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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.

GRAND RAPIDS — High Five Co-op Brewery is moving forward, with plans in the future to open a taproom. But it’s not easy, and the first co-op brewery in Michigan is asking for the public’s help.

The group has 13 days left on a Kickstarter campaign that launched in late August.

“The goal is $15,000,” said Josh Smith, General Director of the Board for High Five.

“We really want to get into a location,” he added, noting that the brewery plans on pouring beer, working with home brewers — both experienced and novice — and potentially offering food items for guests when it opens.

“We also want to go the extra mile in education,” said Smith.

In addition to continuing collaborations with local breweries — the next is in planning with EB Coffee & Pub — the brewery is also in the midst of planning monthly meetups to discuss progress and ideas, the first slated for Oct. 21 at 6 p.m. at the Mitten Brewing Co.

“We’re really focused on fundraising and growing our membership,” said Laura Barbrick, Board Secretary. “The sooner those things move forward, the better,” she said, alluding to opening a location “as soon as possible.”

As a co-op, the brewery approaches its organization a little differently than a traditional business, but will still have management staff and employees to run day-to-day operations.

“We want it to be self-governed as possible. We’re doing everything we can to power the employees. It’s a democratic business,” said Smith.

The end goal, though, is to have a brewery that’s neighborhood friendly and fits in an environment that is both welcoming and unique.

“We definitely want to be near a community, and be part of the community…that’s what we represent,” said Barbrick.

“We don’t envision a big shiny brewery to start,” added Smith. “The longer we’ve gotten into it, the more we’ve talked about it, we want to be a neighborhood brewery, comparable to Harmony [Brewing Company] or the Mitten — that same sort of size.”

For more information on upcoming events for High Five Co-op Brewery, visit beer.coop online.

GRAND RAPIDS — The Brewers Grove Project kicked off its second consecutive year at Harmony Brewing Company Friday night. Tree-themed beers from different West Michigan area breweries will be available at their locales and different area bars and pubs.

The evening started with a toast from the Heather and Jackson Van Dyke — owners of Harmony — and Steve Faber — Executive Director at Friends of Grand Rapids Parks, an independent, citizen led nonprofit whose mission is to work on specific park projects, mobilize the community and generate resources to enhance and expand Grand Rapids’ parks and public spaces.

Local politicians, brewers and craft beer aficionados were in attendance to sample four of the different offerings. Harmony’s Sumac Attack — a Hefeweizen — Pike 51’s Maple Almond Belgian Brown Ale, White Flame’s Nut Job — a Black Walnut Ale — and Cellar’s Apple Ridge IPA were all on tap for tasting and pints.

The Brewers Grove initiative works specifically with the Urban Forest Project, supporting Grand Rapids goal of a 40% tree canopy. Area brewers are giving back, supporting parks and public spaces by creating tree-themed beers, with one dollar from each pint going directly to the Brewers Grove Fund. This fund helps to expand the Riverside Park tree canopy and will add additional trees to the thirty planted last year.

It’s a pretty easy thing to do [make a tree themed beer], and there are lots of ways to spin it — everything from oak aged to fruits and nuts, and all kinds of things. Now we have 21 different breweries making different beers,” says Steve Faber.

This event will continue until Sept. 12th. Support your local brewery and Beer City USA by grabbing a pint or helping with other Urban Forest projects. More information is available on the Beer City USA website.

Benjamin Isbell and Josh Chilcote of Harmony Brewing Company start the brewing of the brewery’s tree-themed beer, Sumac Attack.

For the second year, Grand Rapids breweries will join together, creating a tree-themed beer for the Brewer’s Grove project. The project, in collaboration with Team Beer City and the Friends of Grand Rapids Parks organizations, helped to plant 30 trees last year in Riverside Park. This year, a tree planting party is slated for Sept. 12.

GRAND RAPIDS — “Beer before liquor, never sicker.” But how about beer with your liquor, in the same glass? It’s a more appetizing combination and, in Michigan, certainly an inevitable one.

