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Midwestern lake beers, set to music

Turns out, they have plenty to do with Bob Seger.
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shutterstock_284753951My dad, Facebooking to the world from his boat, says the lake is warm enough for swimming.

My parents are there now, as I write this. Missing Christmas is one thing, but missing the start of lake season… That is hard. No doubt they’re drinking absurdly cold Miller Lite from koozies, or maybe they’re drinking margaritas. Fair chance they’re listening to Bob Seger.

My mom is the biggest Seger fan I know. She had a bunch of his records when I was growing up, and we played them a lot. Probably too much. You would think that classic rock stations have overplayed and overplayed and beaten those songs into the mud… and you would be right. But we did that at our house first.

Those songs stick with you, triggering an emotional response. One of my favorites is “Fire Lake.” The hook is so simple on that tune, and the name sounds poetic. For years I assumed that “going to Fire Lake” was a metaphor for something awesome — for going to Hell, I guess. Somewhere dangerous! And sinful!

Isn’t there a lake of fire in the Bible? Sure there is.

Then, not too long ago, I read some comments from Mr. Seger about writing that song. (Thanks, Wikipedia!) And you know what it’s about? Turns out it’s not a metaphor at all.

“It’s about taking risks,” Seger said. “About risking love, chucking it all and just heading off with a bunch of wild people, whatever.”

Whatever. So, basically, this lovely tune that evokes images of fire and oblivion… it’s really just about going to the lake.

My respect for it has grown ever since.

We Midwesterners, we are lake people. And river people. We are freshwater fish. And there is a certain feeling at this certain time of year when the air gets warm and you chuck your obligations or finish your work week, and you know you can travel a reasonably short distance—Who wants to wear that gypsy leather? Really, do gypsies even wear leather?—to where there is water warm enough for swimming, and there are boats to ride.

And yes, there are beers to drink. I am supposed to be writing about beer.

But wait! You know, sometimes when I mention Bob Seger to people from the East Coast, their eyes sort of gloss over. They are trying to remember who he is. Yes I know, Bob Seger is pretty famous. But I didn’t realize until I moved away that he was such an especially Midwestern phenomenon.

In fact, I believe Bob Seger to be the patron saint of Midwestern rock ‘n’ roll. Or is he an angel? He has the voice of an angel. A bearded, weathered man-angel.

But what beer does he drink at the lake? Coors, maybe. Silver Bullet Band and whatnot. But he is really into the whole Detroit and Michigan thing, so maybe he is keeping it local — I don’t know, Jolly Pumpkin Bam Biere? Refreshing enough at 4.5% strength, but I don’t think that beer fits into a koozie. Disqualified.

I wanted to ask Mr. Seger myself but he is pretty reclusive. I wrote to his publicist. She wrote back and said he has not been his publicist for many years. Is he in the phone book? I’m supposed to be a journalist. Mr. Seger could not be reached for comment, OK?

Hey, did you know on “Fire Lake” the backup singers are three of the Eagles? That’s Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Timothy Schmidt. To me, the Eagles are a California band, one degree removed from yacht rock. Henley was from Texas actually, but he wrote “Hotel California” and that pretty much makes him a Californian for life. But Glenn Frey, he of the “Smuggler’s Blues,” he was a Midwesterner. He and Seger knew each other as up-and-coming musicians in the Detroit area.

And Kid Rock… also from Detroit. I am not a Kid Rock fan. But Kid Rock is a big Bob Seger fan because his parents played the hell out of it too. Also, Kid Rock likes the lake. And strippers, apparently. Ever see the video for “All Summer Long”?

Beer. This article is about lake beer. “But what is a lake beer,” you say? Glad you asked.

It’s no more complicated than a Bob Seger song: It’s just a beer you drink at the lake.

It should be relatively light and refreshing. This is not a short party; this is a whole leisurely weekend. You can afford to be inefficient with your alcohol consumption. Go slow. You might have to put on water skis.

Here are a few that come to mind:

Boulevard Pop-Up (4.2%) is what I took in large quantities to the lake last summer, with no regrets. A pop-up camper, good for the lake. These session IPAs, they’re good for the lake too. They’re like light lagers for beer nerds. We can sniff and swirl when nobody’s looking, because the aroma is lovely, but they can also be enjoyed very cold. I don’t judge

Bells Oarsman (4%) is from Michigan, so maybe Bob would like it. Its main feature is a light, lemony acidity, which tends to make the liquid disappear rather quickly as it attempts to fill your yawning chasm of thirst. You don’t have to row though. They make motors for boats these days.

Great Lakes Burning River Pale Ale (6%) is not quite “Fire Lake,” but there is a river, see, and it’s on fire — in fact that’s the Cuyahoga River, which used to catch fire from time to time. Bob wasn’t writing about that either, but I think he would like this beer. It’s a classic deserving of your attention if you’ve been seduced by newer, sexier things lately. Many 1990s-era pale ales wouldn’t hold up these days… a lot of sweet caramel and not enough fruity hop aroma. The Burning River was ahead of its time, drier and punchier.

I’ll just add that any of those three beers would fit neatly into a koozie. Oh, do you call them cozies? You’re wrong.

One more:

Arclight Fire Lake Pale Ale (5.6%) actually has Fire Lake in the name, and it’s from Michigan—Watervliet, to be exact, 40 miles west of Kalamazoo and not far from popular lake towns Benton Harbor and St. Joseph. On the brewpub’s Facebook page, there is a sign saying that on May 30 they were pushing Fire Lake through a randall of Michigan-grown hops. Sounds fun. But I’ve never had it and I’m not sure it would fit into a koozie, unless you have one the size of a growler.

What’s your lake beer? Does it come with a song?

 

Author
Joe Stange is the author of Around Brussels in 80 Beers and co-author of Good Beer Guide Belgium. Follow him on Twitter @Thirsty_Pilgrim.

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