Jaime Reichard, manager of the Beer Grotto, pours an ounce of dark fluid that looks, tastes, and swirls like Kahlua into a brandy snifter. Made by Odd Side Ales in Grand Haven, it’s actually a beer called Hipster Brunch that, she says, is brewed in a “maple bacon bourbon barrel.” For some reason she has no trouble pronouncing that, even flawlessly repeating it slowly, over and over (an accomplishment–try it!). Coffee is in there too, completing the roster of flavors that provide its name.

“Breweries sometimes give us really fun kegs,” Reichard says of small-batch experiments like this one. She predicted Hipster Brunch would be gone by press time–replaced by something else on the outer limits of the beer spectrum. (“Already gone!” she sang, a few days later, when we called to double check on the order of the “maple bacon” word pileup.)

The Beer Grotto opened in late January. Though a casual observer might think that Ann Arbor is fully invested in the craft beer boom, marketing director Jake VanAtta and director of operations Lisa Manno point to a few holes in the market that they hope to fill.

“Ann Arbor has its craft breweries,” allows Manno. But while Grizzly Peak, Arbor Brewing Company, and the like brew quality beer, they sell only their own brands. “There aren’t a lot of bars in the downtown area showcasing lots of craft brews. There’s Bar Louie and Ashley’s on campus.” She doesn’t mention World of Beer or HopCat, which have even more recently tapped into the craft beer frenzy, but she says those, too, underscore her point. “Their clientele tend to be younger. The Beer Grotto isn’t a place you come if you want to get wasted. This is a place for people who want to talk, to learn, to be a part of this magical community.”

VanAtta agrees that the location should draw a more mature clientele than campus, though not necessarily that much older: “A lot of young professionals and grad students live around here.” And the Beer Grotto joins a newly revitalized hive of artisan-food activity. It’s kitty-corner from the seasonal Bill’s Beer Garden, and just up the hill from the new Blank Slate Creamery and Argus Farm Stop. The little brick ex-gas station tacked onto the west side of the Ann Arbor Art Center is the second Beer Grotto. The first opened last summer in Dexter, a third will open soon in East Lansing, and there may be more in the future.

Sam Short, the company’s president, came up with the idea of fusing a tasting room and a bar: customers get three free one-ounce tastes of any of the thirty-six beers on tap. You can buy a glass to drink or take home a growler (or half growler, called a “howler”). Manno says that when the Dexter Beer Grotto opened, they were unsure how the hybrid would work–“was it going to go more to sales, or hanging out, imbibing in-house?”–and they were prepared to reorganize the space accordingly, but it turned out to be an even split.

And though you’d never guess it from the name, the Grotto doubles as a wine-tasting room. Twenty-four wines are available either by the glass or by one- or two-ounce tastes. Unlike the beer, a taste of wine costs a buck or two (or as much as $3.75 an ounce for the K Vintners “Milbrandt” Syrah. But, as with the beer, you can drink a glass on site or buy a bottle to go.

Finally, the Beer Grotto essentially adds a tavern license to Blimpy Burger and the Fleetwood Diner across the street. The Grotto serves popcorn, but it doesn’t have a kitchen, and it welcomes food from anyone else’s.

Beer Grotto, 303 S. Ashley, 369-4212. Sun.-Wed. noon-midnight, Thurs. noon-2 a.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m.-2 a.m. beergrotto.com