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beer city brewers guild

The festival will feature new and exclusive beer selections from more than 20 Grand Rapids breweries

 

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. — The Beer City Brewers Guild has announced it will host a new beer festival celebrating the craft brewing community of Grand Rapids this fall. “Brews in the Grove” will take place on Saturday, October 19 from 1 to 5 p.m. at Riverside Park in Ballpark 4. The festival will feature never-before-tasted offerings from a diverse selection of breweries.

“This will not be a fest filled with beers from our regular beer lineups,” said Mitch Ermatinger, vice president of the guild and co-owner of Speciation Artisan Ales.

The Beer City Brewers Guild is a group of Grand Rapids brewers working in collaboration with beer-centric businesses to celebrate, promote and raise awareness for the craft brewing culture of Grand Rapids.

For the last three years, the guild has hosted a Pro-Am competition, which pairs local award-winning homebrewers with microbreweries to craft unique recipes. Entries in the 2019 Pro-Am competition will be available to taste at the festival.

“These are all one-off beers, but many of them become so popular that they make it into regular lineups for breweries,” Ermatinger said.

The winner of the 2019 Pro-Am competition will be announced at the festival.

Over 20 Grand Rapids breweries will be represented at “Brews in the Grove,” and each participating brewery will have at least one new beer made especially for the festival on tap.

“We are requiring every brewery to debut a new beer at this fest,” Ermatinger said. “That can be either a one-off keg, or a whole new brand or batch of beer.”

Unlike many beer festivals, which are often hosted by third parties, “Brews in the Grove” will be hosted by the brewers of Grand Rapids.

“The sole purpose of this festival is to celebrate and promote beer made in Grand Rapids, so the brewers of GR are coming together to throw a unique event,” Ermatinger said.

Tickets to the festival are $45 each and include 10 tokens. Each token purchases one 3-ounce sample of any beer at the festival. Additional tokens will be available for purchase for $1 each. Tickets will available to purchase on Eventbrite.

The festival promises to be a celebration of the one-of-a-kind craft beer community that has earned Grand Rapids nationwide recognition.

“I’m excited to have one event for the brewers and beer fans of Grand Rapids to come together and show the world why we are consistently named in publications as being one of the best beer cities in the country!” Ermatinger said.

About Beer City Brewers Guild

As a group of greater Grand Rapids area brewers, in collaboration with beer-centric businesses, the Beer City Brewers Guild works to celebrate, promote and raise awareness of the craft brewing culture in the Grand Rapids community. The nonprofit guild was founded in 2016 to function as a vehicle for collaborations, charitable giving and knowledge sharing around the subject of craft brewing.

brewers grove

Tree Beer Release kicks off on Feb. 15

Grand Rapids, Mich. — From Feb. 15-Mar. 15, many of your favorite Grand Rapids breweries will be serving tree-themed beers to support increasing the city’s urban forest and tree canopy. Brewers Grove is an annual collaboration between Friends of Grand Rapids Parks and Beer City Brewers Guild that raises funds for a tree planting and tree-beer party in the fall.

Participating breweries, distilleries and cider houses have created tree-themed beers to sell during Experience GR’s Beer Month GR. When the month wraps up, they’ll make a donation to Friends of Grand Rapids Parks, a nonprofit organization working to empower people to cultivate vibrant parks, green spaces and trees in the city.

The funds raised from tree beer sales will be used for a community tree planting and tree-beer party where the public can chat with brewers, plant trees and enjoy music and yard games. The trees planted will improve tree diversity in the city, provide a source of food to wildlife and park users and replace removed ash trees lost due to the Emerald Ash Borer epidemic.

“Everyone can agree that we need great green spaces and parks and that planting trees is a good thing,” said Jackson VanDyke, president of Beer City Brewers Guild. “Planting trees is also a concrete way that we can all participate in giving back to our city and the citizens who support us.”

