Michigan’s Dark Horse: Brewing Historic Prominence

Close to home this adventure takes me to what was once being considered for the capital of the Great Lake State.  Founded by Sidney and George Ketchum, Marshall, Michigan has recently found notoriety from the bearded brewmasters at Dark Horse Brewery.  You can see the fellas and their fun-having flurry on the History Channel in the new series, “Dark Horse Nation.”

Despite having the largest landmark district, in Michigan,  Marshall is a hidden gem in a rebounding state.  But boldly brewed beers have brought awareness back to the southern part of the state.  What else is there to do in Marshall?

Here’s a little taste:

 A Mother’s Mission

It was me and my mother for the day.  Lately she’s come onboard with the craft beer boom.  I’ve introduced her to multiple mouth-pleasing masterpieces.  When she found out that one of my favorite breweries was being featured on the History Channel and it was located an hour south of her backyard we scheduled the daycation – ok so a local quilt shop may have had a motivating factor.

Once a Mansion, Now a Quilter’s Paradise

The Honolulu House
The Honolulu House

With the expectation of becoming Michigan’s state capital the Governor’s Mansion was built in 1839.  With a keen awareness to historic preservation it’s hard to get around town and not notice the beautiful buildings downtown and the winsome victorian homes in the surrounding neighborhood.   You can stay at the National House Inn, the oldest operating hotel in the state.  And nearby is probably the most popular landmark in the city.  With its unique tropical architecture, The Honolulu House, brings tourists from all over the country.  Marshall is referred as a “virtual textbook of 19th-Century American architecture.”  Over 850 buildings makeup this National Historic Landmark District. One of these being the Marshall House which only stands at a quarter of its size today.   What was once a mansion went through many changes over the years from a hotel to an infirmary, a girls center and even a funeral home.  Though it has lost its size the building is just as significant to quilters everywhere.

Recently my mother has fallen into the depths of the quilting cult.  Yes, they are a little cult with their shop-hop bus tours and their little quilted vests they all wear.  Honestly, quilting is huge, if you didn’t know.  My mom has a room with material everywhere and overflow in the basement.  She is always quilting something for someone – and not just quilts!  Today she is my travel buddy and her only request is we start the day at “Quilts at the Marshall House.”  With original patterns and a variety of fabric – this really is a quilter’s paradise.

Quilts at the Marshall House
Quilts at the Marshall House

Just around the corner, from the Marshall House, the Marshall Area Farm Market takes place from May – October.  Local farmers gather to exchange their homemade delights and garden goodness.  I picked out some spicy heirloom garlic from Pheasant Hollow Farm out of Bronson, MI.

 A Little Magic before Dinner

Just kitty corner of the farmer’s market I found myself engulfed in three stories worth of artifacts and props from all the great magicians.  The American Museum of Magic is the largest collection of magic history, open to the public, with over half a million pieces of memorabilia.  About 45 minutes Southwest of Marshall you’ll find the  “Magic Capital of the World;” Colon, Michigan.  Home to a few magic suppliers, including Abbott Magic Company, Colon hosts  ‘Abbott’s Magic Get-Together’  a 4 day magic convention every August.


Abracadabra – empty stomach. Time to head back to Marshall for some grub. “Aged to Perfection,” since 1909, you can’t tour this town without dining at Schuler’s.  Now in its family’s fourth generation, Schuler’s is an institution. Though we were eating in Winston’s Pub you can still get similar options to the main menu.  I am a sucker for prime rib and when it was mentioned they are known for it, I went with the pub prime rib sandwich. I almost regret not getting something more homemade like their meatballs appetizer but the juicy tenderness was well worth it.  It was served open-faced on their house-made sourdough (they have a famous bakery as well)!  The pub potatoes were fine but what really set the experience off was one of the tastiest coleslaws I have ever had! With its strong presence of caraway seed I could have just gobbled down a bowl or three of it and been happy.  I was happy anyway.  A nice walk and some craft beer was in the near future.  Oh, Schuler’s also has their own beer, ‘Schuler’s Brew,’ a lager brewed specifically for the restaurant and pub by Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo.

 Rivertrail to Remember, Brews to Bethink

Walkability is important to small town residents and enthralling river trails only add to the ambience of a beautiful community.  The riverwalk may be my favorite thing about my hometown, Portland, MI.  I enjoy them in general and any town that promotes activeness and healthy lifestyles to go with their rich historic preservation is on my radar.  I may have found my second favorite trail and it’s right next to Dark Horse Brewery.  About the tenth the size of Portland’s, what it lacks in distance it makes up for in ambience.  I highly recommend a walk along the river when visiting Marshall, Michigan.


With a sizable selection of suds in the stores Dark Horse’s tap room is on the smaller side but their Beer Garten adds plenty more opportunities to take a seat and drink a draft. (I am not sure why they chose German for garden and didn’t go all the way with Biergarten but I digress).  How can you not love a place that has a “No AC/DC” sign on their jukebox?  I am not a hater, I just grow tired of their music – no worries because when you dine and drink at Dark Horse I don’t need to worry about my ears bleeding.  They also have a few other bands they don’t care for as you can see in the photo.  Speaking of music they host live music every Thursday and a Cornhole tournament every tuesday, both take place out in the Beer Garten (weather permitting of course).

What about the beer?!  Oh, Right, the important stuff.  “blurring his family’s, employees’ and customer’s drinking experience and vision between a no-bullshit approach to brewing big, outstanding beers and selling nonsensical imagery and haberdashery.”  How does this not make you want to taste the hops out of their beers!?  The taproom also has food but I have yet to eat there and this is really about the beer.  Like many brewpubs, they have a few full time brews and plenty of  part/half/seasonals including their assortment of stouts.  Oh, do I love a stout and they have 5 goodies!  Do NOT take my word for it – if you can’t make it to Marshall they are distributed in 12 states and if that isn’t an option. I really don’t know what to say but find a way!  Demand Dark Horse in your backyard.

One more unique event they host and I have yet to get to (by God I am going to try this year) is the Annual 4 Elf Party. This event is quite unique and what comes to mind when I talk about finding those unique events and festivals in small towns to share with the world.  As seen on an episode of ‘Dark Horse Nation’ the “4 Elf” event begins bright and early and hosts some interesting tastes with its exotic food buffet and the extraordinary flavors of beers they come up with exclusively for the event.  For example, their anniversary beer from last years event: Dark Horse 13th Anniversary Ale, brewed with 13 malts and 13 adjuncts clocking in at 13% ABV.  Sweet aromas of malted milk, maple, and pancakes lead to a chocolaty and fruity body that finishes pleasant and dry.  There is so much going on in this beer we dare you to guess the ingredients.

Uh, That’s a mouthful – please bring a DD!  Fortunately, I had my mother and I hope she can come with me on future Small Town Adventures.  This was just a taste of Marshall and a glimpse of the glamor in my home state.  From brews to beauty this is Pure Michigan.

Bringing home some Raspberry Ale for mom.
Bringing home some Raspberry Ale for mom.


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