Beer Week

It’s the most wonderful time… for a beer!

Certainly that line could be sung nearly anytime of the year in Beer City.

During the extra long week of February 17-28, also known as GR Beer Week, the community of Grand Rapids busts out of their cabin fever and celebrates all things beer.

Sure, there may be snow and ice on the ground, but we are Michiganders: we drink beer for breakfast — outside with pride, in the bitter cold of winter. Yes, that’s right — Beer Week GR will culminate with the 2 Day Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival at Fifth Third Ballpark on February 26 and 27. It is an outdoor event, and every attendee should dress for the weather (as in, ski-gear.) Saturday sold out in minutes, but Friday tickets are still available.

winter beer fest

To fire up enthusiasts’ livers – ahem – spirits for the Winter Beer Fest, and to welcome visitors to Beer City, GR Beer Week was created in 2012 and this year it is overflowing with nearly 120 events. Check out ExperienceGR’s Beer Week calendar for a full list of events that is updated on a daily basis. Even if you are not a planner, you could drop into many Grand Rapids area breweries, tap-houses, or brewpubs during Beer Week and be greeted with smiling faces from the collaborative community of Grand Rapids and some form of festivities.

Many Beer Week events will feature tap takeovers, ranging from a few select taps from a small MI brewery, to a crazy 20-tap blow-out from one brewery. Most breweries plan to bring rare craft beers, a few might even toss in a specialty firkin you won’t find anywhere else. It truly is a fun adventure. Be prepared to stand, to be kind, and to tip bartenders and servers generously. Also… designate a driver when necessary.

Beer Week

As you make your way around Beer Week GR, be sure to bring your Brewsader Passport to earn stamps at Grand Rapids Area Breweries. With 8 stamps during Beer Week GR, participants will receive a Brewsader koozie and bottle opener, plus an official Brewsader t-shirt. Passports and prizes can be picked up at GoSite inside the Grand Rapids Art Museum while supplies last. As an added bonus, enthusiasts will earn extra perks at participating breweries. With a full passport stamped (23 stamps!) you are considered an ULTIMATE BREWSADER and will earn even more perks at participating breweries. You don’t want to miss out on these incredible deals, from pint glasses to mug club memberships — it’s worth making the full Beer City Tour and earning those stamps. Again, drink responsibly!

Beer Week

ExperienceGR has also lined up Cool Brews Hot Eats with 50 menu items for enthusiasts to devour at a wide array of Grand Rapids area restaurants during the same time-frame. Cool Brews Hot Eats menu options are beer-infused entrées, desserts, and beyond that utilize beer as an ingredient, or a dish created for a specific pairing with a Michigan beer. There truly is something to warm everyone’s palate up for the last weeks of February.

I’ve got cabin fever and the only cure is… Beer Week GR!

GRAND RAPIDS–Any restaurant engaged in the annual Cool Brews. Hot Eats. has an appetite for enhancing beer culture. Though beer has been paired with food for a long time, there are still folks out there who are newcomers to the concept. Thankfully they can experience this phenomenon at 51 different locations throughout Grand Rapids from February 17-28th.

cool brews hot eatsExperience GR is working with the area’s restaurants to create these unique beer and food pairing deals and centering the week and a half long event around the annual Winter Beer Festival.

I’ve taken some time to look through the pairing options that we have coming up for Cool Brews. Hot Eats. I was pleased to see a range of subtle uses of beer as a cooking medium, all the way to creative collaborations of pairing a specific glass of Michigan beer with either a lunch or dinner plate.  

While digging through the various restaurant offerings, I found out that everyone is obsessed with cheese. Go figure. Beer and cheese will forever be the ultimate pairing, so venues have decided to play up this known fact by offering selections such as the Beer Cheese Soup at Tom and Chee’s ($3.50/Cup, $5/Bowl), which is made with a Five Cheese Blend and New Holland Brewing Company’s Sundog Amber Ale. Aperitivo is offering The Meltdown, their ever-changing fancy grilled cheese paired with beer. They’ll create your special pairing AND you’ll get $2 off if you order both.

If you’re excited to gorge on meat and beer, don’t you worry. Cool Brews. Hot Eats. restaurant participants knew you’d crave it, and there is no shortage of deliciousness like pot roast and pork belly being offered. For instance — Ramona’s Table is serving up an Atwater Vanilla Java Pot Roast Sandwich plus a side dish ($9.99). The sandwich is made of Vanilla Java Porter Simmered Pot Roast served on a Grilled Pretzel Bun with Haystack Onions and is sure to stick to those ribs to keep you warm for excursions such as the Winter Beer Festival.

Looking for a fresh catch instead? Check out The Heritage at Grand Rapids Community College to educate your palate with their Dark Mahogany Shrimp Etouffee made with Founders Porter ($14.50). It’s sure to make for a satisfying lunch. Osteria Rossa also collected their ingredients from the sea with their Cioppino. Made with Brewery Vivant’s Farmhand, their Cioppino consists of P.E.I. mussels, Tomato Broth, Manilla Clams, Italian sausage, Potatoes, and Fennel. It sounds oh so fresh — yet hearty.

