creston brewery

Opened in August 2016, Creston Brewery is planting an impression on their neighborhood. Rooted in a commitment to their community and all things local, Creston has transformed an old furniture showroom and warehouse into a welcomed destination for the northeast side of Grand Rapids.

Co-owned by Scott Schultz, Brewmaster, his wife Molly Bouwsma-Schultz, Vince Lambert, CFO, and his wife Cailin Kelly, and bonded by their friendship, Creston has already established itself as an inclusive taproom, inviting both dedicated locals and the craft curious.

I sat down with Jarrod Napierkowski, General Manager, and Andrea Bumstead, Sales and Events Manager, who kept generously feeding me beers, to talk about what it means to be a new brewery growing up in front of their neighbors.

creston brewery

Andrea Bumstead & Jarrod Napierkowski

Editor’s note: After this interview was conducted, Schultz tipped us off that they’re getting ready to release a brand new beer, and their first lager ever—Creston Lager, on Sat, April 22 in celebration of Earth Day—made exclusively with all Michigan ingredients. Since we kinda dig our planet (and The Mitten State) too, we asked him to tell us more about this day of firsts.

Scott Schultz: Creston Lager, at 4.7%, is brewed with water from Lake Michigan, malts from Pilot Malt House, and hops from West Michigan Hopyards and Michigan Hop Alliance. It’s my idea of a perfect beer: easy to drink, hugely flavorful, and supports the growers of damn fine ingredients in our great state. Earth Day is the perfect day to celebrate that. Basically, it’s the lager that AB-InBev could never brew.  

 

Mittenbrew : Thanks for keepin’ it real, Scott. Can you break down the profile a little more?

SS: It’s a loose hybrid of a pils and a marzen. The menu description could read: Pale yellow with medium body, low bitterness. Bready, toasty, and with a citrus-dominated flavor and aroma from Nugget, Cascade, Chinook, and Crystal hops. Clean, crisp, and complex.

 

Ok, I’m sold. So, Creston’s first lager?

SS: Yeah. It’s our first time brewing it, too. We always have a house yeast strain for mainstays, but switch specialty yeast strains with the season. Spring is lager season. The ingredients perfectly showcase how good we have it in MI—as far as quality, availability, and affordability. I designed the brew system to easily handle lagers, and this beer gets an extra-long conditioning process to be as clean and crisp as possible.

 

What are your plans for its release?

SS: We tap it on Earth Day, and will have collectible Creston Lager glassware. It’ll be available to-go in crowlers and growlers as well. We’ll also be debuting our outdoor patio, unveiling all new awesome local art on the taproom walls, have brunch and dinner features, and the first-ever taproom performance from indie-soul band, Vox Vidorra. Stay tuned to Creston’s website for more details to be announced soon.

creston brewery

Scott Schultz

 

Now, back to our regularly scheduled interview…

What was the motivation for opening a brewery?

Jarrod Napierkowski: Molly and Cailin were friends first, who both knew Scott and Vince, who had never met, shared the same goal of wanting to open their own brewery. After telling them, “You guys have to meet. You’ve got to be friends,” both couples ended up sitting around a campfire over beers together. Scott, already a professional brewer, and Vince, a finance whiz, asked each other, “What do we have to do to make this happen?” Before they knew it, they were looking at our building.

 

How did Scott and Vince want to position their brewery compared to the others in Grand Rapids?

Andrea Bumstead: I feel with Scott’s experience in the industry, he seemed like he just automatically wanted to do things differently. Scott’s idea from the very beginning was that he wanted to brand everything with its own identity. He wanted to brew beers that weren’t necessarily true to style, but brewed to flavor first in such a way that their guests could identify with the beer as a whole experience.

JN: Part of it was the opportunity to bring this incredible building to life, and exposing the other side of the beer industry—the femininity and beauty behind brewing beer and operating a brewery. They were tired of seeing all these breweries that were metal and wood and raw—man caves by default. With the building and the beer, they wanted to express the natural beauty that is everything this industry can do.

 

Did either of the wives have any input on honing in on that femininity?

JN: Absolutely. They’ve been very hands-on, integral in the dialogue—exchanging advice with Scott and Vince. All four of them work in a cohesive partnership to create this thing, including building our team of employees as well. They give everyone a voice, and are very receptive when there are things we want to see happen. I really think Molly and Cailin helped build this as much as Scott and Vince did—they all came to the table with complementing skillsets.

 

There’s an gentle uniqueness to the ambiance of the building. What was it, in particular, that made them commit to this location? Was it the building or the neighborhood?

