GRAND RAPIDS – The Grand Rapids Cocktail Guild exists for promoting weeks like this. An opportunity to promote Michigan’s burgeoning distilled spirits culture, a chance to offer the typical cocktail drinker something out of the norm, and a way to share the passion that drives the bartenders we all know and love, Cocktail Week Grand Rapids welcomes everyone. The Guild, and its Interim President, Torrence O’Haire, are much of the driving force behind this new event.

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“This year is a bit of a trial run. We’re starting off small to build a foundation, and go from there,” O’Haire said. “Really, it happened organically. One of the [members] of Experience GR is also a founding member of the Cocktail Guild. She is really involved and a great resource and was really excited to make this happen.”

The Guild, whose mission is to build a “local collegiate of experienced professionals working to develop, enrich, and share the history, art, culture, and enjoyment of the distilled spirit,” continuously offers monthly events for the public, many with a non-profit focus like the Iron Bartender challenge.

Iron Bartender is a big part of Cocktail Week GR as well. If you’re seeking a big, awesome, crazy showdown of some of the finest barkeeps in West Michigan, this was the event to attend. For the Iron Bartender: Championship Finals, six professionals were challenged on the history of distilled spirits, and presented their showpiece cocktails, lovingly created concoctions audience members were able to sample.

While much of the focus of the event is on Michigan-made spirits (such as the many cocktail and small plate pairings at area restaurants and discussion/review sessions), O’Haire said that “we have no problem tipping the hat [in the craft spirit industry] to those who are doing a great job.”

One of those companies is Brown-Forman, who is helping to put on Iron Bartender during Cocktail Week. Part of their brand includes Old Forester, which is the longest running continuously distilled liquor in America. Fun fact: This happened because they were allowed to legally distill during prohibition, receiving a government license to continue for medical purposes.

History and artistry runs through the veins of the GR Cocktail Guild and through all the events around Grand Rapids this week.

If you are seeking something a little more low-key, but still full of fun (and alcohol), make sure you check out the showing of Hey Bartender at the UICA and the adjoining event at the Downtown Market, where you can enjoy cocktail hour and apps and get some speed lectures on cocktails or spirits from resident experts.  And with every lecture, comes a drink.

What more could you ask for?


Cocktail Week Grand Rapids is made possible by the combined efforts of the Grand Rapids Cocktail Guild, Experience GR and the Michigan Distillers Guild. For a full schedule of events, please visit:  

Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery