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.

HOLLAND – New Holland Brewing Company has come to known some pretty diverse and interesting beers over the years, offering everything from a Golden Cap seasonal ale to the ever-popular Dragon’s Milk. But on Saturday, New Holland played a different tune. In celebration of its Mad Hatter India Pale Ale, New Holland released four new “hatters” to the public during its 14th annual Mad Hatter Birthday Bash.

The event featured nine “hatters” in all, and we were able to try out five of them. Each offered a particular spin on the traditional Mad Hatter, introducing some new flavors and giving familiar flavors a different spin on things.

Centered around a decked-out “Alice in Wonderland” themed brewery, we tried the Black Hatter, Smoked Hatter, Farmhouse Hatter, Sour Hatter and Oak Aged Hatter. And despite the obvious IPA undertones, all five of the beers seemed to bring something different to the table.

The Black Hatter (5.5% ABV) retained the somewhat bitter aftertaste I’ve come to expect from an IPA. Its dark color, though, was refreshing and a great way to start off the night. And like the Black Hatter, the Farmhouse Hatter (5% ABV) still had a hint of bitterness with an underlying IPA taste.

But that’s when the similarities seemed to stop.

The Oak Aged Mad Hatter (7.2% ABV) had no bitter taste to it at all — in fact, it was smooth, refreshing and held a slight caramel aftertaste. It’s woodsy-like flavor was accompanied by a somewhat fruity flavor and golden color. This was definitely the most rustic of the night.

And like the Oak Aged, the Smoked Hatter (5.2% ABV) was equally interesting. Being a newbie to smoked brews, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of flavor the beer let out. It wasn’t overpowering or bitter, and had a nice, relaxed flavor to it.

By far, though, the favorite of the night had to be the Sour Hatter (8.5% ABV). It was the only beer that was served to us in a flute glass (the rest were in standard pints), and was very refreshing and smooth. It’s dark brown color gave way to its slight cider taste and somewhat fruity smell. It was crisp on the tongue, but smooth thereafter. My immediate thought was that it reminded me of those sour candies I used to eat as a kid — but much more refined. It was a great cap to the night.

In addition to the five we tried, New Holland also served up its regular Mad Hatter, Imperial Hatter, Oak Aged Imperial Hatter and Rye Hatter. Surrounded by servers who were decked out in “Alice in Wonderland” costumes, everything seemed to fit together for the event — including the absolutely mad birthday cake.

The East meets the West once again.

Yes, another West Michigan brewery has reached Michigan’s eastern regions (and mid-Mitten too) as Saugatuck Brewing Company has expanded its distribution. The brewing company announced a new partnership today with Powers Distributing, O&W Distributing, Eastown Distributors and John P. O’Sullivan Distributing.

SBC’s brews will now reach the Detroit Metro, Tri-Cities and mid-Michigan markets in select retail outlets, bars, restaurants and pubs (specifically in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw,  Livingston, Monroe, Bay, Midland, Saginaw, Lapeer and Genesee counties). Among the selections now available: Oval Beach Blonde, ESB Amber, Pier Cove Porter and Singapore IPA.

Saugatuck Brewing launched 6-pack and keg distribution of their four major brands in May 2010, covering the western and central Michigan markets with I.H.S. Distributing, Kent Beverage and Nate Wines. This expansion means 34 Michigan counties now carrying the company’s beers.

A microbrewery with a traditional Irish-style pub and German-style bier hall, Saugatuck Brewing Company features handcrafted beer, wine and food. Located at 2948 Blue Star Hwy. in Douglas, the pub has 15 unique beer styles — all brewed in house — along with wine and hard cider.

I imagine — based on his story — Jason Spaulding as the character Ray Stantz from Ghostbusters.
In one of the film’s early scenes, the three ghost-hunting entrepreneurs purchase a former firehouse for their headquarters. Two of them play it coy, but not Stantz.
Admittedly, Spaulding was smitten when he first walked through a rundown funeral chapel on the Southeast Side of Grand Rapids that would become the future home of his brewpub, Brewery Vivant. And certainly from my visit, I can see why Spaulding chose the location for his brewery, which opened in December 2010.
I had a sense of awe walking into this European-feeling brewpub, as likely many of its patrons do. With original chapel lighting and stained glass windows, stepping inside Vivant is a lot like visiting a Belgian monastery (except for the monks). Wooden beams meet in a triangular formation near the ceiling with the bar nestled in front of a large archway.
Even though it is no longer a sacred space, it is still communal. The U-shaped bar lends itself to conversation with fellow patrons, and long tables create an atmosphere of sharing, not separation. There is a TV, but even that is not run by normal electricity — a bike nearby powers the screen (peddle away).
Certainly, it is peaceful for a pub and the ambiance complements the beer style – Belgian- and French-influenced concoctions. As Spaulding said, Vivant is one of the only breweries that specializes in Belgian beers with “local ingredients dominated by yeast strains” and a “controlled, wild character.”
The brews are inspired from small farmhouse breweries along the countryside of Southern Belgium and Northern France, Spaulding explained. Certainly it is apparent in the ten brews on tap.
To make it all come to life, brewmaster Jacob Derylo takes special care to ensure each brew is crafted to perfection.
“He’s a perfect brewer for us,” Spaulding said. “There’s no one I’d rather have in there than Jacob.”
A 10-year brewer for New Holland Brewing Company in Holland, Derylo confers with chef Drew Turnipseed to pair entrees perfectly with each beer. If not for the food or beer, Brewery Vivant is worth the visit just by virtue of its tastefully renovated, 80-something-year-old pub. It brings a sense of awe that makes you want to say cheers to its architectural beauty.
Even so, if you can’t make the trip, the brewery recently launched packaged products — in cans — for distribution state-wide and to the greater Chicago area. If you do make it, here’s my take on the tapped brews:
Farm Hand (5.5-percent ABV) — Partly cloudy, it’s lighter in overall flavor and certain to please even the most-apprehensive craft beer skeptics with simple smell and taste.
French Fusion (5.5-percent ABV) — A very drinkable, crisp beer with a soft maltiness that really does some magic.
Zaison (8.5-percent ABV) — Likely my favorite, its high alcohol content that maintains plenty of flavor is sneaky. Orange hints that are not overpowering with a light mouthfeel and body, the tail-end taste of peppercorn is the perfect complement to the citrus.
Vivant Tripel (9.25-percent ABV) — I’d call this the most traditional Belgian-brew with its sweet banana and bubblegum smell and taste complemented by the creamy mouthfeel.
Triomphe Belgian IPA (6.5-percent ABV) — Sweeter and smoother than I expected, which helps cover up the amount of hops I find overwhelming in many IPAs.
Big Red Coq (6.25-percent ABV) — So many hops, it feels more IPA than Triomphe (I thought I was confusing the two at first). For me, the hops were so overpowering I could barely smell the flavors and certainly could not taste them — caramel, mango, pineapple and citrus. Not my kind of brew, it is a popular seller.
Solitude Belgian Amber Ale (6.5-percent ABV) — Puts the “brew” back into brewing beer with its coffee-like undertones and brownish hue — malty with hints of caramel and sweetness. Unique.
Belgian Black Ale (5.5-percent ABV) — Surprisingly both creamy mouthfeel and light-body, it’s basically a black IPA.
Kludde Strong Ale (9.5-percent ABV) — This brew speaks volumes and earns its right to be called a “strong ale”— prevalent plum, fig, anise and raisin smells/flavors, but a chocolate hint that saves it from being too bitter.