Yooper Ale Trails: Craft Breweries and Brewpubs of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, by Mikel B. Classen and Jon C. Stott

Review by Mack Hassler

Book cover for "yooper ale trails" featuring an illustration of a pint of beer with an outline of michigan's upper peninsula in green. vibrant autumn trees in the background, with author names mikel b. classen and jon c. stott.Yooper Ale Trails: Craft Breweries and Brewpubs of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a handsome publication by Classen and Stott from the publisher that is the imprint for so much directed at the UPPAA is a book filled with information, wonderful photos, and even a few “bookish” puzzles or contradictions.  It is a great read for anyone interested in the UP and for anyone interested in making books, and I must open with a few surprises about both the topic of local beer making and the conventions of authorship, or I should say “local book making.”  The primary author, Jon C.  Stott has previously made a name for himself in brewpub travelogues in the Pacific Northwest.  The newest co-author of the volume, which has already been awarded the prestigious label of a UP Notable Book, is the young Mikel Classen (he has other titles honored as “Notable Books” and is deeply involved with most of the work of the UPPAA.  I met Classen a couple summers ago when we both were selling our books at the Negaunee Library.  He raved about the good training as a writer and maker of books from his teachers at Northern Michigan University.  Much of his work is photography.

Jon Stott is himself a retired professor of English with a long publication list of scholarly books: lead editor of The Harbrace Anthology of Short Fiction,  a history of Paul Bunyan in Michigan published by Arcadia Publishing, and a Twayne English Authors Volume on Mary Norton from the 1990s. During a tenure teaching at Western Michigan, he and his wife bought a cabin on Crooked Lake in Schoolcraft County.  Stott writes here that each summer when they would open their cabin in the North, they would drink a beer on their dock to celebrate.  This led him to an interest in the local brewing of beer.  Eventually, he decided to tour the UP to visit and interview the beer makers at every local brewery and brewpub in the UP.   His “trails” started in the East and eventually, he visited and tasted 170 beers at the 29 brewpubs during the summer of 2022.  The main text of this book is clearly in the voice of Professor Stott as he talks to and describes communities from the Sault Locks to Escanaba   He is a great interviewer and he loves the Yooper individuals that he meets.

At one of the pubs linked to the several breweries in and around Marquette, Stott met with brewer named David Gill who is president of a newly-formed co-op that finances the Drifa Brewing Company.   Gill comments, “Inside every home brewer, is a secret , or not so secret , desire to become a professional brewer.”   (p. 45)    The desire is to use local water and local recipes and to cater to local communities.  Stott found these phenomena all across the UP as well as in other communities across the country in his other books on local breweries.   In my own experience as a teacher working with modern literature, trying to understand it, and trying to work with it, I found a similar dynamic working. It is clearly labeled in the recent genre of science fiction as “fandom” and it is even organized as large Conventions and in magazines called “fanzines.”  One of my favorite modern writers, Isaac Asimov, started out as a young fan and became a highly paid and widely-read writer himself.  My sense that Classen here, in spirit, is with Stott along the way in most of the trails and most of the interviews, probably with his photography skills.   I know that Classen loves the UP and he loves to produce and to encourage others to create a Yooper literature.  He even says he worked at a local brewery when he was younger, and he “drinks the stuff some” (p. 208).

So Yooper Ale Trails is a very full book.  Stott does a very informative chapter at the start on the history and conditions of making beer, how long it can be preserved and why in the very early days before refrigeration it had, in fact, to be made and consumed locally    The recent trend to a “fandom” of local production is much more of a cultural experience, and Stott and Classen are very good on this across the UP.  The book-making with a whole lot of apparatus, charts and bibliography and an index, make it a solid and rich book easy to use.  But I did keep looking for Crooked Lake in the UP.  Stott went across the Bridge in the whole summer of 2022, however,  and brewed up a very fine book.

A grayscale map showing a section of Michigan's Upper Peninsula along the Lake Michigan coastline. Towns marked include Menominee (with number 25), Cedar River, Escanaba (26, 27), Gladstone, Nahma (28), Garden, Fairport, and Manistique.

Yooper Ale Trails: Craft Breweries and Brewpubs of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula,
by Mikel B. Classen and Jon C. Stott
(Modern History Press, Ann Arbor, MI 3rd Printing November 2023)
218 pages, pbk, $24.95.

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