Beer drinkers, grab your steins and put Grand Rapids on your list of cities you need to get to in 2013. It is a city quietly emerging in other aspects such as a downtown revitalization, a great art scene, beautiful buildings, restaurants galore, traditional neighborhoods – and it should be considered in the same swig as Milwaukee, St. Louis, Boston, Denver, Portland, San Francisco, and a few others around the country.
No, this isn’t my stab at a men’s lifestyle magazine ranking of any sort. In fact, it is only reconfirming what was previously announced last year by the Examiner [LINK]. Grand Rapids and Asheville both shared the title as Beer City USA. All of that tastes great, but the real intoxicating part is what it has done to re-establish the city’s identity.
Once hailed Furniture City, Grand Rapids, Michigan used to be the heart of furniture manufacturing in the U.S. Although those days have passed, it seems that the creativity and builder mentality has trickled down into other avenues.
It’s one thing for a city to have bars to get wild in, it’s another to have a business renovate a building, craft a product using local ingredients, and produce a top-tier beer on top of all of that. The first stop of my beer expedition was to Brewery Vivant on Cherry St. I certainly don’t recommend going to church on a Saturday, but if you do, this one is the one to go to.
From what I was told by the hostess (as I was trying to get her to consider Peoria as their next location), was that this building was an old funeral chapel which has been resurrected and brought to life. As the first LEED certified brewery in America (not bad for a microbrewery), the aesthetics alone are enough to get you buzzed. You walk in and are greeted by a merch store to your left and a fridge with their product in it to your right, but that’s for the way home. Once you come through into the chapel there is an open communal, traditional beer hall feel. The alter, of course, is the bar.
Once seated at your pew, you don’t need to pray for much other than the wait staff keep bringing you cold beer. The food on their menu mixes well with the rest of the vibe and by itself is worth the trip. The farm-to-table concept couldn’t be more in-line with everything else. It’s not a trend folks, it’s what we need to embrace. Not only does it support the farmers just outside of the city limits, it tastes damn good.
So you have a great meal, some great drinks, experience great atmosphere, and maybe if you stick around you can take a tour and see how it’s all made… I wish I had, but there was more flowing down the list of things to see.
Next on the list wasn’t a brewery, just one of the best beer bars in America. HopCat on Ionia, right next to the Van Andel Arena, brings every brewery right to you. Named to Draft Magazines Top 100 [LINK], I have to thank Rick Brown over at Panethos for pointing this one out to me… and for meeting up for a drink to top it off! That should be a post of its own – when beer and blogs collide.
From literally top to bottom, HopCat is a place you want to be. I’m not cool, but I imagine this is where the cool beer kids hang. Since it is one of my favorites, I went with the Shiner Cheer on tap. You don’t plan to find a small Texas brewery’s seasonal in Michigan, but that is what makes my world go round.
…and that’s just the beginning. Also, worth checking out is the Grand Rapids Brewing Company, right next door, and The BOB across the street from that.
…back down in Eastown is the Harmony Brewing Company.
But don’t stop there, if you are looking to round out your trip you can stop by Founders Brewing Co., also downtown. On your way home head over to Holland to have some hops at the New Holland Brewing Company, or pop down to Kalamazoo for some of Bell’s brews. All in all the beer scene is bar none in Grand Rapids and nearby.
These aren’t the chintzy, half-hearted faux breweries found near a mall, these are the real deal folks. I guess you might not expect to find these places in ordinary neighborhoods, or right in the middle of the downtown, but why not? They are exactly what these areas need, and sure, we could all use a drink. Grand Rapids is not an emerging beer city – it is a place that is already there.