JN: I think it goes beyond both. This actually wasn’t the first place they looked at. The most important thing I sensed was the vibe and feeling of what went into the dream to do something for a community. Originally, they had planned on being across town on Wealthy Street, and that fell through, but it didn’t disrupt their vision to open a brewery that focuses on the community, that makes the people in the community feel valued. All of that intention just transferred naturally to Creston. The goal of everyone here has been to bring up this community, and to make the brewery feel like we’re a part of it.

 

Assuming all things went well when the brewery opened, it would become an anchor destination in the community, so what came first—the brewery impacting the community or vice versa?

AB: Our neighbors have been very supportive. In the very beginning, it was difficult to do as much outreach as we had intended, but that’s only because everyone was working so hard to get us up and running. Since, I’d like to think that we’ve had a very positive effect on the neighborhood. Once a month, we host community workshop events either at the brewery or on location outside to help better the community, which have been really well received.

 

Were there any concepts you tried to implement at the beginning that looked good on paper, but didn’t get the traction you had hoped?

JN: The biggest challenge so far has been coming to the realization that we can’t take our entire staff out of the brewery to clean the parks or plant trees for an entire day. Business has been so good that many of us need to hold down the fort here. So, in order to have active interactions with the community, we’ve had to scale back our efforts just a bit, or be a little more creative while still being meaningful. We donate proceeds from events to local charities, and we employ people from Grand Rapids Urban League when we need extra hands out there. If there’s something we want to do, we find a way to make it happen, even if we have to do it in incremental steps to make the larger dream come true.

 

How have you accomplished that with the Creston Crew?

AB: Similar to the concept of a “mug club,” Creston Crew goes way beyond just getting a traditional discount on a beer. Members can actually choose their own day of the week, Sunday-Thursday, to take advantage of the Crew’s benefits. And, even if you come in and it’s not your day, you still get taken care of. We send out a monthly Crews News email newsletter to keep our members informed about what’s coming up, how they can get involved at events, and even what they missed since the previous month. To a certain degree, we put some of the onus on the members, too, to participate and take some ownership of their community, too.

 

Let’s talk about the beer. Why did Scott’s vision for the beer program resist a true-to-style portfolio?

JN: He knew he wanted to get close, but more than anything else—he wanted to be ingredient-driven. When we were first conceptualizing the brewery, we all talked together about how to best represent the beers. So, rather than beers with descriptions limited exclusively to style, we developed a custom scale to quantify Scott’s vision.

 

creston breweryEditor: The Creston Brewery Beer Scale, designed in the shape of the letter C, expresses the following characteristics of each of their beers: color via Standard Reference Method (SRM), malt, bitterness, and hoppiness. In the middle of the C, the centerpiece of the scale, is a simple icon to indicate the beer’s “primary flavor and aroma” or to highlight a unique ingredient. Visit to see it applied on their menu. It’s clever.

 

 

 

For craft beer novices, how do you think the Creston Brewery Beer Scale has contributed to people interacting with you?

JN: It’s a way to help people visually recognize what they may (or may not) like in a particular beer, with the hope that they’ll seek out others based on their preference. We wanted to re-teach people how they learn about beer.

AB: The scale has also been a really nice way for our servers and bartenders to engage with our customers. It’s been an intriguing aspect of the guest experience so far.

JN: It’s also a great way level the playing field for people who may just want a beer. It helps eliminate the intimidation factor.

AB: Maybe half of the people who visit us don’t know much about beer. They come in for dinner with their family or friends, and with the Scale, we’re able to guide them on their discovery. We also get a ton of people who want to get their Brewsader Passport stamped, who end up hanging out a little longer to study what we do because of the Scale.

JN: People definitely seem to connect with the culture here. From the building, to the staff, to the beers, its menu, and to the food—we provide this nice little starter pack for people looking to explore what craft beer is all about.

As the sole brewer, what challenges, or successes, has Scott experienced?

JN: Having worked at Founders for 4 years, Scott witnessed them struggle if they wanted to go local for ingredients. They couldn’t do it because of the sheer volume they did. The nice thing here is that Scott can do that on a smaller scale, so he really focuses on that. If it’s not Grand Rapids local, it’s Michigan local. Whenever possible.

 

How has your draft list evolved since you opened?

JN: We started with about a dozen, and now we’re consistently at having 20 on.

 

What are your plans for distribution?

AB: On pace to do 1,000 barrels per year, it’s all self-distribution at this point. We’re currently on at 12 accounts between Grand Rapids and Lansing, and that’s all just happened within the last month.

 

Do Scott and Vince have intentional plans to increase volume or expand distribution?

