gray skies distillery

For Brandon Voorhees and Steve Vander Pol, co-founders of Gray Skies Distillery, longtime friends, and Grand Rapids natives, the entrepreneurial spirit has ran through their blood for two generations. Voorhees’ father and grandfather, and Vander Pol’s father were business owners who raised them on the value that a viable idea is just a little hard work away from becoming an achievable reality.

Every day for two years while living in Denver, Vander Pol drove past Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey on his way to and from work. When he finally stopped in to visit, he was captivated by the distillery’s whiskey and atmosphere. As soon as he got his first fix of this budding scene in Denver, Vander Pol knew that crafts spirits were going to be what propelled him home to Grand Rapids.

gray skies distillery

In January 2014, Vander Pol made a phone call to Voorhees that changed both of their lives. Voorhees recounted that Vander Pol’s call on that gray and dreary winter day in Grand Rapids was “totally unexpected and out of the blue,” but one he’s thankful he received.

Vander Pol cut straight to the point with Voorhees, who was big into craft beer, and a homebrewer, “Would you ever consider going one step further, and making liquor? There’s a really amazing craft spirits movement happening out here in Denver, and I think opening a distillery would be something the community in Grand Rapids would be interested in, too.”

The idea peaked Voorhees’ interest. As soon as he hung up the phone with Vander Pol, he Googled “how to make whiskey,” downloaded a 150-page how-to guide on the subject, and read it in its entirety before he went to bed. Voorhees called Vander Pol back the next morning and committed without hesitation, “Let’s do it.”

Now business partners overnight, both men spent the following six months diving into the legalities of owning a business and the logistics of securing a building. Simultaneously, they absorbed every bit of knowledge they knew they would need. Vander Pol took classes in Denver and Louisville, while Voorhees did the same in Lansing, and both met for a week-long immersion workshop at Breckenridge Distillery. They pursued educating themselves on the good faith that by the time they secured a location they’d be fully prepared to deliver on their their first batch.

They were fortunate to find a building in the North Monroe industrial district. It’s an area they originally had in their sights — they could feel its presence as an extension of downtown, and foresaw its attraction to other businesses, and ultimately guests. At 13,000 sq ft, it was a little larger than essential to begin operations, but its footprint allows them to scale comfortably — especially for barrel storage, as their popularity grows.

The building was in “very rough shape” when they bought it, but they embraced it and restored it from the ground up. It needed a new ceiling, walls, electric, plumbing, HVAC — “pretty much everything,” the owners said. Vander Pol expressed, “We were very intentional about this neighborhood. We fell in love with the area because it was half-empty, but all full with potential to create positive synergy with the city and our neighbors.”

Vander Pol’s idea and Voorhees’ willing pivot from craft beer to spirits paid off when Gray Skies officially opened their tasting room March 17, 2016. Now the second distillery in Grand Rapids, alongside Long Road Distillers, they’re honored by the opportunity to elevate awareness for spirits in a city with such a strong affinity for craft beverages. Voorhees affirmed, “It’s exciting for us that we get to establish a relationship with the community and create connections with the consumer all by sharing our passion for making a quality product rooted in Michigan.”

As a small-batch distillery, distilling 500 gallons per batch at a time, Gray Skies is special in that they are grain to glass. Vander Pol explains, “We bring in whole grains — mill, mash, ferment, and distill them — all on site. And, by using all local Michigan grains, we can create mash bills that are exclusive to us.” They did just that with a toasted barley that’s never been used anywhere else, supplied by Pilot Malt House, for their first American single-malt whiskey, which will be available this December.

Gray Skies prides themselves on not conforming to the same expectations as their mass-producing, macro peers. Instead of repeating the same static liquor year in and year out, Voorhees said, “We’re doing classic spirits in a modern way. For me, small-batch means versatility.”

