Our first stop was Marshall, Michigan's Dark Horse Brewing Company. You may know of Dark Horse from their distribution in Indiana - beers like Crooked Tree IPA, Reserve Special Black Bier Ale, and Perkulator Coffee Dopplebock.
One thing we've never understood was Dark Horse's scattershot beer packaging. A stop in to their brewpub was all the insight we needed to figure out their marketing philosophy.
Dark Horse's brewpub is the sort of place where bathroom graffiti is appreciated - a Bert's Peppy Grill sort of cobbled together space that is one part Three Floyds, one part biker bar, and one part hunting cabin.
The tap handles are a collection of cast off idols and knickknacks - half a toy horse, what looks like a soft soap dispenser, an idol of Lenin, a Dryad's dildo, a bloody hand in wood, and their more commonly used double barrel shotgun - that pour a varied collection of brews. An Oktoberfest, scotch ale, amber, harvest pale ale, oatmeal stout, and smoked stout joined the aforementioned Crooked Tree IPA and Special Black Bier on tap.
It's obvious that Dark Horse's mug club must is widely supported - you'll notice rows and rows of custom made mugs lining every available space in the bar. Before we left, we noticed a group of folks sitting down at a table towards the back. The waitress walked up and said "the amber?", giving away their "regular" status at the bar. The fact that they were elderly women didn't seem strange at all.
Dark Horse Harvest Pale Ale - This is a cloudy, copper-colored beer, with a milky head and light lacing. The nose is citrusy hops - mostly orange, with a slightly footy note mixed in. The front is bitter but light, backed up with a nice malt balance. The highlight of the beer is the creamy mouthfeel - an element that reminds me of Three Floyd's Apocalypse Cow.
Dark Horse Oktoberfest - The nose on this one is light and bready, and comes from a deep red/almost purple colored brew. The front is grapeish and fruity, but the beer balanced out with a cereal-like malt flavor. This beer has a sugary sweetness that isn't present in most of the oktoberfest beers I've had, which I can appreciate since I'm not the biggest fan of the style.
Dark Horse Black Bier - The beer has a nose of BBQ meat, but the beer is smooth and subtle - a little smokey, a little meaty.
Dark Horse is only 3 and half hours from Indianapolis, and is the perfect start for a weekend Michigan beer trip. Stay tuned for more stops along the way in the next few days.