AB: There’s always a plan. As long as things are growing organically and the best way possible. With all of us moving toward the same positive goal, then slowly or quickly we’ll get to where we’re supposed to be. It’s a matter of just dipping our toe in right now to gauge how we’re received. If the growth is steady and healthy, we estimate we might need to move beyond self-distributing by summer 2018.

JN: Fortunately, we’re set up in this building with the opportunity to expand our brewing operations footprint if we need to increase production. But, if you jump the gun too much, you won’t be able to fill your own shoes.

In addition to the draft list growing over the last couple months, I’ve noticed that the food menu has done the same. It’s pretty eclectic, Mexican-inspired. How come?

JN: Scott and Vince knew they definitely wanted to have a full-service kitchen, and liked the idea of tacos, burritos, empanadas… We hired our chef, Dan Cook, formerly of The Gilmore Collection, to come in and push the limits of the original menu’s vision, which he’s done. He experiments with features regularly, creating dishes that you wouldn’t expect from a brewery—often inspired by ideas Vince and Cailin bring back from their international travels. And, Dan does an amazing job bringing those cultural inspirations to life, sourcing his ingredients from a number of MI farms and farmers markets.

 

Creston seems like a welcoming community for artists. It sounds like you’ve also started to scratch the surface by hosting live music, too?

AB: Molly actually curates all the artwork that’s on the walls, refreshing it every 3-4 months, showcasing different Grand Rapids artists. And, we’ve started with hosting live music. The current plan is to feature them weekly, stripped down acoustically. And, it’ll be in the round, staged in the middle of the dining room floor.

JN: We’re also hosting live comedy nights, a rotating lineup of local DJs spinning vinyl, and guest speakers doing interactive spoken word. It’s going to be a really nice, engaging environment for anyone who enjoys our beer, our food, or the building’s ambiance.

 

Final last words?

JN: Although we’ve already touched on it, we’re just excited at the opportunity to create something the neighborhood needs. Regardless of where our growth takes us, whether that includes expansion, it’s important to us that we continue to contribute to developing this community, making the entire area thrive as much as it deserves.

creston brewery

 

Photography: Steph Harding

winter beer fest

Before I worked in the craft industry, I was a beer festival attendee. My perspective only stretched as far as to see the glorious, seemingly never-ending flow of beer from taps. I sought out IPAs and Flanders Reds, but would absolutely try anything. My friends and I would all get different pours and trade them around, forgetting who had what, but enjoying all the different flavors and tastes anyways. People around me would start the beer battle cry and we would all join in, knocking elbows with friendly, slightly intoxicated neighbors and doing our best imitations of freed animals howling at the moon. It was always an atmosphere of (slightly reckless) happiness and friendship.

emilyA couple of years later, I speak from the other side of festival operations as a brewery employee. The air of happiness and friendship is still very much there, but for different reasons. Beer is hard work. As an employee of a Michigan brewery, I now appreciate the science, creativity, innovation, patience, and elbow grease it takes to churn out one magical recipe. I respect brewers for their meticulous natures and passion for creation. I appreciate all of the pubtenders and barbacks for being on the front lines of service. I admire sales representatives and marketing gurus who grow the brand and spread the good word of beer. And I bow down to brave individuals who put every last iota of capital and confidence into opening their own small businesses.

I started as a pubtender in a small brewery to learn the beer and study the brand. I tried out brewing, and while I enjoyed it, it wasn’t the everyday vocation I wanted to devote myself to. I am now a brewery sales representative who dabbles in marketing. I’m also the lead on festivals and events, working with new people and old friends every day. Like all workers in the craft industry, I wear a lot of hats, and gladly. I am still new to the industry, but I recognize that the best brewery team is one that not only believes in the brand, but also in all of its individual members.

And only the best craft and brewery teams are brought to the Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Fest. Not only is it hosted by the largest craft beverage organization in Michigan—this festival takes place in Grand Rapids, known by many as Beer City, USA. For Michigan breweries, this is our semester’s final exam, making all of the festival-goers our very enthusiastic and very opinionated graders.

Like a majority of fellow breweries, we plan our beer list carefully (and usually months in advance). We want to bring recognized favorites, but also new styles and maybe a few surprises. Some of those surprises, like a barrel-aged beer, take months to age, with brewers carefully tasting and testing the product until that exact moment that it’s pronounced perfect. And when we tap that beer, crossing our fingers that it wasn’t damaged in transportation or that the tap lines aren’t too cold to pour through, nothing makes us happier than handing it over to an eager attendee.