He’s particularly enthusiastic about taking creative liberties when it makes sense, “We have the freedom to experiment with some really unique things to push the envelop with flavor profiles.” Their Barrel Finished Hopped Gin is a testament to that. The introduction of Citra hops to the botanical profile is an invigorating take on gin that gives a clever nod to Grand Rapids’ craft aficionados who would appreciate its inclusion.

The experience Gray Skies provides in their tasting room is personal. It’s a chance to engage with both owners and bar staff in a meaningful way — one that’s different from ordering a drink in a bar and then becoming anonymous in a crowd. They serve over ten cocktails on a regularly rotating menu that feature either their gin or Utility Vodka. The drinks are impressive, mixed with house-made liqueurs, fresh fruit, or herbs. And, worth the visit alone is their scratch-made Moscow Mule… wait for it… on tap(!).

In addition to their gin and vodka, which are available by the bottle at their tasting room and in limited distribution around West Michigan, Gray Skies is moving to expand their portfolio. This summer, they’re set to release a spiced rum aged in red wine barrels, which will also see distribution. By the end of the year, they’ll add a white rum, apple brandy, and barrel-aged apple brandy aged in Journeyman Distillery rye barrels.

For the true connoisseurs of brown spirits, Gray Skies knows that good things come to those who wait. Taking very seriously the traditional methods for the two spirits they hope to ultimately be recognized for, Gray Skies will release their first straight bourbon and rye whiskies in 2018. Both have already been laid down in new white oak barrels to age for the next two years.

In the meantime, Gray Skies will shine.

 

Photography: Steph Harding

elk brewing

As some of you may already have heard, Elk Brewing is expanding. The sudsy city of Grand Rapids contains yet another brewery with eyes growing larger at the prospect of snagging a good location and introducing more of their product into the market.

Eric Karns, co-owner of Elk Brewing, is expanding the brewery into a second location in Comstock Park across from the Fifth Third Ballpark. The new facility will be used to brew Elk’s mainstay beers on their new 15 bbl system, as well as to develop a brand new food program utilizing a full kitchen.

“The rule of thumb is to not outclass our product of beer” said Karns regarding the food program at both locations. The new location will also be serving wine and cider, which is not served at their original location.

There was one question I couldn’t resist regarding the expansion — did Elk Brewing feel pressured to expand due to the growth and expansion of other local breweries in town?

“I think for us we didn’t get pressured into it. If anything, the location became available and pushed us into it more than what we were pressured into it.”

Though many changes are ahead, the original location, set at the corner of Wealthy St. and Henry St, is going to have quite a roller coaster ride in their future. With the production of their mainstay beers being moved to the new facility, their current 3bbl system will be the home to their new souring program, as well as the testing site for new beer recipes.

 

With two brewers now on the staff, Karns can tend to the necessities of running the entire operation — though, he said he’s still present for recipe building and overseeing the brewing operations. “The major fun part is coming up with the recipes.”

I was curious, though — Is there a theme, or even certain beer styles, that embody Elk Brewing, or is it being kept undefined as tweaks and kinks are worked out?

“I hate styles and themes. I brew it purely out of taste” Karns said. Flavor first, specifications later. Karns likes to brew until it tastes right and then locate the specifics once the artistic component is complete.

elk brewing

Speaking of no strict style usage and brewing for taste — their mainstay, the Blonde Espresso, has been a great success to the brewery. “We keep our beer list where the demand is — Blonde Espresso. We didn’t plan on that being a mainstay but it’s become a mainstay.” said Karns.

Upon inspection of their food menu, I’d like to suggest to all of you to drink their Blonde Espresso with The Salty Pig sandwich. Prosciutto ham, beer braised onions, fig and goat cheese spread and lemon zest sounds like a fascinating pairing for the beer. A Blonde beer style base can cut through the fats that are consistent in this dish, while the coffee notes latch themselves onto the prosciutto, onions, and fig for contrast. Think roastiness + salty fat (coffee rubbed prime rib anyone?) and roastiness + sweetness from the braised onions and fig. Lemon, or citrus in general, can also have a surprisingly pleasant effect with roasty flavors from coffee.

