GRAND RAPIDS — It was Opening Day for the Detroit Tigers on Monday, and as expected, Tigers fans packed the house. When the first pitch was thrown, it was standing-room-only; scores of peanut shells already littered the ground, crackling underfoot; almost everyone in sight had a pizza slice or a beer in hand. The crowd was briefly hushed, but then broke into applause as, hundreds of miles away, the ump called ball one.

This was Opening Day, not at the ballpark, but at The Mitten Brewing Company in Grand Rapids. For West Michiganders who, like those congregated Monday, can’t make it to game itself, The Mitten should be a good substitute all season long.

The place emanates a baseball feel. The first seats available upon walking in aren’t at a table — they’re seats from old Tiger Stadium displayed in the lobby. Once inside, Tigers insignias, flanked by vintage portraits of old teams and baseball legends, decorate the walls. The tapboard and the menu complete the baseball theme: Beers like the Triple Crown Brown and pizzas like the Thai Cobb pay homage to the game.

This is all the intention, the “field of dreams” if you will, of The Mitten’s founders and owners, Chris Andrus and Max Trierweiler. Their earliest plans for The Mitten envisioned a baseball-themed brewpub. “We wanted to create our dream place” said Andrus, “the place that we’d like to visit.” That place was a place where people can drink really good beer while watching their beloved Detroit Tigers.

They built it, and they hoped that the fans would come. So far they’ve had to rely more on the place’s organic marketing than on any blowout promotions. Though they initially planned to have their opening day on the Tigers’ 2012 Opening Day, they had to push it back to the World Series more than six months later. As Tigers fans will remember, the Series was painfully short; The Mitten’s first season came to an end just days after it started.

This seemed like a problem for a baseball-themed pub: “Our biggest fear was the offseason,” Andrus admitted. But the placed boomed, and demand was so high that baseball took the backseat. “All we were trying to do was catch up during the offseason,” said Trierweiler.

With no time to market or even showcase itself, The Mitten had to rely on fans to figure things out for themselves. That appears to be working.

David Collins and a handful of relatives — some from out of town — sat down at a table just before the first pitch. Collins had been there once before and noticed that “there’s something about the place that just feels like baseball.” His cousin Chandler agreed, and after a few innings began to admire the pub’s energy. “I’d watch any game here,” he said.

Paul Tufft, a Grand Rapids native, occupied a different table with some friends. He, too, had decided to come for Opening Day based on what he had seen there before. “I figured we’d be among Tiger fans,” he explained. “It’s the perfect ambiance for a game.”

This season, The Mitten will aim to build on the fan base it already has and expand its baseball connection. The brewery has added a chili dog pizza to the menu (Andrus described it as a “a yesterdog, but flat”). It will also have a tap at Fifth Third Ballpark this summer, and will offer $1 off any food or drink item for anyone who brings in a ticket stub from a Whitecaps game. Trierweiler suggests that they might even host a whiffleball tournament in the parking lot before a Sunday afternoon game.

Right now, both the Tigers and the Mitten Brewing Co. are off to a hot start. Even though the Tigers won’t win every game, The Mitten probably will.

While the stretch of Chicago Drive through Hudsonville may no longer be known as Turnpike 51, the namesake lives in the form of fermentation.

In June 2012, Pike 51 Brewing Co. brought back the historic route’s name with craft brews to complement the existing Hudsonville Winery. The West Michigan winery opened three years earlier as the first phase in a plan by co-owners Steve Guikema, Ron Snider and Ken Groenink.

“We always wanted to do beer and then a couple of things fell in place for us,” Guikema said.

Call it what you will, but in a certain sense, Pike 51’s brewpub is the perfect storm. For one, the three business partners had been home brewing together for almost 20 years when they opened a winery. Second, craft beer continues to gain popularity.

But the last piece was probably the most important — the perfect brewer.

Enter Jeff Williams. The former HopCat head brewer had been frequenting the winery since its opening, taking residence just three blocks away.

“He’s been coming in since we opened,” Guikema said. “It was just a perfect fit.

