With all the attention that the West Coast and Colorado get in the USA – and deservedly so, based on numbers of breweries alone – it may have come as a surprise when Grand Rapids, Michigan was first named Beer City USA. Granted, this is determined by popular vote, but with a population under 200,000, surely it had to be drawing from a much wider reputation. And in 2014 it was the site of the 36th Annual National Homebrewers Conference. With a couple dozen breweries to choose from in the Greater Grand Rapids area, here are a few you should definitely not miss.
Second only to the venerable Bell’s Brewing Co., it is one of the largest in Michigan. Located in an old trucking depot (conveniently across from the bus station), this beer hall-sized tap room has 16 draft lines and brings out some tap-room only options. Centennial IPA and Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale are standards, but watch for KBS – the bourbon-barrel-aged Kentucky Breakfast Stout.
Owners Jason and Kris Spaulding found their destiny on a beery trip through Belgium and Northern France. The brewery’s tap room, set in the former chapel of a funeral home, offers 12 tap lines of the 30-40 Belgian inspired brews they produced each year in their LEED-certified “green” brewhouse.
Grand Rapids Brewing/Hopcat
Here’s a two-for-one. At opposite end’s of the same block, these two breweries are under the same ownership. While also brewing some specialty batches of their own, Hopcat is more famous as a beer bar with 48 brews on tap. The “crack fries” are another draw. Grand Rapids Brewing is also a draw for its food, but is notably the only totally organic brewery in Michigan.
Barry and Jackson VanDyke do not brew on the same day “to avoid fighting.” Think Mikkeller meets Michigan. This little neighborhood brewery and wood-fired pizza parlor does a modest 100-200 barrels per year and styles are always changing. A Beglian dubbel or a rye pale ale. Perhaps a gruit with heather flowers or a peat-smoked porter.
If you can find it, get there. Tucked away at the north end of Grand Rapids, this Prohibition/Gangster themed brewpub has a lot of creativity going on. The bar runs 26 tap lines with all sorts of ideas contributed by everyone on staff, from head brewer to bartender. Smuggler’s Stout and Gangster IPA are popular mainstays, but expect some serious divergence with brews such as a pumpkin milk stout or clove anise pilsner.
Rockford Brewing Co.
We can’t forget all the nearby breweries just outside the city limits. Brewer Jeff Sheehan, a student of geology, went the brewing route, and after 3 years at New Holland Brewing, he teamed up and helped found RBC. Sheehan’s Irish Stout is excellent and Carriage House Ale, Hoplust IPA and Rogue River Brown round out the regular beers. But the list of beers coming and going is long, and experimentation is common. They’ve got snacks but food is delivered from Vitale’s Pizza. Communal tables for a communal vibe, plus they sit between the Rock River and a bike path into Grand Rapids.
Perrin Brewing Co.
Situated northwest of town in Comstock Park, this 30-barrel brewhouse is state-of-the-art and the taproom offers up to 18 beers on tap. They got an award for a bourbon-barrel aged malted milkball porter (divine). Food consists of burgers and dogs from what looks like a food truck parked inside the building. It’s a big space with big ambitions and excellent beer.
These seven Grand Rapids area breweries merely scratch the surface in the Great Beer State of Michigan. For 135+ more Michigan brewery options, pick up the excellent road trip guide to Michigan breweries.