HOLLAND — New Holland Brewing Co. has announced it will distribute two reserve batches of its popular Dragon’s Milk bourbon barrel stout.

The first release, Dragon’s Milk Reserve with Toasted Chiles, is set to ship from production this week, and will be available in stores soon thereafter. This reserve blend is aged with chili de arbol peppers in bourbon barrels for three months. 

“This reserve batch of Dragon’s Milk was a brew we first brought to festivals and eventually to the Great American Beer Festival, where it won Silver in the Experimental category,” says Brett VanderKamp, president of New Holland. “Our festival fans might remember it as ‘Smaug’s Breath’ but in market you’ll see it as Dragon’s Milk Reserve with Toasted Chilies, even though it’s essentially the same recipe.”

In late fall, the second offering will be released — Dragon’s Milk Reserve with Raspberries. Using the tartness of raspberries against the rich, deep vanilla notes of the stout, this is a different slant on the brew.

“The raspberry Reserve is equally amazing,” says VanderKamp. “It will definitely appeal to those who love that tangy tartness of raspberries and those who are a little scared of the chilies,” he laughs.

Once a single-batch annual release, Dragon’s Milk has become New Holland’s largest selling year-round beer, gaining accolades and recognition internationally, including a recent silver medal in the 2013 Brussels Beer Challenge.

In 2011, New Holland renovated its production facility to expand its Dragon’s Milk cellar where more than 2,000 oak barrels can reside at one time.

“We’re excited about these two limited-release offerings,” says VanderKamp. “It has been important to us to offer Dragon’s Milk year round. Even though it is a time- and labor-intensive brew, we feel like it needs to be a flavor profile available to our fans whenever they want it — for those big and small celebrations in life. But we’re also looking forward to offering these two fun, smaller runs of the Dragon’s Milk Reserve. We believe they will make our fans proud and encourage them to stop and enjoy the moment.”

GRAND RAPIDS — Local breweries, media and beer aficionados have come together to form Team BeerCity, a group committed to promoting Grand Rapids as “forever” BeerCity USA.

The group, which met in March, was originally formed out of the Grand Rapids Society of Beer. Team BeerCity is led by an administrative committee made up of Seth Rivard (Rockford Brewing), Dave Engbers (Founders Brewing Co.), Chuck Brown (Cellar Brewing Co.), Marcie Lemke (Experience Grand Rapids), Chas Thompson (Schmohz Brewing Co.), Nick Lavelle (High Five Brewing Co-Op) and Brett Langschied (Gravel Bottom Brewing).

“The BeerCity USA vote that was out-and-about brought a lot of attention and enthusiasm to the community about the culture of Craft Beer in the greater GR area,” said Rivard. “A lot of cool cohesive things in the name of Beer City were happening, and It wasn’t long the GRSOB group formalized the BeerCity Grand Rapids team.”

Team BeerCity is already preparing its first event, surrounding the now-defunct BeerCity USA vote, previously organized by examiner.com. BeerCity Week, May 3-10, will highlight beer throughout the Greater Grand Rapids area at bars, restaurants and breweries alike.

The week will kick off with the first Beer City Spring Fest on Saturday, May 3 at the Hudsonville Fairgrounds.

“Even though the BeerCity vote is no more, we wanted to highlight all the great breweries Grand Rapids has to offer,” said Bryan Esler, owner of MittenBrew.com and a member of the Team BeerCity marketing committee.

The group has already started planning several other events, including a pub crawl and coaster contest.

“We have organized ourselves as a group of breweries to do events like BeerCity Week to highlight Grand Rapids as the great beer destination that it is. This celebration of Grand Rapids as BeerCity will have lots components to it, and it is only one of several events that the group is planning,” said Jackson VanDyke, owner of Harmony Brewing and chair of the events committee. “BeerCity Week is really just the start for us.”

Events will be announced as they are finalized at the new beercityusagr.com website. Bars, restaurants, breweries, homebrew shops and others interested in planning an event for the week are encouraged to visit beercityusagr.com/contact and submit event idea(s).

In addition to BeerCity Week, the group is also finalizing a revamped BeerCity Grand Rapids logo, and beginning to plan events for later in the year. The logo will be revealed prior to the start of BeerCity Week. 

GRAND RAPIDS — Founders Brewing Co. was the hottest spot in Grand Rapids this past Saturday, as the brewery rounded out a week-long, city-wide party of the highly-acclaimed KBS.

From March 18-22, Grand Rapids played host to nearly 20 KBS tapping events across the city and at selected retailers throughout the area.