“At first we didn’t even know him as a brewer, we just knew him as a customer who came in. Jeff has a phenomenal reputation.”

Entering Pike’s taproom, a certain simplicity greets its thirsty patrons. Modern hardwood floors meet a long U-shaped stone bar with a cavernous backdrop where tap handles and wine bottles are constantly flowing in glasses. The bar is an excellent gathering space to meet and greet with fellow patrons.

Tables throughout the southern portion of the brewpub are noticeably close together, also encouraging chatting with neighbors. This is clearly part of the true pub style of the layout, as no distractions like TVs are an option to divert from the goal of enjoying the company of those gathered together in the name of libations.

“It’s just get-to-know-you,” said Amber Guikema, Steve’s daughter. “My name is on my shirt, but I want you to know my name and I want to know your name.

“It’s kind of enjoy the company, have a conversation with your neighbor and enjoy a good drink.”

As neighbors forge bonds, 16 beers are available on tap, quite a variety for a newly established brewery. But it’s all thanks to the creativity of the brewer.

“The good thing about Jeff as a brewer is he’s very, very dedicated to making a true form,” Amber Guikema said. “If it’s an imperial brown, he’s going make sure it’s a true imperial brown. He’ll have his spin on it, but the ABV, the IBUs will be true form.”

“(The number of tap handles) started out to be versatile,” Steve Guikema added. “Jeff’s kind of got free reign. He hasn’t made a bad beer.”

As such, since Pike 51’s first batch of beer, Williams has been spot on, according to Guikema.

“Jeff wanted to name the very first batch Calibration, so that he could make sure his numbers aligned on a brand new system. He nailed the numbers from batch one. It was right on.

“We hit the ground running. It’s all his concept, his recipes. I have total trust in him.”

Along with mainstays Marvin’s Weizen, The Kush IPA and Knight’s Brown, the current tap rotation includes the following special/seasonals:

By July, the brewery plans to release some bourbon-aged brews, which are currently aging in the brewery.

With everything seemingly aligning for Pike 51, Guikema and his partners don’t plan to limit the potential of the brewery and winery.

“We’ve got over five acres,” he said. “I think we’ve got the best business plan ever made. We actually still all have our day jobs.”

So, just as the customer base at Pike 51 grows, so too can the brewery and taproom. In the meantime, Pike 51 brews are already showing up in select bars and plans for bottling are in the works.

Pike 51 Brewing Co. and Hudsonville Winery are located at 3768 Chicago Drive in Hudsonville.

GRAND RAPIDS — If you had to find a brewer at The Mitten Brewing Co., you could do it in under a minute. You can’t miss Rob “Wob” Wanhatalo. Wob has the girth, the swarthiness, and, most importantly, the cascading beard of a brewer.

(He also has hops tattoos on his wrists, if you know what hops look like.)

You might, however, miss Jason Warnes. His beard is more modest, his looks unassuming. If he weren’t wearing the boots, gloves and glasses of someone wrestling a fermenter, he might pass for just another customer.

These two, the newly formed brewing team at the Mitten, might become something of an odd couple.

Warnes studies and fidgets with his recipes. He is fastidious, rarely pleased, and, by his own description, tightly wound. His beers start with reading and research. “I look at it on paper,” he says, “and get a feel for what it tastes like.”

That’s where the recipes start. Where they end, even he doesn’t know. “I do a lot of tweaking on my recipes,” says Warnes. “I’ll tweak them 50 times before I’m satisfied. And even then I’m not satisfied.”

By his count, Warnes’s Triple Crown Brown — which won him a national award as a homebrewer — has been altered at least 50 times.

Wob, on the other hand, studies, tweaks and worries a lot less. “I just kind of go for it,” he says. “I just dive in.” He looks at his materials and intuits what he can make from them. Once it’s made, it’s made.

Wob mentions his stout as an example. He made three minor changes, and now he says simply, “I’m done.”

