
The winemakers of the Petoskey Wine Region are also an adventurous, pioneering crew and their wines reflect that spirit. Maple Moon Sugarbush and Winery, for example, is one of the first commercial maple syrup wineries in the country (and may we say, maple wine is excellent!). You can sip blackberry wine in the homey log cabin tasting room at Crooked Vine Vineyard and Winery in Alanson, and golden raspberry wine at Spare Key Winery in Charlevoix. Order up a glass of Backroads rosé at Seasons of the North, a wine that is crafted from grapes growing wild in this winery’s Indian River neighborhood. And the folks at Resort Pike Cidery & Winery demonstrate their passion for all things sparkling with 20 taps of ciders and bubbly wine.
Where there is wine there is craft beer—at Pond Hill Farm’s Tunnel Vision Brewery, Rudbeckia Winery and Burnt Marshmallow Brewing and Mackinaw Trail Winery and Brewery. All are full-scale destination venues where there is always fun going on (bocce at Rudbeckia or squash rocket at Pond Hill anyone?).
The burgeoning in-town microbrewery and taproom scene is elevating the region’s vibe as well. Beard’s Brewery in downtown Petoskey and Stiggs Brewery and Boyne City Tap Room in downtown Boyne City are providing these towns with a buzzy new nightlife.
Petoskey Brewing, housed in a 19th-century building that actually began its life as a brewery, gives industrial design a historic twist. In Mackinaw City, a juicy White IPA tastes even better in Paddle Hard North’s handmade mugs, so join the club. Finally, let every trip across the Mackinac Bridge be toasted at Bière de Mac, where you’ll raise your glass in sight of our state’s most iconic landmark.
Where to Drink in Traverse City
In this, one of the hippest ports on the Great Lakes, locally brewed, locally grown, and sustainably sourced are the bevie buzzwords.
In 2012 the Travel Channel named Traverse City a Top 7 Beer Destination and DRAFT magazine called it one of America’s Three Emerging Beer Towns. That was seven years ago … Look at us now!
Count 11 (and counting!) microbrews in Traverse City proper. Find them in every nook and corner of this city.
Brew styles? We’ve got them all … ales, IPAs, sours, porters, lagers and just plain crazy, inventively awesome!
Here’s something else to cheer about: Most of our breweries use locally grown hops and even grain. And can we talk about the fresh, clear water Traverse City has in aquifer-fulls that goes into our beer? It’s not just about microbreweries up here. Traverse City’s taprooms have a wealth of brews on tap that range from local to European-style beer. Wait, looking for just a plain old Up North pub where you can get a Miller on draft, a game of darts and a burger, you say? Check out Brady’s Bar on Union Street.
Traverse City has its own American Viticultural Area (AVA): Old Mission Peninsula. Set out on this rolling spit of land, bordered on each side by the blue waters of Grand Traverse Bay, where 11 wineries offer up the tastes of this spectacular terroir. Each is unique with emphases that range from sparkling, to whites, rosés and reds. The tasting rooms vary as much as the wine—sleek and modern, a European chateau, a renovated one-room schoolhouse and every style in-between. Likewise, they are set on ridge tops with soaring water views and nestled into bucolic farmland. You’ll enjoy your wine while listening to live music, beside fireplaces, and savoring small plates.
Our local wine and beer scene is complemented by a small but mighty craft spirits industry.
Find it at Traverse City Whiskey Co. on 14th Street where co-owner Chris Fredrickson harvested family recipes for his spirits, at Mammoth Distilling Cocktail Lounge in the Warehouse District where a lesson in distilling comes with your cocktail, and in the hip tasting room of Grand Traverse Distillery on Front Street, where you can sip knowing the grains in your whiskey are grown locally.
Find the most authentic and creative craft cocktails (and the Prohibition to Rat Pack vibe to go with them!) at 123 Speakeasy on West Front Street; Low Bar, below 7 Monks Taproom, on Union Street; and The Parlor, housed in a revamped warehouse on Lake Street.
You’ll be hard put to find anything but memorable coffee in this city, but several notables where a cuppa joe is especially elevated are Higher Grounds Coffee at the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, BLK\ MRKT in the Warehouse District and Morsels on West Front.
It’s about the best thing you can do for yourself: grab a bottle of cold-pressed juice made from organic fruits and veggies and let your body indulge in all those vitamins and minerals. Find it pressed daily in the adorable retro-orange Press On Juice on Eighth Street. You can also pick up the juice at Table Health in the Village at Grand Traverse Commons.
Black Cherry Cream Soda, Wild Bill’s Root Beer—if ever a pop captured the spirit of a region it’s Northwoods Soda & Syrup Co., made right here in the Traverse City area! Find it at stores and restaurants all over Traverse.
Ok, someone in the group wants wine, someone wants a microbrew and another one of you is jonesing for a craft cocktail? And everyone wants to lose driving for a while. Check, check, check and check at these spirited enclaves.
At the Warehouse District off Hall Street, find your cocktail at Mammoth Distilling and Cocktail Bar, your microbrew at The Workshop and then take a seat on the rooftop bar at Hotel Indigo and order up pretty much anything.
A couple blocks south of Traverse, park the car on the dead-end (east) side of 14th Street and you’re in easy-hitting distance of Right Brain Brewery and Traverse City Whiskey Co.
At Grand Traverse Commons, lounge on Left Foot Charley’s terrace with a glass of local wine—and maybe some takeout from Spanglish next door— then walk, hmmm maybe 100 yards? to Earthen Ales for a microbrew.
A four-fer without moving your seat? At Mission Table on Old Mission Peninsula, you can order up Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ale, Civilized Spirits, Bonafide Wines and North Peak Beers.