GRAND RAPIDS — Founders Brewing Co. was alive with a palpable buzz as a crowd gathered to witness history in the making.
James Watt and Martin Dickie, owners of the famed Scottish brewery BrewDog, brought their Esquire Network television show “Brew Dogs” to the Mitten State to film for Wednesday’s episode that highlighted our state’s craft beer culture. The pair chose Founders as their brewing partners for the show’s collaboration brew and as the location for their public appearance in January.
On stage to greet their fans, Dickie shared his initiation into our society. “We arrived in Michigan and I sent out a tweet from Detroit airport saying ‘Here we are,’ and someone sent back ‘#mitten.’ I didn’t know what the fuck that meant. And by the time we got to Grand Rapids it was obvious. It’s fucking freezing here! Jackets, mittens, hats, everything. That’s what you’ll need to keep warm!” he joked.
Watt’s enthusiasm was clear as he told the massive crowd, “we’re so excited to be in Michigan. We’ve been here for a few weeks now, and I am totally smitten with the Mitten. We’ve been all over America…and the beer scene in Michigan is absolutely phenomenal.”
Dickie began reading down the long list of ratings and statistics Grand Rapids has garnered for its beer, food and tourism industry, including honors for the best burger in America, best beer bar, best brewpub, being the number one U.S. travel destination and a reign as BeerCity USA. In conclusion, he said “Basically, if you come to Grand Rapids every thing is the best thing!”
While in the planning stages with Founders brewmaster Jeremy Kosmicki, Watt and Dickie proposed brewing an eisbock style beer, pronounced “ice bock,” to tie in with Michigan’s cold, icy winters. Given BrewDog’s reputation for making legendary eisbocks such as Tactical Nuclear Penguin, Sink the Bismarck and The End of History, the style was a natural choice.
When the idea of brewing the eisbock under the ice on Higgins Lake came about, the production team consulted with diving expert Tyler Schultz of Milan. He helped to create the rig used for mashing in underwater and facilitated that aspect of the brew day.
“These shows are about community, and we found a very loving one here,” said Matthew Paley, one of the producers. “We were sort of overdue to come to Grand Rapids, people were clamoring for it. We like to feature people we’re excited about. The beer culture and the quality of the people here is great.”
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Specialty ingredients used in the eisbock were sourced from Michigan companies. David Klingenberger from The Brinery in Ann Arbor supplied a fermented red jalapeno hot sauce that provided some heat. Steve Stallard from Blis offered up maple syrup that had been bourbon cask aged for a year, both contributing to the ultimate Michigan ice beer.
Lucky attendees at the January party were treated to a taste of the finished brew in special goblets coated with a thick layer of ice to keep it at the ideal cold serving temperature.
The eisbock wasn’t the only special beer served. “This is the best tap list I’ve ever seen. Try and find a brewery anywhere on Earth that’s had a better tap list than this,” said craft beer enthusiast Steve Rarick, referring to the day’s board that included limited brews pulled from the cellar for the special occasion.
Several vintages of KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout) were available on tap as well as in bottles for those whose timing was right. Fans of Sweet Repute were treated to a special version that spent three years in maple syrup barrels. Barrel Aged Cran, with its cranberry and raspberry goodness, also made a rare appearance.
Edwin Collazo, creator of the forthcoming City Built Brewing, was fortunate to be chosen to sit at the bar with Watt and Dickie during filming.
“The production guys came over and said that a Founders employee said I’d be a good candidate to sit with Brew Dogs. I said yes. It was a great experience in that I got to share my passion for local beer and my vision for City Built Brewing.”
“We talked very casually,” Collazo said. “They talked to Jeremy Kosmicki more about the busy brewery, the special releases this week and about Mango Magnifico. They opened three bottles trying to get the right take. It was funny because they kept taking the beers away from them and they were very vocal about not appreciating it! In jest of course.”
“James and Martin are absolutely fantastic and down to Earth. It was an incredible honor to have them visit Founders and do a collaboration with us,” said Laura Houser, a brewer at Founders. “I respect and appreciate their innovation and intelligent marketing. I absolutely love the fact that they have a show that gets people interested and excited about the wonders of the craft brewing industry.”
The third season of “Brew Dogs” premiered in April on the Esquire Network. If you missed Wednesday’s episode, it will re-air Saturday at 9 p.m., and again Sunday at 3 p.m.