GRAND RAPIDS — Canadian Breakfast Stout will be the second release in Founders Brewing Co.’s Backstage Series, according to Vice President/Director of Marketing Dave Engbers.

The brew hits retail shelves Oct. 3 (in 750-milliliter bottles) with a taproom release party on Oct. 1.

There has been a great deal of anticipation and speculation regarding the second Backstage release after the success of Blushing Monk, the series debut, this summer. I spotted a bottle of Blushing Monk on a Grand Rapids grocery store shelf and snagged it for just under $14.

While it wasn’t what I expected, the brew at least meets its hype. Deep, blood-red in appearance, it captures both the sweet and sour elements of raspberry (so apparent in the first sniff) with a prickly carbonation that makes it sit on the tongue like a champagne.

Blushing Monk is certainly more sweet than sour. Founders’ signature, in my book, is its ever-apparent hoppy-ness. With Blushing Monk, the hops are there, but the powerful sweet raspberry flavor makes them very hard to detect and leaves almost no bitter aftertaste. Overall, it’s not your typical “beer beer,” but it certainly pleases the palate. I can see why it was chosen as one of the Backstage releases.

As for Canadian Breakfast Stout, it seems the logical choice as the second release in the series — it’s popular at many beer festivals, but you have to go to the taproom (and at the right time) for a taste of CBS.

Canadian Breakfast Stout is an Imperial Stout brewed with a blend of coffees and imported chocolates, then aged in spent bourbon barrels (most recently used to age pure Michigan maple syrup). The final product has had stellar reviews and is currently the fifth-highest rated beer in the world on www.BeerAdvocate.com.

The Backstage Series gives drinkers a chance to uncap at home some of the brewery’s “more eclectic beers that have historically only been available on the tap” at Founders and bars where kegs are distributed, Engbers says.

The series is dubbed “Backstage” because the releases are limited — and a response to the brewery’s diehard fans.

“To us, it’s kind of using the brewery as the stage,” Engbers says, making these brews backstage. “Releasing small specialty batches is a great way for us to connect to our core beer enthusiast.”

The company is not revealing any additional releases in the series, but Engbers says they will consist of many of the “popular one-offs” offered in the taproom over the years that are favorites among patrons and brewery staff. The company expects to release one more product in the 2011 Backstage Series later this year.

“I think part of what people love about Founders — besides our beer — is that we listen to what they are saying,” President Mike Stevens says. “With our new line, now we can offer them more of what they’ve been asking for.”

 

GRAND RAPIDS — MittenBrew is proud to announce our latest project — BeerSocialGR. In partnership with the L&B Portfolio, we’ve developed an event that focuses on pairing great beer with food, all the while being social about it.

The first BeerSocialGR starts 5:30 p.m. Sept.14 at Derby Station in East Grand Rapids. Attendees will be treated to five pre-chosen beer samples and food samplers, as well as a “staple” beer to cleanse your palate.

Attendees are expected to use social media tools — such as Facebook and Twitter — to let their followers know of their experiences with each beer and dish, while participating in a casual setting with their peers. People will be chosen to attend the event based on their social media following — all attendees must meet a variety of requirements to attend the event.

“We really hope that, with the help of Derby Station, we can promote the rising interest in Michigan craft beer as well as have attendees enjoy some great food,” said Bryan Esler, event organizer and MittenBrew co-founder. “Pairing beer with food is nothing new, but it’s definitely something that can be promoted a lot more, especially with the growth of craft beer.”

The event, which is limited to 10 people, is facilitated by Josh Leo, the founder of Charcutweeterie events at the Reserve, a wine bar in downtown Grand Rapids. Leo serves as host during the event, inviting attendees to experiment and try unique craft beer and food.

To learn more about this event, and to see how you can attend, email Bryan Esler at besler@grgrub.com. Stay tuned for more details about the event, including the types of food and beer that being served, in the coming weeks.

Update: The menu for BeerSocialGR has been released!

