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Posted on Sun, May 22, 2011 : 8:56 p.m.

Get yourself to the magical land of Dragonmead, right of I-696 in Warren

By Patti Smith

Dragonmead Microbrewery is located in a place I’d never think to look — right off of the 696 expressway on the service drive. Once inside, however, I would not have known if I was off the service drive, off the beaten path or on the freeway — it’s that magical. (Note: I was going to try to get all cute and stuff and write this in Ren Fest Olde English, but I just ain't that creative. Sorry.)

First, we were immediately met with a bowl of pretzels and spicy mustard. Nice! Then we got the little ordering card and started making the difficult choice of what to drink.

Normally, we can just order a sampler of everything on the menu and, while we certainly could have done that here, we would have had to have moved into the place because 40+ samples of beer would have done even Jeff and me in for the night.

Dragonmead has an insane number of beers on tap, and, as I know from various beer events, all of them are awesome. So we had some thinking to do. For our first (and only, we swore to ourselves) tasting, we got the Ring of Fire, Bishop Bob’s Holy Smoke, Juggernaut Double Red, Final Absolution and Woody’s Perfect Porter.

I’m sometimes a little skeptical of pepper beers, mainly because I think it’s easy to go overboard on the peppers and a little goes a long way, in my opinion. I can honestly say though that the Ring of Fire was the best pepper beer I have ever had. The nose was pure pepper, but not enough to make you want to sneeze or cough. The underlying ale was delicious and had the perfect amount of “burn” so that you got the pepper flavor but none of the uncomfortable singe that you can get in a lesser pepper beer.

Similarly, I am sometimes concerned about smoked beers. Again, one can go overboard on the smoke flavor and end up obscuring another otherwise good beer. Again though, this was a very well balanced beer. The nose was smoky and the taste was too, but not so much that it overpowered the actual beer. Jeff, who is a huge fan of smoked beers, said it was one of the best he had ever had.

Next was the Juggernaut Double Red. Man I am loving the reds lately! This beer had a light mouthfeel, slightly sweet but not cloying, nice bitter taste from the hops and a malty body. Delicious!

Next up was Final Absolution, which I always have at the beer festivals. After I took my first sip of this 10 percent alcohol-by-volume beer, I suddenly was at the beer festival, under the tent, listening to the tornado sirens go off and screaming, “If I’ma dying, I’m dying with BEER TODD’s beer in my glass!” before rushing off to the Copper Canyon tent. As always, FA was sweet, smooth (hee hee, I wrote “smoot” in my notes) and, for some reason, I noted that it was “wheat colored.”

The last beer in what was to be our only sampler — honest to God, just one, no more for us — was Woody’s Perfect Porter, which was served on nitro. This means it is served with nitrogen instead of carbon dioxide, which generally gives it a smoother and creamier taste (think Guinness). And yes sir, it was smooth. In fact, I drew little hearts and wrote “smoooooooooooooooooooooooooooove, like drinking ice cream.” I’ll take my word for it.

From here on out, my notes got a little fuzzy. We decided that a second sampler was in order and went with an Earl’s Spit Stout ("all roasted malt goodness!!!" noted I), Jason’s IPA (because the brewer’s name is Jason and my neighbor Keith told me to ask if Jason was there, but Jason had gone home already, or so say my notes), Inquisition IPA (bitter, a little sweet, touch of grapefruit? I wrote), Sir William’s ESB (loooooooooooong bitter finish yum, scribbled I) and a Dead Monk which just has a happy face and, inexplicably, a Christmas tree next to it.

For the sake of my wallet, my waistline and my liver, it is a good thing that I do not live next door to Dragonmead. Even with all we sampled, there were still over two dozen beers to try — and the bartender apologized that there weren’t more on tap!

If you believe nothing else I said, please believe me when I tell you to get yourself out there sooner than we did and find yourself transported to a magical place, right off of 696! See, that didn't need Olde English Ren Fest after all!

Patti Smith is a special education teacher, at least until July 29. She lives in Ann Arbor with her husband and dog.