Tree Beer Month will kick off with a celebration at Harmony Hall on Feb. 15.

brewers groveThroughout the month, fans will be able to find tree beer at 26 participating brewers. Harmony Brewing Company will offer DePeach Mode: Peach Gose a traditional Gose brewed with coriander and salt, and fermented on fresh peaches. Brewery Vivant’s feature is Nordhouse IPA brewed with juniper berries, MI-grown Chinook hops, and their farmhouse yeast. It is made in homage to the sprawling juniper trees in the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area. Elk Brewing will offer Black Trumpet Ale brewed with wild harvested mushrooms that mainly grow on Beech, Oak or other broad leaved trees. Black Trumpet mushrooms tend to leech a blackish color and will give a nice earthiness to the beer.

Brewers Grove started in 2013 when local brewers with the Beer City Brewers Guild asked Friends of Grand Rapids Parks how they could give back to parks and public spaces. Since its inception, 159 trees have been planted and over $30,000 have been raised for Friends of Grand Rapids Parks.

The event helps the City of Grand Rapids get closer to its goal of 40 percent tree cover, adopted in 2011 Green Grand Rapids plan on the recommendation of the City’s Urban Forestry Committee.

“In addition to helping achieve the City’s tree canopy goal, we also want to increase the city’s tree canopy because of all the health, economic, safety and energy benefits trees bring to our community,” said Tori Power, development coordinator at Friends of Grand Rapids Parks.

Learn all about Brewers Grove on the Friends of Grand Rapids Parks website.

About Beer City Brewers Guild

As a group of greater Grand Rapids area brewers, in collaboration with beer-centric businesses, the Beer City Brewers Guild works to celebrate, promote and raise awareness of the craft brewing culture in the Grand Rapids community. The nonprofit guild was founded in 2016 to function as a vehicle for collaborations, charitable giving and knowledge sharing around the subject of craft brewing.

About Friends of Grand Rapids Parks

Friends of Grand Rapids Parks is an independent, citizen led, nonprofit organization founded in 2008, working closely with but separate from the City of Grand Rapids. Their mission is to empower people to cultivate vibrant parks, trees and green spaces in the Grand Rapids community. The organization envisions thriving parks and a sustainable urban forest that actively supports the community’s economic, environmental and cultural health.

beer city pro-am

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH.  — The Beer City Brewer’s Guild is hosting the second annual Beer City Pro-Am, a competition that pairs local award-winning homebrewers with microbreweries to create unique recipes to be brewed and shared with the public.

This year’s event brings together 25 of the area’s best homebrewers with Grand Rapids microbreweries. Qualifying homebrewers were selected from the winners of local homebrewing competitions.

“It’s a good chance to connect the homebrewing community and the craft brewing community, because there’s a lot of commonality there,” said Nick Rodammer, co-founder of the event and Pro-Am Committee chair. “It’s also a good chance for local homebrewers to get a little bit of exposure for the quality of the beer they are making.”

Entries will be tapped in participating microbreweries’ taprooms for public enjoyment starting July 30 through August 3.

“I think we have a lot of really interesting releases this year,” Rodammer said. Lagers, ales and a variety of fruit-infused styles make the list, which can be found on the Beer City Brewer’s Guild website.

The beers will be judged by a panel of local, qualified judges based on aroma, appearance, flavor and mouthfeel. The winner will be announced at the Beer City Brewer’s Guild’s annual summer picnic on August 11.

Competing brews will also appear in two tap takeovers. Horrocks Market Tavern will have five Pro-Am entries on tap on August 3 from 5-8 p.m. Logan’s Alley will have 18 of the collaborations on tap from August 10-13, including last year’s winning entry from City Built Brewing Company and homebrewer Paul Arends: Monroe Weiss.

City Built Brewing Company had only recently opened its doors when its collaboration with Arends won last year’s competition. Edwin Collazo, co-founder of City Built Brewing Company, said he was still very involved with the Grand Rapids homebrewing community at the time. Collazo said he can see how maintaining a connection with local homebrewers can benefit the larger brewing community.

beer city pro-am

“How much better will our beer get and how much more innovative will our breweries continue to be because we’re brewing with people who are doing five-gallon batches, reading Zymurgy and other homebrew magazines,” Callazzo said. “[Homebrewers are] super passionate about they do too, so I think the chance to collaborate with them is a great thing for Beer City as a whole.”

And because the Pro-Am competition pairs the best of the best with the professionals, team members have plenty of knowledge to offer.