The weather for this year’s Winter Beer Fest ran the gamut of possible Michigan forecasts. Friday kicked off the festivities with heavy rains downways, sideways, and everyway, drowning everyone, yet spirits remained high. Saturday ushered in a cold snap, welcoming back some fluffy white snow following a pretty mellow winter season. Luckily, the biggest issue weather caused was a few flyaway tents, so festivities went forward.

winter beer fest

A huge attribute to the success of a festival is the volunteer staff. Sometimes, they are the close friends and family of fellow brewery staff. Sometimes they are complete strangers eager for a new experience. Whatever their motivations, they are often thrust into the thick of things with nothing but their enthusiasm to guide them.

We had a great mix of volunteers pouring with us at this beer festival, all with different experience levels. A couple had never poured beer before, while a few others were volunteer veterans, pouring with ease and fielding questions like they owned the place. This mix of strengths caters to all of the different festival goers as well. First-time attendees want more questions answered while some just want the beer options listed as efficiently as possible. Either way, it’s always good to have help.

Even with advanced planning and care, things don’t always go quite the way we want—weather, forgotten supplies, broken down vehicles, sick workers—it all happens. This is usually the nature of the beer business. Luckily, the Michigan craft industry is known for camaraderie. We all lend out a lot of spare wrenches, air tanks, and even volunteer workers at festivals to ensure that all attendees are allowed the best possible time of their lives. At this year’s Winter Beer Fest, we forgot an air tank, meaning we had no way to push beer through the taplines (sheer will does not work). I knew I could reach out to friends in the industry for assistance, and it was no surprise when someone had an extra they could lend us. Later that day, we helped jumpstart another brewery’s vehicle.

The Michigan craft industry is very much a community—a lot of give with little take. We only want to help each other excel in order to grow the industry into further success as a whole. It all comes down to our beer in a person’s hand. With our whole hearts, every fiber of our being, we want people to enjoy it. But we want honest feedback. We want questions and discussions. Most of all, we want to have a conversation with people about our beer and our brand.

With the number of Michigan breweries growing monthly, Michigan craft-drinkers are becoming more and more educated. They recognize quality, they ask questions about ingredients and brew systems, and they appreciate something new. The constant challenge of fulfilling and exceeding every attendee’s expectation keeps us all on our toes and guarantees an innovative and creative future for the industry as a whole.

Whether craft is a hobby or a career, Michigan craft is all about passion. We believe in what we drink and who pours it no matter what side of the bar we’re standing on.

 

Photography: Amee Rutan

New Holland Brewing

New Holland Brewing Company announced on December 15 that they are entering into a “long-term partnership agreement” with Pabst Brewing Company that will “focus on the national distribution and sales of New Holland’s full portfolio of beer.” Effective first quarter 2017, Pabst will manage New Holland’s wholesale network to help New Holland “accelerate growth and drive success at the shelf.” This rather unprecedented relationship, of course, prompted interest and questions.

new holland

Brett VanderKamp and Fred Bueltmann

Brett VanderKamp, founder and president of New Holland, is transparent about the decision, explaining why he believes New Holland and Pabst are good for each other. After a proven track record of 20 years, New Holland is a “well groomed and well healed” brewery of modest size that has the white space to grow at a pace appropriate for an opportunity for Pabst to acclimate into the American craft beer segment. “From a portfolio perspective, this partnership adds a well-rounded value for them,” VanderKamp stated.

Currently, New Holland is distributed in 34 states. Although achieving presence in all 50 is certainly not beyond possibility, it’s not part of the 2017 strategy with Pabst. VanderKamp’s immediate goal is to broaden and deepen their exposure in their present markets, as well as consider their potential to expand into additional select states as it makes sense.

What does Pabst bring to the table? An entire sales organization, which includes a robust national sales team to manage the distributor. Pabst has the mobility to operate across their geography with precision all the way down to shelf. VanderKamp values the reach that Pabst has—allowing them to have significant conversations with key people in different regions that New Holland hasn’t had the human resources to tackle.

pabst

Before deciding to commit to Pabst, VanderKamp admitted that in some cases, reviewing proposals from other potential partners included ownership percentages exchanging hands. In order to protect themselves, VanderKamp said he and his team created “guardrails around what was really important to us and the New Holland brand.” Pabst will be financially incentivized for their efforts, but New Holland retains sole ownership, and does not relinquish any equity to Pabst.

For VanderKamp, the intangibles of a partnership like this are just as important as the financial bottom line. “We quickly aligned on what matters in both of our organizations. With Pabst, We’re a cultural fit, a trust fit, and a value fit.” To honor the integrity of New Holland’s mission and vision, to continue to grow the company, and take their brands across the country, sharing the New Holland story, VanderKamp felt compelled to go with his gut.

