Okay, when I called this “Brining Back the Gut”, I was not talking about my waistline after the Holiday carb orgy…although I’ma TRY not to do that, this year, though self-deception gets harder every day.
No, this “gut” is the German form, pronounced “Goot“, which translates as “good“, as in the official slogan – Schmecht Gut (“Make it Good“) – of the brilliant Cedar Springs Brewing, of…you guessed it, Cedar Springs. Which is in Kentucky, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Texas, not to mention the Cedar Springs Historic District, in South Carolina, composed of three buildings: the Stagecoach Inn, The Frazier-Pressley House, and The Cedar Springs ARP Church. God Bless Wikipedia.
With all due respect to all those other fine Cedar Springses, we’re talking today about Cedar Springs, Michigan, a small town about 20 miles north of the better-known beer nexus of Grand Rapids and just south of the metropolis of Newaygo. If you find yourself driving north on Michigan Route 131 and pass the Muskegon Street/17 Mile Road exit you’ve missed it and it is not that hard to do. (although why you would be doing that is unclear, as there is nothing much up past Cedar Springs but even smaller towns and the upper end of Lake Michigan) To find CSB, you gotta pay attention and really want some fantastic German-style beers. And you’re damned sure going to find that at 95 North Main Street Northeast.
A benignly odd and whip-smart guy named David Ringler is the driving force behind Cedar Springs Brewing. As with a surprising number of humans I REALLY like, I have never once met David in person. I “met” him before he opened CSB, when he was running a Facebook page called “Bavarian Air Force“, which I think he may still dabble with, between making staggering Pilsners and jaw-dropping German regional lagers. I began to notice that, every time I read one of his posts, I agreed with it. This is indescribably rare, as I am a cranky old bastard and unashamed of that. David has that lovely tinge of jaundiced realism that is one of my fondest memories of my time living in the Midwest; a mostly sunny attitude coupled with a clear-eyed acceptance that life and a LOT of our fellow citizens either are or occasionally impersonate total idiots. David is my spiritual cousin, at least, or maybe even brother, though I hesitate to hang that burden around anyone’s neck, even my actual brother, Dave Body. David specializes in level-headedness and I admire that. I’ve been level-headed once in my entire life and that was graduation day at U. of Maryland, while I was wearing the mortarboard. Not once since, but I like it when I see it.
David has twice sent me containers of his beers. Once, just after CSB first opened, back in 2013, and what was in the bottles was kinda shockingly good, which was not all that surprising, as David had already learned brewing and German styles in particular. David was born in Grand Rapids and later went to school in Kalamazoo, about the time Bell’s Brewing was revving up, and later worked in the beer and hospitality industries, so he had CSB scripted even before the doors opened. Those first beers arrived at my door unlabeled, as CSB had not even really started packaging stuff, at the time. As Judye and I tasted them, we both expressed shock at how polished and flavorful they were, especially as compared to some of the lagers we had tried at some of our local, Seattle-area breweries.
About six months ago, David fired off another sudsy salvo that landed on my doorstep, again mercifully intact. This time, they were in cans and had labels and, as we drank the first one, the Cedar Springs Brewing “Küsterer” Bohemian Pils, both of us went a tad slack-jawed. Back in 2013, in this area, there were maybe six or eight craft Pilsners available. Now, there are easily fifty. This was different from and FAR better than anything we’ve tasted. It was more complete, a lot more purely flavorful, had better body, was redolent of the wheat in the grain bill, was a bit cloudy so as not to strip the grains, as is almost always done to American Pilsners, which many brewers feel have to look as much as possible like Bud or Coors to appeal to our US palates. Typically, David was less concerned with “like Bud or Coors” and “US palates” and more with “Schmekt Gut“.
I’m admittedly impatient with craft Pilsners. To me, most taste like BudMillerCoorsPabst and I quit drinking that wimpy shit five decades ago. I want FLAVOR, which is why I drink ales. David’s Cedar Springs “Küsterer” Bohemian Pils has FLAVOR. In a @#$&*$% Pilsner! Who knew? It’s crammed with toasty grain notes, lemon zest, fine-edged hops, and a creamy texture which is just addictive. With the POSSIBLE exceptions of Chuckanut Pilsner and pFriem Family Brewers Pils, it is the best American Pilsner I’ve ever tasted. 96 Points
Next one cracked open was The “Küsterer” Märzen, my favorite style of German beers. Märzen is a beer brewed in March, to be consumed around Thanksgiving. A stronger version of the style was originally served at Octoberfest and later evolved into what is now called Octoberfestbier. Märzen is noticeably more malty than Pilsners or, in fact, most other German lagers and is also a bit bigger in hops presence. This CSB edition was stunning; satiny, creamy, rich, a gorgeous copper in the glass, and a lovely, restrained bitterness to balance out the caramel, cherries, roasted nuts, multi-grain toast, and cereal flavors. As opposed to some of the craft beers in this style that I find, this one is not overdriven, not out of scale or blowsy. It’s gorgeously balanced and finishes long and slightly sweet. Just a beautiful, stone-authentic Märzen. 95 Points
The Third can in the box was the CS “Küsterer” Original Weissbier, (they also make a version called “Modern”, in which David has taken a few “liberties”) a deadly-authentic, Bavarian-style wheat lager that has more medals hanging off it than Colin Powell’s dress blues. It’s been the winner of the 2016 GABF, 2017 & 2019 World Beer Award, 2018-2019 Revue , 2019 International Beer Awards, and 2019 U.S. Open Beer Championship – among others. That’ll give you an idea: wildly popular. But that’s bookkeeping. What’s in the glass is a compelling, fine-grained, slightly cloudy, citrusy, lager with classic spice and banana and bubble gum from a special yeast blend, and a rich mouthfeel that ends in a looong finish of white grape and teaberry. If you’ve ever tasted a genuine Bavarian Weissbier, you will find an old friend here. It’s GORGEOUS and velvety and so damnably easy to drink that I wound up both regretting and relieved by the fact that he sent only one. Happily, my wife doesn’t much like Wheat beers, so got the whole can and had to restrain myself from booking a plane trip to Michigan. 96 Points
Now, for the bad news: if you don’t live in Michigan or travel there frequently, you will have the devil’s own time buying these…which sorta goes against the purpose of these Smack-Up posts, as I’ making recommendations for holiday imbibing and Christmas giving. But, somewhat irrationally, WordPress tells me that I have a fairly large number of readers in Michigan and I rarely review anything out their way. So this is for my Michigander pals and I could not, even in that beer-soaked state, recommend any better place for you to buy something that your craft-addled geeky friends to find under the tree and absolutely lose their shit over. You can also, if the spirit moves you, take them bodily over to the Cedar Springs Brewing Brewpub, which has a KILLER kitchen and genuinely colorful, fun, attractive brewery swag, not to mention those great, portable cans and grower fills.
My only real regret about my online friendship with David is that I am in Tacoma, WA, and he is in Cedar Springs and rarely the twain shall meet. I am lukewarm about German beers ONLY because I have to go out and buy the real Germans if I want that yen serviced, or find the aforementioned Chuckanut or pFriem lagers, neither of which, here in Tacoma, is easy. I have already bugged David about shipping and, if he ever caves, you’ll read it here. But, for now, if you live within a reasonable drive of CSB – which I am going to define as “within a six state area and parts of Ontario, Manitoba, and Quebec” – GO, check out Cedar Springs, David Ringer’s frequent outbursts of, well, eclectic sartorial choices, and some of Americas best lagers. Really.
Oh, and Fröhliche Weihnachten!