“It’s truly a collaboration. We really learn from each other,” Rodammer said.

steve siciliano

For Steve Siciliano, proprietor of Siciliano’s Market (perhaps West Michigan’s most well-respected bottle shop and homebrewing supply store), admitting failure acknowledges how seriously close he was to giving up—and how thankful he is that he didn’t. Siciliano, who many would consider partly responsible for laying the foundation of what would become known as Beer City USA, endured five years of dark days before craft beer saved his store, and maybe his life.

 

MittenBrew: Your blog tells a brief story about your store’s history, but why pivot into the realm of convenience stores in the first place?

Steve Siciliano: I was the regional manager for a marketing company in the late ‘70s. I hated the work, the travel, and had young sons at home, so I took on franchise ownership of a 7-Eleven. It ended up not being an easy business to run, but it taught me about the business of retail and, more significantly, the importance of being a part of a community.

 

MB: How so?

SS: Back then, 7-Eleven was different than the way we think about them today. They operated more like a mom and pop store. They really stressed the value of community, and backed it up with charitable giving. Everything started by making customer service the priority. I found that I really liked the interaction with the customers, but I was kind of a quiet fella, believe it or not. I’m really quite reticent for the most part.

 

MB: That doesn’t sound like someone who’d end up having an affinity for providing exemplary customer service.

SS: It sounds weird, but I developed somewhat of a stage persona, so to speak.

 

MB: Something you turned on and off?

SS: I’m not a loquacious type of guy, so it was a way for me to connect with the customers and have some fun with them at the same time. [With a quick, soft chuckle under his breath seemingly surprised by the popularity of his accidental alter ego…] And, they liked it! If they came in and I didn’t throw an innocent, verbal jab at them or literally throw a donut at them playfully on their way out of the store, they thought something was wrong with me.

 

MB: After you got good at throwing donuts, you left 7-Eleven to buy a different store in Creston Heights. What were you hoping to achieve differently?

SS: In the eight years I owned the second store, I felt like I was able to really engage with and impact the community in a positive way, especially with the Scholar Dollars program. Unfortunately, the neighborhood’s socioeconomic status at that time didn’t lend itself well to the direction I was interested in going. We did okay with the working crowd in the morning and around lunchtime, but business would go quiet after dark. I was getting into wine around then, and knew that I’d have to consider a different location if I was going to be able to give that a shot on the shelves. Then I bought this store.

 

MB: What was this place like when you bought it?

SS: As soon as you walked in, you were hit with porn magazines. I mean, the guy had a shit ton of pornography. And that’s pretty much all he was selling—porn and cheap booze…and maybe a bag of stale chips. It was bad. But when I walked in, I’m thinking, “I know how to run a store, I know what I’m doing. I’ll come in here, remodel it, stock it up, and have plenty of space for wine, too.” I envisioned a really nice convenience store—and guest experience. So, I put in soda fountains, coffee, everything I thought I needed. But nothing—I was up against the reputation of the previous management. It was crickets for five years. It was tough, really tough. People just did not come in here. Nothing worked.

 

MB: I read in another interview that you said you “pretty much died here” during that time. Is that true? Did you ever want to throw in the towel?

SS: It was probably the worst time of my life, really. Just five years of me sitting around an empty store. It was tough. I mean, I slipped into a depression. I never failed at anything in my life, and I was failing. To be honest with you, there were times when I’d go in the back room and cry. I was exhausted—mentally, physically.

 

MB: Did it stress family life at home?

SS: Yes, yeah… There’d be nights where I’d just go home, sit in the dark, and stare at the wall.

 

MB: What turned it around?

SS: Around the time I bought this building in ‘93, craft beer was just starting to gain interest. I started hearing whispers about it from random customers in the late ‘90s, and I listened to them. I remember this very distinctly: I brought in a case of Bell’s, was working out the price for a six-pack, and thinking to myself, “There is no way this is ever going to sell.” I mean, I couldn’t see people buying it—paying that much for a six-pack?! So, I thought, “What if I just price them out and sold the bottles as singles?”

 

MB: So, wait. You’ve been pricing beer as singles since the late ‘90s?

