Plan a fall getaway around the region's best craft breweries

We're getting into that festive end-of-year spirit and looking at the best libations in Port Huron and the Thumb Coast region. Coming soon: a round-up of Port Huron's best neighborhood bars.

Love beer? Then you're living in a golden age, my friend.

The craft brew scene has simply exploded, leaving the United States awash in more types of beers than anyone could really sit down and tally. It doesn't matter if you're a fan of porter, IPA, lager, ale or any other kind of beer you can think of -- they are all available from craft breweries in various flavors, colors and a dizzying variety of unique names.

In fact, it can all be rather daunting, if not overwhelming, to even the most experienced brew connoisseur.

Here's an idea to ponder -- instead of worrying about all the amazing craft beers you can get from across the country, or even from across the booming industry in Michigan, why not focus instead on the outstanding selection you have right in the Thumb.

The Blue Water Area features five locations that brew up their own beer, and all of them have something special to offer.

Let's take a look and you can start planning your road trip to try them all and enjoy the autumn that is proving to once again be magnificent in the region. Remember to be mindful of the law, don't drink and drive, and always drink responsibly.

Thumb Coast Brewery, Port Huron

If you're going to start out on a trip to sample the Thumb's beers, then you might as well start right here in Port Huron.

Thumb Coast Brewery has plenty to offer, so you might end up making this a short trip and just enjoying the variety right here.

"Brew bold. Pour Proud." That's the motto of Thumb Coast, and they live by it. Like all breweries, their selection is often changing, but one of the best brews that they put out is the Right Hand Red. This is probably the smoothest beer that we had while visiting, and it not only tastes wonderful -- not too malty at all -- but it is actually a gorgeous-looking beer as well.

Another excellent beer from Thumb Coast is Congers Lost Souls. It's an English-style beer that offers up a wonderful taste. It's not quite sweet, but it's easy to drink and a great place to start if you're unfamiliar with the brew landscape. Another "beginner" beer would be the Lake Pilot, which is a mainstay at Thumb Coast, and is an ale to compete with all ales. Nice to drink, especially if you're having a couple with friends.

The beers at Thumb Coast also offer plenty for the more established suds palate. Take, for example, the Victorious Walt the Malt that they recently had on tap, a wonderful brown ale chock full of flavor. Or the At the Helm, which takes ale up a notch with bold flavor. For those who are really looking for something special, then ask for the 2016 Bourbon Barrel Aged TrainBridge. This stout is absolutely outstanding. Get it before it's gone.

Oh, and if beer isn't enough to make you happy, then check out Thumb Coast's dining menu, too. The patty melt is downright delicious.

Harsens Island Brewery, Marysville

You don't actually have to hop on the ferry to enjoy the splendors of Harsens Island. Take a tasty tour by saddling up to the bar in the Harsens Island Brewery taproom and give your taste buds a vacation.

Harsens Island Brewery has a nice selection of beer that you can find in multiple restaurants and bars, but they offer up a selection of various brews onsite that aren't distributed anywhere else.

For those looking to keep their beer light and familiar, we would recommend the always-enjoyable Stan the Man, a nice, crisp ale that is an easy drinker. Looking to get a little more adventurous but stay on the familiar path? Well, Milo's World Famous IPA is hoppy, but extremely enjoyable. For those who have never really had an IPA, Milo's is a good way to start. Great taste with a great finish.

Now, Harsens Island Brewery also offers up some bolder beers that will let you expand your beer horizons and enjoy every gulp of the process. Our favorite bock from the Thumb comes from this brewery and is called The Hump, named after a place in Lake St. Clair that is known for quality fishing. This brew has just enough bitterness to balance with excellent flavors, and offers up a deep gold color that looks so nice in your glass that you might hesitate drinking it because it's so pretty. Stop hesitating and try it. Now.

Harsens Island Brewery also has a nice menu for those who would like to dine with their beers, and might we suggest the Kickin' Chicken? A house-made buffalo sauce really sets it apart.

Elk Street Brewery, Sandusky

This is probably our favorite overall stop on the Thumb brewery road trip. Once you sit down and see the nice selection and taste their awesome elk burger (yes, it's real venison), you'll understand why.

From a great little Oktoberfest brew to the "Turkey Strut Stout" and all the way to their saison, Elk Street's brewmaster definitely knows how to combine flavors for some of the best brews in the region.

We would recommend trying a full tasting flight and giving multiple beers a chance to impress you. While we didn't personally have it, we have heard their Pumpkin High was quite the seasonal brew to experience as well, so definitely sample away.

Another nice feature at Elk Street is their willingness to try to make sure there is a drink for everyone. Not a fan of straight-up dark malt brews? Want something a little sweeter? Well, they'll be happy to mix one of their darks with root beer to help you out. They even offer up a shandy, which we didn't try but are very popular among people who like that kind of thing.

The restaurant portion of Elk Street also offers up some tasty treats. We loved the elk burger, but they also have a solid pulled pork and offer up weekly specials like a smoked bratwurst with purple kraut.

Lexington Brewing Company, Lexington

What a great little place to stop with a nice selection of brews for just about anybody.

What's even more is that they don't shy away about keeping up with the trends. How about an in-house hard root beer? That's right. You don't have to just grab those mass-produced ones anymore. Just swing on over to the Lexington and you're set.

Additionally, Lexington Brewing also offers a shandy, which they call the Tropicana Ale and is made from a Belgian Tripel Ale that features a lemon-lime flavor.

But it's not all trends that are being featured in Lexington. The brewery offered up an outstanding cherry wheat that would make Sam Adams bury his head and cry. And the Molly Malone Stout? One of the best we've had.

For those looking for classic beers, Lexington Brewery is not going to let you down, either. They have a pilsner lager called Ludy's that is smooth and easy on the taste buds, as well as an American Red Ale that features a nice hoppy flavor that follows up each swallow with a pleasant aftertaste.

And like our other stops on this trip, Lexington Brewery has a well-chosen food selection. Try the sausage sampler plate for sure, and their grilled Caprese sandwich is outstanding.

Thumb Brewery, Caseville

The northern-most brewery on the trail happens to be Thumb Brewery. But don't let the drive up stop you, because you really don't want to miss out on their selection.

Want a pilsner? You're covered. How about an IPA? No problem. Just can't get enough lager? Thumb Brewery isn't going to let you down.

It's like the brewmaster decided that there was going to be a beer on tap for everyone, and then got to work making sure they were all delicious, too.

We're a bit biased when it comes to beer and really enjoy darker brews. The Oatmeal Stout was outstanding and we were sad that we missed out on the Kona Stout, which wasn't done being crafted to perfection when we stopped in. Of course, we could have had other dark beers while we were visiting because Thumb Brewery doesn't shy away from having guest beers on tap, either. From Bells to Atwater to Short's and more, they had brews to offer from across the state. Their willingness to offer up such a variety makes Thumb Brewery a must-stop for the beer lover.

But wait! There's more. Out of all the stops on the trail, Thumb Brewery has what we considered to be the best food menu. Not only did we get to have our favorite stout float with a scoop of ice cream inside, but we also got to enjoy a big bowl of beer cheese soup. If you've never had it, stop reading this and go get some. Outstanding. And, yes, it's exactly what the name implies.

We also were thrilled to find one of our favorite burger combinations on the menu and it did not disappoint. The Peanut Butter and Jelly Burger, which comes with ½-pound of beef, peanut butter, jelly, bacon and jalapeno peppers was an absolute joy and one of the best we've had.

Pack your things and head up to Caseville. You won't be disappointed.

Sam Eggleston is the Michigan editor at Issue Media Group and a freelance writer. 
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