  • Course One: Short’s Spruce Pilsner with Root Vegetable Salad
  • Course Two: Michigan Brewing Company Screaming Pumpkin with Beer Cheese Soup
  • Course Three: New Holland Mad Hatter IPA on Cask  with Pretzels and Mustard
  • Course Four: Bell’s Oktoberfest with Spaetzle
  • Course Five: VanderMill Whit Cider with Banana Custard
  • Staple Beer: Brewery Vivant’s Farm Hand Ale

GRAND RAPIDS — John Ball Park is home to many festivals, but Saturday marked a new celebration of sorts — WGRD’s 2011 Summer Craft Beer Festival.

The festival not only showcased beers from around the state, but also let beer enthusiasts enjoy various out-of-state brews. Still, for Michigan beer drinkers, there was plenty to be happy about. Featuring brews from Short’s, Tri-City, Mount Pleasant and Dragonsmead — just to name a few — Grand Rapids beer lovers experienced their favorite beers, and then some.

Admission was $15 at the door, which included a pint glass and four sample tickets. In addition to samples, guests were treated to a wide array of seminars (such as learning to cook with beer and what mead really is).

Three beers stood out during the event, all from Michigan.

The Coal Stoaker’s Blackberry Ale (5.8% ABV), brewed by Mount Pleasant Brewing Company, featured a rich, wheat blackberry flavor. Technically, Mount Pleasant calls it a wheat ale/stout blend, and I can see why. Its dark undertones, accompanied with the light flavor, made for a perfect combination. This beer could literally be enjoyed any time of the year.

Shifting to the darker side, Dragonmead’s Under the Kilt Wee Heavy (7.8% ABV) was just that — a full bodied brew with caramel, fruit and scotch undertones. Its ruby red color surprised me at first, but the hint of lightness to the otherwise dark scotch brew was certainly welcomed.

But one beer trumped them all — Michigan Beer Cellar’s Mocha Java Stout (7% ABV) encompassed the richness I’ve come to love about craft beer. Served with a maximum head, the chocolate, malty flavor was persistent but not overpowering. It reminded me just of what you’d find in a coffee shop — a sweet, dark flavor with a hint of espresso. Full-bodied flavor, lingering nut, chocolate, and toffee-like taste — it’s definitely going on my “top” list of brews to look out for. It certainly helped, too, that I was served much more than the standard 3-ounce serving as well.

One of the biggest disappointments though had to do with the entertainment. Instead of using its own DJs, WGRD hired a local company, who consistently received text messages over the iPhone he was using to play music. It got to be annoying after a while, which could’ve been the reason the picnic tables in front of the stage were generally empty.

Further, I was let down by the number of Michigan breweries that were present. I would’ve also liked to have seen more specialty beers available (Short’s selection particularly disappointed me). Perhaps these snafus are expected for a first-year event, but improvement is certainly needed for this to become an annual event.

Some minor disappointment aside, the WGRD Craft Beer Fest was still a fun event, letting beer fanatics sample a new brew or two, and John Ball Park was the perfect atmosphere for something like this. Its relaxed atmosphere was refreshing, compared to other, more populated beer festivals throughout the state.

SPRING LAKE TOWNSHIP — In hopes of promoting more on-site consumption of its hard cider, Vander Mill celebrated the grand opening of its outdoor cider garden Friday.

Hard cider’s increasing popularity has created fairly rapid growth for Paul Vander Heide’s cider mill. Friday’s opening of its more than 2,000 square-foot outdoor garden was another benchmark for Vander Mill.

“It’s a relaxing, family-friendly place to have a drink,” Vander Heide said. “We’re trying to maintain a balance of family-friendly and craft-alcohol drinking.”

Among the “family-friendly” options, youngsters were carted around on a train powered by a tractor and took full advantage of an adjacent playground area surrounded by five acres of woods to the east of the mill.

In the past three years the cider mill has seen increased traffic, which the owner attributes to familiarity of its products now served at 28 bars/restaurants and 40 store retailers across the state, mostly in West Michigan.