“At the end of the day,” VanderKamp revealed, “I had to simply decide if I liked the guys [at Pabst].” When asked if he thought he could sit across the table and have a beer with Pabst chairman Eugene Kashper and the rest of the Pabst team, and actually enjoy it, VanderKamp laughed, and replied, “Yeah. I could have many.”

When addressing the public’s perception that a move like this could mean backlash for New Holland, VanderKamp acknowledged the risk, but dismissed any threat that could be associated with Pabst, particularly “when you compare them to the most notable behemoth that’s out there right now.” VanderKamp admires the role Kashper has played in this partnership. “Eugene is an entrepreneur through and through. He was intimate in this deal, very hands on, and is incredibly approachable. From a leadership standpoint, working alongside Pabst is really not that scary at all.” From a social or consumer standpoint, it’s PBR—a domestic that indexes incredibly successfully against craft beer. And, as VanderKamp playfully jabbed, “…probably also in your fridge at home right now, too.”

 

dutch girl brewery

Dutch Girl Brewery has added a lot to their plate recently. It is not a surprise how quickly breweries are learning the importance of having good food readily available for their guests. Thus, DGB has literally added plates to their tables, with the opening of a kitchen inside of their brewery. It was always in DGB’s plan, they just didn’t expect it to happen this soon. A tough situation a lot of breweries without food face is the simple fact that their customers can only drink so much before they need to put food in their stomachs.  

Finding the right person was always going to be the determining factor as to when the kitchen would open its doors. Having an owner with a background in the culinary arts, the expectations were high before they even set out to find their Head Chef. Much to their surprise, the problem was easily solved with Aaron Shapiro. An excited California native, he’s ready to bring the flair and flavor he has cultivated with over 20 years of culinary experience working in breweries, preparing banquets, and cooking in large and small scale restaurants – to the Lakeshore. You can have all the experience in the world, but one thing Shapiro always keeps in mind is his clientele.

“Whenever I’m looking at what I want to serve, there are three elements I always look at. Most importantly, who is my audience? What type of clientele being served is of the utmost importance when deciding on flavors and dishes. Second, I look at what has worked in the past. Third, I consider the cuisine I am serving, at the time. When I have used these items as factors, my successes have increased exponentially. I take a lot away from international cuisine, and in particular street foods,” said Shapiro.

DGB’s kitchen offers a menu with a lot of gourmet deli style sandwiches. Even with a ‘small’ kitchen, it isn’t stopping some amazing flavors coming out of there. Their approach to their menu is simple.

“The least amount of ingredients tastes best – five or six ingredients in each dish. We are around the world when it comes to food with our weekend features. It is a unique item that is a one off and offered at $10. Most of our weekend features sell out before the weekend is over. The features starts on Friday around 4pm and go until gone,” said Kelly Finchem, co-owner of DGB.

Keeping with the simple theme, DGB likes to leave beer out of the food menu. Everyone’s palates can be so different that it is hard to list a catch all for the guests with each food item. However, Shapiro does have a soft spot for one beer in particular.

“Our Just One More lager has a great flavor profile, and will lend itself to many different flavors. More times than not, I will lean into that one for a suggestion to our guests, when discussing beer that goes with our food, it’s just a good marry. But for me… it’s the Big and Tall Pale Ale,” said Shapiro.     

dutch girl brewery

In addition to a new kitchen, DGB is kicking up dirt and making their debut with their very first bottled beer, Dirty Boots. Dirty Boots is an imperial milk stout brewed with seven types of grain and milk sugar. It is one of their most popular beers and has a name near and dear to the owner’s, Kelly and Luke Finchem, hearts—it is named after their German Shorthaired Pointer, Bo, and his notorious muddy paws.

The actual recipe for Dirty Boots came from Luke practicing a milk stout at home for a couple years, then collaborating with Josh Lentz, DGB’s head brewer, to perfect the recipe. It is their most popular and highest rated beer.

“We are doing our first run, 90 cases, so 1,080 bottles of beer on the wall. We are hand bottling and hand labeling this run. The label is from Blue Label Digital, who was able to do a nice metallic design on it. It was important to get this metallic look to go with the watercolor design done by Jacob Zars. Zars worked collaboratively with Mark Curtis of C3Designs to place our logo into the artwork. It went through eight or nine renditions to make it happen. We are very happy with how it turned out,” said Kelly Finchem.

