GRAND RAPIDS — Over 7,000 people gathered in front of Founders Brewing Co. on Saturday for Founders Fest, which celebrated the brewery’s 15th anniversary.

The festival, which combines beer with music, food and art, expanded this year to have two music stages for 10 bands that played throughout the day. Amongst the bands who performed were The Crane Wives, Four Finger Five, Soulive and the FBC All Stars.

With lines that grew throughout the day, trying one of Founders’ specialty ales was a bit challenging, but worth the wait. I was able to try Frangelic Mountain Brown (the upcoming release in Founders’ Backstage Series) and Red’s Rye PA with Bourbon.

Frangelic Mountain Brown poured a clear brown with little to no head, and featured an aroma full of coffee. The taste of this brew was coffee-heavy, with some oak and roasted malt as well. The medium mouthfeel was surprising for a Founders specialty ale, but was welcomed on this hot summer day.

Likewise, the cask tapping of Red’s Rye PA with Bourbon was both refreshing and flavorful, with some fruit, rye, oak and a little bit of bourbon mixed with some moderate hops.

Other specialty ales that were tapped included KBS, Devil Dancer and a cask of Centennial IPA with Ginger. Founders also had a variety of “standard” beers available, including:

  • Centennial IPA
  • Founders Fest Wheat
  • Dirty Bastard
  • Red’s Rye PA
  • Porter
  • All Day IPA
  • Pale Ale
  • Solid Gold
  • Cerise

As people enjoyed their Founders brews, they were treated to a wide variety of entertainment — from bands to circus acts. Artists and other vendors were also present at the event.

Food was also available from local vendors The Cottage Bar, What the Truck, Mi Tierra, The Corner Bar and The Pita House.

HUDSONVILLE — Drinking Michigan craft beer AND supporting a great cause? That’s exactly what Bill White at White Flame Brewing Co. in Hudsonville is doing this summer during Hops for Hope 2012.

Today, White Flame is releasing “Hooterville Wheat” — a hoppy American-style wheat beer which sells for $5 a pint — with $1 from every beer sold going directly to fund breast cancer research at the Van Andel Institute in Grand Rapids. The beer is only available in the taproom at 5234 36th Avenue in Hudsonville, through September 22.

“The cause is a good one that has touched many people’s lives including ours,” says White Flame Owner/Brewer Bill White. “Both my wife Jenn and I have lost our maternal grandmothers to complications related to breast cancer so this cause is very dear to our hearts.”

White Flame Brewing is open five days a week: Tuesdays-Thursdays (4-10 p.m.) and Friday-Saturday (4 p.m. to Midnight).

GRAND RAPIDS — With mobile games on a tear, Michigan beer fans can rejoice with the release of Fusionary Media’s Michigan Micro Caps game.

The app, free for iPhone users and in development for Android, is a game in the style of Bejeweled, but uses more than 100 Michigan bottle caps for game pieces, Fusionary co-founder Steve Lewis said.

In the game, a user is presented with multiple levels of an 8×8 grid with a variety of caps. The goal is to clear the pieces — in this case bottle caps — from the board by selecting two or more adjacent pieces. Multipliers allow for your score to go higher.

“We’ve done a bunch of games over the years,” Lewis said of his companies 17-year existence. “We were looking to build up our mobile game portfolio. We’re sittin’ around brainstorming, one of the first ideas was to do something craft beer themed.

“Once we got onto that, we just started rolling.”

The Fusionary office is located across the street from Founders Brewing Company in Grand Rapids, and in turn was one of the first breweries to approve of the game.

“We sent notes to every brewery, offering them to opt out,” Lewis said. “But everyone we talked to thought it was great. They thought it’d be great for (all the Michigan breweries).”

The game will remain free, with focused advertising. Currently, when a player finishes a level they might see an advertisement of this weekend’s Founder’s Fest.

“The goal is to continue very relevant and focused advertisement,” Lewis said. “It will be all direct ad sales. Our goal was to make something fun that people wanted to play.”

So far, the Micro Caps app has seen nothing but positive reviews, seeing more than 40 iTunes store reviews with all but one five-star rating in a little more than a week.