On Saturday, patrons lined up outside in the cold and waited patiently for entry into the Founders taproom, awaiting a taste of the sought-after KBS.

Inside the taproom, people buried their noses in snifters and inhaled deeply. They sipped slowly and their thirst for KBS, which had been building for over a year, was satisfied. 

“This entire week has been crazy. It has been jam packed,” said Mike Stevens, Co-Founder and CEO of Founders Brewing Co. “The cool part about it is, we turned it into this whole week-long celebration. It has been a city-wide celebration.”

Turning the KBS release into a multi-day event helped make it about more than just the beer, Stevens said.

“We love the feel and the vibe of it this year,” he said. “KBS this year wasn’t just about Founders, It was about Grand Rapids. It was about BeerCity USA.”

Emphasis was also put on getting the beer out to retail partners and having them get first-hand experience with KBS tappings.

“Virtually every single promo we’ve been to, there were lines out the door,” Stevens said. “It was really cool to watch retailers’ reactions to the events. They really got to see first-hand the impact that this beer has made on people. They were blowing through kegs anywhere from 30 to 40 minutes.”

In addition to the beer happenings across town, KBS bottle releases were held for those who were lucky enough to purchase tickets in advance online. Each day, 600 ticket holders were allowed to pick up their beer.

“All of the proceeds of the ticket costs all went to charity,” Stevens said. “We were able to get $12,000 to the river restoration project here in Grand Rapids.”

According to Stevens, he estimated the events throughout the week brought between 6,000 to 8,000 people to the city. But he still feels more can be done in future years.

“We put it out to Grand Rapids and the public and retail customers. And we want to see more of that,” Stevens said. “We brought in six to 8,000, but let’s bring in 30,000. I think it’s doable.

“It can really truly be a week-long celebration of beer in Grand Rapids. It would be a drinking man’s Disneyland.”

Grand Rapids, says Jane Lovett, has come a long way: “This city has gone in the past 20 years from drinking beer in the basement with the blinds pulled to BeerCity USA.”

And that’s a good thing for Lovett’s Heritage Hill bed and breakfast — Peaches Inn — which recently hosted the first Sit. Stay. Beer. weekend. 

There’s been a lot of talk about beer tourism in West Michigan since Grand Rapids took sole possession of the BeerCity USA title last spring. The Sit. Stay. Beer. weekend may be the purest example yet of what that means.

Guests arrived Thursday evening and stayed through Sunday morning, and their stay included a limo-chauffeured tour of several breweries, a trip to Siciliano’s Market and homebrew supply store, homebrewing lessons, an import beer tasting session and a beer pairing dinner with Amy Sherman, host of The Great American Brew Trail.

Beer tourism has been a natural and growing part of Lovett’s business at the inn, but in the last year, she says, “it built up to a critical mass.” She saw the opportunity to collaborate with other business owners and entrepreneurs and create a beer-centric weekend package. “Now’s the time,” she says. “All the pieces are here. All the pieces.”

One the of the major pieces, though, has always been there: Doug Wondergem, Jane’s husband and co-owner of Peaches. Doug started homebrewing around five years ago (when Jane admits she “kind of decided that he needed a hobby”) and took to it immediately. He even won a gold medal at the Michigan State Fair for his bourbon barrel brown ale. “There are brewers and there are wannabes,” Jane says, and Doug is definitely the real thing. With his expertise, the Sit. Stay. Beer. weekend could be about making beer as well as tasting it. 

That holistic, hands-on experience has proved to be very attractive. Lovett had completely booked all three weekends before the first one even started, with guests coming from across the state and as far away as Chicago, Indianapolis, and Minneapolis. Most learned about the weekend through word of mouth or online searches. “They found us,” says Lovett.

All three sets of guests at the first weekend found Peaches on Google. 

Alyssa Siegely of the Chicago area was searching for a good trip with her boyfriend Chris Murphy. She found Grand Rapids listed as a top 10 destination on the Huffington Post, and then she found the beer weekend. Midway through the weekend, they had already been inspired by the city — “It’s so unique here, there’s so much local flavor,” says Siegely — and inspired to start their own homebrew batches. 

Alvin and Bobbie Snyder had a similar experience. Bobbie was looking for a getaway weekend for her husband not too far from their home in Union City, and her Internet search led her to Peaches as well. They too were planning to stop by Siciliano’s on their way out of town to get a brewing kit of their own. Their first batch? “Something that looks like motor oil,” says Alvin.

