CALEDONIA — Drew Koszulinski does an amazing job of explaining the brewing process. On our walkthrough before opening, he shares the finer points and nuances of his trade. EB Coffee & Pub’s head brewer also seems to be a bit of a technical wizard, which has allowed him to create a rather sophisticated yet simple three barrel system.

Touring the backroom that also serves as baking and prep space for EB’s daily prepared goodies, Koszulinski shows off a control box of his own design that operates the brewing system. “It has a key to start it, and it lights up a lot. So that’s kinda fun,” he jokes.

Our tour takes us to the fermenters, which are non-jacketed, individually cooled with coils, controlled by another example of Koszulinski’s electronic wizardry, housed in a converted toolbox. This system allows each beer to be fermented at a different temperature, whatever works best for the style currently being brewed.

“It took a lot of weaving together to make sure everything would work at the same time, but everything is coming along. We are becoming an operation, and I’m happy with how everything has come together,” he says.

EB Coffee & Pub is, and always will be, a café sort of environment. Understanding that fact is essential to understanding EB. Justin Nichols, owner, set out to create a place that had that sort of feel, regardless of what they were serving. Another key component of EB is efficiency. “We want to be busy in the evening as well as the morning. It’s a full cycle business model,” says Nichols.

Running a full menu all day, every day means you can pick up a house baked scone at 8 o’clock at night and a cup of coffee for your D.D. while you enjoy a beer.

“We are open Monday through Friday at 6 a.m. Legally, we can’t serve beer until 7, but if you walk in at 7 a.m. and ask for a beer, we’ll gladly pour you one,” Koszulinski chimes in and laughs.

Part of the conversion process from just coffeehouse to coffeehouse/pub included understanding local clientele and Caladonia, where EB is located. Koszulinski explains: “We realized we might be dealing with customers who don’t have a background in craft beer. We could have some people come in and say ‘what do you have that taste like Bud Light?’ Education for our customers is something we love, and it’s a big part of this process for us. We are starting out with a beer list that will be accessible, easy to grasp, but still have some outliers like our Rye Strong Ale.”

At 8.5% ABV, this is the strongest beer on EB’s initial release list.

“It has the big confusing spice character from the rye. If you don’t know what you are getting into it’s a whole bunch of flavor.”

EB’s gateway beer for those who haven’t delved into the craft beer scene yet is Goldsmith, an oatmeal blonde ale at 4.8% ABV. It’s delicate with a slightly citrusy flavor, and very well balanced without being boring. A coffee stout, an IPA, a dark farmhouse ale and a farmhouse ale brewed with Earl Gray tea rounds out the beer list.

EB Coffee & Pub’s re-launch is Saturday, bright and early at 7 a.m.  Live music will be playing throughout this all day event, with giveaways, merch, and of course, beer. Or coffee, if you prefer. Find out more details on EB’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/EBcoffeeandpub

Justin Nichols would like to send a quick thank you to his wonderful wife, who has had to deal with long hours, crazy schedules and their four children during this whole process. Someone buy that lady a beer.

GRAND RAPIDS — The 13th Annual Black Party at Founders was held on Saturday. Lucky 13 brought beautiful weather and huge crowds to enjoy the many black beers Founders has become famous for, as well as a few new surprises.

If you were fortunate enough to arrive in time to receive the commemorative pint glass, it was probably Paul Eyk who handed it to you. Eyk, manning the door dressed in a tuxedo with tails and a top hat, was Founders’ very first door man at the original location and has attended every Black Party since it’s inception.

“Every year this party gets better and better. People come from further and further away to be part of it”, Eyk said.

Eyk was also one of the very first mug club members. He chose mug number 116, which corresponds with his birthdate.

Fans of the brewery’s Black IPA could choose from many variations of it. The lightest, a session version called All Night IPA, weighed in at 4.2% ABV. The standard Black IPA, an Imperial Black and several barrel-aged versions topping out at 11.7% ABV rounded out the style.

Long time Founders devotee and Grand Rapids resident Brian Chuchla has been to a decades’ worth of Black Party celebrations. “I’m not typically much of an IPA fan but some of the unique flavors that I don’t normally have, I need to try them when I’m here. I love the Maple Barrel Aged Black IPA today!” he said.

Tim Sundt related, saying “We’re in a place that understands subtle changes make for a very different beer.”

