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.
 

Sounding more like a dessert buffet than taplist, May the Short’s Be With You at The Pyramid Scheme highlighted some of the best Michigan beer has to offer with 15 unique brews from Short’s Brewing Company.

Arguably the most innovative brewery in the state, Short’s never fails to flex its creative muscles. Although the Elk Rapids-based brewery boasts an impressive series of year-round and seasonal brews, what really draws many beer geeks — myself included — is its one-off, experimental beers.

Between its Bellaire brewpub and several Michigan beer festivals, I have been fortunate enough to try many of these unique offerings. Wednesday’s event provided an opportunity to experience even more Short’s creativity. These are not your “typical” beers. And, even between the three of us at the table, opinions varied widely. Note: All beers were poured into a standard shaker pint glass.

Mamma’s Strawberry Milk

  • Appearance: Pours a dense, hazy reddish-brown hue with no head. Strawberries dominate with a dark fruit, malty sweetness.
  • Not your typical fruit beer — lacks the overpowering sugary sweetness you might be expecting. Instead, the brew presents a strong, pleasant fruit aroma and taste with a heavier, syrupy mouthfeel. It’s not something you can sit and drink four of, but a wonderful, unique offering that is definitely worth trying. The milk sugar and malt body with mild carbonation rounds out this beer nicely.

’08 Chocolate Raspberry Shorter

  • Appearance: Deep, opaque chocolate brown body, revealing a bright mahogany hue towards the edge of the glass. Thin, sparse layer of tan head.
  • Initially, it has a confusing alcohol aroma, which fades over time. Tart raspberries predominate the initial taste, but transitions to a sweeter raspberry with a bit chocolate malt on the end. With a lighter mouthfeel than expected for beer this dark, it has a moderate, slightly prickly carbonation. Not as much chocolate malt as the name may imply, but still present. A lighter beer than the deep color might lead you to think, but definitely something you could drink a few of.

Another Caucasian Gary

  • Appearance: Opaque, orange/amber with a thin white head.
  • The beer that I was perhaps most excited to try,  as I missed my chance during the Winter Beer Fest and it received rave reviews on Beeradvocate.com. Its aroma is unpleasant — smells of spent coffee grounds, not the nice roasted malt flavor you would find in a bigger stout — and carries over in the taste with a slightly sour, milky sweetness to it.  With a heavier mouthfeel (a little syrupy), ACG has good carbonation. But it’s not at all what I hoped for — this beer was just plain bad. Granted, it was brewed several months ago, and with the components of this beer I have to think that the aging process did not treat it well. Wish I could have tried this one months ago, as I get the sneaking suspicion it was an entirely different when it was fresh.

The Gambler

  • Appearance: Cloudy golden brown, thin layer of cream-colored head.
  • A bourbon-barreled IPA brewed with tea leaves, lending a tobacco quality to the beer, it has hints of smoke with a leather- tobacco scent that is apparent but not overpowering and capped with subtle bourbon notes. The taste brings a bright sweetness upfront, met with pleasant earthy hop bitterness.  A little more of the bourbon comes through towards the end, and it feels like an IPA in the mouth with a little lighter carbonation. Not my cup of tea, but very interesting — lots of flavors you wouldn’t encounter elsewhere.

Key Lime Pie

  • Appearance: Pours a bright orange/amber with no head.
  • Bright citrus, predominated by the scent of sweet limes carries into the taste with initial lime sweetness that transitions to a milky, malt sweetness.  It feels heavier than it looks and definitely has a chewier, syrupy quality to it. Overall, the sweet lime flavor balanced very well with the creamy body. Really, it’s a great beer — key lime pie in a glass.  On that note, it’s not something I could sit a drink all night, but a must-try for sweet, fruity beer lovers.

Carrot Cake

  • Appearance: No head whatsoever, completely opaque with a dark copper, earthy hue.
  • Based on scent alone, they weren’t kidding when they said Carrot Cake. Similar to the smell, the creamy frosting taste gives way to a smooth, bready malt sweetness. You can definitely pick up on the carrots as you would in a real carrot cake, but it takes the back seat to the sweetness of this beer (the point of carrot cake is to hide the veggies, right?). It has a creamy, heavier body that balances well. Much like the key lime pie, Carrot Cake hits the nail on the head. Liquid carrot cake.