The beer cocktail has evolved from the Irish car bombs of its frat days. It’s no longer just shots-in-pints to break the monotony of shots-after-pints. It’s porters and IPAs with gins and tequilas and liqueurs and olives. The rise of craft beer has led to the rise of the craft beer cocktail.

That being said, the more creative mixtures — with fancy cocktail names like Black Velvet and Sidewalker — aren’t always easy to find, even in Michigan. Brewpubs abound, but most don’t have a full bar. Often a Black and Tan is the most creative your neighborhood taproom can get.

But there’s one place in Grand Rapids at least that always has a few concoctions ready: Harmony Brewing Company. 

Luke Schmidt, Harmony’s general manager, occasional bartender and cocktail creator, describes beer cocktails as “trendy,” but he adds that Harmony has always had some on their menu. “They’ve evolved a little over time, like everything here,” he says. And though the idea of beer cocktails sometimes meets with some hesitation, especially from patrons more familiar with standard cocktails and less inclined toward beer, most customers are more than willing to try one — and they aren’t disappointed.

Harmony’s beer cocktails fluctuate with the tap list. (That can mean quick turnover at a smaller brewpub, so check in often.) When we visited last week, there were two of the regulars on tap — the beergarita and the Proud Mary.

The beergarita combines whichever IPA is on tap (Fiddlestix or Crossroads), tequila, triple sec and lime juice. From a beer lover’s perspective, it’s better than a regular margarita — refreshing and tart, but with a heartier finish.

The Proud Mary is a Bloody Mary — vodka, tomato juice and some “secret ingredients” — mixed with Harmony’s Black Squirrel smoky porter. It’s a drink that’s almost a meal. 

According to Schmidt, creating a beer cocktail is mostly a matter of common sense and taste buds. “It’s not like I’m a cocktail wizard,” he says. “I approach it just like cooking at home.”

That means mixing flavors that usually go well together, and at Harmony it also means collaboration and a lot of feedback before (and after) a drink lands on the menu.

For those wishing to mix their own beer cocktails at home, Schmidt recommends enhancing a beer’s bitter side with something savory or balancing it with something sweet. Citrus flavors from liqueurs like triple sec are a natural complement to a hoppy beer.

But in the end, a healthy dose of trial and error is needed to achieve the perfect beer-liquor union. “It’s harder to come up with a beer cocktail than a regular cocktail, because beer is such a strong flavor,” Schmidt says.

So if you’re in the mood for some adventure, stock up on Michigan brews (both light and dark), unlock your liquor cabinet, grab some open-minded friends, and mix away.

7.3% ABV, Draft

Appearance: Dark amber, almost ruby, with a thin head.
Aroma: Yeasty with hints of the fruit to come.
Taste: Roasted caramel notes and darker fruit flavors finish off with a twist of bitterness.
Mouthfeel: Full bodied and crisp with an assertive finish.

This Belgian dubbel is more aggressive than others. It’s also brewed with real meteorite dust, so you can brag to your friends that you drank something that was literally out of this world (don’t worry, the dust does not affect the flavor profile and is not harmful in any way).

7% ABV, Draft

Appearance: Dark brown, essentially black (as the name implies) with a small, creamy head.
Aroma: Fungal and smoky.
Taste: Spices and a hint of vanilla almost disappear behind a tyranny of peat.
Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with a clean finish.

This provocative beer is a love-it-or-hate-it, but well worth the experience either way. The smoky, earthy flavor comes from the peat-roasted malt and will give you plenty to talk about at the office on Monday.

6.5% ABV, Draft

Appearance: Penny-colored with a quickly evaporating head.
Aroma: Light hop aroma with notes of straw.
Taste: Pleasant and moderate hoppiness at the front and freshness at the back.
Mouthfeel: Well-balanced with a light, crisp finish.

Fiddle Stix is a celebration of the hop but not a sledgehammer. It’s designed to be a sessionable drinking beer that will appeal to hopheads and non-hopheads alike.

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