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GRAND RAPIDS — It was a pleasant crowd in the main area of The B.O.B. (or Big Old Building)  Thursday evening. For the third year in a row, The B.O.B. hosted its Winter Beer Festival (WBF) Primer Dinner — an opportunity for those who plan on going to WBF to slake their thirst for some rarer brews beforehand, or for those not lucky enough to score a ticket, a chance to try some more interesting Michigan craft beers in the warmth of the restaurant.

Seventeen breweries from across Michigan were represented, bringing 42 beers to accompany a buffet style, beer-centric menu. A $25 ticket included all-you-could-eat and four tasting tickets for 3 oz. pours, with additional tickets available for a dollar each. Your ticket was also an entry to win a chance to go to the weekend’s beer fest, plus some other beer and brewery themed goodies.

Mick Rickerd, the Banquet Chef for the Gilmore Collection (including The B.O.B.), constructed the menu and hosted the event.

“Any of the items will go with any of the beers offered. Beer is such a universal beverage, so you could drink a stout with the spatzle, or an IPA with the spatzle, and there will be different flavors you’ll pick up.” Rickerd shared.

The menu was varied, with a little something for everyone. Roasted root vegetables, cheese  and charcuterie, and even a slightly spicy amber ale mac & cheese were some of the many options for dinner.

The beer spatzle was actually an IPA spatzle, served with local beer braised sausage, apples and a vanilla infused Dijon porter mustard. One of Rickerd’s favorites (and mine as well) was a bourbon barrel imperial stout pecan bar — a rich, decadent dessert with added depth from the addition of the beer.

Many beer reps were on hand, from Brewery Vivant to Founders to Saugatuck and Bell’s.

MittenBrew stopped to chat with Gary Pardo, a Kalamazoo area field sales representative on hand to answer any questions attendees may have about Bell’s beer or its brewery. Chatting about the collaborative nature of the event, Pardo shares, “Collaboration is hugely important. We do have the (Bell’s Eccentric) Cafe, but only a small percentage of our customers find Bell’s that way. To be a sort of community partner with these bars and hopefully provide them with great beer that people love — it’s an obvious benefit to them but it benefits us even more. It gets our name and our representation out there.

“I can’t speak enough to how important it is to have draft beers in bars — research has shown new consumers find out about brands through draft beer.”

Many of the beers available for tasting were special one offs, or limited feature releases. Lots of unique beers that aren’t available in distribution, which added another level of fun to the event. For example, Latitude 42 brought its Cross-Eyed Jack Imperial Smoked Pumpkin, and Griffin Claw provided Oblivious, a Bourbon-Aged Wheat Wine. Special releases were available at different times throughout the night, including New Holland’s Marilla Trale-a Barrel aged Rye Bock, and B.O.B.’s Brewery’s own Imperial Bourbon Barrel Aged Peanut Butter Brittle Porter.

John Svoboda, Brewer for B.O.B.’s Brewery, was on-hand and shared how this particular beer developed.

“One of the advantages of working at The B.O.B. is that some of the guys and ladies I work with are just really, really fantastic chefs and they know lots about flavors that typically brewers, or at least myself, doesn’t know much about.  So once they learn the process of brewing by hanging out with me a little bit, they say, ‘why don’t you try this, why don’t you try that?’ So Mick [Rickerd] made some peanut butter brittle base that you normally make into peanut brittle and we applied it to an imperial stout and barrel aged it for three months. There’s only five gallons of that, and that’s one that’s not going to be available at the festival. That’s as small as small batches get.”

Despite the special Peanut Butter Brittle Porter not being made available for WBF, The B.O.B. had several specialty brews available — including its Tiramisu Stout and Peanut Butter Porter.

It’s a Monday night in Grand Rapids. To most that means the mourning of a weekend ended while another work week begins. But tonight something’s different — there are cheers and toasts on the air here at Harmony Brewing Company, located in the Eastown neighborhood.

It’s Grand Rapids Beer Week, and locals have kicked off the festivities with a tap takeover hosting five unique brews that have been created in collaboration with Fermenta: Michigan Women’s Craft Collective.

The beers offer a colorful variety of flavors: from Harmony Brewing Company, an amber ale with beets; from Pike 51, a refreshingly bitter IPA; from Our Brewing Company, a salted caramel milk stout; from Saugatuck Brewing Company, a lemon IPA; and from Unruly Brewing Company, an IPA with black rye. Together on a flight, these selections test the tastebuds in brilliant ways.

“When I came to Ben [Isbell, brewer] and Josh [Chilcote, brewer] about hosting a takeover, they just said ‘sure,’ and got in touch with all of the Grand Rapids distributors to make it happen,” says Manda Geiger.

As a west side local, assistant brewer (Pike 51) and Fermenta member, she said organizing this event was simple because everyone here in the industry are friends.

Celebrating the west side craft industry this week is more than beer — it’s friendship and family.

“The Grand Rapids brewers are very tight-knit. We’re friends who talk everyday,” she says.

This is the week when everyone comes into town. Whether it’s your first time experiencing the west side hospitality or not, the line between strangers and friends becomes family.

“Beer Week here is a family reunion,” says Geiger. “We’ve all grown up together, just as the industry has grown. Some of us have joined other breweries or have left to start their own. But this week everyone comes back.”

Grand Rapids has several more events that feature the spirit of collaboration and friendship in the craft industry this week. And all of the excitement culminates at the Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival this Friday and Saturday. Until then, preview more great beers and craft activities at your local west side breweries and taprooms.

Embrace the beer and the family that this great city offers.