Their temperaments are as different as their processes. One of the Mitten waitresses told Warnes he always appears on the verge of a heart attack. “I can be tough to work with,” he confesses. “If we had two of me…” Wob finishes his sentence: “No one would be calm.”

But it seems that their differences are creating balance, not conflict. They enjoy working together, and their product is well liked, earning nods city-wide.

And as much as they differ in personality and process, Wob and Warnes share a narrative. Both worked for their fathers before becoming full-time brewers — both had to tell their fathers they wanted a change.

Wob was employed at a plastics manufacturer when he got an offer to work at The Hideout Brewery. He had to call his manager, who happened to be his father, to put in his two weeks’ notice.

Warnes was in line to run the family business, but his father approached him and asked about his plans. “Do you want the honest answer?” Warnes asked his father in return. “I told him I wanted to be a brewer.”

Their stories have the same beginning, and Warnes and Wob have the same end in mind too. Warnes nodded in agreement when Wob said, “The best achievement for the time being will be consistency.” They want to nail down their recipes and stop “tweaking.”

Though they have worked together full time for only a week, Wob and Jason seem well on their way toward that goal. They know the “numbers” on their beers intimately — ABV, IBUs, etc. — and refer to them repeatedly in the course of an hour.

The numbers must already be good, because the beer certainly is. These two probably won’t stop tweaking just yet, but even if they did, their work would prompt many a return trip.

GRAND RAPIDS — If you had to find a brewer at The Mitten Brewing Co., you could do it in under a minute. You can’t miss Rob “Wob” Wanhatalo. Wob has the girth, the swarthiness, and, most importantly, the cascading beard of a brewer.
(He also has hops tattoos on his wrists, if you know what hops look like.)
You might, however, miss Jason Warnes. His beard is more modest, his looks unassuming. If he weren’t wearing the boots, gloves and glasses of someone wrestling a fermenter, he might pass for just another customer.
These two, the newly formed brewing team at the Mitten, might become something of an odd couple.
Warnes studies and fidgets with his recipes. He is fastidious, rarely pleased, and, by his own description, tightly wound. His beers start with reading and research. “I look at it on paper,” he says, “and get a feel for what it tastes like.”
That’s where the recipes start. Where they end, even he doesn’t know. “I do a lot of tweaking on my recipes,” says Warnes. “I’ll tweak them 50 times before I’m satisfied. And even then I’m not satisfied.”
By his count, Warnes’s Triple Crown Brown — which won him a national award as a homebrewer — has been altered at least 50 times.
Wob, on the other hand, studies, tweaks and worries a lot less. “I just kind of go for it,” he says. “I just dive in.” He looks at his materials and intuits what he can make from them. Once it’s made, it’s made.
Wob mentions his stout as an example. He made three minor changes, and now he says simply, “I’m done.”
Their temperaments are as different as their processes. One of the Mitten waitresses told Warnes he always appears on the verge of a heart attack. “I can be tough to work with,” he confesses. “If we had two of me…” Wob finishes his sentence: “No one would be calm.”
But it seems that their differences are creating balance, not conflict. They enjoy working together, and their product is well liked, earning nods city-wide.
And as much as they differ in personality and process, Wob and Warnes share a narrative. Both worked for their fathers before becoming full-time brewers — both had to tell their fathers they wanted a change.
Wob was employed at a plastics manufacturer when he got an offer to work at The Hideout Brewery. He had to call his manager, who happened to be his father, to put in his two weeks’ notice.
Warnes was in line to run the family business, but his father approached him and asked about his plans. “Do you want the honest answer?” Warnes asked his father in return. “I told him I wanted to be a brewer.”
Their stories have the same beginning, and Warnes and Wob have the same end in mind too. Warnes nodded in agreement when Wob said, “The best achievement for the time being will be consistency.” They want to nail down their recipes and stop “tweaking.”
Though they have worked together full time for only a week, Wob and Jason seem well on their way toward that goal. They know the “numbers” on their beers intimately — ABV, IBUs, etc. — and refer to them repeatedly in the course of an hour.
The numbers must already be good, because the beer certainly is. These two probably won’t stop tweaking just yet, but even if they did, their work would prompt many a return trip.