The Pyramid Scheme is located at 68 Commerce SW in downtown Grand Rapids.

Sounding more like a dessert buffet than taplist, May the Short’s Be With You at The Pyramid Scheme highlighted some of the best Michigan beer has to offer with 15 unique brews from Short’s Brewing Company.
Arguably the most innovative brewery in the state, Short’s never fails to flex its creative muscles. Although the Elk Rapids-based brewery boasts an impressive series of year-round and seasonal brews, what really draws many beer geeks — myself included — is its one-off, experimental beers.
Between its Bellaire brewpub and several Michigan beer festivals, I have been fortunate enough to try many of these unique offerings. Wednesday’s event provided an opportunity to experience even more Short’s creativity. These are not your “typical” beers. And, even between the three of us at the table, opinions varied widely. Note: All beers were poured into a standard shaker pint glass.
Mamma’s Strawberry Milk

  • Appearance: Pours a dense, hazy reddish-brown hue with no head. Strawberries dominate with a dark fruit, malty sweetness.
  • Not your typical fruit beer — lacks the overpowering sugary sweetness you might be expecting. Instead, the brew presents a strong, pleasant fruit aroma and taste with a heavier, syrupy mouthfeel. It’s not something you can sit and drink four of, but a wonderful, unique offering that is definitely worth trying. The milk sugar and malt body with mild carbonation rounds out this beer nicely.

’08 Chocolate Raspberry Shorter

  • Appearance: Deep, opaque chocolate brown body, revealing a bright mahogany hue towards the edge of the glass. Thin, sparse layer of tan head.
  • Initially, it has a confusing alcohol aroma, which fades over time. Tart raspberries predominate the initial taste, but transitions to a sweeter raspberry with a bit chocolate malt on the end. With a lighter mouthfeel than expected for beer this dark, it has a moderate, slightly prickly carbonation. Not as much chocolate malt as the name may imply, but still present. A lighter beer than the deep color might lead you to think, but definitely something you could drink a few of.

Another Caucasian Gary

  • Appearance: Opaque, orange/amber with a thin white head.
  • The beer that I was perhaps most excited to try,  as I missed my chance during the Winter Beer Fest and it received rave reviews on Beeradvocate.com. Its aroma is unpleasant — smells of spent coffee grounds, not the nice roasted malt flavor you would find in a bigger stout — and carries over in the taste with a slightly sour, milky sweetness to it.  With a heavier mouthfeel (a little syrupy), ACG has good carbonation. But it’s not at all what I hoped for — this beer was just plain bad. Granted, it was brewed several months ago, and with the components of this beer I have to think that the aging process did not treat it well. Wish I could have tried this one months ago, as I get the sneaking suspicion it was an entirely different when it was fresh.

The Gambler

  • Appearance: Cloudy golden brown, thin layer of cream-colored head.
  • A bourbon-barreled IPA brewed with tea leaves, lending a tobacco quality to the beer, it has hints of smoke with a leather- tobacco scent that is apparent but not overpowering and capped with subtle bourbon notes. The taste brings a bright sweetness upfront, met with pleasant earthy hop bitterness.  A little more of the bourbon comes through towards the end, and it feels like an IPA in the mouth with a little lighter carbonation. Not my cup of tea, but very interesting — lots of flavors you wouldn’t encounter elsewhere.

Key Lime Pie

  • Appearance: Pours a bright orange/amber with no head.
  • Bright citrus, predominated by the scent of sweet limes carries into the taste with initial lime sweetness that transitions to a milky, malt sweetness.  It feels heavier than it looks and definitely has a chewier, syrupy quality to it. Overall, the sweet lime flavor balanced very well with the creamy body. Really, it’s a great beer — key lime pie in a glass.  On that note, it’s not something I could sit a drink all night, but a must-try for sweet, fruity beer lovers.