“There’s a lot of traffic coming from Grand Rapids and they recognize the logo, they recognize the name,” Vander Heide said. “And then there’s other people seeking it out.”

Vander Mill, 14921 Cleveland St., is en route for beachgoers to Grand Haven State Park or Ottawa County’s North Beach Park. Those taking I-96 and exiting on M-104 pass the mill on their right heading into town (on the left as heading out of town). The store is open during the summer Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday noon to 7 p.m.

During the event, two specialty ciders were on tap in addition to eight others — the mill usually has 10 ciders on tap. The specialties, Luscious Lutes, hard cider fortified with apple brandy, and Doubled Over, a dry-hopped, bourbon-barrel aged cyser, are both available until the batches run out.

At the grand opening, patrons were treated to pizza from Old Boys Brewhouse and cheese samples from Grassfields of Coopersville. While the cider mill store sells ice cream and fresh-made donuts along with an assortment of Michigan-made local products, there are no substantial food offerings.

“We’re hoping to have a food element,” Vander Heide said. “The concept is going to be that we do 100 percent Michigan product. We would hope the additional food we offer would feature the products sold in the store.”

Vander Mill was recently state-approved for a microbrewing license and is working on federal approval. The owner says Vander Mill will brew various fruit beers, “things that are kind of in our vein.”

“We are a cider mill first,” he said. “We’re going to make a beer that has cider in it, you can bet on that.”

The brews — perhaps two or three offered on-site with occasional one-offs at local bars — will be made “on a really micro scale,” according to Vander Heide.

At Friday’s event, tours were offered, including the showcase of the mill’s new tanks. The mill is transitioning from poly totes to tanks, which should help produce a higher volume of cider. In total, three tanks will be used — a 2,000-gallon fermenter and two 850-gallon brite tanks for carbonation.

“It’s really going to help us improve consistency batch to batch,” Vander Heide said, adding the tanks will give a more consistent carbonation and help manage the company’s overall distribution growth.

As the cider mill continues to meet the needs of growing distribution demands, Friday marked one day to celebrate the site where the mill began in 2006.

“It’s certainly not a lack of demand,” Vander Heide said. “It’s not how much we can sell, it’s who we can sell it to. We want to be able to sell it as a craft cider, not just a cider.”

 

 

We talked with John Svoboda, Head Brewer at BOB’s House of Brews in Grand Rapids, to see how he’s expanding the BOB lineup while still keeping to a small brewery footprint.

GRAND RAPIDS — There is likely a reason they call it BOB’s House of Brews. Emphasis on “house.”

Tucked away in the basement of a four-story building in downtown Grand Rapids, the brewpub is much like stepping into a modernized basement. It’s complete with a sizable — but small — bar, modern furniture, sophisticated decor and artwork to match.

BOB’s ‘house’ is intentionally dark with some natural light peaking through from a sky light atop the building (the room only gets darker as the day goes on into the night).

“It’s a nice place to hangout,” general manager Alan Riehl said. “It has a relaxed, forward feel that is attractive to all types of crowds.”

BOB shares his basement with another restaurant/bar, Monkey Bar, which serves up Asian small plates with items like duck, pork tenderloin and seafood. Patrons can grab a seat at a high-top table, booth or the bar, all having comfortable, soft padded chairs with backs.

The seating area is mainly lit by candle light. It would be difficult to read the Monkey Bar’s menu if it didn’t light up when you open it. The bar, which seats about 16, is lit by a back light near the taps with some florescent light coming from the brewery behind and to the right.

The brewery typically keeps 10 beers on tap with space for up to 12. Its brews are also served at other restaurants and bars inside the building, known as the B.O.B, which stands for Big Old Building. The building and its eight restaurants and bars are all owned and operated by the Gilmore Collection.

“(Serving our own beer) creates the artisan factor — it’s local, we’re doing it ourselves,” Riehl said. “We don’t have to pay to ship it from California. It allows us to have the freshest product possible.”