“Some of the people I’ve watched play aren’t even beer or game fans, it’s a good combination for a casual game,” Lewis said. “But the people who love beer, love looking at the caps and list of breweries, that’s been great.”

HOLLAND — Wonderland overtaken by the The Hatter?

Don’t fret, dear Alice, it’s all in the name of Michigan beer.

With several real-life depictions of the popular Alice in Wonderland character walking through its restaurant/pub and adjacent street block (College Avenue between 8th and 9th streets), New Holland Brewing Company celebrated 15 years of brewing Saturday with an ode to its anchor brew, Mad Hatter IPA.

“The event is really about our anniversary,” brewmaster and partner John Haggerty said. “Mad Hatter really being our flagship beer, it made sense (to call the event Hatter Day).”

Bringing the annual event into the street was a milestone for organizers, and allowed local chefs to offer various cookout items to folks. New Holland, Vander Mill, Salt & Pepper and Brewery Vivant kitchens were all represented.

“For now, this is the biggest event we’ve done,” Haggerty said. “It’s also big for the city of Holland.”

Hatter Day 2012 featured a variety of Hatter-esque IPAs, including the debut of White Hatter (a spiced-up Hatter) and several variations on the Hatter theme. They included: Mad Hatter, Imperial Hatter, Farmhouse Hatter, Black Hatter, Oak Aged Hatter, Rye Hatter and Full Circle (the last not so much part of the theme, but hard not to include at a New Holland anniversary party).

New Holland has never been afraid to try something new, Haggerty said. However, their biggest goal is balance — both in beer styles and within the beers themselves.

“When we think about making beer, we think about the notion of balance,” Haggerty said. “Really what we are saying is everything has to meld together in the flavors, alcohol content…What’s the appropriate amount? We try to shoot for that balance.”

That was the original concept behind Full Circle, which has become one of New Holland’s most-celebrated beers. As Haggerty says, when people first start brewing beer, they have the adage: “The more hops the better.”

“Then you kind of diversify to all these styles. Ingredients work together in harmony. Full Circle is kind of our version of Budweiser. Point is everything has its place and time. The point of being a beer connoisseur is to recognize this.”

Hatter Day 2012 was capped with music by national headlines The Dynamites featuring Charles Walker. Of course, the annual cake cutting took place inside the pub promptly at 10:06 p.m. — appropriately timed for the “In this style 10/6” depicted on the card on Hatter’s hat.

“For us we like to do things differently and be outside the box,” said Dave White, general manager and partner. “We live to push the envelope.”

SPRING LAKE TOWNSHIP — Paul Vander Heide knows the best way to profit is to get patrons walking into the door of his West Michigan cider mill.

Donuts and desserts? Check. Hard cider for adults and regular cider for the kids? Check. Beer? Check. Food? Check.

Friday evening marked the launch of that last piece with the grand opening of Vander Mill’s kitchen.

“This is the grand unveiling of our menu,” Vander Heide said. “This is the first summer we’re doing food. We really want to encourage people to come out here to have a cider.”

The menu features food that is 100 percent local and farm fresh. Take the Michigan Grilled Cheese — cheese from Coopersville, bacon thick sliced on site and bread from the nearby Village Baker.

The menu keeps it simple: Appetizers, soups, salad and sandwiches (served with donut chips). A few of the popular sandwiches served Friday were Cider Braised Pulled Pork, Smoked Turkey, Michigan Cherry Chicken Salad and VanderLoaf.

The event was celebrated with music by Organissmo. In addition, patrons had the opportunity to try Vander Mill’s new beer, which debut at the Michigan Brewers Guild’s Winter Beer Festival in February. Currently, the store has two on tap — Half Pint Lager and Chapman’s Golden Strong.

“They’re an addition to diversify,” said Joel Brower, cider maker, brewer and operations manager.

Brower, who started as a home brewer, said the Half Pint Lager is appropriately named, as it was designed to mix with the hard apple cider (half pint of each) to create a snakebite. Meanwhile, the Chapman’s Golden Strong uses Belgian yeasts and is fermented with 20 percent apple cider.

