In the northwestern part of The Mitten – I mean, Michigan – kind of between the ring finger and the pinky, lies Traverse City. The town of almost 15,000 has gained much notoriety in recent years, attracting visitors from beyond the Midwest. It’s become a year-round destination for outdoor sports enthusiasts, families seeking recreational and cultural opportunities, and wine aficionados.
Yes, that’s right: wine. Due to its position on the 45th Parallel (the same as Bordeaux, France), Traverse City is home to an array of outstanding and award-winning wines. As one can imagine, wine-tasting and vineyard-hopping have become popular activities in and around Traverse City. I’ve engaged on more than one occasion but, as we learned on our most recent visit, wine isn’t the only beverage worth bragging about in Traverse City.
Wine. Let’s talk about that first. Wineries dot the landscape up and down both Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas, and in Traverse City proper. In the past, The Working Dad and I had visited Chateau Grand Traverse (we love their Late Harvest Riesling), so we wanted to try something new this time. On a local’s recommendation, we first visited Hawthorne Vineyards on Old Mission Peninsula. My first impression as we wheeled up the driveway was, “Look at that view!” The tasting room is situated at the top of a hill and, even in dreary weather with overcast skies, I was mesmerized by the stunning views of East Grand Traverse Bay on one side and West Grand Traverse Bay on the other. The views of both bays are also prominent from inside the tasting room, as both sides are lined with ceiling-to-almost-floor windows. (By the way, try walking into a wine tasting room with two young children. The looks on peoples’ faces – of both the staff and patrons – are humorously priceless.) The Working Dad was the driver so I got to enjoy more wine samples than he did, but we both agreed that the Select Harvest Riesling was tops. We took home a bottle of that as well as a bottle of Gewurztraminer.
Next, we headed a bit further up Old Mission Peninsula to Brys (pronounced “Brice”) Estate Vineyard and Winery. I thought Hawthorne was beautiful; Brys is even more so. Rows and rows of vines reach out in all directions on the 80-acre estate. The inside of the tasting room is quite classy and gorgeously decorated with mahogany and exposed brick. We cozied up to the tasting bar, our two young children again in tow, and were blown away by the quality of the wines. The Working Dad was excited to try the ice wine and declared it the best he’s ever tasted (and the man knows his ice wines). We sampled almost all of the varietals but one really struck our fancy. It’s a blend of Pinot Noir and Riesling and it’s so notoriously delicious and easy to drink that it’s affectionately nicknamed Porch Pounder. We left Brys with two bottles of that, accompanied by two bottles of Pinot Grigio.
Beer. If you know me, you know I like beer. The way many people get excited about wine is how I feel about beer. I don’t drink the mass-produced, watered-down stuff; I seek out the best and finely crafted beer wherever I go. Luckily, the state of Michigan is one of the top producers of quality craft beer in the country, with a few exceptional breweries right in Traverse City. So what does a self-proclaimed beer snob do after wine-tasting all day? She goes beer-tasting.
We left the sprawling, serene vineyards and dragged our kids to the lively North Peak brewpub, based on recommendations from some of my fellow beer enthusiasts. I ordered a flight and got to work. First up was Northern Light. Described as “light-bodied” with “a golden straw color”, it was a little too light for me. Moving down the line, I fell in love with the caramel-y sweet, super hoppy Diabolical IPA. So delicious! The only beer I sampled after Diabolical that could even compete with it was the Mission Point Porter. Its smoky and pronounced chocolate overtones won me over. It should come as no surprise that we left North Peak with a few six-packs to go.
I should mention the North Peak pub… While technically a brewpub, it is completely appropriate to bring the kids in for a meal. We were there for a late lunch/early dinner, and the place was packed with families. North Peak even has its own kids’ menu.
Another phenomenal stop for beer is Jolly Pumpkin Restaurant, Brewery, and Distillery. The space itself is gorgeous and its lakefront location on Old Mission Peninsula should be enough to make you want to visit again and again. We were treated to dinner there and I got to sample a couple of the beers. The Bam Bière, an artisan farmhouse ale, is amazing! It’s no wonder that Men’s Journal magazine named it one of the top 25 beers in America. Oh, and what’s this you’re telling me, our awesome server? Jolly Pumpkin also serves North Peak beers? And you recommend the pumpkin-but-not-too-pumpkiny Hooligan seasonal IPA? Bring it on! Long story short, I couldn’t get enough of the Hooligan. I bought some to bring home and I’m “saving” it. For what, I have no idea. And I’m definitely not sharing. Sorry, you’ll have to wait until next Fall to get your own.
I must mention another spot in Traverse City for awesome beer. While not a brewpub, Pangea’s Pizza Pub on Front Street has a beer list as impressive as its pizza menu. I opted for another local brew to go with my pizza, Dead Kettle IPA from Right Brain Brewery. It came in a bigger-than-normal bottle and I drank it all. Since I brought up Pangea’s, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the pizza, which is made “with flavors of the seven continents in mind”. You can choose any pizza from “The Indian” to “The Texan”. We ended up ordering four different pizzas (they’re smaller than what we’re used to and perfect for sampling): The Mexican, Wild Mushroom, Margarita, and Local Market. The Working Dad and I agree that the Wild Mushroom was the best, followed closely by Local Market, which is kind of like a surprise pizza. The toppings for Local Market depend on what is locally in-season. We were there in early autumn so our Local Market pizza was topped with corn, three different kinds of peppers, and goat cheese. Sounds unusual, I know, but my goodness was it delicious!
Soda (or pop, as we call it in the Midwest). My daughter Lucia is not your average four-year-old. She understands the ways of the world much like an adult, and her preferred beverage is red wine. We let her sip some vino rosso when we were in Italy in 2011 and we kind of created a monster. Naturally, she was disappointed when her dad and I were wine-tasting and she couldn’t partake. Imagine the looks we would have gotten then! So to let her in on the beverage-tasting action, we paid a visit (our second of the trip) to Cherry Republic.
Traverse City is known as the Cherry Capital of the World, as it produces approximately 75% of the world’s tart cherry supply. At Cherry Republic, one can find cherry everything and most items are available to sample, including their homemade cherry sodas. There is a counter in the Family Tasting Room with soda taps (much like beer taps) and the “bartender” gladly pours samples for everyone in the family to taste. After watching her dad and me tasting the wine and beer, Lucia had the process down, complete with facial expressions and body language. She would take a sip, hold it in her mouth for a few exaggerated seconds, make a face, swallow the drink, and then tap her face with her finger to signify that she’s thinking about how she liked what she’d just tasted. It was true comedy. Lucia managed to try all of the sodas on tap that day: Cherry Ginger Ale; Black Cherry Cream Soda; True Cherry Cola; and Cherry Root “Bear”. She decided on her favorites and we left Cherry Republic with a sampler six-pack. (Parents, rest easy: all of the sodas are made with pure Michigan beet sugar and are caffeine-free.)
There are so many fun and exciting things to do in and around Traverse City. Beverage-tasting is just one of them. We’re grateful that we were able to bring home many of our favorite items that we tasted along the way. Each time The Working Dad and I have some wine from Brys, or Lucia drinks her cherry cola, we each get to relive our awesomely fun Traverse City trip.
My family and I were guests of Traverse City Tourism and our dining experience at Jolly Pumpkin was complimentary. All thoughts and opinions, as always, are my own.