The beer selections themselves caught my eye most of all. Founders Brewing Company is forever present with their Porter, Dirty Bastard and All Day IPA (among others of course), but Atwater’s Vanilla Java Porter and New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk made an appearance on almost every other menu I saw.

Though these giants in the Michigan beer scene are prevalent, it was wonderful to see lesser known items pop up such as the Odd Side Ales Troll Toll IPA that will be used at the Black Heron for their Troll Toll Risotto and Łosoś ($22). This Parmesan and Lemon Risotto made with Odd Side Ales Troll Toll IPA comes with a Salmon Steak topped with a Cherry and Thyme Chutney. It will turn quite a few heads I’m sure.

Thought that you were all done with your beer pairings because you’ve moved onto dessert? Think again. Pairing beer with dessert is a special sort of perfection in life, and sure enough there are several venues that will indeed be proving this to you. CitySen Lounge anyone? Take a walk into the CityFlats Hotel and visit the Lounge so you can test out their pairing of Bell’s Double Cream Stout with their Peanut Butter Double Cream Stout Brownies that comes with Sticky Plum Jam and White Chocolate ($6). Decadence without a doubt.

With 51 restaurants, breweries, and brewpubs participating, be sure to visit as many venues as you can to get in on these great deals and personal approaches to pairing the fine suds of Michigan with a meal. The lessons gained can only comfort the residents and guests who lovingly call Grand Rapids, Beer City USA.


GRAND RAPIDS — It’s sad but true; Cool Brews. Hot Eats. is coming to a close.

Saturday will mark your final chance to experience the expert pairings and beer-infused dishes and restaurants and brewpubs throughout Grand Rapids.

But if you can’t make it out before Saturday night, you’re in luck. Although they are participating in their first Cool Brews. Hot Eats. event, Rezervoir Lounge could equate infusing food with craft brews as business as usual.

Since Executive Chef Chris Montgomery took over the kitchen a year and a half ago, he says, “About 60% of our [regular] menu incorporates beer somehow.” 

Rez Lounge, formerly Sazerac’s on Grand Rapids’ Northeast side, has 24 rotating taps. Chef Montgomery is a self proclaimed “beer nerd,” as well as a home brewer. His intimate knowledge and appreciation of the craft allows him to integrate beer whenever possible. 

Rez Lounge’s offerings for Cool Brews. Hot Eats. include beef short ribs braised in Perrin Brewing’s Kona Brown Ale, served with curried mashed potatoes and roasted brussel sprouts with a (“very labor intensive”) Kona Brown Ale demi glaze. “Anytime I think of coffee browns or stouts, I immediately go to beef,” says Montgomery of his inspiration for the dish.

The madras for the curried mashed potatoes is made in-house and adds to the deep complexity of the dish. 

The suggested pairing is the Kona Brown, but Montgomery says they ran out of that a while back — somewhere between Grand Rapids Beer Week, which ran in tandem with the first week of Cool Brews, and its Perrin tap takeover event on Feb 19.

Instead, he brings out Founder’s Smoked Porter and no one is complaining.

The second offering is house made Seitan chorizo tacos wrapped in raw jicama shells, topped with the chef’s own mango habanero salsa and non-dairy sunflower seed based sour cream. It is paired with North Peak’s Hoodo Midwest Wet Hop IPA. Montgomery states that pairing spicy dishes with hops cuts the heat without sacrificing the flavors.

“This is the only vegan option for Cool Brews. Hot Eats.,” Montgomery says with visible shock.

Montgomery eats vegan at least three days of the week and has created a full vegan menu for Rez Lounge, including an array of house made vegan cheeses. The Seitan chorizo is also a dish that will continue at Rez Lounge and will be included in its new vegan menu, set to debut in a few months.

Other tried and true beer infused specials — not related to Cool Brews.Hot Eats. — will also be included on Rez’s revamped regular menu. A Valentine treat from earlier this month, the Beer-amisu, a Founder’s Breakfast Stout variation of tiramisu, will become a permanent dessert option. “People were literally licking their glasses clean,” Montgomery said.

There will also be a stout cured corned beef Reuben sandwich, made with Dark Horse Brewing’s Too Cream Stout.

After tasting the Cool Brews offerings, dessert is served. As luck would have it, the house made beer ice cream just happens to be Kona Brown. It is served over a warm whiskey stout fudge brownie and topped with Framboise whipped cream. 

Rez Lounge truly is a “Hidden Gem” as Chef Montgomery calls it, for beer geeks and food lovers alike. While there’s only a couple meals left to taste the beer braised beef ribs (and you will regret missing them), Montgomery will no doubt continue to concoct beer-seeped dishes, and Rez Lounge will always have something for everyone on tap.

Let me be frank. I know I can get good craft beer almost anywhere in this town, especially during Cool Brews. Hot Eats. I’m not at Amore Trattoria Italiana for the beer. I’m here, at this curiously out-of-the-way Italian restaurant in Comstock Park, because I keep hearing about its food. Beer is secondary for me tonight.

