The Old School Beer and Baseball Tour
Beer. Baseball. Summer. America's heartland. What better way to spend a two-week vacation? Pack a hat, sunscreen, and a rain poncho (our weather is fickle); a stack of classic rock CDs; plenty of trunk space; and a hearty appetite.
Day 1. Begin in Milwaukee, a beer town that needs no introduction. Start off in "Miller Valley" (it really is a valley), the home of the nation's second largest brewer. Your tour guide will lead you past huge brewing vessels, historic lagering caves, and an impressive collection of antique steins. After drinking in history, head across town to the Lakefront Brewery, one of Wisconsin's largest microbreweries. It's home to County Stadium's "Bernie the Brewer" mascot, and Lawrence Welk's "bubble machine." Next stop is Old World Third Avenue. Stock up on brats at Usinger's, because you're going to need them at Miller Park. Arrive early, join the tailgaters, and make some new friends. Now you're all set for Brewers baseball.
Day 2. Start your day at the mansion of beer baron Captain Frederick Pabst. It's a jewel of America's Gilded Age. Quaff a pint at the Milwaukee Ale House, then point your car south toward Chicagoland. Your first stop is Wrigleyville, the neighborhood surrounding Wrigley Field. Goose Island Beer Co. has a pub almost directly across from the ballpark, and there are other worthy establishments within walking distance. If the Cubs are in town, share beer and conversation with baseball's most long-suffering fans. Even if they're not, Wrigleyville is still worth a visit–and you'll have time afterwards for the Map Room, which boasts one of Chicago's best beer lineups.
Day 3. Open your eyes with the breathtaking view atop the Sears Tower. Then expand your mind at the Art Institute of Chicago or, if you prefer living things, the Shedd Aquarium. Have a late lunch at the Clark Street Ale House, then work it off with a stroll down the Magnificent Mile. If the Sox are in town, take the El to U.S. Cellular Field (being old-school, we still call it "Comiskey Park"), where the die-hard fans are as big an attraction as the exploding scoreboard. After the game, deep-dish pizza is a must. Ask the locals who serves up the best. Then get ready for a debate.
Day 4. On your way out of town, explore the Museum of Science and Industry. Get on the Dan Ryan Expressway and keep going until you're in Indiana. Your next stop is Munster, the home of Three Floyds Brewing. Order food. Eat. Linger over a pint, because it's time for some R-and-R on the Lake Michigan shoreline. A bed-and-breakfast in historic South Haven, Michigan, sounds about right.
Day 5. Spend several hours on a Lake Michigan beach (you did remember sunscreen, right?). It's a short drive to Holland, a tidy little town with roots in the Dutch Reformed Church. Which explains that 200-year-old windmill is doing in town (it was the last one the Dutch government allowed out of the country). Even though Holland is very conservative, it's put out the welcome mat for the New Holland Brewing, which operates a pub and restaurant downtown. Stop in for a meal, along with whatever new style of ale the brewing staff is tinkering with.
Day 6. What comes to mind when you hear "Grand Rapids"? Probably its most famous resident, Gerald Ford. But in recent years the city has become the beer capital of Michigan. The "capitol building" is Founders Brewing's new downtown location. You can't go wrong with a Breakfast Stout, even if you've come for lunch. Nearby is HopCat, which offers a wide range of Michigan-brewed beers along with a few brewed on site. There are other places as well, but make sure you leave time for a West Michigan Whitecaps game. Speaking of President Ford, his presidential museum stands on the banks of the Grand River. Enter the reproduction of his Oval Office and imagine yourself a character in The West Wing.
Day 7. Being Michiganders, we want to keep you in our state as long as possible. Today, we're sending you south and east to Arcadia Brewing in Battle Creek, which specializes in British-style ales. The next stop is Marshall, where you'll get that "up north" feeling sitting in Dark Horse Brewing's pub. Higher zymurgical education awaits you in Ann Arbor. Your choices include Arbor Brewing, Grizzly Peak Brewing Company, and Jolly Pumpkin's downtown cafe. A word to the wise: heed those "No Parking" signs. It's said that Ann Arbor's welcome wagon is a tow truck.
Day 8. Detroit gets a bad rap, but the area has world-class attractions. One of the best is the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, best described as an immersion course in American history. After that, take the Rouge Factory Tour, where you'll tour an auto assembly plant. The plant is the heart of Henry Ford I's massive industrial complex. After this, you've really earned a beer, and the folks at Atwater Block Brewery near Detroit's riverfront will gladly serve you one.
Day 9. You can't leave Detroit without touring Hitsville USA, where the Motown sound began half a century ago. And, as luck may have it, the Tigers are playing an afternoon game. Have a pre-game drink at the Detroit Beer Company. After the game, find your way to the Traffic Jam & Snug, which is an important chapter in Michigan craft-brewing history. This restaurant is known for artisan cheese as well as ales brewed on site.
Day 10. Next stop is Toledo. Seriously. We told you to bring your appetite, which will come in handy at Tony Packo's, where a long list of celebrities have dropped in for a Hungarian hot dog. Unwind afterwards with a stroll through the Toledo Zoo. From there it's a short hop to Maumee Brewing Company, followed by a Mud Hens game at Fifth Third Ballpark, a gem of a downtown stadium.
Day 11. The route to Cleveland is the Ohio Turnpike, so watch your speed. The Highway Patrol certainly is. Get off the turnpike at Strongsville, where the Brew Kettle serves up beer and barbecue. It's also a brew-on-premises operation. Now that you're wide awake, crank up the classic rock and make tracks for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. End the day with an Indians game at Progressive Field. Ask the fans in your row to explain why that guy is beating a drum high up in the center-field bleachers.
Day 12. One of the region's best-known microbreweries is Great Lakes Brewing Company. Enjoy an Eliot Ness Amber Lager at the historic mahogany bar, which sports a hole said to have been from a bullet fired by Ness himself. Walk around the brewery complex before getting back on the turnpike. On your way to Pittsburgh, detour off I-79 to Slippery Rock. Yes, the town really exists. It's the home of the North Country Brewing Company, which serves up fresh ale in a hunting-lodge atmosphere. There are outlet stores and plenty of places to stay north of Pittsburgh on I-79.
Day 13. Get to know "Da Burgh" better by riding one of the two inclines that climb the steep hills surrounding the city. Spend part of the day in the Carnegie Museums, one of which is devoted to the work of Andy Warhol. Get a bird's-eye view of the city at the Pennsylvania Brewery, which looks like it was transplanted here from Germany. Next up is the South Flats District, which offers two "saloons" with extensive tap lists: Smokin' Joe's and Fat Head's. The appetite you've worked up calls for a stop at Primanti Brothers, where fries go inside your sandwich.
Day 14. Indulge your thirst for Belgians at the Sharp Edge Beer Emporium. Then tour the University of Pittsburgh campus and the Cathedral of Learning. While in the neighborhood, hunt for the old center-field wall from Forbes Field, and picture yourself watching the 1960 World Series. Now you're ready for a ball game. Park downtown, walk to PNC Park over the Roberto Clemente Bridge, and enjoy baseball in the prettiest park in the majors.
Now it's time to do penance for all the food and beer you've consumed. The place for that is The Church Brew Works & Restaurant, a deconsecrated Catholic church. Oh, wait a minute: the confessional has been turned into a gift shop. No worries. If you made it this far, you've earned our blessing.