SS: Yep. Everything that came in, I priced out as singles. And it worked.

steve siciliano

 

MB: Simple, but genius.

SS: It just snowballed from there. As customers would recommend that I try to get this beer, that beer, those imports, I did. If anyone ever asked if I could get my hands on a certain beer for them, I would. At that time, I would do anything to earn a customer.

 

MB: Is that what led you to expand into to homebrewing supplies?

SS: Tom Buchanan, head brewer at Ludington Bay Brewery, used to live in the neighborhood. He was a customer, and really good homebrewer. He said I should consider selling homebrewing supplies, but I knew nothing about it. I did a little research, found a local distributor, GW Kent, asked for a catalog, and ordered a bunch of stuff I didn’t know anything about. I was scared shitless because I didn’t have the money to spend on it, but it drew people in. It probably took another three to four years before we started making money, but I was getting new and returning faces through the door, and it was fun again.

 

MB: How much lighter was the weight on your shoulders?

SS: Making money is a great antidepressant. For so long, the store was this big, heavy airplane slowly… taking… off… It took a long time to gain altitude, but we finally did.

 

MB: How close were you to running out of runway? Why didn’t you quit?

SS: [Lights his pipe, takes an intentional, steady drag, exhales calmly, and introduces us to his wife, Barb, who has just joined us to listen in…] It’s interesting that you ask that. Barb and I met in ‘98, at the tail end of those dark first five years here at the store. From the very beginning of our relationship, she’s been very supportive, very involved, and with me every step of the way. But before we met, I actually tried to sell the store.

I called a good friend of mine—the same commercial real estate guy who helped me get the Creston store, who helped me buy this store, and I said to him, “Listen, I can’t do this anymore. It’s killing me. You gotta help me sell this place.” So we listed it. We had some lookers, but it didn’t sell. He couldn’t figure out why. And you know what? It was the fucking universe telling me, “You stick this out.” I really think it was something metaphysical, something bigger than me telling  me, “No. You stick this out.” Now, I say to myself, “Thank God I didn’t sell.”

 

MB: You couldn’t ditch the store. The only thing you had left was the hope that customers would eventually walk through the door. Once they did and continued to return, how did you apply your philosophy of what you learned about community and customer service to keep the store above water?

SS: I had the idea to throw a party for homebrewers. We held it at St. Ladislaus Aid Society, an old Polish hall. They could bring their beer, we’d feed ‘em (Barb and her friend Connie made ribs in Connie’s kitchen) and we were going to play trivia. I found this old silver cup at an antique store, and we called it The Siciliano’s Cup, and we’d award it to the homebrewing team with the highest trivia score—not the best BJCP-judged beer, like it is now. Now, in its 15th year, it’s revered like the Stanley Cup. Since, we’ve parlayed that into throwing our own Big Brew Day at Trailpoint Brewing Company to celebrate National Homebrew Day, which happens annually on the first Saturday in May.

steve siciliano

 

MB: I get the sense that your customers are more important to you than just a cash transaction.

SS: I’ve met SO many wonderful people over the years, especially here. Like-minded people who love good things—good beer, spirits, wine, cigars. I’ve developed a lot of really close friendships. It’s one of the many cool things about running a store like this. We’ve always considered ourselves to be a mom and pop place, and I like that. My wife, Barb, is a face of Siciliano’s, too, and our employees are an extension of us—they’re so appreciated. We’ve just tried to create an atmosphere with a tangible personal touch.

 

MB: Do you consider Siciliano’s a contributing factor to Grand Rapids being known as Beer City USA?

SS: I know so many professional brewers now because they started out being homebrewers. I feel pretty proud of the fact that many of them got their start in our store. We’re like a farm team of local brewers. [He affectionately starts name-dropping…] Jacob Derylo, from Vivant, used to work here. Matt Blodgett from Founders. Gary Evans and Mark Lacopelli from Trail Point. The guys from Mitten Brewing. Seth Rivard from Rockford Brewing. The guys from Pigeon Hill and Unruly in Muskegon. The guys from Odd Side and Grand Armory in Grand Haven. Elk Brewing. Tom Payne, who just opened Two Guys [and was shopping for supplies during this interview]. I mean, I can keep going…

 

MB: The Siciliano’s jumbo jet has been in the air, turbulence-free, for a while. You’ve got a successful annual homebrewing competition, a complementary, impressively-attended National Homebrew Day party, a résumé of helping influence a who’s who in the local brewing scene, and you just recently announced your “semi-retirement”. Why now?

