GRAND RAPIDS — While it is true that beer is only made of four simple ingredients: Barley, yeast, hops, and water, each beer is uniquely crafted with varying recipes and methods, and each brewery takes a different path to get there.
Founders Brewing Co. opened its brewery for public tours in 2013, and with the help of a very enthusiastic tour guide — education ambassador Gabriel Rains — I was able to get a glance into the company, from its early beginning to its hopes for the future.
Our tour group began our journey in the older part of the brewery, the quaint, 30-barrel system, geared up in close-toed shoes, footies and safety glasses. This extra precaution is absolutely essential to participate in the tour to ensure that no beer is contaminated in any way. Rains regretfully informed us that he was forced to turn down five people who showed up unprepared (so don’t make that mistake).
Gathered around in this first room, Rains began filling us in on the brewery’s operations from the very beginning, starting with the founders of Founders.
Recently out of college, Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers left their careers to pursue the world of craft beer. At first, their beer wasn’t quite cutting it, but after a threat of bankruptcy, they revolutionized their beer in hopes of at least going out with a bang.
This “bang” began selling, and soon enough, they were back on their feet and barrel rolling toward success.
Founders is now the 30th largest brewery and ranked in the top four breweries worldwide by Ratebeer.com.
After describing Founders’ climb to the top, Rains asked the question of which ingredients go into making beer. Although these four ingredients seem very simple — Founders’ ingredients all come from unique sources, and the way in which they go into making the beer is a complicated process.
The tour then led us through an expansion, the kegging, bottling and canning lines (the canning line is brand new, with a hoard of empty cans waiting), and into the final stop which will expand Founders production even further. This all was not without in-depth explanations, stories and a couple of laughs.
The $10 tour is just enough to keep out freeloaders, yet affordable enough to be enjoyed by many. At the end of the tour, each participant is given a Founders pint glass with a ticket for a free Class 1 beer and other Founders memorabilia, which is, needless to say, well worth the cost of the tour.
So whether you love Founders or beer in general, this tour gives an adequate insight into both the company and the craft. If you’re in the area, stop by; otherwise, it makes for a good kick-off to a trip to Grand Rapids and a tour of BeerCity USA.