Carrot Cake

  • Appearance: No head whatsoever, completely opaque with a dark copper, earthy hue.
  • Based on scent alone, they weren’t kidding when they said Carrot Cake. Similar to the smell, the creamy frosting taste gives way to a smooth, bready malt sweetness. You can definitely pick up on the carrots as you would in a real carrot cake, but it takes the back seat to the sweetness of this beer (the point of carrot cake is to hide the veggies, right?). It has a creamy, heavier body that balances well. Much like the key lime pie, Carrot Cake hits the nail on the head. Liquid carrot cake.

The Pyramid Scheme is located at 68 Commerce SW in downtown Grand Rapids.

Sometimes simple is good.
The ingredients listed in Schmohz Brewery’s Zingiberene Ale are water, malted barley, ginger root and yeast. While some beer enthusiasts might consider it bland, it’s one of the more refreshing craft brews around.
Zingiberene is incredibly crisp and the carbonation comes as a surprise. The simple ingredients do actually mean simple taste, which is perhaps why I find it so refreshing. The first time I tried it I had just finished two-plus hours of playing Ultimate Frisbee. So, for certain, I chose the right beer.
Since then, I’ve gone back to it several times. And now sitting at home sipping on a bottle of it, I still have it on my list of regulars. It’s kind of like a less sweet version of a ginger ale pop (pop means “soda” or “coke” in the Mitten — this is a Michigan website, right?) with some malty, beery undertones.
Schmohz does not pasteurize its brews, so they have a fresher and fuller taste (but it also means you have to keep them cold).
There is certainly a “Zing,” to the overall feel of Zingiberene on the tongue, making the name fitting. I highly recommend using this beer to introduce friends to craft beer. It’s ideal because it is light and the flavor is not too overpowering. And, if you know a friend who likes ginger ale, Zingiberene is sure to be a hit with them.
Another good reason to introduce it to craft beer neophytes is the unique process used to make this brew — ginger is used instead of hops. Hoppy beers tend to be overpowering to those who curl up their nose at certain craft brews, especially IPAs. Ginger is a little more familiar taste to most, so the bite doesn’t seem so overpowering.
For as light as it is, you wouldn’t guess it’s 5.3 percent ABU (even if it is a craft brew), but Schmohz has quite a few beers like this. Certainly, Schmohz is worth grab off the store shelf (my other favorites are Valley City Cream Ale and Pickle Tink Ale) or at any pub serving it.
You can find a retailer or restaurant/bar by going to Schmohz’s distribution index here, but the index is a bit impractical in that you need to wait for it to scroll through various locations on its own at a slow pace. You can also visit the Grand Rapids brewery, located at 2600 Patterson SE.
All in all, I am hooked on the simple taste and zing of Zingiberene Ale.

Sometimes simple is good.

The ingredients listed in Schmohz Brewery’s Zingiberene Ale are water, malted barley, ginger root and yeast. While some beer enthusiasts might consider it bland, it’s one of the more refreshing craft brews around.

Zingiberene is incredibly crisp and the carbonation comes as a surprise. The simple ingredients do actually mean simple taste, which is perhaps why I find it so refreshing. The first time I tried it I had just finished two-plus hours of playing Ultimate Frisbee. So, for certain, I chose the right beer.

Since then, I’ve gone back to it several times. And now sitting at home sipping on a bottle of it, I still have it on my list of regulars. It’s kind of like a less sweet version of a ginger ale pop (pop means “soda” or “coke” in the Mitten — this is a Michigan website, right?) with some malty, beery undertones.

Schmohz does not pasteurize its brews, so they have a fresher and fuller taste (but it also means you have to keep them cold).

There is certainly a “Zing,” to the overall feel of Zingiberene on the tongue, making the name fitting. I highly recommend using this beer to introduce friends to craft beer. It’s ideal because it is light and the flavor is not too overpowering. And, if you know a friend who likes ginger ale, Zingiberene is sure to be a hit with them.

Another good reason to introduce it to craft beer neophytes is the unique process used to make this brew — ginger is used instead of hops. Hoppy beers tend to be overpowering to those who curl up their nose at certain craft brews, especially IPAs. Ginger is a little more familiar taste to most, so the bite doesn’t seem so overpowering.

For as light as it is, you wouldn’t guess it’s 5.3 percent ABU (even if it is a craft brew), but Schmohz has quite a few beers like this. Certainly, Schmohz is worth grab off the store shelf (my other favorites are Valley City Cream Ale and Pickle Tink Ale) or at any pub serving it.