Dirty Boots was released to the public on Black Friday at 10 a.m. along with a continental breakfast. The 22oz bottle sold for $8.99 with no limits. If you missed out on Black Friday bottle release, don’t worry, there are still bombers available at the pub. Keep an eye out for Dirty Boots distributed around town, future beer pairing dinners at the brewery, and in case you weren’t aware, DGB also serves hard cider, wine, and moscato wine for those looking for something different to try.

Catch Kelly and Luke for a taste of Dirty Boots on Sat, Jan 7 from 4-6pm at Siciliano’s Market.

 

gonzos

Greg “Gonzo” Haner has been a stalwart member of the Kalamazoo craft beer scene for more than 20 years, acting as brewmaster for Kalamazoo’s first brewpub and assisting several new breweries get up and running. Now his namesake brewery will be celebrating its third anniversary with numerous barrel-aged and one-off beers while eyeing the future.

gonzos

Gonzo’s Biggdogg Brewing’s official third birthday is Nov. 13, but the brewery will start the party a day early with a celebratory toast and cake at 7 p.m. and some high octane brews starting when it opens at 11 a.m. including a barrel-aged version of it’s flagship Vanilla Porter, an ale named Qyburn’s Turn made by combining a 12 percent ABV Scotch Ale with an Imperial Stout, and a few other surprises.

“We’ve got a barleywine that’s been sitting in a brandy barrel for two-and-a-half years,” Haner said.

Haner began homebrewing in 1991. A few years later he earned a degree in microbrewing from the Seibel Institute of Technology and helped open Olde Peninsula Brewpub as its brewmaster in 1996. Beyond that, he’s also helped other brewers in town get their recipes perfected.

“Gonzo gave me some good insight into my beer,” said Kevin Tibbs, brewmaster at Tibbs Brewing Company. “He improved my beer a lot, just talking to him. When I was brewing at home I felt like there was a little something missing. He told me it was good, but it was thin and that always stuck with me.”

“Really we all help each other,” Haner said. “I think it’s a thing where everybody works together to help everybody else.”

Gonzo’s Biggdogg was among the initial wave of breweries that opened in the Kalamazoo craft beer boom of 2013, and has maintained a high profile through a combination of Haner’s name recognition, a constantly rotating lineup of tap offerings at the brewery, a full-slate of canned beers available on store shelves, and distribution to various bars and restaurants.

In the coming year the brewery is planning to add ciders to the mix as well.

“I think the business is doing very good,” Haner said. “We’ve got a lot of key people here that are doing a great job.”

Gonzo’s currently cans five beers for distribution, with help from Michigan Mobile Canning. The most recent addition to the lineup is Yummy Hoppy, a double IPA made with local hops from Hop Head Farms. It joined Vanilla Porter, Burning Sun Redd, Magic Trick Hefeweizen, and Geyser Brown as the brewery’s canned options in late September.

“A lot of customers really liked Yummy Hoppy, so going off our customers’ excitement we decided to go ahead and can that and it’s done very well so far,” Haner said. “It’s a nice beer in a can, definitely.”

Looking forward to the brewery’s future, Haner said he intends to keep rotating new and different beers into the lineup along side some favorite standbys to keep people coming back.

“We rotate all of the time to keep things fresh,” he said. “It’s good to switch it up. People don’t like to come in here every week or every month and have the same beers on. The reason I go to places is because they have something new on or to get one I really like and then try one or two new beers they have on that I’ve never had before.

“I think that’s the thing the thing about the craft scene right now. People want to try something new every time.”

fountain hill brewery

Grand Rapids is now home to another new brewery—but this one might not be one you know about, yet. Say hello to Fountain Hill Brewery & Peter’s Pub, the first and only federal and state-licensed brewpub owned and operated on a college campus.

Grand Rapids Community College has long had a strong culinary program. The Secchia Institute for Culinary Education (SICE) is considered one of the best culinary schools in the country, producing passionate, talented Chefs who make some of our favorite meals, locally and beyond. Peter Secchia, a native Michigander and philanthropist, is a strong supporter of both food and drink, and recently he realized that SICE was missing a critical component to their program—“beerducation.”

In Beer City USA, it simply is good business sense. Enter a grand plan to create something entirely new, from curriculum to equipment to final product. An ambitious undertaking, but what better place to find the right men and women for the job than Grand Rapids?

The brewhouse itself is a three-barrel Craftwerks system, brewing about six kegs per batch. Those who complete the program receive a certification for Craft Brewing, Packaging, and Service Operations. While student run and led, the gentlemen at the helm is Mr. John Stewart, probably familiar to most MittenBrew readers as Director of Brewing Operations at Perrin Brewing Company.  

