ISHPEMING, Mich. (WJMN) — When it comes to beer in the U.P. it’s not hard to find a great craft brew, but as the industry has exploded you can often find the same local beer you love in the cooler at the corner store.
But for fans of Jasper Ridge, pulling into the parking lot on a wet October afternoon can mean a week-long thirst for a dark autumn stout is about to be quenched. If you crave something lighter, they have you covered there too. Brews offered there include the Mean Bean Stout, Watermelon Wheat, and Oktoberfest.
Before talking food, General Manager Kevin Hokenson walked through their brewing process—an operation that takes place just feet from the bar. It’s an experience he offers patrons from time to time.
“So the unit right here, this is our boil kettle. The way that I look at it is it’s just a giant stockpot for boiling water. And it’s the first step in our brewing process,” Hokenson said. After the water’s hot, it goes in the mash tun to steep the grains. From there, the steeped mash goes back into the boiler—and then another container to cool it—before it finally goes to the fermenter for a few weeks. “That’s where the yeast will eat all the sugars that are in the wash, which will produce carbon dioxide, nitrogen, gas and alcohol.”
Hokenson says he has been with Jasper Ridge for about a decade, and started getting involved with the brewing side of the business two years ago. “Probably our Honey Weizenbock would be the one that I’m most proud of, just brewing it off a recipe based more on flavors than necessarily the chemistry that was behind all the ingredients that went into it.”
The finished product is even stored in a cooler just around the corner, before the beer is drawn through chilled lines to splash into a waiting pint glass. Hokenson says he approaches brewing with a culinary eye instead of a scientific one. While that can invite some surprises, he says in cases like the Killer bee Honey Weizenbock, they’re more than welcome.
“So for seven and a half barrels, we ended up adding 30 pounds of honey, so it has a very sweet flavor. And with that too, we also learned that by adding that extra sugar, the yeast has something more to eat,” Hokenson said. “So I think if we would have cold-crashed the brew sooner, these would have backed off and it wouldn’t have been as high, but it might not have had the same overall flavor. But I’m really happy with the flavor that it has.”
Of course, this is Restaurant of the Week, not Brewery of the Week. Hokenson says Jasper Ridge delivers the same quality from the kitchen as they do from the taps. He explains what drives him to put together a great menu. “Just the creativity that you can do, because you have all your standard dishes, with the standard ingredients, which you can play around with to come up with something new or something unique.”
Their dishes range from classic bar food like cheese curds and poutine, to fried ravioli, homemade cudighi and shepherd’s pie. To take a taste yourself, just turn right off US-41 just passed the Ski Hall of Fame.