The man behind the brews is John Svoboda. The brewmaster keeps a steady rotation of classic ales and stouts, but doesn’t hesitate to push the envelope with brews like the Mango Chipotle ale.

“John’s very good to staying true to the true form of beer,” Diehl said. “All his beers are very drinkable and true to quality. He tries to represent a little of everything.”

Some brews, like the Mango Chipotle, are specially brewed to pair with Monkey Bar’s menu. Pairing the food and beer is still new for the almost 15-year-old brewery (the Monkey Bar opened just one year ago).

During our recent visit, eight beers were on tap, including six traditional brews, the twice-mentioned Mango Chipotle and a seasonal. Unfortunately, the seasonal ran out just before we ordered.

  • Afterglow Amber — This reddish brown concoction smells nutty and roasted. Malty through and through, the smell carries into the flavor with a creamy mouthfeel and light carbonation.
  • Full On IPA — Less bitter than most IPAs, this dark brownish orange brew has average carbonation with good overall flavor that brings lots of citrus taste.
  • Platinum Blonde — The light gold looking brew is perfect for those seeking the clean, crisp and refreshing. Not much to the smell, but definitely enough flavor and it goes down smooth.
  • Orange Lotus Hopsun — Hazy yellow orange with obvious orange smell and taste with a watery, soft mouthfeel that makes for a refreshing drink.
  • Nautical Dawn Pale Ale — Saison yeast makes this fizzy brew hop. The scent of sour orange tastes more like grapefruit — not bad.
  • Bourbon — With a light foamy top layer, just beneath is the smell of vanilla, caramel and sweetness with a taste that matches. Yum.
  • Mango Chipotle Ale — Hints of mango scent carry into a strong initial mango taste that turns into chipotle by mid drink and carried to a burning end (not for the wimps who can’t handle the heat).

BOB’s House of Brews is located inside the Big Old Building in downtown Grand Rapids at 20 Monroe Ave. NW.

GRAND RAPIDS — There is likely a reason they call it BOB’s House of Brews. Emphasis on “house.”
Tucked away in the basement of a four-story building in downtown Grand Rapids, the brewpub is much like stepping into a modernized basement. It’s complete with a sizable — but small — bar, modern furniture, sophisticated decor and artwork to match.
BOB’s ‘house’ is intentionally dark with some natural light peaking through from a sky light atop the building (the room only gets darker as the day goes on into the night).
“It’s a nice place to hangout,” general manager Alan Riehl said. “It has a relaxed, forward feel that is attractive to all types of crowds.”
BOB shares his basement with another restaurant/bar, Monkey Bar, which serves up Asian small plates with items like duck, pork tenderloin and seafood. Patrons can grab a seat at a high-top table, booth or the bar, all having comfortable, soft padded chairs with backs.
The seating area is mainly lit by candle light. It would be difficult to read the Monkey Bar’s menu if it didn’t light up when you open it. The bar, which seats about 16, is lit by a back light near the taps with some florescent light coming from the brewery behind and to the right.
The brewery typically keeps 10 beers on tap with space for up to 12. Its brews are also served at other restaurants and bars inside the building, known as the B.O.B, which stands for Big Old Building. The building and its eight restaurants and bars are all owned and operated by the Gilmore Collection.
“(Serving our own beer) creates the artisan factor — it’s local, we’re doing it ourselves,” Riehl said. “We don’t have to pay to ship it from California. It allows us to have the freshest product possible.”
The man behind the brews is John Svoboda. The brewmaster keeps a steady rotation of classic ales and stouts, but doesn’t hesitate to push the envelope with brews like the Mango Chipotle ale.
“John’s very good to staying true to the true form of beer,” Diehl said. “All his beers are very drinkable and true to quality. He tries to represent a little of everything.”
Some brews, like the Mango Chipotle, are specially brewed to pair with Monkey Bar’s menu. Pairing the food and beer is still new for the almost 15-year-old brewery (the Monkey Bar opened just one year ago).
During our recent visit, eight beers were on tap, including six traditional brews, the twice-mentioned Mango Chipotle and a seasonal. Unfortunately, the seasonal ran out just before we ordered.

