Cold beer drinkers, this pub's for you
by Sally Mitani
A few days before the Blue Tractor opened, while the floors were being polished and the tractor parts being hung on the walls, brewmaster Fred Rouse was offering anyone in sight a sip from a beaker of sludgy tan liquid that was turning into Bumper Crop pale ale. "Taste the grapefruit notes," he urged.
Most brewpubs are modeled after British pubs, and they serve what many Americans-either overtly or secretly-think of as warm beer. The fruity ales favored by Grizzly Peak and Arbor Brewing Company need that mellower temperature to bring out the complex flavors. The Blue Tractor, though, specializes in hoppier, more astringent lagers and pilsners. Manager Dan Glazer is serving these handcrafted American-style brews at around thirty-eight degrees, several degrees cooler than at its cousin Grizzly Peak. The menu pays homage to American rural classics that go well with cold beer-Carolina pulled pork, smoked beef brisket, braised short ribs.
Such an earnest effort to re-create the good old days in a form that's actually better than they ever were to begin with can mean only one thing: 2mission is on the job again. Greg Lobdell and Jon Carlson are the green-thinking, community-minded developers behind the company that has played a large role in the last decade of downtown redevelopment in Royal Oak, Traverse City, and Ann Arbor. Now all three cities have a Cafe Habana. Traverse City also has a Blue Tractor. The 2mission flagship in Ann Arbor is the Grizzly Peak, and 2mission owns pieces of many other projects in the three cities.
Mike Hall, 2mission's executive brewer, designed four new beers specifically for Ann Arbor's Blue Tractor: Bumper Crop pale ale, BT light lager, Bearded Pig pilsner, and Sudworth cream ale, named after the building's original owner. "The cream ale," says Glazer, who also manages Cafe Habana next door, "will have a nitrogen tap rather than a carbon dioxide tap-nitrogen makes very small bubbles, very creamy." Lobdell adds that "because it's Ann Arbor, we
can do some more adventurous things on the menu than we do in Traverse City."
Glazer says that in addition to the home brews, "we have some cool old-school beers. We'll be selling Carling Black Label, Blatz, Schlitz, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Miller High Life, and Stroh's." Lobdell himself has a special affection for Leinenkugel's: his wife, Andi Hancock Lobdell, is the great-great-granddaughter of Jacob Leinenkugel, founder of the Wisconsin brewery. It isn't available at this Blue Tractor yet, but it is sold at the Traverse City BT.
Blue Tractor BBQ & Brewery, 207 East Washington, 222-4095, Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-2 a.m. (kitchen closes 11 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., midnight Fri. & Sat.), Sun. noon-midnight (kitchen closes 10 p.m.). bluetractor.net
[Originally published in December, 2008.]