SS: My age. My wife. [Laughing…] I’ve been slowing down for a couple years now. Don’t get me wrong, if they need help behind the counter, I’ll jump behind there. I’ll help carry a customer’s order out to their car, but I’ve been concentrating more on the marketing end of the business. Writing’s always been in my blood—I’ve got a degree in journalism. I’ve self-published a novel. It’s my creative outlet, so I love writing our blog. But Barb’s like, “What are you gonna do, keep working for the rest of your life?! I want to go travel.” So, me being a smart man, I started listening to her.

steve siciliano

 

MB: Are you going out kicking and screaming?

SS: When you’ve spent half your life building something, it’s hard to walk away from it. You know, I got in this morning at nine o’clock, and said, “I like this.” We’ve been traveling a lot more lately. And, you know what, I’ve kinda liked that, too. I’ve been grooming the management team for about a year, and I trust them. So am I going kicking and screaming? Yeah, maybe I was at first, but they’ve got the program dialed in now. So much, in fact, that most of the time they don’t even put me on the schedule. [He shows the schedule as proof.] It’s a coup! [Laughing.]

 

MB: So when you finally clock out for the last time…

SS: [He cuts me off…] I don’t think I’ll clock out. [Barb adds, “I don’t think he will either.”] I’ll clock out when I’m dead.

 

MB: Fair enough. [We all pause in silence…]

 

MB: Do you have a vision for how you’d like to see the store once you are gone? Is there an heir to the throne?

SS: Not yet, but I hope it stays. Once I’m dead and gone, I hope that… I hope they find a way to keep this thing going, and under the same name. That’d mean a lot to me.

 

MB: If this store with your name on it is your legacy, what does your headstone stay?

SS: Let’s put it this way. At my funeral service, which won’t be open casket because I’ll be ashes, I want the book I wrote, the black belt I earned, my fly fishing rod, and a picture of Siciliano’s Market there. And I want Tom Petty’s “Room At The Top” playing on a loop.

 

MB: When you’re looking down from the top of the world, what drink will be in your hand?

SS: Maybe a Manhattan (with a good bourbon, good sweet vermouth, and a Luxardo cherry). Maybe a nice glass of wine, or an authentic Belgian beer. And a good cigar. Or my pipe.

steve siciliano

 

MB: Well, Steve. We hope you don’t see that day for a long time, but when you do we think that sounds like a good way to go out.

 

Photography: Steph Harding

Grand Rapids, Mich. – Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales has made its way to Beer City USA. The original proprietor of barrel-aged sour ales will open its sixth pub concept – Jolly Pumpkin Pizzeria & Brewery-Grand Rapids – 11 a.m. Thursday, March 22.

“Grand Rapids is a craft beer mecca, and we’re honored to finally establish a presence for our barrel-aged sour beer,” said Ron Jeffries, Jolly Pumpkin president and master brewer. “We’re looking forward to meeting our new neighbors and raising a glass together.”

Located at 428 Bridge St. N.W., the 5,000 square foot location will feature a bar with more than 30 pours on tap, indoor and outdoor seating and an urban, rustic vibe. Featuring a casual order-and-eat approach, patrons place their orders at a cash register and take a seat at a table of their choosing where a staff member delivers their meal. Large picnic tables set the scene for communal dining to encourage conversation and create a vibrant, welcoming experience.

The interior of Jolly Pumpkin Pizzeria and Brewery calls attention to both the shipping and brewing side of the business by incorporating wood pallets and barrels into its design. Giant oak barrels can be found throughout the brewpub – inspired by Jeffries’ open fermentation barrel-aged brew process, while reclaimed wood pallets cover the location’s walls from floor to ceiling, contributing to the brewery’s warm, inviting atmosphere.

