My 5 Favorite Places in Michigan: Sam Reese – Production Manager Upper Hand Brewery

My 5 Favorite Places in Michigan: Sam Reese – Production Manager Upper Hand Brewery

At Upper Hand Brewery, beer is “brewed and bottled where its meant to be enjoyed”, meaning it is only available in the Upper Peninsula. A trip to Upper Hand Brewery will showcase a clean facility with happy, knowledgeable workers who put that passion into making beer for us to enjoy. While on our recent tour of Upper Hand Brewery, we met production manager Sam Reese, who joins us to share his five favorite places in Michigan.

Sam Reese Upper Hand Upper Peninsula Biz

Photo Credit: Upper Peninsula Biz


After several years of working at Bell’s, the owner of Upper Hand, Reese built up the knowledge, skills, and managerial experience to eventually get hired as the production manager of the new brewery. Reese is now tasked with growing this brewery from its small roots into one of the biggest breweries in the Upper Peninsula. The brewery recently announced expansion to triple capacity taking it to 15,000 barrels of beer annually.

An article on Kzoo Connect appropriately titled “From English to Escanaba” shows the early history of Reese and his beer making experience. Reese graduated from Western Michigan University in 2007 with a degree in English. It was a hobby of making beer at home that took Reese into early work at the Bell’s general store. Reese says in that article, “I started making beer at home two years prior and, in those two years, I found that I had an academic interest in beer and brewing unlike I had ever felt toward my more traditional curriculum.”

Sam Reese Upper Hand Brewery

Photo Credit: Kzoo Connect


Along with his work at Bell’s and Upper Hand, Reese also worked at Abita Brewing, a regional brewer in Louisiana. Reese worked at Abita, located near New Orleans, for a year and a half, before coming back to Bell’s in a managerial position.

Upper Hand is quickly expanding and has grown from the three bottled beers to five total beers available for consumption in the Upper Peninsula. In bottles, you can try UPA (5.5%), Upper Hand Lager (5%), and Escanaba Black (4.5%). Available on tap is also Yooper (4%) and UPX (7.5%). You can check out our full review of the Upper Hand Brewery tour here.

upper hand

No disrespect to the English field, but I’m grateful that Sam Reese is making beer and found his true calling. Taste some of Upper Hand’s beers and you’ll agree with me. Without further ado, here are Sam Reese’s five favorite places in Michigan.

  1.  Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore 

Sleeping Bear Lake Michigan

When ABC’s Good Morning America named Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore the Most Beautiful Place in America, I wanted to send George Stephanopoulos a gag order, because it was inevitable that that sort of press was going to let our prized cat out of the bag.  I grew up in nearby Traverse City, and I have fond memories of Sleeping Bear spanning back to my childhood.  The road to North Bar Lake was little more than a two-track back then, and the first time my family visited I could swear they were just taking me out to the woods with the intention of leaving me there—no signs or anything, just a line of mini-vans along the shoulder to signal you were getting close.

Later in life, my college roommates and I would travel north from Kalamazoo every summer to camp at D.H. Day.  We had sunset bonfires on the beach until the sun rose back up at our backs.  We climbed Pyramid Point and played Big Rock Little Rock at Glen Haven Beach and more or less aggravated the families and older folks who probably looked at us like we began to look at the post-Stephanopoulos crowd—spoilers of this heavenly gift conferred upon Michiganders.  Each successive year, it became harder to secure a first-come-first-show campsite, but we didn’t care.  If D.H. Day filled up, we’d hike out to Platte Bay and get slapped with illegal camping tickets.

Now, in adulthood, I trust that natural beauty is intended to be enjoyed.  And improved upon, with preservation and maintenance.  Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore hasn’t lost anything that made it equally as beautiful 100 or 1,000 years ago, thanks mostly to the incredible conservation of the National Park Service.  Its incomparable beauty has literally turned the Leelanau Peninsula into a lifestyle brand, and more than anywhere else in the world, it calls me back if I stray too long away.

  1. Presque Isle

Presque Isle Breakwater Light – Marquette


Presque Isle is the appetizer sampler of parks.  In an easy two-mile loop, you get to enjoy woodlands, rock cliffs, sweeping views of Lake Superior, a lighthouse break wall, beaches, trails, and a giant hunk of glacial copper.  It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure for novice outdoorsmen like myself.  I bring every person who visits me in the U.P. to Presque Isle because it exemplifies the natural beauty of our peninsula, then concentrates it down to something so accessible that anyone can enjoy it.  You can even drive around the almost-island if you’re feeling like a total stick in the mud incapable of using your legs.  I have done this once or twice and still managed to enjoy myself.

