7 big, flavorful beers to try this spring in Michigan

What follows is a list of beers that exude robustly flavorful characteristics and happen to be in bottles, cans or taps available right now -- or by May 1 -- in metro Detroit.

These aren't lawnmower or session beers (but if you're looking for something a bit lighter, see our list of Michigan beers for warm-weather drinking). They're meant to be sipped and enjoyed, preferably with friends.

Pe-kan (11.5% alcohol by volume) by Prarie Artisan Ales

The most memorable flavors are the ones bound to life experiences. This imperial stout delivered a direct channel to sunny autumn days during my childhood in Texas, cracking open freshly-fallen pecans under a massive tree in my aunt and uncle's backyard.

The fresh, poignant nutty taste takes center-stage in this beer, complemented by vanilla, subtle sweetness and roasty imperial stout notes. It's smooth and pleasant, with just a bit of alcohol bite on the semi-dry finish.

Non-traditional ingredients tend to be really hit or miss, but this brewery based in Krebs, Okla. blends them masterfully. It's known fondly for Bomb!, a stout aged on coffee, vanilla, chocolate and chilies.

And here's a bit of trivia: April is National Pecan Month, and this nut is the only major tree nut growing naturally in North America, according to the University of Wyoming Extension website.

Rating: 4.75/5


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Anni Ale 13irteen from Short's Brewing Co., pictured here April 20, 2017, is to be released across the brewery's distribution footprint starting May 1. (Photo: Robert Allen /Detroit Free Press)

Anni Ale 13irteen (8.7% ABV) by Short's Brewing Co.

This puckering sour, marking the brewery's 13th anniversary, pours deep red and smells like fresh berries. Lining the initial tart wallop are red-wine-like notes imparted by black currants. The finish is dry with lingering, earthy berry flavors.

We received an advance sample from the brewery. Its official debut is at the Short's Anni Party on April 29 in Bellaire, Mich. (details on the brewery's website), and it's to be available across its distribution footprint starting May 1. Watch for it.

Rating: 4.5/5

Sumatra Mountain Brown (9% ABV) by Founders Brewing Co.

It's coming back: This magnificent, coffee-forward imperial brown ale is smooth, rich and roasty with nutty and caramel flavors. It was released for distribution last year and was a big hit. So the brew is set to return May 1.

"This full-bodied ale gets its depth from a team of malts including Caramel malt for sweetness, flaked barley for dense foam, a bit of Chocolate malt for its deep color and Aromatic and Munich malts to add even more depth," according to the brewery.

Sumatra coffee, along with German and Perle hops, are also among the ingredients that make this a slam-dunk brew from the makers of the celebrated Breakfast Stout (8.3% ABV) and Kentucky Breakfast Stout (11.8% ABV).

Rating: 4.75/5

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M-43 N.E. India Pale Ale, part of the New Orthodox IPA Series from One Nation Brewing Co. in Williamston. (Photo: One Nation Brewing Co.)

M-43 N.E. India Pale Ale (6.8% ABV) by Old Nation Brewing Co.

A fantastic example of the hazy, juicy-tasting New England-style IPAs, this one is brewed in Williamston, near East Lansing. It delivers generous tangy orange-grapefruit-pineapple flavors with a creamy, pillowy mouthfeel. The yellow-orange haze, so thick you can't see through it, is created through a combination of the oat malts and dry hopping, according to the brewery. And we're told there's no actual juice (or flour, which unscrupulous brewers might use to achieve the hazy effect) involved -- just hops, malts, yeast and water.

The story behind this beer is pretty special: Old Nation was struggling before co-owner Travis Fritts stepped into a lively Facebook group debate. He ended up inviting some group members to the brewery for an experiment, and in less than a year, we have M-43 -- which this month expanded distribution but continues to fly off shelves.

I've recommended this one to a number of friends, some of whom can't stand bitter IPAs, and everyone really seems to enjoy it. The bitterness takes a backseat to juicy.

Rating: 4.25/5

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2015 Bourbon Barrel-Aged Lucifer's Cuvee by Latitude 42 Brewing Co. (Photo: Robert Allen /Detroit Free Press)

2015 Bourbon Barrel-Aged Lucifer's Cuvée (11% ABV) by Latitude 42 Brewing Co. 

I tried the non-barrel aged variant of this double-chocolate-oatmeal-rye stout at the 2016 Michigan Brewers Guild's Winter Beer Festival and really loved it, describing it like a big, dark-chocolate bar in a cup.

When the yellow wax-topped bottles of the brew -- aged in Woodford Reserve barrels -- went on sale, I immediately bought two. Straight out of the fridge, it tasted nice. That same smooth chocolate flavor was back, with a lightly-creamy mouthfeel and just a soft hint of bourbon on the finish. As the beer approached room temperature, the rye spice came into play, and the booziness delivered a bite that was a bit harsh for the beer's relative thinness.

Overall, though, this is a satisfying barrel-aged stout for chocolate lovers.

Rating: 4.25/5

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Mars by Bell's Brewery (Photo: Robert Allen /Detroit Free Press)

Mars (10.1% ABV) by Bell's Brewery

The sweet, tropical, malty aroma here is salivating. On the sip, a sharp bitterness -- with flavors of pineapple, mango and orange backed by sweet caramel and toffee. This imperial IPA is pretty much on the opposite end of the spectrum from M-43 mentioned above. Mars is bitter -- at 100 international bittering units, it's among the most bitter of beer varieities -- complex, and packed with flavor.

The beer was originally released in August 2014, the first of the brewery's Planet Series, and inspired by the orchestral suite of Gustav Holst. So there's a built-in soundtrack to this beer that's a fine tribute to the Greek and Roman god of war.

Rating: 4/5

Maine/Stone Dayslayer (7.4% ABV) by Stone Brewing 

Balancing out the list, here's a lager that'll make you pause and say, "Wow." A collaboration between Maine Beer Company in Freeport, Maine and Stone Brewing Co. in Escondido, Calif., it's described as an IPL (India Pale Lager) and brings crisp, grassy, floral honey notes with some bitter spice over a light, bready, cracker-like body. It finishes clean and somewhat dry.

Rating: 3.75/5

Spirits of Detroit columnist Robert Allen covers craft alcohol for the Free Press. Contact him:  rallen@freepress.com or on Untappd, raDetroit; Twitter @rallenMI, and Facebook robertallen.news.

Article 7 big, flavorful beers to try this spring in Michigan compiled by www.freep.com

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