You can find a retailer or restaurant/bar by going to Schmohz’s distribution index here, but the index is a bit impractical in that you need to wait for it to scroll through various locations on its own at a slow pace. You can also visit the Grand Rapids brewery, located at 2600 Patterson SE.

All in all, I am hooked on the simple taste and zing of Zingiberene Ale.

Sometimes beer drinkers have a voice.

Founders Brewing Co. Vice President/Director of Marketing Dave Engbers announced this week that his Grand Rapids brewery will begin selling 750-milliliter bottles of specialty beers — dubbed the Backstage Series — this summer.

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 said.

“We’ve got some great customers that do a great job promoting not just Founders, but great beers from all over the world,” Engbers said.  “It’s a way to bring some of those more specialty beers not just on draft but to the retail sector.”

This summer, the brewery plans to release two or three Backstage brews, Engbers said. The special series is possible after an almost $7 million expansion to the brewery, which increased capacity from 28,000 barrels to nearly 50,000 barrels, and included a bottling line that allows the flexibility to bottle and package 12-ounce as well as large format 750-milliliter bottles (that’s just over 25 ounces).

“Using the 750-milliliter bottles is a way for us to bring some of our releases to retailers,” Engbers said.”We thought, ‘What a great opportunity to bring some of these rarities out and let other folks enjoy them.'”

The first Backstage Series release is a fan-favorite.

“We haven’t produced this product in over four years and people have been begging for it — so this is the perfect time to bring Blushing Monk back to market,” Engbers said. “We only released it one time a few years back. With a lot of brews, we will get emails asking when we’re going to brew it again.”

Blushing Monk is a decadent Belgian Raspberry Ale last produced in 2007 that is still highly sought after.

“There’s a bunch of beers that get a lot of attention,” Engbers said, mentioning the ever-popular Kentucky Breakfast Stout, which was finally released in six-packs after much fan support. “We listen to our customers.”

The series is dubbed “Backstage,” because the releases are limited and a response to the brewery’s die-hard fans.

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

The company is not revealing the entire lineup, but Engbers said it would consist of many of the “popular one-offs” that have been offered in the taproom over the years.

“To us, it’s kind of using the brewery as the stage,” Engbers said, making these special released “backstage.” Although Founders gets occasional calls for lesser-known brews from its distributors, even those limited releases are often finished within a few hours of being tapped, so the Backstage Series allows more Founders-connoisseurs to enjoy its specialty brews.

The new series, however, will not take precedence over the brewery’s most-popular beers.

“We’re kind of driven by the beers,” Engbers said. “When the beers are ready, the beers are ready. We have a commitment to our wholesalers and our customers to brew (the normal beers). Those are beers that pay the bills.”

Engbers would not divulge whether each season will bring a new Backstage Series or if it will return annually (or at all). Ultimately, it’s about the beer and loyal Founders enthusiasts.

“We try to push the envelop not just in recipes, but in brewing techniques,” Engbers said.

Lauded nationally and internationally as award winners in its respective categories, Founders Brewing Company opened in 1997. In 2009, it was ranked the second fastest growing brewery in the United States, and it is currently rated the second highest brewery in the world by ratebeer.com.

Founders Brewing Company is located 235 Grandville Avenue SW in downtown Grand Rapids.

