Friday, May 11, 2012

West Michigan road trip. Part 1

James Knott, Dave Engbers, Mike Stevens (L-R)

Many of you loyal BBA followers followed our trip to west Michigan through our social network sites.  So I think it is only fair to give you a more in-depth look at our trip.  I will write a few different blogs over the next couple of weeks so you don’t have to read too much (and I don’t have to write too much).

The first installment is about Grand Rapids.

We arrived at Founders in the early afternoon and went straight to the administrative offices.  I would have preferred to head to the taproom, but we had work to do!  Dave Engbers and Mike Stevens were expecting us to be ready for their interview by 3pm.

We set up in the board room and ran into a few difficulties early on.  James was stuck with a crew that wasn’t used to setting up for a camera shoot, the giant window in the board room let too much light in, and there was all kinds of beer laying around that we desperately wanted to drink, but resisted the urge.

Founders logo on conference table
After we set up the best we could, Dave and Mike came in and were immediately impressed with our set up.  Mike said it was the most lights he had seen for an interview.hey, we are all about quality.  Unfortunately one of the mics was acting funny and you can hear throughout the interview.  Before we got started, Dave and Mike offered us beers.  It was at that moment we all knew it was going to be a great interview, and as you can see, it was! 

Funny side story:  Sitting in the beer fridge in the board room, there was a bottle of MGD 64 Lemonade sitting inside as a practical joke to a new Founders sale's rep.  Dave opened it, took a sip, declared it was shit and passed it around to all of us.  Yup, it was shit!  We then drank someone's private stash of Jackie O's beer from Athens, Oh and some Founders porters.

While James, Craig and Hayes finished taking down the equipment, David and I headed to the taproom.  It was big, lively, and had a comfort to it that screamed, “this is a great place to drink!”  David and I ordered the Black IPA and the B.A Black IPA.  It was neat to taste the regular version versus the barrel aged one.  I am not a bourbon fan, nor do I like most beers aged in bourbon barrels, but the hops from the IPA cut through the sweetness enough for me to enjoy it.  When the rest of the crew arrived we ordered some samples and full pours. We had had eight other types of beer there ranging from Founders’ normal line, to more brew pub exclusives. 

one of many Founders' stouts in the taproom
Dave and Mike were at separate tables, but each holding court with various patrons.  We made sure to say goodbye on our way out, and I hope to run into them at Savor in Washington D.C. next month.   We liked them very much, and we loved the brewery.  We were welcomed with open arms, and left with smiles on our faces; and perhaps a slight buzz.

Next we went to Brewery Vivant in an historic neighborhood in Grand Rapids.  Brewery Vivant occupies an old funeral home.  I will defer to their website for the history of the building, but they have turned it into an awesome eating and drinking establishment.    This was a planned stop for us, but we didn’t inform them ahead of time that we were coming.

When you enter Brewery Vivant’s pub, you walk through the merchandise area before entering the restaurant; which at one point was a sanctuary for the funeral home.  Vivant’s beer and food menu are heavily influenced from southern Belgium and Northern France farmhouses.  So we kind of had this feeling that we were in a small western European restaurant; really cool atmosphere.  One sale’s rep from another brewery said he would never go into Brewery Vivant because there are too many bad spirits.  He said he has gotten as far as the door before turning away. The only spirits we saw were behind the bar.

We had seen from the brewery’s website that they were going to be tapping a firkin of their Triomphe Belgian IPA.  We all ordered that and got a sampler of the rest of their beers.    The waiter introduced us to one of the managers on site; he gave David and James a tour of the facility.  Meanwhile, Craig, Hayes and I waited for the food we ordered to come.

The food at Brewery Vivant was great.  We snacked on raw oysters, putine with leek gravy and cheese curd, a massive amount of duck confit nachos (so good!), and a small charcuterie plate.  There wasn’t too much food left by the time James and David returned.  They said they enjoyed the tour.

At one point I noticed an outdoor area and decided to check it out.  It was really cool, if the weather had been warmer, I would have loved to stay out there.  There were a few picnic tables and two corn hole sets on the side…so Midwest of them!  Overall, we really like Brewery Vivant.  I strongly recommend going if you are big into Belgian style beers, with a local twist of course!

corn hole at Brewery Vivant!
The third place we went to in Grand Rapids was Hopcat, a beer bar that also brews a few of their own offerings.  The wait for a table on the inside was very long, so we opted for a table outside, which may not have been the best idea.  The sun was going down and the temperature was too.  We were the only party seated outside for a reason!  But we were on a tight schedule to hit three more breweries by the end of the night (that blog is coming at a later date).

The beer list is outstanding, Stone, Founders, Bell’s, Sierra Nevada, Great Lakes and many others were well represented.  We had two offerings from Hopcat, neither of which was impressive.  Come here for the tap and bottle list and you will love it.  Two of us had sandwiches at Hopcat; I was told they were good.
Holding Stone's Sublimely Self Righteous Ale to the fading sun.

My overall impression of Grand Rapids is very high. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but came away pleasantly surprised.  All three places we visited are in different areas of town; each having its own personality. Grand Rapids is up for Beer City of the Year, and my vote goes it!
It may sound odd to say, but this one a once-in-a-lifetime type of trip!  12 breweries in a little more than 2 days!

Here is a list of beers we sample at these three breweries:

Black IPA
B.A. Black IPA
Oatmeal stout (nitro)
Backwoods bastard
Pale ale
Solid gold
Centennial IPA
Party stout
All Day IPA

Triomphe (firkin)
Golden road
Milk stout
Farm du vin
Farmhand ale
Solitude Abby ale

Sage Against the Machine
Sour puss (Shorts Brewing)
Fury (North Peak Brewing)

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