When Trevor Doublestein talks about creating a brewery that promotes community, he backs up his words with action.

During a busy Friday evening happy hour for GR Beer Week, Doublestein, co-owner of the new Our Brewing Company in downtown Holland, isn’t tucked away in some office joking with staff or surfing the Internet.

Instead, sporting a black Grand Rapids Beer Week T-shirt, dark designer glasses and a tan beanie, he is relaxing at a table with patrons enjoying their beers in a deep, open space complete with tall ceilings and flanked by exposed brick.

For Doublestein, it’s the way a brewery should be — crazy, communal and fun to be at — with a strong foundation of positive service.

“We wanted it to be like a living room,” he said. “It’s a cool thing to see that communal thing happening.”

The best part is Our Brewing Company, located just a few doors down from New Holland Brewery, has not even reached its full potential, according to Doublestein. Since a soft opening in early November, the brewery has only been open for two or three days a week at a time.

The problem was too much demand for beers ranging from The Belgian Exchange Student to the Glazed Donut Cream Ale. Our Brewing Company went through 15 kegs in 14 hours on its opening weekend, which caused Doublestein to close down for two weekends to build inventory and order a larger brewing system.

“We were upgrading the second day we were open,” he said.

Doublestein said they reopened on Fridays and Saturdays only, added Sunday in January and will add Thursdays beginning this week. They hope to have the new brewing equipment by the end of February and be open seven days a week as soon as possible.

Building on the communal theme, he also plans to reach out to home brewers, giving Our Brewing Company patrons a chance to vote on the best homebrews each month. The winner can then watch their brew being made at the brewery and host their own release party when the beer is complete.

Before running the day-to-day operations of Our Brewing Company, Doublestein was in a family construction business in Petoskey. It was never a love of his, however, despite having skills in that area.

When the economy turned and the construction business became even more stressful, he turned to homebrewing as an outlet. He said it was nice people didn’t critique his work for once. People just enjoyed his beer.

Doublestein was an avid mountain biker and after a hard ride with friends he would share his latest homebrew creations with them. The comparisons started flowing and he got ideas.

“(My friends would say) that’s so much better than such and such,” Doublestein recalls.

He and wife decided to “just go for it,” relocating to the Holland area and opening Our Brewing Company with a co-owner and head brewer.

Our Brewing Company is intentionally smaller so it can adapt to the needs of the customers and the owners, Doublestein said. As a result, they have featured more than 50 different beers since early November, many of which have been requested again and again by customers.

Some of the notable beers on tap were the Careless Whisper — an IPA with a medium body, citrusy tones and smooth finish — the Ron Burgundy — a darker beer described as a “hoppy Scottish red” — and the Daybreak American Amber Ale — which at 7% ABV is “a little big” for an amber ale.

“We like making our beers big,” Doublestein said with a smile. “It’s the American way.”

Doublestein said Our Brewing Company is especially interested in stouts, Belgians, porters and beers made with candies and chocolate. Later this year they plan to introduce teas into their beers as well as brew big Belgians and big IPAs.

“(The big IPA) will be way too hoppy for most people,” he said.

Looking into the future, Doublestein said Our Brewing Company will strive to strike a balance between the interests of customers and the expertise of staff.

“We like to make what the people want and what we want,” he said.

A move away from bustling Downtown Traverse City might have been a brave and bold move for Right Brain Brewery, but customers and its new neighborhood have embraced the change.

Its original location — in the now popular Warehouse District — became known for its eclectic collection of furniture, its low-key, non-bar-esque atmosphere, and, of course, a unique selection of microbrews.

Why would a business move away from the area in which it had become prosperous? To expand the brewhouse, of course.

Right Brain originally brewed in just 900 square feet, and as its success grew, ample brewing space dwindled. The brewery now has a vast 12,000 square feet for brewing. This allows it to keep up with demand — distribution is soon expanding to Ann Arbor and Lansing — and also plan for the future.

