Beer City, USA
Grand Rapids (GR) Michigan is known as Beer City USA, and with 80 breweries in and surrounding the city, it’s a title well earned. While you could easily spend a month in GR, we of course had to make our trip as abbreviated as possible – by flying into Chicago at 7 am and driving out to Michigan. On our excursion to GR we hit 14 breweries based on input from the Instagram beer community. So in no specific order, we present to you our Top 5 Breweries of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Speciation Artisan Ales & Native Species Winery
If you’re looking for the extraordinary and are a fan of spontaneously fermented beers then Speciation is a stop you won’t want to miss. Don’t let your GPS and eyes fool you, yes there is a brewery in the back and they are fermenting big things.
The immaculately clean interior has the feel of a young, high end winery. Our flight consisted of everything from the menu that essentially put Melissa in her happy place. Her top two picks, out of the insanely delicious selection of four were the Neontology and the Hopeful Monster; both sour beers.
Neontology, while not actually neon in color or hue, is a barrel aged sour with passionfruit, lime, matcha and vanilla. We’ve encountered a few matcha beers over the years, but none quite like this; enjoyable and unique! Hopeful Monster slightly edged out Neontology in my opinion. The foeder aged solera sour with blck currants was not nearly as sour as others on our flight, but was perfectly tart and funky.
In a city that worships beer, it’s only fitting to visit a church – of beer. So if you’re into churches and great beer you’re in luck with our next must stop; Brewery Vivant. This brewery is held up in an old church and like the rest of our Grand Rapids choices, it’s hard to stay for only one flight.
Brewery Vivant may be recognized for their European style beers, but we’re never just satisfied with the conventional lagers and saisons. Naturally we gravitated to their more unique brews, both of which were sours. My personal favorite was the Gambol Lane, a gin barrel aged sour. While it’s uncommon for me to pick a sour as my favorite, it’s not entirely without precedent. Gambol had a wonderful botanical and oak flavor with hints of lemon and lavender.
Melissa went for the more fruity selection of the Unapologetic Fruit: Raz Peach. The wonderfully balanced sweet brew had small bursts of sour and was layered with lots of raspberry and peach flavor. At only 5% this wonderful beer could be sipped all day – super refreshing.
The Mitten Brewing Co.
Ok, so let’s get right to the point – I had no idea what the Mitten was. I did not understand why the brewery was called The Mitten, nor did I even pick up the fact that the beer flight was served on a Michigan shaped flight paddle looking like – a mitten. Yeah, I’m pretty thick.
Now that we’ve squared away my mitten ignorance, The Mitten Brewing Co. is our next must stop. If you’re looking for food and drink, then you’ve certainly come to the right spot as you can order two flights here; a flight of beer and a flight of pizza. Yes, a pizza flight exists and it’s everything you’ve ever imagined that it would be.
Our top two picks of our flight of six were the Sweet Lou and the Basil’s Loaded, two very different styles and really only one that went with pizza. The Sweet Lou was the Mittens take on the classic Creme Brûlée; rich, creamy, sweet and holy cow it’s 10.5%. If you’re not careful this little beer will sneak up on you quickly.
Our favorite of the flight, and kind of a pizza compliment was the Basil’s Loaded. This 4.5% sour ale was uniquely blended with strawberry, watermelon and fresh basil. The brew was not overbearingly sour and had a wonderful flavor blast of fresh fruits and subtle basil notes. This is a perfect summer beer and certainly one of the more memorable brews of the trip.
Arvon Brewing Co.
This next stop almost didn’t make our short list for visits, lucky for us that the internet came through and the good people of GR said we cannot miss Arvon Brewing Co. Similar to Speciation, the simple and clean interior of Arvon has a premium feel that matches the sophistication of their beers.
Our top two of the flight were the Andromeda Nebula and the Chocolate Dip which were both very complex tasting brews. Andromeda Nebula is a heavy and sweet Imperial Stout full of Vermont maple syrup. The beer itself did not taste overly boozy but this “super thiccc” Imp Stout weighs in at a whopping 18%. For perspective, the barrel aged 10-FIDY’s from Oskar Blues float around the 12.8% mark and are not nearly as sweet as Andromeda. The beer’s viscosity is very similar.
The Chocolate Dip on the other hand is a kettle soured ale with raspberries, chocolate and lactose. I know that lactose in beer, especially sours, is particularly divisive but in this specific circumstance it worked fantastically. As Melissa put it, the beer was Valentine’s Day on a tap!
City Built Brewing Company
Starship may have been singing about Los Angeles in their 1985, synth-pop hit “We Built This City”, but that’s because they never had the chance to try City Built Brewing Company. That tune played in my head on the trip over to the brewery and during our visit. The worst part is I only know like three versus.
Not to be outdone by the Mitten, City Built has their own array of delicious foods so come hungry. We complimented our round of brews with a hearty helping of cajun mac and cheese – because mac and cheese pairs with everything; except maybe our two favorite brews of the flight.
Normally I stick to one pop culture reference per brewery, but in this case it’s time to wake up samurai and try the Cyber Punk fruited sour. Mango, passion fruit, gummy bears and lactose were seamlessly blended together in this tart, but not over puckering beer.
Still not pairing perfectly with mac and cheese was a sweeter and more tart fruited sour called Childish Obsession. Tangerine, vanilla and lactose provided a bit more of a citrus bite than Cyber Punk. The awkward pairing is our fault mostly because mac and cheese is always a great idea, and Melissa cannot help but to pick out all the sour beers.
Founders & Bells
It’s hard to pass through Grand Rapids and not mention two iconic heavy weights – Founders Brewing Co. of Grand Rapids and Bells Brewery of Kalamazoo (just south of GR). Over the years Founders has produced favorites such as Rübæus and Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS) and is there even a person in the US who hasn’t had a Bells Two Hearted Ale? Obviously, do not skip the energetic Founders taproom in the heart of GR, and if you have time be sure to take that detour south and hit the world famous Bells Eccentric Café for tap room only brews.