Downriver is the redheaded stepchild of suburban Detroit. It’s like everything bad about the region gets sucked down the Detroit River and drifts ashore on the banks of the Ecorse and the Rouge – rednecks, smelly factories, trailers, light beer, and even the threat of nuclear meltdown. Any driver heading south on I-75 is greeted to Downriver by a noxious potpourri of heavy industry, a skyline of grimy smokestacks.
It’s all you ever supposedly hated about Metro Detroit, concentrated in one tidy, easy to avoid area.
In reality, Downriver is just exceedingly average, as functional as it is unglamorous. Cleansed of the yuppifying influences of Woodward Avenue and East Jefferson, it’s Detroit purified. Here, life revolves around the auto plant, the bowling alley, and the high school football team. Diner fare and Budweiser are the chief forms of sustenance.
Or so we’re told. But like with almost any rule, there are exceptions, and Fort Street Brewery in Lincoln Park is one such exception. Located just south of Detroit within a historic commercial district that dates back to the 1800s, Fort Street Brewery’s unstated goal is to bring quality microbrews to the Downriver community.
The owners tore down the remains of an old drug store to construct their unassuming brick building on the corner of Fort & Warwick back in the mid-2000s, hanging banners for local sport teams from the exposed ceiling and liberally affixing TVs to the walls. With long wooden tables and vats in clear view, the brewery’s look is a perfect mix between a Detroit sports bar and a typical brewpub.
The beers on tap try to strike a similar balance. Brewmaster Doug Beedy specifically designed the brewery’s flagship beer, the Lincoln Lager, to appeal to the taste buds of working stiffs. It’s a classic American pale lager similar to Budweiser and Miller, but with a quality level a big corporate conglomerate could never afford to indulge in. Sure enough, it was a runaway success.
But Beedy didn’t just want to appease local palettes; he wanted to expand people’s palettes, to open Downriver up to the wide, wonderful world of craft beer. The brewery’s other mainstay, Doug’s Turbo Sarsaparilla, is a literal take on A&W and Mug and a definite step into a more adventurous direction. Doug calls it a “malt beverage”, but with an alcohol content of 4.2%, it’s basically a darker beer that smells like root beer. Though it’s unlikely to bowl over a beer snob, it’s a top seller with the right amount of twist for its audience.
The rest of the beer lineup is a rotating mix of IPAs, ales, pilsners, and various seasonal brews, all solid but maybe not as bold as the drinks on tap at many competing breweries. In fact, it reminds me a lot of Falling Down Beer Company, a new brewpub in a down on its luck neighborhood in Warren, two miles north of Detroit. It’s hard to say if Beedy is intentionally holding back, or if he’s simple brewing what he likes. Either way, it’s working.
And, oh yeah – Fort Street Brewery serves food, too, an appropriately quirky menu with sausages from the Detroit-based Spanitz Brothers, pirogies, and a variety of sandwiches, from sliders to a Reuben. Again, none of it is Michelin material, but after a few beers, it hits the spot.
At the end of the day, Fort Street Brewery is fighting the good fight. Almost everything on the menu is under $10, with some of the cheapest microbrews around. You’ve got to love what they’re doing on their little stretch of Fort, an old downtown that could use some serious investment.