The Grand Rapids brewpub features a wide variety of sour brew selections, from year-round favorites like Bam Biere and La Roja to seasonals like Noel de Calabaza and La Parcela. For non-sour beer fans, a selection of craft beers brewed in Michigan from Jolly Pumpkin’s partners at Northern United Brewing Co. are also available, including North Peak Beer, Nomad Ciders, Bonafide Wines and Civilized Spirits.  

Hungry patrons will love Jolly Pumpkin’s menu, packed with artisan dishes crafted to compliment the brewery’s signature artisan ales. The Grand Rapids menu features a selection of artisan pizzas, signature sandwiches, appetizers and salads, from the other Jolly Pumpkin locations as well as a couple items available exclusively in Beer City USA. Some popular favorites include:

  • Farro & Brussels Salad featuring shaved Brussels sprouts, kale, farro, dried cranberries, feta cheese and roasted almonds served with whole grain mustard vinaigrette
  • Fried Chicken Sandwich served with sesame cilantro slaw, turmeric aioli, sriracha and spicy pickles on a sriracha roll
  • Bridge Street Vegan Pizza topped with roasted red pepper hummus, basil pesto, balsamic roasted vegetables and kale chips

“High quality ingredients is the secret to our delicious dishes,” said Neal Crawford, general manager. “We’re committed to sourcing only the freshest ingredients and locally produced whenever possible. In fact, we’re proud to be working with Grand Rapids’ own Field and Fire Bakery for our breads and Louise Earl Butcher for meat.”

For more than a decade, Jolly Pumpkin has brewed its signature barrel-aged, sour ales for the enjoyment of beer enthusiasts around the world. Established in 2004 by co-founders Ron and Laurie Jeffries, the pair set out to create something different – the first craft brewery to foray a line of all barrel-aged sour ales.

While Jolly Pumpkin beers start out the same as other traditional brews – mashing, boiling and fermenting – the sour ale enthusiasts put a funky twist on the maturation step, placing all its brews into oak barrels where the beer ages to perfection. In the oak barrels, the beer’s flavor profile sours, taking on the unique bitter notes and character that make Jolly Pumpkin so iconic.

“Each of our pours are one-of-a-kind, hand-blended creations that constantly inspire us to push forward and find new unique tastes and flavors,” Jeffries said.

Jolly Pumpkin Pizzeria and Brewery is located 428 Bridge St. N.W. in Grand Rapids, Mich. The pizzeria will operate with normal business hours from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.

About Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales and restaurants

Established in 2004 and based in Dexter, Mich., Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales is widely recognized as the first craft beer brand to foray into a line of all-sour barrel-aged ales. The brand is distributed nationwide and available at the brewery’s five restaurant concepts in Michigan and one pizzeria and brewery in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. Each location features a unique selection of artisan pizzas, fresh salads, handcrafted sandwiches, appetizers and coveted truffle fries. For more information visit www.jollypumpkin.com or call 734-426-4962. Connect with Jolly Pumpkin on Facebook (@JollyPumpkin), Twitter (@JollyPumpkin), and Instagram (@JollyPumpkin).

 

beer month gr

Grand Rapids, Mich. – Experience Grand Rapids announces the second annual Beer Month GR, celebrating Grand Rapids’ award-winning craft breweries through collaborative events including Cool Brews. Hot Eats., the 13th Annual Winter Beer Festival, KBS Week, Tree Beer, and more. The month-long celebration beginsThursday, Feb. 15 and concludes Thursday, Mar. 15.

Throughout Beer Month GR, over 50 area restaurants and breweries will participate in the sixth annual Cool Brews. Hot Eats., which will showcase Grand Rapids’ unique craft beer and food scene. Cool Brews. Hot Eats. participants will offer beer-infused dishes throughout the month-long celebration.

Experience Grand Rapids will continue to offer its Beer City Brewsader® Passport program throughout Beer Month GR, which encourages craft beer lovers to visit eight Grand Rapids’ breweries in exchange for an official Brewsader® T-shirt. There will be additional prizes and incentives for those who become a Brewsader® during Beer Month GR. Extreme craft beer enthusiasts can also visit all 35 breweries to become an Ultimate Brewsader® and unlock exclusive deals and discounts.

