GRAND RAPIDS — Lines are a bit of thing at Grand Rapids Brewing Company.
Since opening its doors last week, beer lovers have waited as long as two hours to snag a table at the downtown brewery.
“We’re thrilled,” co-owner Mark Sellers said. “There was a lot of chatter online (about the brewery opening), but we did not expect this much. “
Although he was enamored with the early response to GRBC’s opening, Sellers hopes the pace continues and grows. With seating for 370, patrons lined the walls Friday evening, sipping on beers as they waited an average of an hour for a seat.
“Now that we have opened, yes, I’d like to see us keep this pace,” Sellers said. “If it doesn’t (keep pace), it means we’re not doing something right.”
During its grand opening — the first day mugs went on sale for its Mug Club — more than 200 of 500 mugs were claimed. Club members will enjoy $2 off all brews each Monday — if there’s any beer left at that point.
According to Sellers, Wednesday’s grand opening had patrons line an entire street block from the brewery on the southwest corner of Ionia and Fulton— the historic Hawkins and Gunn Company buildings, 1 and 7 Ionia Ave. SW — all the way past HopCat beer bar (also owned by Sellers) on the southeast corner of Ionia and Weston streets.
During the past year, three Grand Rapids-area breweries have opened and run out of beer not too long after — a mistake GRBC was hoping to avoid.
“I wish we would’ve had more time to brew,” co-head brewmaster Jake Brenner said Friday. “The trend right now is new breweries running out of beer — we’re on track for that. I’m fine with that.”
Although running out of beer shows demand is high, Sellers preferred to play it safe, opening GRBC one month later than it was ready in order to have an extra week’s worth of beer on opening day.
Perhaps Sellers planned ahead because GRBC had a fan base going into last week’s opening. In fact, this is the third time GRBC has opened its doors. The historic brewery originally opened six blocks north of its newest location 120 years ago on the southwest corner of Michigan and Ionia streets.
In December 1892, six Grand Rapids breweries consolidated their individual operations to form the Grand Rapids Brewing Company. The brewery closed during prohibition. The downtown location was torn down in 1964, and the brewery eventually opened on 28th Street SE.
However, doors closed at its 28th Street location last year and Sellers bought the rights shortly after.
“As soon as we bought the rights, bought the system, Stu was there dismantling it,” Brenner said of his co-head brewmaster, Stu Crittenden.
Crittenden, an East Lansing native, has six years of brewing experience, including stints at Michigan Brewing Co. in Webberville and, most recently, the former GRBC.
In April, the brewing duo started preparing for the opening. Brenner, a homebrewer for eight years and brewmaster at HopCat for the past two and half years, said they had to start from scratch. All of the former GRBC recipes were scrapped to focus on brewing organic beers — GRBC touts itself as the only all-organic brewery in the Midwest.
“It’s a smart business move (being all organic),” Brenner said. “As beer consuming humans, it’s going back to our roots.”
The only “original” recipe is the brewery’s flagship beer, Silver Foam, a lighter lager. However, with organic ingredients, even Silver Foam is not exactly the same.
GRBC features six of its beers on tap, mostly session pales and ales with a couple of mainstays. In addition, the taproom features eight guest brews from various Michigan breweries.
“We’re trying to keep the beers in style, more to the season,” Brenner said.
Current GRBC beers on tap are: Silver Foam, Brewer’s Heritage, Rosalynn Bliss Blonde, The John Ball Brown, Senator Lyon’s Stout and The Fish Ladder.
Eventually, at least one of those brews may be available beyond the taproom, as Brenner and Crittenden are “scheming to sell some 40s of Silver Foam.”