Be sure to test out their six sauces as well at the original location. All sauces are made with different beers from the brewery and can make for a fun palate exploration with friends.

So who are the folks visiting, drinking, and eating at Elk Brewing?

“70% of our beer goes to the Detroit area. Kalamazoo has picked up quite a bit too.” Karns said. As far as the on-premise guests, Karns finds it to be a lot of walking traffic, with about 90% being locals and 10% tourists checking out the brewing facility. When asked what drives the traffic, the opinion is that “Founders is the best thing that’s ever happened to my brewery (to drive traffic). The beer passports have also helped. They’re amazing.”

 

Photography: Bri Luginbill

founders education program

“At first we thought, what more can we learn about Founders?”

That’s what Eva and Bob Trudell asked themselves before attending a “Palate Exploration Series” event at Founders Brewery in Grand Rapids. The two Founder’s aficionados were given tickets as a Christmas gift from their children and weren’t sure what to expect. The event was part of the Founders Education Program and was a collaborative, cross-promotional night between Founders and Robinette’s, an apple orchard just north of Grand Rapids. After a few hours of donuts, drinking and discussion, the curious Bob and Eva were sold. “It was right up our alley,” they said, “We’d recommend it a billion percent.”

founders education program

The Founders Education Program is more than just learning how to pair beer with local food. It’s a comprehensive outreach effort to teach everyone; customers and employees, novices and experts, everything there is to know about craft beer. It’s what Founders has created to spread the gospel of beer.

The Education Program has an extensive syllabus and most of the offerings are open to the public. Tours are conducted on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. The weekend tours are combined with tastings as well. Founders also offers two classes designed to enhance your brew knowledge. “Beer 101” is a crash course in craft beer. It covers beer history, ingredients, brewing processes, beer styles and tastings, and the evolution of Founders. The “Sensory Evaluation” class is a chance to take a deep dive into how to properly taste and evaluate a beer. Both classes take place quarterly and are open to the public.

Also open to the public are two different types of special events. The Palate Exploration Series featuring Robinette’s was one of those events. Founders teams up with a local food merchant and gives beer fans a chance to see how beer pairs with a wide variety of food. The other special event is the Founders Beer Dinner. This is a six-course food and beer pairing with food prepared by Founders’ own culinary team.

The events are hosted by the Founders Curriculum Coordinator, Mike Willcox Steil. Mike loves showcasing Founders beer, but what he really enjoys is the experience he can create for his customers. “When you set something up like this (the Robinette’s pairing) all the sudden you have 15 to 20 people who never met each other and within fifteen minutes they’re all talking like friends.”

founders education program“That friendly feeling was what got me working in this industry to begin with,” Mike elaborated.

The friendly and outgoing vibe he speaks of is intertwined deep into the fabric of Founders and it’s a huge reason for the existence of the Education Program. They truly believe in the “good news” of beer and they’re anxious to share it with anyone who comes through the door. Mike explains, “If I was working at the bar and someone told me they only liked Budweiser, to me, that’s an opportunity. Let’s change this guy’s mind. And if we can’t change his mind, let’s get him something so that he still has a good time tonight.”

Eva and Bob Trudell mentioned that the same outgoing and educational attitude is what endeared them to Founders from the beginning. “I feel like we originally learned about beer from Founders,” said Eva. “All the servers we’ve ever had at Founders, that’s how they’ve been. They want to educate us about the beer we’re drinking. It’s not just about giving you a beer.”

It’s no coincidence they had that experience with their servers. The final part of the Founders Education Program is all internal. It includes staff education and beer orientation for everyone in the company. Every month, Founders offers to pay for a 3-session training program that allows staff to obtain their Cicerone Beer Certification. It’s a program that certifies and educates beer professionals in order to elevate the beer experience for consumers. Currently, Mike says the entire staff is at least a level 1 Cicerone.