  • Afterglow Amber — This reddish brown concoction smells nutty and roasted. Malty through and through, the smell carries into the flavor with a creamy mouthfeel and light carbonation.
  • Full On IPA — Less bitter than most IPAs, this dark brownish orange brew has average carbonation with good overall flavor that brings lots of citrus taste.
  • Platinum Blonde — The light gold looking brew is perfect for those seeking the clean, crisp and refreshing. Not much to the smell, but definitely enough flavor and it goes down smooth.
  • Orange Lotus Hopsun — Hazy yellow orange with obvious orange smell and taste with a watery, soft mouthfeel that makes for a refreshing drink.
  • Nautical Dawn Pale Ale — Saison yeast makes this fizzy brew hop. The scent of sour orange tastes more like grapefruit — not bad.
  • Bourbon — With a light foamy top layer, just beneath is the smell of vanilla, caramel and sweetness with a taste that matches. Yum.
  • Mango Chipotle Ale — Hints of mango scent carry into a strong initial mango taste that turns into chipotle by mid drink and carried to a burning end (not for the wimps who can’t handle the heat).

BOB’s House of Brews is located inside the Big Old Building in downtown Grand Rapids at 20 Monroe Ave. NW.

GRAND RAPIDS — The ingredients for Founders Fest are simple — beer and music.

Attracting about 6,000 visitors Saturday, the annual outdoor event featured some of Founders’ unique brews and an assortment of live bands.

“There are always surprises,” Founders Vice President/Director of Marketing Dave Engbers said. “There’s a lot I really don’t know how to explain.”

Engbers was perhaps referring to a 20-foot tall man-tree walking along Grandville Avenue. Or maybe it was the gymnasts flexing their bodies in unbelievable positions through hoops. Or perhaps Mark-Paul Gosselaar (aka Zack Morris) playing guitar in the Founders Brewing Company All-Stars band.

“It’s a little slice of — I’d like to say West Michigan — but it’s bigger,” Engbers said. “It is what we call it: A celebration of beer and music.”

Among those traveling from outside of West Michigan, Rick Gebhard of Cadillac finally made his way to Founders Fest after years of wanting to go.

“It feels more like a real summer festival than I thought,” said Gebhard. “Great music and great beer — what could be a better way to spend a day?”

For a group of Cooley Law School students, Founders Fest presented itself as the perfect way to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon.

“There are more people than I thought there would be,” Becky Lucas said about the festival, which stretched along the front of Founders taproom from Cherry Street to just past Bartlett Street and about halfway up Williams Street.

Besides beer and music, Lucas and her three classmates saw the festival as an opportunity for people watching. Getting a photo with Gosselaar was also on the agenda, along with trying one of the festival’s specialty beers (Blushing Monk was on Lucas’ radar).

“I’m from Wisconsin, so I kind of prefer Wisconsin beer,” said Lucas, a Kenosha, Wisc. native. “But Michigan does a pretty good job.”

Among the beers on tap Saturday were:

The MittenBrew crew put a few of the specialty beers to the test, and Cashew Mountain Brown (10 percent ABV) came out on top. With a scent of nut and cocoa, the cashew/mixed nut taste was perfectly balanced by the smooth body and medium carbonation of the brew. The dark brown beer seemed to have a hint of cocoa and a touch of maple.

Another specialty brew caught us by surprise. While Founders is known for its high volume of hops, the Founders Fest Wheat could’ve easily been mistaken for an IPA.

Creamy with hints of toffee, vanilla and caramel, the Kaiser Curmudgeon couldn’t hide its 10 percent ABV, but it was hard to resist the creamy delight.

In addition to the beer, eight bands were on stage during the 3-10:30 p.m. event. Local artist and food vendors also joined the festival, including restaurants Cottage Bar, Pita House, Maggie’s Kitchen and Corner Bar.