Sometimes beer drinkers have a voice.
Founders Brewing Co. Vice President/Director of Marketing Dave Engbers announced this week that his Grand Rapids brewery will begin selling 750-milliliter bottles of specialty beers — dubbed the Backstage Series — this summer.
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 said.
“We’ve got some great customers that do a great job promoting not just Founders, but great beers from all over the world,” Engbers said.  “It’s a way to bring some of those more specialty beers not just on draft but to the retail sector.”
This summer, the brewery plans to release two or three Backstage brews, Engbers said. The special series is possible after an almost $7 million expansion to the brewery, which increased capacity from 28,000 barrels to nearly 50,000 barrels, and included a bottling line that allows the flexibility to bottle and package 12-ounce as well as large format 750-milliliter bottles (that’s just over 25 ounces).
“Using the 750-milliliter bottles is a way for us to bring some of our releases to retailers,” Engbers said.”We thought, ‘What a great opportunity to bring some of these rarities out and let other folks enjoy them.'”
The first Backstage Series release is a fan-favorite.
“We haven’t produced this product in over four years and people have been begging for it — so this is the perfect time to bring Blushing Monk back to market,” Engbers said. “We only released it one time a few years back. With a lot of brews, we will get emails asking when we’re going to brew it again.”
Blushing Monk is a decadent Belgian Raspberry Ale last produced in 2007 that is still highly sought after.
“There’s a bunch of beers that get a lot of attention,” Engbers said, mentioning the ever-popular Kentucky Breakfast Stout, which was finally released in six-packs after much fan support. “We listen to our customers.”
The series is dubbed “Backstage,” because the releases are limited and a response to the brewery’s die-hard fans.
“I think part of what people love about Founders, besides our beer, is that we listen to what they are saying,” President Mike Stevens said. “With our new line, now we can offer them more of what they’ve been asking for.”
The company is not revealing the entire lineup, but Engbers said it would consist of many of the “popular one-offs” that have been offered in the taproom over the years.
“To us, it’s kind of using the brewery as the stage,” Engbers said, making these special released “backstage.” Although Founders gets occasional calls for lesser-known brews from its distributors, even those limited releases are often finished within a few hours of being tapped, so the Backstage Series allows more Founders-connoisseurs to enjoy its specialty brews.
The new series, however, will not take precedence over the brewery’s most-popular beers.
“We’re kind of driven by the beers,” Engbers said. “When the beers are ready, the beers are ready. We have a commitment to our wholesalers and our customers to brew (the normal beers). Those are beers that pay the bills.”
Engbers would not divulge whether each season will bring a new Backstage Series or if it will return annually (or at all). Ultimately, it’s about the beer and loyal Founders enthusiasts.
“We try to push the envelop not just in recipes, but in brewing techniques,” Engbers said.
Lauded nationally and internationally as award winners in its respective categories, Founders Brewing Company opened in 1997. In 2009, it was ranked the second fastest growing brewery in the United States, and it is currently rated the second highest brewery in the world by ratebeer.com.
Founders Brewing Company is located 235 Grandville Avenue SW in downtown Grand Rapids.

With growing popularity in hard cider, a Spring Lake cider mill and winery continues to expand its distribution to meet demands.

Vander Mill, 14921 Cleveland St., is already self-distributing its ciders to 28 bars/restaurants and 40 store retailers across the state, mostly in West Michigan — with additional distribution to two Chicago establishments. And with two establishments on the state’s east side, Vander Mill is now furthering distribution to the Detroit area as well as Chicago.

“We’ve seen quite a bit of interest in hard cider,” owner Paul Vander Heide said. “We are continuing to bring it to the people.”

Vander Mill opened in September 2006 and first began distribution in June 2008 at Rosebud Bar & Grill in neighboring Grand Haven. Shortly after, its hard cider was on tap at HopCat in Grand Rapids.

Besides growing distribution, Vander Mill is also expanding its mill. By mid-June, the owner is set to open a 2,500-square foot serving area where pints of cider and glasses of wine will be served. Vander Heide said the mill may also serve lunch and dinner.

“We’ve got some exciting stuff going on,” he said, adding that 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.”

Vander Mill today began operating with its summer hours, which are Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. and Sunday noon to 7 p.m. To lure customers, the store is offering 25 percent off everything in its store today through Thursday.

Along with the new hours, the mill also began pressing its summer stock of ciders which will continue during the next few weeks, according to Vander Heide.

“We’re building up inventory for the next few months,” he said. “Since we use only Michigan apples, we work with a local grower to make sure we have access to enough apples for what we need.”

This week, Vander Mill introduces its latest concoction, Michigan Wit, a semi-dry apple cider spiced in the traditional Belgian wit style.  The cider was special-released at HopCat last week, with release on store shelves and bar taps this week.

To help keep cider enthusiasts aware of Vander Mill’s ever-expanding distribution,  the cider mill announced the launch of its Cider Finder, which uses Google Map technology to show retailers and restaurants/bars where its ciders are sold. The map shows green  icons indicating retailers and red icons where pints are sold. You can click here to see the map.