Among the tweaked beers on the tap list was Cran Cub, a base of Panther Cub blended with 5-month bourbon barrel-aged CraZpberry SaWce, which was brewed with cranberries, raspberries and crystal malt for the winter holidays. Panther Cub, a porter aged one year in Blis maple syrup barrels with whole vanilla beans, is a favorite of many Founders enthusiasts.

KBS flowed all day long, fulfilling the wishes of many attendees who hoped to have a second pour or more. Overheard many times throughout the day were excited approvals from the crowd, most voicing satisfaction with this year’s batch as well as the quantity made available.

Specialty foods were available in addition to the regular deli menu. The famed Dirty Bastard Bratwurst was being served hot off the grill, complete with Dirty Bastard Sauerkraut and Dirty Bastard Stone Ground Mustard for a trifecta that pleased hungry patrons.

Music was provided by Nathaniel Rateliff, Caroline Rose and Oracle. Guests may have recognized several Founders employees playing in Oracle, including Jeremy Kosmicki, head brewer, whose name once graced the label of KBS.

GRAND RAPIDS — “We’re not hunters — not really,” says Eric Karns, owner and head brewer at Elk with a chuckle. “Elk is from the beer I made when I got married, it’s actually our initials — Eric and Lisa Karns.”

Like the homebrew created for his bride, Elk Brewing is a product of love and devotion. And a long road to get to where there are now.

“Opening a business isn’t easy, and it takes more time than I thought it would. It’s a lot longer process than people realize,” he says.

Elk Brewing seemed to be in the works forever — signs hung in the windows of 700 Wealthy St. SE for two years. The original state of the location, coupled with the fact that the bank didn’t know how to properly categorize Elk in the loan department (classifying them as a restaurant — a risky venture — instead of a brewery) were some of the reasons behind the delays.

“It’s really easy to come up with an idea, but tough to come up with funds, and hard to sell it,” says Karns. “The only thing we had to stand on was that we truly believe in the beer that we make. When people would walk into this building, it was just a shell. They would say — ‘I don’t see what you are seeing.’” 

They should see it now. With a entirely new frontage, an 80 seat patio in the works, and an industrial-style, semi-rustic interior, Elk is comfy and inviting. “We want a place where people want to sit down for hours and not leave.”

Elk will not be offering food (aside from peanuts and pretzels), but has partnered with Jonny B’z, a local restaurant that’s right down the sidewalk, and established a ‘hot dog delivery line.’ You can call in your order for hot dogs or hamburgers, and they will bring it right to your seat.

Beau DeBruyne, the Assistant Brewer and Karns show us around and we taste test their initial run of beer. “We’re really trying to brew strong American style ales. I don’t make any light beers. We like big and flavorful brews,” shares Karns.

Currently, there are five beers on tap — a Porter, Scotch Ale, IPA, Black IPA and an ESB.

Both brewers’ background comes from homebrewing. That’s part of what initially sparked Elk’s creation. With the flux of qualified brewers and those wanted to get into the industry, it’s near impossible finding a position at a brewery where you’d be the decision maker. So instead of waiting for a position to find him, Karns decided to create the position for himself, all while giving an opportunity to another homebrewer. 

“The goal with hiring was to seek out an experienced homebrewer,” says Karns. I know how tough it is to get a job [in this industry] and I wanted to give someone an opportunity. Beau has the same passion as I do. It’s a good fit.”

Elk’s setup is courtesy of PsychoBrew out of Greenville. Karns shows us to the back and the tanks. “We had them add an extension onto this tank to make it 120 gallons. We are the first people to ask for this, and it’s apparently taken off. We are also the first to get a manway on our mashtun.”

There are 16 fermenters and five brite tanks — four three barrel and one seven barrel.

“These are what we are serving in,” Karns says as he shows us into the cooler. “The kegs are for back up for when the tanks run out. That way we can never stop serving, never stop rolling. We don’t want to run out of beer.”

The big question — when will Elk open? It’s close — really close. Elk is waiting for final paperwork to process, and then it’s go time.

“There’s no big plans, we’re just doing it. It’s time,” Karns laughs. “We’ll be putting an open sign in that window and just going for it.”

Keep tabs on Elk via its Facebook page and be on the lookout for that sign.

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.”

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.