The other internal education component is the beer orientation program. This program is required for all new employees, despite Founders growing size. “No matter what, everyone comes for orientation,” said Mike. “That includes new heads of marketing, guys starting in the deli, or someone new on the packaging line.” That company-wide inclusion is a philosophy that goes back to the early days of Founders. “The Founders family mentality that brought this brewery to where it is, we try to keep as much as that as possible.”

The welcoming attitude that Founders attempts to show towards both employees and customers alike also extends to everyone else in the craft brew industry, including other brewers. The tours that are part of the Education Program are popular among brewers large and small from all across the state. Mike says that in the world of craft beer, they aren’t viewed as competitors, but instead as friends and collaborators. “I’ve always felt like nobody’s better than I am, and I am better than nobody else. That attitude is very much a part of this place. It’s the ‘rising tide lifts all ships’ kind of thing. We wouldn’t be around if other people weren’t trying other craft beers.”

The Founders Education Program is an effort by a growing company to share their passion with as many people as possible. For them, it’s all about the beer, and they’re doing what they can to spread the gospel.

If you’re interested in tours, special events, classes or any other part of the Education Program, get more information from the Founders website.

http://foundersbrewing.com/education/

 

Photography: Jason Batts & Steph Harding

grbc

Established breweries that have survived the blood, sweat and tears faced by opening in a saturated market need to make a decision — stay the course, or make some changes. Grand Rapids Brewing Company chose to change its direction by no longer being a certified organic brewery as of 2015.  

“We did that mostly so we could use more local products – that was the biggest thing…We want to support local business and use local ingredients,” said Jake Brenner, Head Brewer of Barfly Ventures – which owns GRBC, Hopcat, Stella’s Lounge and The Waldron Public House.

Holding the certification of “organic brewery” limited GRBC to acquiring ingredients that held the same certification, which in Michigan is very little. This prevented GRBC from getting ingredients from local farmers who are producing high quality but are not organic certified, such as Pilot Malt House and most of the local hop farms. Organic is important to Brenner, but he’s excited to have less restrictions on where he gets the ingredients for his beers.

“Now we can go to the farmers market on any given summer morning and pick up produce. It opens tons of doors,” said Brenner.

GRBC’s change in direction also inspired them to find unique ways to give back to those who support and work hard for GRBC. Something they have been doing for almost a year now is a staff concept beer. Once a month, a staff member gets to meet with the brewers to come up with a beer recipe, spend the day brewing the beer, and then name the beer. It is a great way to educate and involve the people working for the company that don’t spend their days down in the basement brewing daily.

Currently you can stop by the tap room and check out El GoseRita — the brain-child of the Kitchen Manager, Brendan. It is a German-style Gose with a margarita-like quality from being brewed with sea salt, limes and grapefruit.

grbc

The staff concept beer is just one of the ways you can familiarize yourself with GRBC’s rotating beer list. With GR Beer Week underway, GRBC will have another new beer on tap to celebrate, as well as a bottle release of the beer. This year they brewed, Polish Eagle, an Imperial Porter, and aged it Wild Turkey Barrels.

And, of course, the talk around town this week is this weekend’s Winter Beer Festival — and GRBC will definitely be in attendance. Bringing eight beers, all with an ABV over 8.2%, you’ll want to pace yourself if you swing by their booth. A couple to keep an eye out for are — Batch 300, a Russian Imperial Stout that will be making its first appearance at the festival, and Decadent Eagle, a sour Imperial Stout with cherries and when its gone, its gone.

 

Photography: Steph Harding

michigan craft beer

LANSING, Mich—Craft beer enthusiasts are passionate about Michigan brews…and February is the perfect time to fall in love with rich, chocolaty and fruity beers. As you head out with your sweetheart this year for Valentine’s Day, consider ordering up a pint of one of these deliciously romantic Michigan made libations recommended by the Michigan Brewers Guild.