The new, larger location can be found in the recently formed “SoFo district.” It still has the same Right Brain atmosphere, complete with barber’s chairs, couches and picnic tables made with scrap wood.

The new location has also allowed Right Brain to transcend beyond being just a brewery. “The SoFo neighborhood has been grateful to have us. We really have become an advocate for creativity,” said Leif Kolt, Events and Marketing Coordinator.

With more space, Right Brain has been able expand its operations to include more community events. In the months since they have reopened, they have hosted a variety of events: From a balloon bouncing competition on New Year’s Eve to a Tweetup on Michigan’s birthday to benefit Goodwill Industries.

On Feb. 4, Right Brain is hosting an exclusive beer dinner along with Roaming Harvest (a local food truck which can often be found outside the pub). The dinner will feature five courses paired with Right Brain brews.

While Right Brain has become a “cultural hub,” it hasn’t lost touch with the great beer we have come to love. Using local products and culinary inspiration, new creative brews are fully researched before being brewed on a full-scale operation. This process has brought to life craft beers featuring flavors of mint, chipotle, Thai peanut and even pork/bacon.

With the success of their creativity, Right Brain recently started bottling its beer and, throughout January, has released a different brew each week. Bottled beers include CEO Stout, Looping Owl and Mangalitsa Pig Porter.

The bottle releases will conclude with an Imperial Release Party on February 8. The release party will feature a Pink Floyd laser light show and the exclusive Imperial Series 4-Pack (only 300 will be made).

Despite its move from the eclectic warehouse district, Right Brain remains the place where you can find someone working on their laptop in the afternoon and return in the evening to meet friends for the best Traverse City has to offer: Creativity, foodie inspiration and quality craft beer.

A move away from bustling Downtown Traverse City might have been a brave and bold move for Right Brain Brewery, but customers and its new neighborhood have embraced the change.
Its original location — in the now popular Warehouse District — became known for its eclectic collection of furniture, its low-key, non-bar-esque atmosphere, and, of course, a unique selection of microbrews.
Why would a business move away from the area in which it had become prosperous? To expand the brewhouse, of course.
Right Brain originally brewed in just 900 square feet, and as its success grew, ample brewing space dwindled. The brewery now has a vast 12,000 square feet for brewing. This allows it to keep up with demand — distribution is soon expanding to Ann Arbor and Lansing — and also plan for the future.
The new, larger location can be found in the recently formed “SoFo district.” It still has the same Right Brain atmosphere, complete with barber’s chairs, couches and picnic tables made with scrap wood.
The new location has also allowed Right Brain to transcend beyond being just a brewery. “The SoFo neighborhood has been grateful to have us. We really have become an advocate for creativity,” said Leif Kolt, Events and Marketing Coordinator.
With more space, Right Brain has been able expand its operations to include more community events. In the months since they have reopened, they have hosted a variety of events: From a balloon bouncing competition on New Year’s Eve to a Tweetup on Michigan’s birthday to benefit Goodwill Industries.
On Feb. 4, Right Brain is hosting an exclusive beer dinner along with Roaming Harvest (a local food truck which can often be found outside the pub). The dinner will feature five courses paired with Right Brain brews.
While Right Brain has become a “cultural hub,” it hasn’t lost touch with the great beer we have come to love. Using local products and culinary inspiration, new creative brews are fully researched before being brewed on a full-scale operation. This process has brought to life craft beers featuring flavors of mint, chipotle, Thai peanut and even pork/bacon.
With the success of their creativity, Right Brain recently started bottling its beer and, throughout January, has released a different brew each week. Bottled beers include CEO Stout, Looping Owl and Mangalitsa Pig Porter.
The bottle releases will conclude with an Imperial Release Party on February 8. The release party will feature a Pink Floyd laser light show and the exclusive Imperial Series 4-Pack (only 300 will be made).
Despite its move from the eclectic warehouse district, Right Brain remains the place where you can find someone working on their laptop in the afternoon and return in the evening to meet friends for the best Traverse City has to offer: Creativity, foodie inspiration and quality craft beer.