But beer isn’t secondary for Chef Jenna Arcidiacono, who co-owns the place with her husband and gives it its magic.

Before I can even ask her, she tells me that yes, of course beer goes with Italian food. “It’s not like America is the only country that drinks beer,” she says.

In Italy, Arcidiacono explains, the people eat and drink local, which means local beer from local breweries. She’s just being, well, Italian with her five-course beer pairing dinner, each portion of which is matched with a craft beer brewed within an hour and a half drive and hand picked by Jenna herself.

Some of the pairings are carefully calculated; a few “just came to her.” Most of the beers are fairly hoppy, which reflects Arcidiacono’s personal preferences as a self-described hop head, but equally reflects her impeccable sense of taste. 

The combined bitterness and mild, floral sweetness in various IPAs complement the first several courses, defined by the robust flavors of strong cheeses and strong meats (homemade sausage, lamb bacon). Especially delightful is the first course, where the floral notes of Founder’s Centennial IPA harmonize with the sweetness of the sausage and then clean up the fungal tones from the mushroom. The Michigan Paradigm Pale Ale from Rockford Brewing Co. has a similar effect on the soup course, which has an incredibly rich taste. (This is where the lamb bacon comes in.)

The only pairing that breaks the trend in the first four courses is the Fragole salad, which Jenna boldly pairs with Founder’s Curmudgeon Old Ale. As the name suggests, this beer usually doesn’t play well with others because of its aggressive and slightly sour body. But Arcidiacono makes it behave, and even brings out its sweet side, by setting it with this arugula and goat cheese salad that has its own bitter-sweet combination. 

After the two rounds of entrees — where the spicy-sweet combination of the Diavola’s vodka sauce and Founders Red’s Rye stands out — Arcidiacono finishes the feast by pairing like with like. She matches the sweetness of her chocolate truffles with the sweetness of Perrin’s Malted Milk Porter, and then matches the coffee core of her tiramisu with Founders Breakfast Stout. Both are perfect.

The whole thing was perfect, really. You can purchase the entire dinner in chef’s plates for $25, or you can select full portions of any course a la carte. My recommendation: try it all so you don’t miss anything, and then come back for your favorites the following night.

Learn more about Amore Trattoria Italiana and join the restaurant for its Cool Brews. Hot Eats. menu until March 1.

Cool Brews. Hot Eats. is taking over Grand Rapids.

You’ll find Michigan craft beers and on point food pairings at the most unlikely of places — like the top of the Amway Grand, for instance. Chef Werner Absenger and his dedicated kitchen crew have developed a unique beer themed menu that captures the globally influenced American cuisine of Cygnus 27, the flagship restaurant of the Amway on the 27th floor.

Sample three courses complete with 5 oz. beer pairings for only $40.00 and enjoy the view. 

The menu takes inspiration from the European heritage of Chef Absenger, throwing a bit of Michigan into the mix. Starting with descriptions of the beer, the Chef and his team narrowed down options for meal pairings from there.

“We have Scotty Karate [from Dark Horse Brewing], right? So we read the description and then tried it. The shortbread and hint of sweetness was key for a beer batter- for frog legs. Frog legs make sense for a karate chop, right?” Chef Werner laughs. Served with a slaw and remoulade sauce on the side, this was our starter.

The next course, Saguatuck Brewing Company’s Bonfire Brown Cheese Soup was designed to invoke the memories of summer (much needed with all this snow) as well as providing something to warm you up on these cold nights.

The entrée, and my favorite menu item of the evening, was Brewery Vivant’s Farm Hand Choucroute Garnie. Inspired by the brewers at Vivant’s trip to France, this spin on a traditional Alsace regional recipe braises the sauerkraut and locally sourced knockwurst, kielbasa and smoked pork loin in the French style farmhouse ale instead of the traditional Riesling. The funk of the Vivant house yeast paired perfectly with the sourness of the kraut.

Dessert featured product from New Holland Brewery. An oatmeal stout based chocolate cake featuring The Poet as well as some spirits thrown into the mix, New Holland’s Beer Barrel Bourbon. Sandwiched between two cake layers was The Bukowski Ice Cream, also made with the brew.

The ice cream people are perhaps a very healthy and satisfied people, but luckily you don’t have to be off the bottle to enjoy this treat.

Becky Casto, Cygnus general manager shares her opinion on the Beer City vibe. “It’s hugely exciting. There’s so much pride in Grand Rapids [with the BeerCity  USA win]. My background is wine, so it’s been very exciting for me to be educated on the beer culture and to see how beer can pair with food. It’s a win for the city all around.”

The kitchen at Cygnus shares the ‘we are all in this together’ spirit of the beer community. Absenger brought out his team — Tim Moreno, Rick Medcalf and Phil Laviolette — after our meal. These gentlemen, all at different stages in their culinary career, clearly are soaking up knowledge from Absenger as well as exploring their own food passions and creativity.

Kitchen camaraderie makes for the best meals — otherwise you can taste the tension. And that doesn’t sit well with your beer.

Learn more about Cygnus 27 and join the restaurant for its Cool Brews. Hot Eats. menu until March 1.