ARBOR BREWING COMPANY, Ann Arbor

Espresso Love (7.5%ABV | 15 IBUs). Oatmeal and 20 pounds of fresh roasted 100% fair-trade coffee, from the nearby Ugly Mug Café Brewed, contribute to a mildly chalky espresso character balanced by a rich, sweet creamy maltiness. The coffee finish dissolves into chocolate, with a slight roasty bitterness. Pairs well with desserts, especially dark chocolate, raspberries, and cheesecake.

ARCADIA ALES, Battle Creek

Cocoa Loco Triple Chocolate Stout (7% ABV | 39 IBUs). This award-winning beer gets its rich flavor from Simpson Chocolate, Weyerman Chocolate and Crisp Chocolate malts. The addition of lactose lends the beer a creamy quality- not unlike a milkshake- while the Blackstrap Molasses adds rich, burnt, syrupy flavors.  Flavors of baker’s chocolate and espresso dominate, while rich malty flavors and a subtle kiss of hops add nice balance, making this a truly one-of-a-kind BIG beer.

BELL’S BREWERY, Galesburg / Kalamazoo  

Smitten Golden Rye Ale (6.0% ABV | 42 IBUs). This spring seasonal offers rustic flavors from rye malt combined with citrusy, resinous hop aroma from Pacific Northwest varieties to create a crisp, refreshing take on the classic pale ale.

BREWERY TERRA FIRMA, Traverse City

Ancho Chili Dutch Double Chocolate Porter (5.3% ABV). There’s a special magic that happens between chilies and chocolate that was first utilized in ancient Latin America and still weaves its spell today. Ancho Chili Dutch Double Chocolate Porter showcases the perfect balance of chili flavor and warmth combined with dark chocolate. This is not a hot pepper beer – the warmth from the chilies builds slowly, enhancing the character of the beer without becoming dominant. Far from being a novelty beer, the richness of chocolate malts and Dutch cocoa combined with the deep, smoky flavor imparted by whole Ancho chilies while the beer is conditioning will keep them coming back for more.

ETERNITY BREWING, Howell

Imperial Cocoa Cherry (9% ABV | 80 IBUs). This robust imperial stout is like chocolate covered cherries in a glass, complete with a kiss of cherry sweetness—like a loving embrace. This beer will pair well with all of your Valentine’s Day desserts.

FOUNDERS BREWING COMPANY, Grand Rapids

Founders Porter (6.5% ABV | 45 IBUs). Described as “Dark, Rich and Sexy,” this beer pours silk black with a creamy tan head. The nose is sweet with a strong chocolate and caramel malt presence and no absence of hops gives this beer the full flavor you deserve and expect…it’s cozy like velvet. This 2010 World Beer Cup silver medalist is described as “a lover, not a fighter.”

GRAVEL BOTTOM BREWERY, Ada

Lion Heart (6.8% ABV | 36 IBUs). Forget the box of chocolates, let your lover’s sweet tooth indulge in the Lion Heart, an amorous robust porter made even more sensual with the addition of raspberry puree and cacao nibs. Luscious chocolate notes balance against the coffee and roast malt profile with accents of fruity tartness from the raspberry.

Susie Q (4.9% ABV | 16 IBUs). What’s better than a bouquet of flowers for your craft beer sweetheart? A bouquet of flavor from Susie Q, a cream ale brewed with hibiscus and rose hips. Soft smelling as a rose and light as a sunny day, Susie Q exhibits light malt sweetness which transitions to delicate citrus and floral flavors of the rose and hibiscus.

HARMONY BREWING, Grand Rapids  

Winter Nights (8% ABV) – the toasted aroma, smooth maltiness and slight chocolate and coffee notes give this winter warmer the tools to keep you and your loved one warm on a cold winter night!