Beer Month GR also includes the 13th Annual Winter Beer Festival on Friday, Feb. 23 from 5 to 9 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 24 from 1 to 6 p.m. located at Fifth Third Ballpark. The Winter Beer Festival will feature more than 1,000 different craft beers from nearly 30 Michigan breweries, entertainment, and food for purchase. Tickets for Saturday, Feb. 24 are sold out, but guests can still purchase tickets for Friday, Feb. 23.

Experience Grand Rapids and GR Hopper have partnered together to provide hotel shuttle transportation from 12-area hotels for $10 round trip. For more information, visit here.

Also during Beer Month GR, Founders Brewing Co. will celebrate its fifth annual KBS Week, March 5-10. The weeklong celebration honors the highly anticipated release of Founder’s award-winning Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS). Throughout KBS Week, participating restaurants and breweries will host exclusive Taproom Release Parties. KBS Week Hotel Packages are also available and will include limited edition KBS gear.

In order to give back to local parks and community spaces, local brewers are partnering with Friends of Grand Rapids’ Parks (FGRP) to create tree-themed beers that will be featured throughout Beer Month GR. This year’s Tree Beer Release Party will take place at Harmony Hall on Thursday, Feb. 15 at 5:30 p.m. This year’s limited release Tree Beer will be available throughout Beer Month GR, or while supplies last. All Tree Beer proceeds will benefit FGRP’s Grand Rapids Urban Forest Project for tree plantings in the community.

 

beer goggles

When you land at Ford Airport in Grand Rapids, Michigan, one of the first things that greets you as you walk through the terminal are t-shirts and other schwag advertising “Beer City U.S.A.” It sounds official, and in a way, I guess, it is. It’s an identity the city has chosen to unabashedly embrace. They’ve pushed it so hard the city’s new motto could basically be, “Hey, we’re Grand Rapids, and we’re totally into beer.”

Now, even if you’re a huge beer fan like me, your ale affection is probably not your defining characteristic. “Beer Lover” probably isn’t an entry on your LinkedIn profile.

Well, Grand Rapids doesn’t share that same modesty when it comes to craft brew. They’ve claimed the title “Beer City U.S.A.” and decided to run with it. But does this fast-growing, midwestern city even deserve that moniker? And if it does, is this really the reputation that they should want?

beer goggles

Beer Goggles

First, let’s discuss how this designation was earned. It’s true that Grand Rapids has come out on top in various polls/contests and won the “Beer City U.S.A.” title. But those contests are almost always based on a popular vote, and there have been concerted efforts by the city to encourage their own residents to help them win. It’s kind of like me winning “Dad of The Year” in a contest where my two kids were the only ones who cast votes. It’s not illegitimate, but it’s not a hard-earned victory either. However, as any Democrat can tell you, if you don’t like the results, you should’ve gotten more people to vote your way instead.

But winning a poll doesn’t necessarily mean you have the bona fides to truly claim the title. Is Grand Rapids really the city that comes to mind when you think beer? If you’re old school, maybe you’re thinking Milwaukee or St. Louis. I’ve visited Portland, Oregon and can tell you they’re crazy about their microbrews. And I’ve got friends in Colorado who find the idea of “Beer City U.S.A.” being somewhere other than their state totally absurd.

An article in Forbes from 2016 pointed out that Portland, Maine actually had the highest number of microbreweries per capita. Grand Rapids was all the way down at number 10. Interestingly, GR’s beer-loving neighbor to the south, Kalamazoo, came in at number 5. I couldn’t find a beer-related metric that put Grand Rapids at the top of anything. The stats aren’t in their favor, but they played the game and won the title fair and square, so let’s move on.

Regardless of whether the name is deserved or not, is “Beer City U.S.A.” really a desirable claim to fame? Despite all its wonderfulness, beer is still a vice. When you consume too much of it, bad things might happen. If a city brands itself as a drinking destination, people are going to come there and drink, and sometimes drink too much. Does there come a time when this source of civic pride becomes a negative? I wonder if residents of Amsterdam maybe get tired of people travelling there just to smoke weed.

