Bastone Brewery isn’t hard to find. On the corner of 5th and Main in gorgeous downtown Royal Oak, the establishment adorns a corner of the trendiest area in Southeast Michigan. However, Bastone can be passed by, and has been by me several times over, with no hint of the craft beer treasures that lie within.
In old-European tavern fashion, mahogany columns, copper kettles and casks encompass window tables with a view of the patio. The wood grain extends to the bar where a full line of alcohol is served, culminating in a porcelain stem with eight matching tap handles from which brewmaster VanMeter’s Belgian creations are poured. Beer styles with history that runs as deep as these should be enjoyed from bench tables, just like they are at Bastone.
Brewmaster Rockne VanMeter, or “Rock” as he is respectfully called among the Detroit brewing community, is the sole brewer at the helm of Bastone’s 10 BBL (310 gallon) brew house. Being responsible for all facets of brewing from mashing and transferring to cleanup and sanitization is a feat unto itself, but Rock still finds the motivation to enter his best concoctions into craft beer competitions all over the world. Even more impressive is his recent success at the 2011 North American Brewers’ Association, or NABA, 17th Annual Mountain Brewers' Beer Fest competition.
Bastone’s Dubbel Vision, a roasty malt bomb with subtle hop character and spicy notes, garnered a gold medal in the dubbel category. Also awarded a gold medal in its category at the NABA competition is Bastone’s Nectar des Dieux Tripel, a lighter-bodied high octane beer with a slight citrus twang, distinct spice notes and style-steady Belgian yeast character. VanMeter also submitted his signature Witface, a Belgian witbier with a lemony nose, stylistic spice character, and a subtle Belgian yeast offering with a smooth finish. Bastone’s Witface brought a bronze medal in the wit category to Royal Oak.
These three NABA medalists are available year round, as they should be. They are beers that have true stylistic integrity, help Rock define the identity of Bastone as a Belgian brewpub, and offer a range of ales to perfectly compliment the exquisite fare offered by Bastone’s master chef.
The soft pretzels accompanied by a five-cheese dipping sauce are more like pretzel breadsticks, which gives them an outstanding texture. The light tangy flavor is perfectly complimented by the seasonal hefeweizen offering. If you’re visiting off-season, the zest of the cheese sauce is also tamed quite well by the dryness of the tripel. Heading the dinner menu is a stellar macaroni and cheese with a five-cheese blend similar to the soft pretzel appetizer accompaniment. An available upgrade to add lobster to the dish takes it over the edge. The unobtrusive character of the Monumental Blonde works well as an accent to the mac n’ cheese, and does well to not overpower its mild heartiness. On Tuesday evenings, Bastone boasts a special “burger” menu, which lists eclectic versions of the burger with a pint on the side. The ahi tuna “burger” is a grilled ahi steak on a soft roll with a wasabi mayonnaise and is flanked by a side of sweet potato fries. A great dinner/lunch hybrid perfect for happy hour, the ahi and potent wasabi mayo is complemented by the contrasting spice and citrus of the Witface. Regardless of the menu…lunch, dinner or specialty…you can find fare produced with pride and creativity with the perfect beer to match.
Bastone attempts to appeal to more than beer lovers, however. Commune nightclub is the pulsating heartbeat under the subdued atmosphere of the Bastone Brewery. Swanky chandeliers hover low over intimate seating, mahogany columns serve as waypoints from the bar to the dance floor. Serving a full line of the once illicit “Green Fairy”, the psychoactive absinthe, Commune brings a real taste of the European underground. Neighboring Vinotecca offers a wide selection of wine and equally as intriguing atmosphere in the same mold of old-European architecture. Café Habana specializes in Cuban fare and recreates the oft-forgotten charm of Spanish-influenced pre-Castro Cuba. Café Habana’s mojitos and margaritas provide a mid-week Caribbean getaway. The veins and corridors of the Bastone family pulse patrons from one venue to the next, all interconnected by well thought out tributaries, each leading to another hidden gem.
Though Bastone can consume an evening leaving a beer lover satiated, Commune, Vinotecca and Café Habana are each worth the trip to Royal Oak as well. The service and food pairings take the establishments over the top. When you’re feeling that urge to indulge your taste for a true craft beer and food experience, head down to Royal Oak. Bastone isn’t hard to find. I wish the same can be said for parking.