JOLLY PUMPKIN, Dexter / Ann Arbor / Detroit / Traverse City 

iO Saison (6.8% ABV). Part of the Baudelaire series, this beer will capture the hearts of art and artisan beer lovers alike. Drawn in by the historic elegance of the label design and then held tight by the rapture of flavors, it will be released in limited quantities. iO Saison is brewed in a lovely fashion, with rose hips, rose petals and hibiscus. Yet, don’t be easily deceived by her looks, for like love – she can be oh so dangerous. Available in late February.

LAKE CHARLEVOIX BREWING COMPANY, Charlevoix

Love Fuel (3% ABV | 6 IBUs). This raspberry Berlinerweiss looks like pink lemonade and smells like a fresh combination of fruit and German yeast with a tasty, bubbly flavor.

MOUNTAIN TOWN STATION, Mount Pleasant

Doctor Love (8% ABV | 18 IBUs). This imperial red ale with ale brewed with eight different invigorating herbs and a touch of flavor hops.

Love Potion #8 (7.5% ABV | 32 IBUs). This double chocolate stout is brewed with four different invigorating herbs, to get the blood flowing.

Sacred Gruit (5.8% ABV | 4 IBUs). The flagship gruit brewed with 3 different herbs that stimulate the mind, create euphoria and enhance sexual drive. For a little added fun, try the Peach Gruit, with peace juice added.

Chocolate Vibrant Stout (9% ABV). This imperial stout is full of flavor from chocolate, with aphrodisiacal herbs added for her pleasure.

NEWAYGO BREWING CO., Newaygo

Sweetheart Stout (5.8% ABV | 35 IBUs). This oatmeal stout is blended in three steps, with pureed raspberries.

NEW HOLLAND BREWING COMPANY, Holland

The Poet (5.2% ABV | 37 IBUs). This is a romantic offering for Valentine’s Day. This beer reveals a rich, smooth malt character enveloped in tones of roast and chocolate. A soft mouth-feel brings luxurious flavors and a soothing aroma. The Poet is as versatile as it is delicious – the perfect accent to any chocolate dessert.

NORTH PEAK BEER, Dexter / Detroit

Dubious Black Chocolate Stout (5.3% ABV | 50 IBUs). Sporting its “giant man-eating beaver” icon, this beer pays homage to Northern Michigan’s Beaver Island. This beer has the perfect combination of chocolate with roast and black malts, resulting in a smooth and rich beer. Judicious use of hops brings out a complex, yet subtle bittering, finished off with a big Goldings nose. This swirl of aroma, flavor and body is underscored by the rich, dark chocolate that is added at the end of the boil.

OUR BREWING COMPANY, Holland

Shot Through the Heart (9.5% ABV | 30 IBUs). This imperial porter is aged on cacao nibs, giving it a big, smooth, malty sweetness, with notes of dark chocolate, dried fruit and caramel.

ROCHESTER MILLS BEER CO., Rochester / Auburn Hills

Milkshake Stout (5.3% ABV | 20 IBUs). The combination of four different malts, along with a low hop level creates a deep dark beer featuring rich, roasted, malt flavors. The addition of lactose (milk sugar) adds complexity, body, and a residual sweetness lending a smooth creamy texture to this full-flavored brew. Once a seasonal offering in the pub, now prominently featured in state-wide distribution due to popular demand.

Paint Creek Porter (6.0% ABV | 21 IBUs). This pub-only offering is a robust beer that features a rich, velvety chocolate malt flavor that will compliment any chocolate dessert.

ROCKFORD BREWING, Rockford

Hoplust IPA (7.1% ABV | 70 IBUs). A profoundly hoppy hand-crafted American IPA, with a proprietary blend of six different hop varieties for a unique flavor experience. An intense bouquet of fresh hops will greet you on the nose, followed by the bursting tropical, citrus and piney flavors on your palette. The approach to this IPA is to focus more toward satisfying the craving for hop flavor than bitterness.

SHORTS BREWING, Bellaire

Hot Loins. A beer brewed with aphrodisiacs: Pomegranate, vanilla, honey and the most powerful aphrodisiac of all time – Tongat Ali – aka long jack.