“Adding cider fits the profile of the beer,” Brower said, saying that most fruit beers add fruit flavor at the end whereas he ferments it during the brewing process.

“Joel came into this business as a brewer,” Vander Heide said. “He understands building a beer recipe. At the same time, he knows what fruit does. We’re making fruit beers, not fruity beers.”

For Vander Heide, the diversification is reason enough to stop into Vander Mill, located at 14921 Cleveland St. The store is open during the summer Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday noon to 7 p.m.

“The biggest thing for us is we’re here to come and drink a cider, drink a beer,” he said.

GRAND RAPIDS — Frangelic Mountain Brown is the next release in Founder’s Backstage Series, with availability beginning in July.

The fourth release in the series, Frangelic Mountain Brown will join Blushing Monk, Canadian Breakfast Stout and Curmudgeon’s Better Half, all part of an effort to bring some of Founders’ most sought-after beers, previously available primarily in the taproom, to a larger audience. All of these releases are offered at retailers, sold in 750 milliliter bottles.

“The goal of the Backstage Series is to allow those beer enthusiasts who don’t have the ability to make it to our taproom an opportunity to experience some of the beers that, historically, have been limited to our taproom and a handful of high exposure events,” said Dave Engbers, Founders Brewing Co. vice president and co-founder. “Although these beers are not brewed in large volume, it is our intention to distribute them to all of our markets.”

Frangelic Mountain Brown is the quintessential taproom “one-off” beer — Founders’ brewers created the Mountain Brown series for their taproom in Grand Rapids in 2007. The 16th iteration in the series of popular brown ales, Frangelic Mountain Brown likely won’t be the last.

The singular characteristic of this beer comes from the use of hazelnut coffees in the brewing process. The beer has distinct aromatics with sweet and nutty flavors beautifully balanced. Founders is known for its beers made with coffee — i.e., the Breakfast Stout series — but this is both the brewery’s first brown ale and its first beer brewed with hazelnut coffees to be bottled. It clocks in at 9-percent ABV.

The next beer to be released in the series later this year will be a celebration of the brewery’s 15th anniversary, though the style is yet-to-be revealed.

GRAND RAPIDS — Grand Rapids Brewing Co. announced plans to become Michigan’s only all-organic brewery.

All of GRBC’s beers will be made using only organic grains and other organic ingredients. The announcement comes on the heels of the city of Grand Rapids being named BeerCity USA 2012.

The brewpub, to be located at 1 Ionia Ave. SW in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids’ entertainment district, is being designed to provide casual beer drinkers, craft beer connoisseurs and people interested in natural, organic ingredients with another compelling reason to visit downtown’s entertainment district.

Mark Sellers, co-owner of BarFly Ventures and GRBC, said the decision to go “all organic” was neither simple nor without risk.

“Sourcing organic hops, malt and grain is very challenging,” he said. “There aren’t many to go around, and we had to do a lot of legwork to line up suppliers and farms who could sell us organic ingredients in the quantities we require. We’re taking the obligation that comes with calling GRBC an organic brewery very seriously.”

GRBC’s veteran brewmasters, Stu Crittenden and Jake Brenner, have spent months researching other organic beers and breweries to understand the challenges and promise of using products grown without the use of pesticides and other chemicals.

Brenner, who grew up in Traverse City and graduated from Grand Valley State University, has been brewing for seven years, including two years at nearby HopCat.

Crittenden, an East Lansing native, has six years of brewing experience under his belt, including stints at Michigan Brewing Co. in Webberville and the former GRBC on 28th Street SE, which closed last year before being acquired by Sellers.

While some breweries in the region have produced individual organic brews, when GRBC opens in late August, it will be the first and only brewery in Michigan making a commitment to creating only organic beer.

“Our mission is to create beers that people will enjoy drinking using products that are natural, sustainable and, whenever possible, locally grown,” Crittenden said.

The same philosophy will carry over to the unique variety of foods that will be offered using as many all-natural, organic and locally-sourced ingredients as possible.

The brewery expects to be certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture before or shortly after opening.

Grand Rapids is the new BeerCity USA 2012.