  1. Grand Rapids at Breakfast Time

Downtown Grand Rapids

Something like 95% of Grand Rapidians go to church on Sunday, which means we are truly blessed, because if I can make it to breakfast before they sing recessional, I can eat my muffin toast in peace without having to wait in line with a hangover.  Muffin bread, of course, is the mild sourdough ubiquitous on the Grand Rapids breakfast scene, a scene that puts any other comparably-sized city to shame in this particular culinary department.

I have no idea why Grand Rapids kills breakfast in such spectacular fashion, but it does, inarguably.  I wake up most mornings, regardless of my whereabouts, and within the first ten minutes I have already salivated over the outstanding corned beef hash at Real Food Café; or the late Abney at Wolfgang’s; or the crazy Polish/Latin fusion thing they’ve got totally cornered at the Westsider Café.  In Grand Rapids, life is too short to eat crap breakfast.  One time, a friend suggested we go to Big Boy for breakfast; nobody has spoken to that friend in twelve years.

  1. Bell’s Eccentric Café and Beer Garden

Bells General Store Sam Reese

Better known by employees of Bell’s as simply “the Pub,” this is my home base.  Despite the growing number of breweries and taprooms popping up around Michigan, the Eccentric Café manages to stay both unique and familiar.  The Café actually includes a taproom, a music venue with bar, an expansive patio, a lush beer garden, a retail beer and homebrew equipment store, an active and functioning brewhouse, and—recently opened—a full-service restaurant.  But most importantly, it is the creative and cultural seat of Bell’s Brewery, replete with a head-spinning beer selection that includes old standbys like Oberon and Two-Hearted Ale, recurring rarities like Wild One and the Oracle, and the rotating whimsy of the on-site R&D brewery.

Happy Hour was invented for sad sacks who don’t get to work at breweries and don’t have the providence of good beer and good coworkers gathering together instinctively every Friday at 5pm.  The Café is a guaranteed good time and a four-seasons venue for entertainment and world-class craft beer.  The décor reminds me of a well-curated but equally zany roadside museum; you can spend entire afternoons exploring the layers of history (or just plain silliness) mounted to the original brick walls.  The restoration and woodworking are dense with detail, too, so standing in the taproom with a pint, you feel surrounded by the simultaneously collected and crafted.  I can’t imagine a better place to enjoy a beer.

  1. West Grand Traverse Bay & Old Mission Peninsula
Old Mission Point Lighthouse

Old Mission Point Lighthouse

I’m cheating and trying to pass of this twofer as my fifth and final favorite place in the Mitten, but the truth is that both are intrinsically linked in my experience.  I would rather spend a day running around Old Mission and boating in West Bay than a day just about anywhere else.  The explosive wine industry on Old Mission—and really Grand Traverse and Leelanau Counties as a whole—is something we all, as Michiganders, should be very proud of.  The very climate and topography that make Old Mission Peninsula so breathtaking also drive the development of wines that, as Amanda Danielson at TC’s excellent Trattoria Stella told the editors at the James Beard Foundation, are “at the edge—quite literally—of viticultural viability.” Some years, Michigan winemakers take it on the chin, but when they’re on, they’re on.

I used to valet for Bowers Harbor Inn (now Mission Table), and I had the privilege to look out over West Bay and watch the sunset every night.  I still think that was one of my coolest jobs—and I get to make beer for a living.  I remember ruining a perfectly lovely summer day by running into my friend Jon with a Jet Ski and breaking his leg; my adulthood has been spent on less dangerous but no less memorable watercraft, whenever I’m fortunate enough to be invited out on the water.  Being the guy who always supplies the beer has its advantages.

I think the most beautiful 360 degree panorama on earth is where Center Road, heading north, crests the hill just before Chateau Grand Traverse, and you can look out over both East and West Bay, and the landscape of the peninsula, all vineyards and cherry orchards.  There’s always a stiff breeze and, if you’re lucky, you can catch the smell of harvest.  It is truly perfect there.

Upper Hand UPA

We at Travel the Mitten appreciate the time taken by Sam Reese to write this post. If you enjoyed this piece, be sure to visit the other posts in the My 5 Favorite Places in Michigan series. In the mean time, please check out Upper Hand Brewery’s website, Facebook page, and Twitter. If you’re ever in the Upper Peninsula, don’t leave without buying some Upper Hand beers.