All the guests agree it was a weekend to remember — great beer, great city, great hosts. If you need a getaway of your own, check Peaches’ website for future dates. It looks like the Sit. Stay. Beer. weekend is going to sit and stay around for a while itself.

GRAND RAPIDS — It’s sad but true; Cool Brews. Hot Eats. is coming to a close.

Saturday will mark your final chance to experience the expert pairings and beer-infused dishes and restaurants and brewpubs throughout Grand Rapids.

But if you can’t make it out before Saturday night, you’re in luck. Although they are participating in their first Cool Brews. Hot Eats. event, Rezervoir Lounge could equate infusing food with craft brews as business as usual.

Since Executive Chef Chris Montgomery took over the kitchen a year and a half ago, he says, “About 60% of our [regular] menu incorporates beer somehow.” 

Rez Lounge, formerly Sazerac’s on Grand Rapids’ Northeast side, has 24 rotating taps. Chef Montgomery is a self proclaimed “beer nerd,” as well as a home brewer. His intimate knowledge and appreciation of the craft allows him to integrate beer whenever possible. 

Rez Lounge’s offerings for Cool Brews. Hot Eats. include beef short ribs braised in Perrin Brewing’s Kona Brown Ale, served with curried mashed potatoes and roasted brussel sprouts with a (“very labor intensive”) Kona Brown Ale demi glaze. “Anytime I think of coffee browns or stouts, I immediately go to beef,” says Montgomery of his inspiration for the dish.

The madras for the curried mashed potatoes is made in-house and adds to the deep complexity of the dish. 

The suggested pairing is the Kona Brown, but Montgomery says they ran out of that a while back — somewhere between Grand Rapids Beer Week, which ran in tandem with the first week of Cool Brews, and its Perrin tap takeover event on Feb 19.

Instead, he brings out Founder’s Smoked Porter and no one is complaining.

The second offering is house made Seitan chorizo tacos wrapped in raw jicama shells, topped with the chef’s own mango habanero salsa and non-dairy sunflower seed based sour cream. It is paired with North Peak’s Hoodo Midwest Wet Hop IPA. Montgomery states that pairing spicy dishes with hops cuts the heat without sacrificing the flavors.

“This is the only vegan option for Cool Brews. Hot Eats.,” Montgomery says with visible shock.

Montgomery eats vegan at least three days of the week and has created a full vegan menu for Rez Lounge, including an array of house made vegan cheeses. The Seitan chorizo is also a dish that will continue at Rez Lounge and will be included in its new vegan menu, set to debut in a few months.

Other tried and true beer infused specials — not related to Cool Brews.Hot Eats. — will also be included on Rez’s revamped regular menu. A Valentine treat from earlier this month, the Beer-amisu, a Founder’s Breakfast Stout variation of tiramisu, will become a permanent dessert option. “People were literally licking their glasses clean,” Montgomery said.

There will also be a stout cured corned beef Reuben sandwich, made with Dark Horse Brewing’s Too Cream Stout.

After tasting the Cool Brews offerings, dessert is served. As luck would have it, the house made beer ice cream just happens to be Kona Brown. It is served over a warm whiskey stout fudge brownie and topped with Framboise whipped cream. 

Rez Lounge truly is a “Hidden Gem” as Chef Montgomery calls it, for beer geeks and food lovers alike. While there’s only a couple meals left to taste the beer braised beef ribs (and you will regret missing them), Montgomery will no doubt continue to concoct beer-seeped dishes, and Rez Lounge will always have something for everyone on tap.

Let me be frank. I know I can get good craft beer almost anywhere in this town, especially during Cool Brews. Hot Eats. I’m not at Amore Trattoria Italiana for the beer. I’m here, at this curiously out-of-the-way Italian restaurant in Comstock Park, because I keep hearing about its food. Beer is secondary for me tonight.

But beer isn’t secondary for Chef Jenna Arcidiacono, who co-owns the place with her husband and gives it its magic.

Before I can even ask her, she tells me that yes, of course beer goes with Italian food. “It’s not like America is the only country that drinks beer,” she says.

In Italy, Arcidiacono explains, the people eat and drink local, which means local beer from local breweries. She’s just being, well, Italian with her five-course beer pairing dinner, each portion of which is matched with a craft beer brewed within an hour and a half drive and hand picked by Jenna herself.

Some of the pairings are carefully calculated; a few “just came to her.” Most of the beers are fairly hoppy, which reflects Arcidiacono’s personal preferences as a self-described hop head, but equally reflects her impeccable sense of taste. 

