There’s something almost sacred about walking into Brewery Vivant. And it’s not just because the Grand Rapids brewery is a former church.
Since opening in December 2010, the Belgian-style, European-influenced brewery is already attracting beer-goers in cult-like fashion — the 10 unique beers on tap are reason enough.
“People were ready for us,” co-owner Jason Spaulding said. “We got nicely welcomed by the neighborhood.”
Situated on Cherry Street in Grand Rapids’ East Hills neighborhood, Brewery Vivant is the brainchild of Jason Spaulding and his wife Kris. The couple fell in love with the “personal, artistic interpretation” of French and Belgian brews during a soccer trip to Europe.
The Spauldings subsequently returned to brewing school in Munich for a short course at Doemens Academy. Afterward, they took a tour of Belgium.
“We liked the attitude — local ingredients dominated by yeast strains,” Spaulding said, adding they enjoyed the “controlled, wild character” of French- and Belgian-style beers.
During his time in Europe, Spaulding recalled visiting many barnyard and Trappist breweries, which inspired a number of Vivant’s brews. It was the same influence that made the building housing the pub the right choice. A former funeral chapel, it reminded Spaulding of a French monastery.
“It felt very European,” Spaulding said. “That’s one of the reasons I really like this building.”
Brewery Vivant is not Spaulding’s first trek into craft brewing sales. He previously started New Holland Brewing Company with Hope College classmate Brett VanderKamp in 1997. The Holland-based brewery has a favorable reputation in the microbrewery scene with much-loved concoctions like Mad Hatter IPA, Dragon’s Milk Ale, The Poet and Ichabod Ale.
“Anyone who home brews talks about opening their own brewery — it’s part of the equation,” Spaulding said. “We were young enough and excited enough to do it.”
Spaulding’s interest in the beer culture began during a ski trip to Colorado as a college student. Soon after, he and friends were homebrewing. The 39-year-old brewer fondly remembers some of New Holland’s early brews, such as Palooza and Courage. Such brews were discontinued because, as Spaulding says, the brewers were ahead of their time.
“At the time, dark beers just didn’t sell very well,” he said. “We had to explain to people what pale ale is. We were ahead of the curve. It took the market 10 years to catch up. The microbrewery business is still picking up steam.”
Spaulding remained with New Holland as co-owner until 2005 before selling his half.
Once again, Spaulding is taking a stab at brewing something unique in offering primarily Belgian- and French-influenced brews.
“There are a lot of breweries that make a Belgian-style beer — not a lot are doing it as their main beer,” he says. “It’s a smaller niche, but it makes it interesting.”
Ultimately, Spaulding credits Larry Bell of Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo for the craft beer boom in Michigan.
“Michigan beer is very highly respected outside of Michigan. I think Larry Bell set the bar for that. He influenced the Midwest about what Michigan beer is like.”
As with each brewery MittenBrew visits, we sampled each beer on tap. Later this week, we will give you the full story about Vivant’s brews. We also have a video tour of the brewery, which you can visit here.
Brewery Vivant is located at 925 Cherry St. SE in Grand Rapids.