Drinks with Pat: Derby day

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Pretty much every Michigan town worth its salt has a decent brewery pumping out great beer, and the amazing aspect of Michigan living for a beer lover is a trip to one of those towns often is less than an hour away.

One of my favorite breweries in the state is Pigeon Hill Brewing in Muskegon. After the release of my book, “Grand Rapids Beer: An Intoxicating History of River City Brewing,” I was able to whip up a nice rapport with Pigeon Hill co-owner Michael Brower, who himself is a major fan of the history of West Michigan beer and Muskegon.

I recently chatted with Brower to see what’s happening out on the lakeshore, which is a nice quick drive on a warm spring or hot summer day.

Pat Evans: What’s going on this weekend?

Michael Brower: It’s our first drag show (on Saturday) — it actually might be sold out — then the first annual PINTwood Derby (on Sunday). We literally got our hands on a proper Pinewood Derby track that a Cub Scout pack wasn’t using anymore. We actually planned this in 2020 … It’s a chance for grown adults who spend time building the cars for their kids to come out and race each other.

We have a few state championship cars showing up. We have a bunch of regulars sitting here building cars and talking strategy, watching YouTube on how to make the car faster. Honestly, we’ll produce a champion that can beat any kid locally.

The registration has been great; we’d love to do it every year. I’m hoping other breweries borrow the track and pit the winners against each other.

PE: What’s happened in the past year or so at Pigeon Hill?

MB: The big thing that already happened is we moved out of our old taproom. The entire company is under one roof.

We built it in 2019, and it was designed to be production facility, but when COVID hit, we started using it for curbside pickup, then with occupancy restrictions, we started using it so we could have more capacity with social distancing. So, when the lease was up on the original taproom, we just moved everything over there.

I was able to build the bar I originally wanted to because we had a bit better budget. It’s still that OG Pigeon Hill experience. The love of history, the wood flooring salvaged from the mansion of the original owners of Muskegon Brewing Company, it’s through and through Pigeon Hill. Then, you can walk out on the weekends into the production floor. I just love it because it captures the older brewery feel. In Michigan, we’re so focused on taproom feel, but then you travel out of state, and you go to a brewery, and you’re sitting right where they make the beer. It’s nice to bring that here a little bit. The more industrial aspect is a lot of fun.

PE: What’s up this summer out in Muskegon?  

MB: We’re doing a ton of weddings. It’s kind of weird being in that business, but there’s lots of downtown events, which now has the social district, the Lakeshore Art Festival, Taste of Muskegon, Parties in the Park on Friday nights, even Rebel Road. Generally, it’s not a big craft beer scene, but it’s kind of turned into one last year.

There’s the downtown concert series. You can buy beer from us and walk down the street. Our new facility, which is our old production facility, that is not going to be open for the summer, but we are planning to sell to-go beers out of it this summer.

PE: Wait, what’s not going to be open this summer?

MB: Well, we decided if we’re not open before Memorial Day weekend, we would not open until September, just because you only get one chance at a first impression, and opening something of this caliber in the middle of summer, you run the risk of a bad impression.

It’s an entertainment complex. (Pigeon Hill co-owners Chad Doane and Joel Kamp) and I all live downtown, and the toughest part of living in downtown Muskegon, there are great places to eat and drink, but not a whole lot to do, especially in the winter. So we put our brains together to see what we could come to, and so it’s duckpin bowling, oversized yard games, an indoor beer garden.

What I’ve been drinking

Last weekend, I stopped at the Mitten Brewing Co., following my conversation with owner Chris Andrus last week, to have some of the delicious Peanuts and Crackerjack. With baseball season now in full force, it’s a great game-day beverage.

I also recently was sipping on some Betty Buzz Ginger Beer, a really crisp and zippy ginger beer that’s great for mixing or simply drinking on its own.

There’s also been lots of talk about the metaverse and crypto and all that jazz, and it’s somewhat infiltrating the beverage world. 14 Hands recently unveiled an augmented reality experience with its Unicorn Rose. It allows multiplayer games in a pool party AR experience. Wild stuff for a wine company.

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