The combined bitterness and mild, floral sweetness in various IPAs complement the first several courses, defined by the robust flavors of strong cheeses and strong meats (homemade sausage, lamb bacon). Especially delightful is the first course, where the floral notes of Founder’s Centennial IPA harmonize with the sweetness of the sausage and then clean up the fungal tones from the mushroom. The Michigan Paradigm Pale Ale from Rockford Brewing Co. has a similar effect on the soup course, which has an incredibly rich taste. (This is where the lamb bacon comes in.)

The only pairing that breaks the trend in the first four courses is the Fragole salad, which Jenna boldly pairs with Founder’s Curmudgeon Old Ale. As the name suggests, this beer usually doesn’t play well with others because of its aggressive and slightly sour body. But Arcidiacono makes it behave, and even brings out its sweet side, by setting it with this arugula and goat cheese salad that has its own bitter-sweet combination. 

After the two rounds of entrees — where the spicy-sweet combination of the Diavola’s vodka sauce and Founders Red’s Rye stands out — Arcidiacono finishes the feast by pairing like with like. She matches the sweetness of her chocolate truffles with the sweetness of Perrin’s Malted Milk Porter, and then matches the coffee core of her tiramisu with Founders Breakfast Stout. Both are perfect.

The whole thing was perfect, really. You can purchase the entire dinner in chef’s plates for $25, or you can select full portions of any course a la carte. My recommendation: try it all so you don’t miss anything, and then come back for your favorites the following night.

Learn more about Amore Trattoria Italiana and join the restaurant for its Cool Brews. Hot Eats. menu until March 1.

GRAND RAPIDS — Relive the ninth annual Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival with our gallery below. Photos by Alyson Eibam, Bryan Esler and Philip Zoutendam.

Cool Brews. Hot Eats. is taking over Grand Rapids.

You’ll find Michigan craft beers and on point food pairings at the most unlikely of places — like the top of the Amway Grand, for instance. Chef Werner Absenger and his dedicated kitchen crew have developed a unique beer themed menu that captures the globally influenced American cuisine of Cygnus 27, the flagship restaurant of the Amway on the 27th floor.

Sample three courses complete with 5 oz. beer pairings for only $40.00 and enjoy the view. 

The menu takes inspiration from the European heritage of Chef Absenger, throwing a bit of Michigan into the mix. Starting with descriptions of the beer, the Chef and his team narrowed down options for meal pairings from there.

“We have Scotty Karate [from Dark Horse Brewing], right? So we read the description and then tried it. The shortbread and hint of sweetness was key for a beer batter- for frog legs. Frog legs make sense for a karate chop, right?” Chef Werner laughs. Served with a slaw and remoulade sauce on the side, this was our starter.

The next course, Saguatuck Brewing Company’s Bonfire Brown Cheese Soup was designed to invoke the memories of summer (much needed with all this snow) as well as providing something to warm you up on these cold nights.

The entrée, and my favorite menu item of the evening, was Brewery Vivant’s Farm Hand Choucroute Garnie. Inspired by the brewers at Vivant’s trip to France, this spin on a traditional Alsace regional recipe braises the sauerkraut and locally sourced knockwurst, kielbasa and smoked pork loin in the French style farmhouse ale instead of the traditional Riesling. The funk of the Vivant house yeast paired perfectly with the sourness of the kraut.

Dessert featured product from New Holland Brewery. An oatmeal stout based chocolate cake featuring The Poet as well as some spirits thrown into the mix, New Holland’s Beer Barrel Bourbon. Sandwiched between two cake layers was The Bukowski Ice Cream, also made with the brew.

The ice cream people are perhaps a very healthy and satisfied people, but luckily you don’t have to be off the bottle to enjoy this treat.

Becky Casto, Cygnus general manager shares her opinion on the Beer City vibe. “It’s hugely exciting. There’s so much pride in Grand Rapids [with the BeerCity  USA win]. My background is wine, so it’s been very exciting for me to be educated on the beer culture and to see how beer can pair with food. It’s a win for the city all around.”

The kitchen at Cygnus shares the ‘we are all in this together’ spirit of the beer community. Absenger brought out his team — Tim Moreno, Rick Medcalf and Phil Laviolette — after our meal. These gentlemen, all at different stages in their culinary career, clearly are soaking up knowledge from Absenger as well as exploring their own food passions and creativity.

Kitchen camaraderie makes for the best meals — otherwise you can taste the tension. And that doesn’t sit well with your beer.

Learn more about Cygnus 27 and join the restaurant for its Cool Brews. Hot Eats. menu until March 1.