“This is truly a unique experience going from grain to glass,” Stewart shares “While the focus is primarily brewing, we have a wider range of what we are teaching. We have students who are doing internships with distributorships, working with the local hop fields—so some of those side industries that are sprouting up in West Michigan around brewing—these students are developing relationships with them. Not everyone is specifically looking just to brew. The breweries in West Michigan are exploding, but so are all these industries that they are supporting.”

GRCC is very much work-force driven, and the practical, hands-on experience that students receive in the program is to the advantage of those in the industry who are looking to hire new recruits, and to the students who complete the certification.

Talking with Jacob Derylo, Head Brewer at Brewery Vivant– during the grand opening, he shares the same sentiment. “I think it’s great. There are breweries opening up, and we obviously need brewers to fill those roles. Having a pool of applicants with some practical experience on actual brewery equipment can definitely be a benefit.”

The ribbon cutting was a great opportunity to hear from those who carved the path for the program and the students themselves, as well as tasting the product the students put forth- it’s all about the beer, of course!

fountain hill brewery

On tap during the ribbon cutting were 8 different brews—Pete’s Wheat (Hefeweizen), Dum Blonde (Blonde Ale), Secchia Scottish (Scottish Ale-on CO2 and Nitro), Sweet A IPA (American Style IPA), Baltic Raider (Baltic Porter), & Fruits of our Labor (Fruit Ale).

The students in the program range in age and gender (yes, there were two women in the program), and they were happy to talk shop about the beer and their reasons for seeking certification. Jason Richards, who currently works at Founders, said he “wanted to gain more tools in my tool belt to become a better asset to my company.”

Other students such as Stephen Holden decided to pursue their passion. Quitting a job in banking, he decided to combine his previous degree in Marketing with the knowledge gained from the program to find employment that was more fulfilling than crunching numbers.

Keeley Dunn simply enjoyed the world of beer and wine. Currently working at a liquor store, she decided to pursue this program as part of her 10 year goal to eventually brew professionally.

If you’re downtown looking for a different spot to try some beers, don’t neglect Fountain Hill Brewery. Try a pint and provide feedback to your bartender. This is a classroom, after all.

Fountain Hill Brewery is open to the public from 5:30-8:30 PM on Thursdays and Fridays. For more information, visit here.

 

Images courtesy Fountain Hill Brewery

brewery ferment

Breweries come in all shapes and sizes—some experiment with unconventional ingredients while others focus on specific styles, some only distribute and some intentionally do not distribute. Brewery Ferment in Traverse City recently celebrated its fourth anniversary, and has found a way to stay small and creative amongst growing competition.

brewery ferment

Dustin and Kirsten Jones, a unique sibling team, opened Brewery Ferment with a creative and experimental vision. Upon moving back from Chicago, Dustin decided to turn his homebrewing into a small, creative neighborhood brewery. Since opening, their plan and vision has evolved as their business has grown.

“There wasn’t much when we started,” said Dustin. “We never expected to be one of a dozen in such a concentrated area. Now, it’s more than just those from the neighborhood coming in.”

Around the time Brewery Ferment opened, a number of other breweries opened in Traverse City. This led to increased competition, causing Ferment to adapt while also staying true to its individuality and creative flair.

“We are still a boutique brewery. Now, it’s about the education process and experimental beers,” said Kirsten.

True to the boutique style, the taproom is small and eclectic. Hop flowers can be found in the windows, on hand-crafted pillows, and on the tables. The tap handles are made from driftwood, and the atmosphere is very casual, maintaining a neighborhood feel. Kirsten has also designed a number of merchandise items for sale in the taproom, including hop jewelry, sweatshirts, and dresses. Even the snacks are unique—pickled eggs are made in house and come in three different varieties.

brewery ferment

Kirsten and Dustin Jones

Likewise, in their four years, Brewery Ferment has gained a reputation for its unique approach with sour beers. Dustin often draws inspiration from the farmer’s market, searching for items that will bring new flavors and aromas to a brew. Rhubarb, tomatoes, mushrooms, and unique peppers have all found their way into their beers.

And now, Ferment has started bottling select brews in small batches.

“Beer is about having an experience. With bottling, I want to present it in the best possible condition. Bottling creates a different beer,” said Dustin.

The bottles are sealed with wax and a Michigan stamp and are currently available at the taproom. In fact, if you use the bottle on-site, you will save 10% and the bottle can be reused. There are also plans for distribution and monthly special bottle releases.

brewery ferment

Roak

Everything about ROAK Brewing Company screams rock and roll—from the décor, to the music, to the names of the beer. For an old rock chick like me, this was a sure fire hit mix.

