Brewing legacy, bold tastes give Upper Hand to UP brewery
When we think of Michigan’s craft beer culture, our minds naturally lead to Grand Rapids, also known as Beer City USA, which serves as the home of Founders, Brewery Vivant, and Mitten Brewing, among others.
Pigeon Hill, Unruly, New Holland, Atwater, Griffin Claw, Dark Horse. Michigan’s Southeast and Southwest naturally seem to attract these lumberjack-bearded, hop-headed alchemists who use the state’s abundant resources to create amazing, award-winning Midwestern beers.
Of course, Up North certainly has its charms, with the likes of Shorts, North Peak and Austin Brothers creating some of the finest beers in the mitten.
Mid-Michigan’s beers aren’t to be overlooked either, with the likes of Midland Brewing Company, Loggers, Mountain Town and Frankenmuth creating captivating concoctions.
who do we miss Dear trolls, there is still 1/3 of the Great Lakes State left to explore.
What treasures await beyond the Mackinac Bridge? time to find out.
If you’re lucky enough to be welcomed into these misty, mysterious lands they call “Escanaba,” they’ll tell you that when it comes to good beer, they’ve had the upper hand over us trolls for some time . I can’t disagree.
With a bold look and a halo of stars circling the top of the can, I bought a six from Upper Hand Brewery’s “UPA” a few years ago. This light, flavorful Upper Peninsula Ale struck me as a delicious session ale as I enjoyed it around the campfire with a group of close friends. Their reviews were equally positive – and then they started quizzing me about Upper Hand’s story.
Brewer: Brewery upper hand
Style: Cask-aged Finnish stout
Alcohol content: 10%
Appearance: In Finnish Lapland, the sun sets in November and only rises about now on the calendar. That’s total darkness for more than 60 days. Somehow this beer manages to be even darker.
Aroma: Sweet – like whiskey, dark chocolate cocoa.
Mouthfeel: Soft, with a drier finish than expected. It has a velvety quality.
Flavor: It’s a complex, interesting blend of flavors. You get chocolate, roasted coffee and toffee. Everything is masterfully blended in aged bourbon oak casks adding vanilla and maple character. It pours a large, beige head of foam.
Pairing: If you want to do it right, get your beer then head to Shier’s Pasties & More and get some dinner too. Turn on a hockey game. Obviously you want to turn down the lights and put on some mood music. Is there any choice other than Da Yoopers?
I had no answers to offer.
Time to do some research. Escanaba is an Ojibwa/Chippewa term meaning either “flat rock” or “land of the redbuck”. On closer inspection, the name also means “place that makes good beer”.
The brewery also presented an interesting and surprising pedigree.
It turns out that Upper Hand is connected to the Mitten after all, like a beautiful handshake of the state’s craft beer past and future, connecting the UP and the Mitten just like this bridge.
Upper Hand was founded by the great Larry Bell, the same guy who founded Bell’s Brewery back in 1985. In 2013, the company broke ground on its 20-keg brewhouse in Escanaba.
The companies are distinctly different – Upper Hand is an entirely separate brewery that doesn’t brew Bell’s beers in the north. It offers a completely different portfolio of beers unique to its UP roots. Likewise, Bell’s doesn’t brew Upper Hand beer upstate.
Upper Hand keeps it simple – its beers are made with locally sourced hops, barley, water and yeast, as well as wheat, oats and rye.
Additionally, delicious and widely available, UPA, Upper Hand offers a variety of interesting variations that are as quirky as you would expect from the company that’s part of the same pedigree as that which launched Hopslam Ale, Oberon . and two-hearted IPA:
• ‘Sugarbush’ is brewed with maple syrup sourced from a centuries-old family farm. It’s a sweet, perfect winter red lager that’s very drinkable at 5.2% ABV.
• “Pickerbush” is a sensational season with a mix of blueberries, blackberries, elderberries, chokeberries and currants. At 8.5% ABV, you’ll want to keep your sanity while enjoying this sumptuous sipper.
• “Deer Camp” is described as “crisp as opening day, as comforting as a warm fire and feels as at home in your hand as your grandfather’s”. The traditional 4.7% ABV Amber Ale has a flavor that will last for generations. It’s good solid stuff and a reasonably priced alternative to Busch im Hirschlager.
And then we have “Sisu Stout”, perhaps Upper Hand’s most aggressive beer. At 10% ABV you may lose the upper hand to those around you if you have one too many. A cask-aged “Finnish-style stout,” it’s as good as any other weird whiskey-flavored beer that’s on the shelves of local stores, selling for up to $10 a bottle. At $3.99 for the can I bought I think it’s a steal.
In Finnish, the word ‘sisu’ means strength or endurance in accomplishing a task that some people would consider insane or hopeless.
There’s nothing crazy about wanting to make a premium stout. And they certainly performed this noble task with good taste and, dare I say… refinement?
So enjoy this nice winter warmer that gives you a good, practical kick in the pants at a respectable price. If you really want to go crazy, pour a shot of Sisu Stout into a pint of UPA and contemplate the inexplicably delicious result – an iconoclastic UP-style boilermaker – until we find out again… Sköll!