LAKE ORION — It took a lot of a love and patience, but husband-and-wife Don and Mary Gindhart are proud to announce the birth of their baby, 51 North Brewing, which opens today in a building that once upon a time was home to a Depression-era gas station.

“Mary and I walked in here and thought ‘Oh my God, this has great character, this building,’” says Don. “The ceilings are dramatic; there’s a lot of space here – it just spoke to us.”

The Gindharts have put a lot of hard work into the project, including installation of a custom-made bar and extensive restoration of the old building, which still sports telltale signs of its automotive past, such as the two garage-style doors in the front. Don and Mary also had to overcome a lot of hostility from local officials unfamiliar with the kind of clientele craft breweries attract.

“The city council voted us down the first time I went before them,” says Don. “They seemed to think we’d have crowds of drunks out here all the time or something, but they got to know what we are about and now they’re solidly behind us.”

The brewhouse was designed (with room for expansion) with the help of Bret and Eric Kuhnhenn of Kuhnhenn Brewing in Warren, where Don used to make beer frequently as a customer of the Kuhnhenns’ former “brew-on-premise” business. Don procured a lightly used seven-barrel system from a California restaurant, and then the next order of business was hiring a good brewer.

Although he’s an experienced homebrewer, Don wanted someone with commercial experience to head up 51 North’s brewing operation. Adam Beratta, formerly of the Redwood Lodge in Flint and Great Baraboo in Clinton Township, jumped at the chance.

“Adam and I talked for about five minutes and it was immediately clear this was right,” says Don. “He’s very passionate — in fact, he’s already gone and gotten a 51 North tattoo. That’s how dedicated he is!”

Beratta has worked up six mainstay beers, which are currently pouring: Lake Orion Light, Spencer Island Rye Pale Ale, Paint Creek Wheat Ale, Dog Way IPA, Wind Walker Brown Ale and Velvet Moose Oatmeal Stout. (I tried all of them out of the tanks, and all of them were really clean and really tasty.) As time goes on, other seasonal and rotating offerings will be added, and Don expects to also involve local homebrewers in creating beers to put on tap. Other plans include an outdoor patio, the addition of wines and meads to the beverage menu, and, eventually, distribution throughout the state.

The food menu was designed by Mary, who has nearly a decade of experience as a personal chef. It includes meat and cheese appetizers, soups, salads, and sandwiches, along with a kids’ menu and even an assortment of dessert cookies.

“Everything’s homemade — all my salad dressings, all my soups, they’re made fresh every day,” says Mary. “Eventually we’re going to do beer dinners and wine and mead pairings and all of that.”

“Mary’s a phenomenal cook,” adds Don. “There’s nothing else like our sandwiches out there.”

Mug Club memberships are available at a $50 annual Enthusiast level, which includes a pint glass and growler (empty); 23 oz. beers for the price of 16 oz. one; 15% off all merchandise, tastings and special events; $1 off growler refills; and a little extra love on your birthday. For $1,200, one can join the Connoisseur lifetime club, which entitles you to all the foregoing plus a hand-blown glass mug for your personal use; a 51 North Polo-style shirt embroidered with your name; half off all tastings and special events (and preferential invitations to same); and an annual members-only party.

On weekends, live music will be part of the mix, including appearances from the two different bands Don plays in. But for people who prefer a more intimate setting, there are a few quiet cubbyholes throughout the bar.

“There are places you can sneak away from the noise if you want to,” he notes. “We have a room with no TVs as well.”

So was all the work worth it?

Absolutely, Don says. “You know the great thing about Michigan microbreweries? There’s no competitors. I’m joining a fraternity.”

51 North Brewing Co., 51 N. Broadway St., Downtown Lake Orion. Hours: Tuesday and Wednesday, 3-11 p.m.; Thursday – Saturday, 11 a.m. to Midnight; Sunday, Noon to 6 p.m. Closed Mondays. Web: www.51northbrewing.com. Phone: 248-690-7367.