RoakOwner John Leone says that the rock theme was accidental. “We were starting to make up names for beers, and it’s harder than you might think. You think you have the best name, but someone else has done it,” Leone explains. Then he realized that musicians have been drawing influences from music for ages, and so he decided to do the same. In his case, the influences mostly come from the realm of classic rock. “Sometimes I’m inspired by an album cover, sometimes it’s lyrics,” Leone says. “I go to my brewers with my vision, we hammer it out, and find the path to head down” towards great beer.

Leone says that, like classic rock songwriters, there sometimes is “creative tension in the process between (brewers) Brandon (MacClaren) and Adam (Stout). But if we were all happy and agreeing, we wouldn’t get that final end product. Creative tension pushes us, makes the best possible beer, and we are only going to get better.”

While not everyone picks up on the rock theme right away, there have been many compliments on the taproom and its song list. I heard some great rock songs while at ROAK one fine Sunday afternoon. Through the magic of my imagination, I have made them fit nicely with my experience.

Seeing Things (for the First Time)

The first time I heard the Black Crowes, I was a freshman in college and just starting to listen to music that wasn’t what my friends and parents listened to. I knew immediately that I would love that band, and I did. Similarly, the first time I walked into ROAK, I took a gander at the huge chandelier, the dramatic color scheme, and the beer selection and immediately knew I would love the brewpub. And I did!

“Roak” means “smoke” in Dutch, and where there’s smoke there’s fire—or in this case, very excellent atmosphere. The deep reds and blacks put me in the mind of the best rock video—edgy, yet cool. And a great place to enjoy some good beer.

Roak

The Weight

In this song, The Band implores us to take a load off—and that’s exactly what we did. My friends and I kicked back and ordered the soft pretzel appetizers and three different personal pizzas. Beer cheese and hot mustard accompanied the pretzel, which was nice and soft on the inside without being soggy or too doughy. All of the pizzas were a hit, too. The ROAK deluxe included pepperoni, mushrooms, peppers, and onions, the Carne piled on the meat, and the Arrostito offered a variety of vegetables from Portobello mushrooms to baby squash. The crust was crunchy, the cheese was delicious, and the toppings were all outstanding.

Sometimes brewpubs really strike out on the food, but that was not the case at ROAK. My usual standard is whether I would go there even if they didn’t have beer, and I most definitely would. And if I lived any closer, I would echo this song and definitely put on some weight (see what I did there?).

I’d Like to Change the World

Can beer change the world? Probably. Will it “stop the war”, like Ten Years After commands in this song? Probably not, but at least we can try. And speaking of trying, we tried five beers at ROAK and enjoyed them all.

ROAKa Cadabra – Belgian-style brown ale that was well balanced and had a hint of the apple cider that was added to the ale’s mash. Made with apple cider, the recipe pared down a bit on the spices this year. “We used a different source for the cinnamon sticks,” Leone says. “And that made a huge difference in its profile.”

Also, Leone notes that this title came from Black Sabbath’s Sabbra Cadabra, which he happened to be listening to during the process of creating and naming his beer.

Melonfest – Melon is a difficult flavor to capture in a beer, but the brewers did a fabulous job getting just the right taste in this wheat ale. They dry-hopped it with melon hops, which added a nice zing without being too cloying.

This beer is inspired by the Allman Brothers’ Eat a Peach album. Leone loved the album artwork, recognized that Michigan is known for its melons, and created this beer with his brewers. “They did a great job,” Leone praises. “It’s all pureed melons and cantaloupes, no extract. We wanted a beer that you could drink when it’s a 90 degree day and want to be refreshed.”

Higher Ground Coffee Stout—This Turkish coffee stout hit the spot after the smoother milk stout. Made with coffee roasted in nearby Ferndale, it packed a punch of roasted grains and java.

Misirlou – Despite being absolutely unable to pronounce the name of this beer, I was fortunately able to very much enjoy it. Perfect English summer ale, with bitter hops and nice balance.

Creamsicle – Hopefully, you remember eating these as a kid. This orange vanilla ale balanced the best of those summertime days. Perfect way to end the summer!

Ramble On

Alas, nothing gold can stay and we eventually had to leave this fabulous taproom. Leone tells me that many people have expressed their appreciation of the taproom, saying that it isn’t “typical” of a craft beer taproom. “To that,” he says. “I say that there shouldn’t be anything ‘typical’.”

Just like rock and roll.

 

Photos courtesy Roak Brewing