Love Knife (6.7% ABV – 45 IBU) is a brownish red Belgian ale that explodes with aromas of strawberry, banana, and nectarine. Malt sweetness is quite low, allowing for the fruit flavors to be apparent throughout the beer.

Of course, there are countless other beers to LOVE…and the best is the one in your hand. Hopefully, that’s locally-crafted here in Michigan!

the hideout

GRAND RAPIDS – Hidden down a side street, nestled amongst an apartment complex and a television station, the Hideout Brewing Company is aptly named — it is like a secret that everyone wants to hear. The inside speaks that of a secret society, drawing you in with their 32 tap handles that you may stop to sit right in front of. However, I do encourage you to take a closer look. What used to be a hot tub rental and spa in the 70s is now home to a 10 bbl brew system, an upstairs full of old school video game consoles, and horseshoes in the beer garden —and maybe it’s the place you’ll dare yourself to conquer the biggest flight in town.

“A lot of people say you can still smell chlorine from when the hot tubs were functioning, but really you just happen to have walked in when they were cleaning the kettles,” states Heather Vredevoogd, one of the head brewers at the Hideout.

With two brewers on staff, one male and one female, they balance the duties as a team and both answer to the title head brewer. Vredevoogd was surprised by how much respect she received as a female.

“I was expecting them not to (respect me) because of being female. I still do all the heavy lifting and (have been) doing this as my main job for a year and a half. I was coming in off the clock to watch and learn the brewing process. In Michigan there is such comradery. There is nothing like this beer community in other states. Being able to start up a brewery and not really know everything that goes into it and know there are people that you can say hey, I don’t know what I need for…I have yet (to) run into an owner that hasn’t been helpful,” states Vredevoogd.

the hideout

The Hideout, under the latest ownership by Nick Humphrey and Scott Colson, has participated at the Winter Beer Festival the past four years. This year the Hideout will bring their latest bourbon barrel aged beers – a chocolate imperial stout and a barleywine. Keeping the high ABV, but subtle in bourbon taste, the chocolate imperial stout is like a nice smooth chocolate dessert in a glass. An attendee can expect other winter style beers brought by the Hideout as well. Maybe check out the Hideout for your last go around at the festival to end the day off just perfect!

 

Photography: Bri Luginbill

B.O.B's

GRAND RAPIDS – As an original Winter Beer Festival contributing drinker, B.O.B.’s Brewerys Brewmaster John Svoboda’s interests are always surpassed by the excitement and fun that the festival brings. Ever since the WBF made its way to Grand Rapids, B.O.B.’s has been a participant.

“It is wonderful publicity and you have the opportunity to meet new people and people that are a fan of the brewery! It is nice to see people enjoying themselves at the festival and appreciate what we do. It is difficult to stand out at the festival. There are a thousand beers and after you eliminate all of the standards, you have to stand out and bring something unusual and how you get it to be unusual can be a challenge,” said Svoboda.

Their most popular beer to date, the Peanut Butter Porter, will be pouring its dark smooth peanut taste into your cups this year. A similar style and new beer will deliciously be by its side – a milk stout made with hazelnuts and chocolate, rightfully given the name: Nutella Stout.

“It will be really great or we aren’t going to bring it – ha! We want you to taste it and it taste like Nutella, not just chocolate,” said Mick Rickerd, Executive Chef of the Gilmore Collection.

B.O.B's

B.O.B.’s beer isn’t only found at the WBF, you can find B.O.B.’s at the bottom level of The B.O.B. Unlike most breweries, this one sits below restaurants, a nightclub, and a comedy club all filling the building’s five levels. The beauty of a setup like this is that B.O.B.’s beer is available on tap at every location, not just the lower level that they occupy.

“Having other beers on tap, actually gets people to try more of our beers,” said Svoboda.

