When I realized I was going to be within a reasonable drive of a 24 hour zip into Michigan due to work requirements, I had no understanding of what the place was like. When we crossed the border at Port Huron and got through the town, I thought that I had driven into northern Maine – pretty sparse for a while there. How unexpected, then, to come across Ann Arbor – one of the most vibrant small cities I have ever been in. Sure it helps that 127% of the geographical land mass of the place is filled with the University of Michigan, providing plenty of lab coat jobs generating incomes and appetites for the good stuff.
Bello Vino is a purveyor of plenty of the good stuff. As the name suggests there is a huge fine wine selection as well as general groceries (fresh, organic, ethnic, imports – the whole thing) but what I was there for was the beer. When I asked for MI shopping hints, I got some great suggestions in the comments but when I asked Ron at Jolly Pumpkin he said only one thing – Bello Vino.
Why is this shop so great for beer? Well, they certainly treat beer like beer. The space is built into a corner of the whole store, a bit recessed into the wall. The effect of this is the whole space is chilled to ten or more degrees colder than the rest of the place. The steel racks are cool to the hand. Plus the selection is great – especially for someone used to the New England and mid-Atlantic shops. Michigan has something like 70 craft brewers and this place has many of their brews: Founders, Jolly Pumpkin, Bell’s, Arbor, Dark Horse, Dragonmead and a bunch others. Plus, it has a massive selection of Belgians. I picked up a number of new-to-me abbey ales and lambics that I hadn’t seen before. Additionally, there is a good selection of UK brews, US craft bombers and sixes as well as even a short row of fine meads.
But I think the real reason the place works so well is the guy up there in the smock, beer manager Jeremy McClelland who gave me an hour of his time, amongst helping other shoppers, to talk about the shop, Michigan beers as well as how proud they are of having the best selection in the state. I was quite surprised to see the mini-kegs and especially the mini-keg of Schlenkerla Rauchbier. Prices to my eye were fair. $10.99 for a six of Bell’s Double Cream Stout, $3.99 for Harviestoun Engine Oil Reserve and a whack of craft singles for $1.49 to $1.69. Jeremy was happy to break sixes and there was a supply of boxes there to let you mix your own.
From my house this shop is a ten hour drive, about the same as the coast of Maine if I go the other way. Like with the seashore, there is enough in Ann Arbor to justify making a long weekend with the family. Like with the beers of the north half of New England, there is enough happening in Michigan craft brewing to justify planning a family vacation around the beer – and Bello Vino should definitely be part of that plan. And to help you plan, you may want to follow the newly launched blog Michigan Beer Buzz. Also pick up Michigan Breweries by Ruschmann and Nasiatka – it’s worth it just for the maps which got us where we wanted to go in plenty of time.