For each Michigan’s Best search, statewide entertainment reporter John Gonzalez has enlisted the help of an “expert” to help guide him.
This time, Gonzalez and his companion Amy Sherman will search for Michigan’s Best Brewery.
Sherman is a chef from Grand Rapids and host of “The Great American Brew Trail,” a local TV show sponsored by Spartan Stores that visits 26 Michigan breweries in its 13 episodes. Beyond that, her history of home brewing and culinary knowledge offers the well-rounded experience needed to judge not only who has the best beer but the best brewery experience – which is what this competition is all about.
While she doesn’t call herself an “expert,” she says she’s certainly consumed her fair share of craft beer.
“I was a political science major in college but I home brewed a lot,” Sherman said. “This was well before craft beer was readily available in Grand Rapids. I’ve been around this scene for a long time.”
While working at Grand Rapids Brewing Co. in its previous 28th Street SE location, Sherman says she would “pester the management and constantly try to convince them to let me be a brewer. I became enamored with it and used my time there to learn more and get involved with all facets of the process firsthand.”
“As I traveled to California and Europe, I learned about all of the styles of craft beer that I hadn’t tried before,” she said. “Then as I became a chef, I learned more about the science behind brewing and found it fascinating.”
Sherman is also a Family Fare Culinary Expert, a cooking instructor for Spartan Stores, an on-air culinary expert for WOTV, and runs a catering and consulting company called Two Chicks and an Oven.
“I’ve already been to most of the places that will more than likely be nominated,” Sherman said. “I’ve seen these places from the inside out. I’ve gone ‘behind the taps’ and know what’s in their kitchens.”
What those kitchens produce is part of this brewery battle, along with the staff’s “beer IQ” and atmosphere.
“A lot of these breweries have incredible kitchens to back them up,” she said. “Pairing beer with food is a better experience than wine in my opinion. Coriander, orange peel, hops and wheat can offer a wider variety than just grapes.”
“When it comes to the actual beer, everyone has their own personal favorite so there really is no right or wrong,” Sherman said. “You could break it down scientifically, but it’s ultimately a very subjective process.”
That’s not to say the beer quality won’t be a major factor in deciding the victor in this MLive search. Sherman says it will be a top priority.
“It has to hit the right notes,” Sherman said. “The right flavor, carbonation and consistency. It has to taste the same way every time you show up.”
“Second for me is the atmosphere,” she said. “Not all of the breweries serve food but the atmosphere should match the image they’re trying to convey. Uniqueness will help win. A place that when you walk in, you won’t find anywhere else works for me.”
Lastly, Sherman says that a winning brewery has to have a staff that does more than just ask you, ‘What do you want to drink?’
“I don’t want to feel belittled,” she said.” “I want to feel that every question I have is important. When I walk out, I want to have a little more knowledge than when I walked in. So a staff that can explain the beer and take the time to convey that they want you to experience the beer in the best possible way is very important. Great servers should share a passion for the beer, too.”
Sherman will accompany Gonzalez in each of the judges markets save two: Grand Rapids and the Upper Peninsula due to scheduling conflicts. Guest experts will attend those visits.