On Saturday February 20 from noon to 4 p.m. The B.O.B. is having their Winter Beer Festival Brunch. With Rickerd’s extensive beer and food knowledge he has created an elaborate food menu that will leave every taste bud happily pleased. On tap will be 43 Michigan beers from 11 breweries and three brunch stations, as well as dessert. You might as well call it, ‘the easy way to keep warm because you are inside’ WBF kickoff to prepare you for the following weekend.

Whether you like to keep warm inside or try and keep warm outside, B.O.B.’s Brewery is lined up with some great brewing talent this February for all to enjoy.

Photography: Bri Luginbill

black lotus

Clawson, MI – Black Lotus Brewing Company will celebrate its 10th anniversary this year in quietly cool Clawson. The neighborhood brew pub has recently doubled tap capacity as its brewing program, as well its customer base, continues to grow.

The brewery is home to an eclectic mix of brews, scratch-made food, and funky decor. Free live music is provided each week by Zap Toro, a Latin infused Jazz band featuring Aretha Franklin’s drummer, percussion from the Pistons drumline, and the occasional Tango lesson.

The brewery recently expanded to connect with the owners’ neighboring business, The Drive In. The virtual golf simulator hall has now been outfitted with 10 taps and equipped for live music.

black lotusOwners Mark Harper and Mike Allen stepped away from Brewing Operations last year to focus on the business. Enter Nick “The Brewer” Joseph, whose big personality and passion for beer make for an irresistible combination.

His claim to fame?

“I was voted best male bartender in Chicago in 2006,” Nick says.

These days he spends less time pouring beer and more time brewing it.

“The owners brought me in to do a job. Once they trusted me to keep the standard brews on draft, they let me go wild.”

Wild—such as a pumpkin-less pumpkin beer randalled through toffee brittle and ghost peppers, which was on tap this year at the Detroit Beer Festival. Or, like a farmhouse saison aged in Valentine gin barrels and named after a Bond film.

His Skyfarm 00Saison took silver in the Belgian specialty category at the World Beer Tasting Championships, second place behind a Unibroue beer.

Beer experiments aside, Black Lotus specializes in clean, balanced beers with no additives or filtering. The mainstay beers include a sessionable IPA, a Brown Ale, a Stout, and a Pilsner style beer.

They keep it local, using all Michigan hops, Barley from 44th parallel, and, of course, Detroit city water.

“There is a group of younger Michigan brewers elevating the game here in Metro-Detroit,” Nick said. “Quality improves with better technical training and boots-on-the-ground experience.”

Nick started his career in beer at Kuhnhenn’s Brewery in Warren, where he spent a year as a production brewer. He spent 5 years in California homebrewing and playing music before returning to Michigan last year.

At that time, Black Lotus owner Mark Harper was looking for a brewer to take the program to the next level.

“I came here one year ago and started getting to know the beer program. Now I feel like I have infused myself into it and I am comfortable growing the brand,” Nick said.

Nick is responsible for the entire brewing process, from cleaning and maintaining equipment, to coming up with recipes, to hand bottling and labeling.

“The whole program is on me. Some days I’m a brewer, but most days it feels like I’m a janitor. When your career and your passion align, and you have confidence in your system, good things happen,” he said.

Nick aims to start a monthly podcast featuring brewers from around metro-Detroit, which will be hosted at Black Lotus with a live audience.

He also plans to invite other breweries to compete in a local beer challenge.

“We’re ready to put our beer alongside anyone else’s, and have a lot of fun doing so. A lot of the breweries around here have great relationships, which makes it more fun to collaborate.”

One such collaboration will be a cider/beer collaboration done with Cellarmen’s Meadery this month; a Belgian Quad mixed with a 28 varietal Cider from a farm in Michigan, potentially barrel aged in gin barrels.

“Beer should be an experience, and it should take you on a journey,” Nick says. “All I do is move the beer, clean the tank, move the beer, clean the tank, but I love it, and I love sharing this craft.”

Photography: Steven Pham