The poll closed early Monday morning with a “statistical tie” between the West Michigan city and three-time winner Asheville, N.C.

“It’s always surprising when you win something like that,” said Jason Spaulding, owner of Brewery Vivant in the East Hills neighborhood of Grand Rapids. “I’m not totally surprised — I think Grand Rapids is a great beer city.”

The annual poll is conducted by homebrew godfather Charlie Papazian, who showed the final tally as an exact tie, based on a three percent “margin of anomalies.” Both cities received 17,849 of 55,926 votes, or 32 percent each.

“People around here are pretty excited,” Spaulding said. “Our town takes a lot of pride in local beer. Michigan doesn’t get a lot of respect for beer yet, I think we are starting to.”

Among the breweries in Grand Rapids are Founders Brewing Co., Brewery Vivant, BOB’s House of Brews, Harmony Brewing, The Hideout Brewing Company, HopCat and Schmohz.

In the nearby outlying areas are New Holland Brewing Co., White Flame Brewing Company, Jaden James Brewery, Saugatuck Brewing Company, Michigan Beer Cellar, Old Boys Brew House, Odd Side Ales and Vander Mill.

“We are making some great beer here,” Spaulding said. “I think it’s great people are recognizing that.”

Aside from the breweries, Spaulding pointed to a large homebrewing community in Grand Rapids, including the Primetime Brewers group and local homebrew stores Siciliano’s and O’Connor’s. He also said having a beer bar like HopCat — voted third best beer bar in the world — adds to the beer-friendly culture.

Founders Brewing Co. may have single-handedly put Grand Rapids on the ballot, according to Spaulding. No matter where he travels, people always know about Founders.

“Whenever I mention Founders, people freak out — ‘Oh you’re the same town as Founders. How awesome is that.’ We have a good, friendly brewing community here.”

So friendly that Founders helped wash kegs the first month Vivant was open in December 2010. Founders owner Dave Engbers is passionate about his brewery, but he gives all the credit back to the people.

“I think (Grand Rapids won) because of the phenomenal beer enthusiasts we have in Michigan,” Engbers said. “The people came out and spoke. We’ve had great dialogue with some of the folks down in Asheville, another thriving metropolitan beer community.”

Co-founder and vice president of marketing for Founders, Engbers called the BeerCity USA crown a testament to West Michigan’s “thriving brewing industry.” He is not naive to that fact that Founders attracts a large draw to Grand Rapids, pointing to its being the second-highest rated brewery in the world by RateBeer for two straight years.

“We’re doing what we love,” Engbers said. “The fact that other people are jumping on board is just a testament to the industry.”

Like Spaulding, Engbers credits other leaders such as Mark Sellers of HopCat for helping educate the beer culture and other brewers quietly doing their part at places like Hideout and Schmohz.

“I really think there’s just a great beer culture here in West Michigan,” Engbers said.

Spaulding said the culture is a supportive one, or “non-competitive,” as some might term it.

“We’re doing stuff that is different enough that we are not overlapping,” Spaulding said.

Spaulding pointed to two other factors in Grand Rapids title as BeerCity USA, one being the number of restaurants with Michigan beers on tap.

“If you come visit Grand Rapids — even if you don’t make it to a brewery —all the restaurants have our beer,” Spaulding said. “You come to our town, you’re going be surrounded by local beer. That’s a take away when they come visit us.”

Finally, Spaulding credits the Michigan Brewers Guild’s annual Winter Beer Festival for putting Grand Rapids on the map.

“We saw people who traveled from Ohio, Illinois, Indiana. I met someone who came from Texas just to go to this Winter Beer Festival,” Spaulding said.

The nominating process for Beer City USA was April 15-21. In all, 31 cities made the final poll, which opened May 1 and ended early Monday morning. Winning isn’t everything, but both Engbers and Spaulding agreed it puts Grand Rapids on the map.

“More people are going to know about Grand Rapids now,” Spaulding said. “I think we can take it next year — it’s a friendly rivalry.”

Both brewery owners expressed excitement to meet Asheville brewers at future events.

“It’s really great for West Michigan to get some recognition for the great beer community it is,” Engbers said.

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