Posts

cellar

We’ll admit, on occasion, it’s really good to be us. Founders Brewing Co. did something they rarely do, and we had the honor to be a part of it. They broke character, and extended an exclusive invitation to a very short list of trusted writers and photographers in craft media across the U.S. to peek behind the curtain at what makes them and what they do so unique.

Unprecedented, they offered a private tour of the caves where all of their Barrel-aged Series and experimental one-offs hibernate until Jason Heystek, VP Lead Guitar, and Jeremy Kosmicki, Brewmaster, say, “They’re ready.”

cellar

Jason Heystek & Jeremy Kosmicki,

The caves—yes, literal caves—are naturally held between 40°-55° F, perfect for cellaring beer. Founders has access to a figurative gold mine, spiderwebbed throughout old gypsum mines approximately 85’ underground, somewhere beneath the streets of Grand Rapids. Well, we know where they’re located. With a little Googling, the savvy can find them, too. But. Unless you know a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy, you’re not getting in, or in the elevator.

We spent the day rubbing elbows with Founders’ founders, Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers, talking 20 years of history filled with hits and their fair share of misses, but zero regrets.

cellar

Mike Stevens & Dave Engbers

Heystek and Kosmicki were our personal tour guides. With screwdriver and rubber mallet in rubber-gloved hands, Heystek casually displayed why he’s the man. Repeatedly dipping a barrel thief (sanitized every time, we might add) into vintages of popular limited releases being secretly aged in brandy or scotch scotch barrels, experimental recipes with fruit and salt in gin barrels, or KBS (who cares what year?!), Heystek let us drink straight from the barrel beer that most people will never know existed. We were only able to drink after we picked our jaws up off the floor. We can say now that, at the time, we saw barrels of CBS, but weren’t able to talk about it. They even made us prick our finger and sign an NDA. Trust us, it took everything we had not to spill the beans.

After we reemerged, we also visited Founders’ new production facility, which defies comprehensible size. Let’s just say it’s big enough to house some of the estimated 15,000 barrels from the caves when they’re finally ready to see Founders’ Taproom, or hit distribution—if the rest of the world is as lucky as Grand Rapids.

We were gifted an experience you can’t put a price tag on. We’re talkin’ Golden Ticket access: level Charlie Bucket. Here’s proof.

 

Photography: Steph Harding

 

GRAND RAPIDS — A festival surrounding an in-progress 40-million-dollar expansion made this year’s Founders Fest challenging, but not disappointing. The six-story-high fermenters towering over the fest made this year’s feel a little more special — a “tiny” reminder to the all of the people in attendance that they help make Founders the 17th largest brewery in the nation and still growing.

“This festival started [about nine years ago] as an opportunity to hopefully raise money to pay our property taxes; it has turned into a festival for about 7,000 of our closest friends,” said Mike Stevens, Co-Founder and CEO of Founders Brewing Co.

The festival is not just a celebration of great beer — music is also an immense part of the culture at Founders. Not one but two stages set the tone with eight different live music acts creating a rhythmic ambiance. The festival doesn’t officially kick off until the The FBC All-Stars play, according to Stevens.  Playing cover songs familiar to the crowd, the band is composed of different Founders employees each year. The idea is to showcase the talents of some of the Founders family, from administration to production to the taproom.

There were over 10 Founders beers flowing from the taps, from easy drinkers like All Day IPA and Solid Gold, to sweeter brews like Rubaeus and Blushing Monk, to the special beer made just for the event, Founders Fest Wheat. Planning three months ahead for an event of this capacity, it was expected for the Founders Fest to go through 200-250 kegs of beer.

Food trucks filled a whole block with offerings like pulled pork from Slow’s BBQ, gyros from Pita House and a variety of sandwiches from What The Truck. They helped to fill everyone’s stomach, giving opportunity for more beer drinking.

A separate block showcased booths of local artists, another opportunity at the fest for people to give back to their local community. Carisa Gallegos of Lot Life praised her love of the festival and financial success at Founders Fest in the past. She said she looks forward to being a part of the fest every year with their motto, “finish strong baby!”  Other goods attendees could find include print works from Woosah, natural clothing from Conscious Clothing, wood goods made from Founders barrels by McVety Design, and handmade leather products from Hides + Stitches.

With something for everyone, Grace Wysocki described the festival best.

“Founders Fest is one thing that we never miss. We are never disappointed! Music, art and being able to hang out with our friends…there is nothing better!”

The man that knows Founders Fest the best had simple advice to offer for attending the festival.

“Have a good time! Drink beer!” Stevens said.

GRAND RAPIDS — While it is true that beer is only made of four simple ingredients: Barley, yeast, hops, and water, each beer is uniquely crafted with varying recipes and methods, and each brewery takes a different path to get there.

Founders Brewing Co. opened its brewery for public tours in 2013, and with the help of a very enthusiastic tour guide — education ambassador Gabriel Rains — I was able to get a glance into the company, from its early beginning to its hopes for the future.

Our tour group began our journey in the older part of the brewery, the quaint, 30-barrel system, geared up in close-toed shoes, footies and safety glasses. This extra precaution is absolutely essential to participate in the tour to ensure that no beer is contaminated in any way. Rains regretfully informed us that he was forced to turn down five people who showed up unprepared (so don’t make that mistake).

Gathered around in this first room, Rains began filling us in on the brewery’s operations from the very beginning, starting with the founders of Founders.

Recently out of college, Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers left their careers to pursue the world of craft beer. At first, their beer wasn’t quite cutting it, but after a threat of bankruptcy, they revolutionized their beer in hopes of at least going out with a bang.

This “bang” began selling, and soon enough, they were back on their feet and barrel rolling toward success.

Founders is now the 30th largest brewery and ranked in the top four breweries worldwide by Ratebeer.com.

After describing Founders’ climb to the top, Rains asked the question of which ingredients go into making beer. Although these four ingredients seem very simple — Founders’ ingredients all come from unique sources, and the way in which they go into making the beer is a complicated process.

The tour then led us through an expansion, the kegging, bottling and canning lines (the canning line is brand new, with a hoard of empty cans waiting), and into the final stop which will expand Founders production even further. This all was not without in-depth explanations, stories and a couple of laughs.

The $10 tour is just enough to keep out freeloaders, yet affordable enough to be enjoyed by many. At the end of the tour, each participant is given a Founders pint glass with a ticket for a free Class 1 beer and other Founders memorabilia, which is, needless to say, well worth the cost of the tour.

So whether you love Founders or beer in general, this tour gives an adequate insight into both the company and the craft. If you’re in the area, stop by; otherwise, it makes for a good kick-off to a trip to Grand Rapids and a tour of BeerCity USA.


Sign Up To Get The Latest Brews