2018 Beer Travel Series - Grand Rapids, Michigan
This will be a quick one, I tend to bounce in and out of these cool beer markets while traveling for work and I was sent to Grand Rapids (Beer City USA!) last minute. At first I was a little upset about the spontaneous travel because I was turning 30 on the day that I needed to fly out. It turned out to be a pretty cool birthday as I got to spend it in a new city enjoying some good beer.
As soon as I was assigned the trip, I quickly did some research on the brewery hot spots in the city. The obvious two stops were Founders and New Holland which we checked out on the first night. After eating one of the best meals I've had in a while (outside of the 13 hot dogs from Rutts Hut a few days prior), we walked right across the street to New Holland's Grand Rapids location. The building was impressive and looked very new.
The Knickerbocker is one of New Holland's exclusive brew pubs on the west side of Grand Rapids. The space was huge and the tap list was impressive. As I combed through the menu I went straight for the brewery exclusives. In the top right corner of the menu there was New Holland's famous Dragon's Milk flight.....We went right ahead and ordered up one of those real quick. Within the flight there were a few out of production versions of the beer which was a nice surprise and Im glad we got to check them out. Here are some that we enjoyed!
Harmonic Locomotion - California Common
Dragon's Milk - American Imperial Stout
Dragon's Milk Reserve: Salted Caramel - American Imperial Stout
Dragon's Milk Reserve : Mocha Mint - American Imperial Stout
Night Tripper - American Imperial Stout
Jittery Scotsman - Wee Heavy
Healthy, Wealthy, And Weisse - Berliner Weisse
After sampling some of the New Holland beers that we can't get in Jersey we shot over to the infamous Founders. On my way from the airport to my hotel my Uber driver was telling me some stories about the local breweries. His nephew is a welder who is on call for numerous breweries in the city in case there's a leak and/or if any of the brewhouses needed quick repair. He said that he tends to tag along sometimes to the jobs and is rewarded with beer and some inside stories. One of the stories he shared with me was the one about Founders being on the border of bankruptcy. Is always a scary thought that sobers any aspirations of opening a brewery, but things happen for a reason and it's good to have friends in your corner who support your dream. The owner was two days from closing his doors when he ran into a fraternity brother and he spilled the beans on his unfortunate situation. The fraternity brother immediately suggested to reach out to a fellow brother who had a lot of financial padding (fat wallet). The owner of Founders, without anything to lose, reached out to the wealthy fraternity brother explaining the situation. The fraternity brother, who had never met the owner at Founders, immediately agreed to fly out the next day to Grand Rapids with his check book. He didn't want anything in return, no equity, no interest or anything...He just wanted to help. Well....Founders was able to get back on their feet and now look at them. Whenever I hear a story like this I always think about the concept of networking, the idea of never burning a bridge and to just be the best person you can be. You really never know who is going to be there for you when you need help the most and vice versa...you never know where you can lend a hand and make a difference.
As we walked up to the front door of Founders and the HUGE snowflakes began to fall, I thought about that story along with the assumptions of other blood, sweat and tears moments that went into making Founders the brewery it is today. The place was PACKED. Once we got in I turned my head to the front of the room and was greeted by a large sign over a stage that read, "KBS Week".
I couldn't believe it.....Can this trip have been timed any better? Sure enough, it was KBS Week at Founders where they tap this year's Kentucky Bourbon Stout! It was a rare opportunity to have pints of various years of KBS in one sitting. It was an experience I wouldn't forget. I stopped in the gift shop and grabbed a KBS t-shirt to commemorate my visit.
After leaving Founders there was one brewery in particular that was on my list for this trip, Brewery Vivant. This was a brewery that specialized in locally sourced farmhouse ales and was built in an old funeral home. As you walked through the door you entered a breathtaking medieval style chapel which had the taproom's bar built on the old alter. The beers were fantastic and the atmosphere was a great experience.
Hop Field - Farmhouse IPA
Farm Hand - Farmhouse Ale
Ski Patrol - Belgian Wit
Contemplation - Golden Ale
Tart Side of the Moon - Tart Imperial Stout
After we finished our beers at Brewery Vivant it was getting late. There was just one more brewery that I have heard of lately and it was conveniently located just a few blocks from Vivant.
The brewery was called Elk Brewing and they were known for their PB & J'Ale'Y.....Yes....it was a peanut butter and jelly ALE....AND it tasted as if you were biting into an actual PB&J. God knows how much Marris Otter and Vienna malt when into the making of this beer. I really enjoyed it and I applaud them.
That's all for now! I will be heading back to Beer City USA very soon and I do plan on hitting some of the breweries that I may have missed on this trip.