As soon as a city is known for something, that identity can be hard to shake. Unfortunately, two things I think about when I think about Detroit is, “urban decay” and “Kid Rock.” Just a guess, but I’m betting that Detroiters are feeling pretty much ready to move on from both. “Beer City U.S.A.” is a fun idea right now, but what happens when the fun wears off? Will Grand Rapids wish they spent their energy trying to be known for something else? Beer is great, but it’s not universal. Just like with Kid Rock, not everyone is a fan.

For those who know Grand Rapids well, there’s plenty more on which they could hang their hat. They could’ve easily have chosen, “Church-On-Every-Corner U.S.A.” or “Conservative Dutch Billionaire U.S.A.,” but both of those probably lack any mass tourism appeal. Grand Rapids could get plenty of positive traction by boasting about its art scene, its ever-expanding medical community, or its well-documented quality of life. Some are even anxious to have Grand Rapids live up to its name and eventually become a popular whitewater destination.

But here’s the problem, I don’t think any one of those creates the same draw as “Beer City U.S.A.” I’ve made my case against that brand and for the longest time I found the whole idea silly. I have since changed my tune. A year ago, I was at Perrin Brewing in Grand Rapids. While there, I met a young couple on vacation from Indianapolis. They weren’t going to museums and they weren’t on their way to the beach—they came to Grand Rapids to drink beer…a beer-cation, if you will. They spent their money, they stayed in hotels, they experienced a city they wouldn’t otherwise visit for beer and for beer alone. “Beer City U.S.A.” worked.

This is purely anecdotal evidence to be sure. But I’ve heard enough input from brewery owners and beer aficionados to easily back it up. They say they’ve seen dramatic increases in tours and sales since the campaign began. The title has encouraged new beer entrepreneurs to start breweries and add to the brand as well. The growth of the craft beer industry in Grand Rapids has enlivened the city’s nightlife, helped rejuvenate run-down neighborhoods and created a reason for beer-lovers from all around the country to experience a place they would’ve otherwise never considered. It’s unique, it’s fun, and people are excited to take part.

Grand Rapids should be proud to claim “Beer City U.S.A.” What a city is known for can often be nothing more than pop-trivia nonsense. Ever been to Allen Park in southeast Michigan? As far as I know, Allen Park is famous for one thing. Setting alongside the freeway in Allen Park is the Biggest Tire in the World. It’s a fun roadside curiosity that most Michiganders know, but no one goes out of their way to see it. Allen Park hotels aren’t booked with tire tourists.

Grand Rapids is on the rise, and it’s not because of a guidebook gimmick. “Beer City U.S.A.” may be a title that’s foolish and undeserved, but it’s created a buzz that any city would be proud to have. Take it from the “Dad of the Year,” if someone gives you the title, might as well run with it.

 

For hop heads, the months of September and October become a palate-testing quasi-holiday.

Many breweries are releasing their hop-heavy beers this time of year as the hop harvest has come to fruition. Of the four main ingredients in craft beer, none boast the rabid following of hops, or humulus lupulus. West Michigan Beer Tours, in collaboration with JW Marriott Grand Rapids and Hop Yard of Kent County, will showcase some of the adventurous flavors of the season with the Hop Harvest Beer Tour on Saturday, Aug. 5.

The tour takes place near the peak of hop harvest season when farms are in full picking and processing mode. It will begin with registration from noon to 1 p.m. at the JW Marriott, where guests are encouraged to order a drink and lunch at the Six.One.Six. The bus will depart at 1 p.m. with visits to Rockford Brewing Co., the Hopyards of Kent County — the family-owned hop farm in Greenville — and Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery & Supply in Ada.

Guests will receive a pint or samples, as well as a meet-and-greet or production tour, at the two brewery stops as part of the tour. We’ll learn more about Michigan’s burgeoning hop industry and how breweries utilize hops to achieve a variety of flavors and aromas.

The visit to the Greenville hop farm will be led by owner Pam Miller. The visit includes a sensory test, tour of harvesting facility and a tasting of local beer using the farm’s hops.

The JW Marriott’s Beer City USA Package will also be available for guests opting for overnight accommodations.

For more information, go to www.westmichiganbeertours.com.