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After hitting Redamak’s burger joint and the antique shops of Saugatuck, Founder’s Brewery in Grand Rapids was up against some serious competition for my first trip to Michigan.

I wasn’t able to make it for Founder’s Fest, but I did stop in for a nightcap. The space is huge, and the patrons seem determined to fill every last inch of it with peanut shells.

3226249219_a3e6d7b335_bI started off with the Centennial, and solid IPA with a quick pine and citrus flavor. I immediately upgraded with the Double Trouble IPA. Not quite double, it’s about half again as strong and the extra sparkling smooths out the citrus into a more apricot flavoring. It even has a bright, almost sun tea quality to it. Extremely drinkable for a hoppy IPA. This is one of the best new beers I’ve had all summer.

I was delighted to see folks walking out with growlers, and after a half-hearted warning from the barkeep, I walked with one of my own.

3251177998_7a25a71fc8This month, I was lucky enough to get tickets to beer school at The Map Room in Chicago hosted by Greg Browne from Mickey Finn’s Brewery in Libertyville.

Browne’s never-fail themes (French Farmhouse Ales, Oktoberfest Beers, IPA’s, Beers from Indiana) range from conventional to obscure, but his latest “Canned Beers” proved divisive. For those who passed…thanks for the leftover tickets!

Browne started low-brow with PBR and Fosters, and that primed us for a few surprises. The complete list:

PBR
One of the earliest canned beers that served to revolutionize the industry. While bottle retain the cultural cache, cans do the real work, block all light and eliminating extra air better than any other beer container. Essentially, says Browne, “cans are mini kegs” when it comes to protecting our beer.

Bitburger
Similar to a Pilsner Urquell, clean, slightly crisp. Helped me forget the PBR. And they’re tall. Browne proudly affirmed that this is his stand-by.

Fosters
If you haven’t already had one, move on with your life.

Baltika Extra Lager 9
My first (knowingly) Russian beer. Baltika numbers their beers according to alcohol percentage (how very regimented of them), but they start with “0,” (how very inane) making the Special Lager 9 an 8%. Clean, bright, and from what I can tell on their Web site, it’ll get me sex on a cruise ship.

Ska Special ESB
The first of two great beers from Ska (fun, comical branding). And as Browne pointed out, there’s just something otherwordly about popping open a can and smelling a robust hoppy note. Out of the can, the fresh bitter tip opens to a malty aftertaste.

Mickey Finn’s Amber Ale
I love it when Greg brings us his own brew from Mickey Finn’s (last summer he brought the Hefe Weizen, which prompted a follow-up train ride to Libertyville). With a hint of caramel, Browne compares the Amber Ale to Fat Tire, but perhaps a little hoppier.

Boddington’s
Sweet, creamy, bitter, available at the six fine Irish pubs on your corner.

Capital Amber
A solid ale. Capital won’t blow you away, but it’s always good. Out of a can, it has a slightly crisper tone.

Youngs Double Chocolate Stout
A classic canned beer. Like a Guiness and Boddington’s, Young’s in the can uses a CO2 widget to make a smoother pour and keep it balanced. Cans were promptly disemboweled and their widgets passed around.

Not ideal to follow from a bunch of hoppy beers, but it’s taste is so iconic that it quickly subdues any previous bitterness. This is a complex chocolate.

Ska Modus Hoperandi
Another great selection from Ska, the Modus Operandi was a great kick at the end. High citrus notes and a perfect weight make it a smoother hoppy beer.