Monday, February 17, 2014

Brew Review - Grand Rapids Beer Trip

Saturday, 2/15/14 - Sunday, 2/16/14

Patty and I were going to drive to Asheville, NC this weekend because we both have Monday off.  Its an 8 hour drive from Cleveland .  But, it just so happens Asheville got hit by a snow and ice storm and the whole city was shut down.  We didn't want to waste the long weekend and we were convinced to make this a brewery weekend.  I posted two nights ago about going to Hoppin' Frog Brewery in Akron, Ohio on Friday.  We woke Saturday morning and decided to do a western Michigan beer trip.  We planned to go to Grand Rapids one night and Kalamazoo the next.  We went out to both last year, but went for one day and spent the night in Kalamazoo.  That was a pretty awesome trip because with got to visit both Founders Brewing and Bell's Brewing.  Probably the two most successful breweries in western Michigan.  There are so many other great breweries around the area though.  We wanted to spend time at the smaller spread about breweries. Grand Rapids has a higher quantity of breweries in its vicinity so we decided to head there for the night.

We left a bit late around 1pm, because we both just kind of moped around for a bit in the morning.  The drive was about a four and a half hours long and pretty boring.  Patty thankfully didn't fall asleep and kept me company on the way in.  We bypassed the city and headed directly to a Rockford, Michigan to a place called Rockford Brewing Company.

Rockford Brewing Company

This place was in a small, high-end shopping center tucked away along the river.  We walked up and saw the sign and were impressed.  Design and applying art to every facet of a brewery and its presentation is big for me.  The logo had a fishing fly and hook.  Michigan is big for fishing and hunting anything outdoors, so this logo is fitting.  The place was established in 2011 so it is fresh and new-feeling inside.  We observed the first floor, which had a sweet full bar and seating.  We then headed upstairs to see even more seating and another full bar.  We took a seat at one of the high tops by the bar.  I immediately liked the place because from the time we got there they were playing solid tunes.  Born Ruffians, Dan Auerbach and Dr. Dog the first three songs.  A bar with good tunes can add brownie points.  We had the following beers:

Blackfin Black IPA: Just ok.  It was great to have that first sip of the weekend though.
Hoplust IPA:  Hoppy as hell, but very tasty.

We also ordered some cheesy breadsticks which just came from a next door pizza place.  They were awesome though because we were starving from the drive and coated our stomachs for a long night of drinking.  I picked up a sweet tin sign from the place for $25.  I'm surprised more breweries don't have these.  The charged me $1 for a sticker though. C'mon...

Good beer overall and a really cool layout of taproom.  I give it a 3.5 out of 5.

Harmony Brewing Company

Next we headed into Grand Rapids and checked out a smaller brewery / pizza joint, Harmony Brewing Company.  Pretty sweet layout inside this place.  It  had more of a feeling of being in a local dive bar than a nano brewery.  I wish we had not ate the breadsticks at Rockford Brewing because this place had some bangin' pizza that I saw coming out from the kitchen.  We posted up alongside a small beer rest ledge on some bar stools, with a clean view of the wood-burning pizza oven in the kitchen.  These guys were pumping out pizza after pizza and each look awesome.  As Patty got settled, I headed up to the bar and ordered our two beers. 

Daydream Believer:  6.9% ABV and a nice clean stout.  I was impressed that a small brewery like this had this good of a stout.
Fiddlestix IPA: 5.5% ABV and a pretty decent American IPA.  I think this is their flagship beer, but I've had better IPAs. 

Not much else went on at Harmony and we decided to roll to the next place, because although nice and quaint and cool because it was smaller, there isn't much room that I noticed just for beer drinkers if you're not eating.  The bar is right by the front door and those people waiting to be seated were taking up all of the stools.  We headed out to get even closer to downtown Grand Rapids.

Decent beer, but don't go here if you're looking to just grab a couple drinks.  This is definitely more of a restaurant.  However, very cool layout throughout.  I give it a 3 out of 5.

The Mitten Brewing Company

We drove another 10 minutes or so, not before stopping and getting a Red Bull at a gas station to keep us going through the night and headed over to The Mitten Brewing Company.  Now this was my kind of place.  It was in what appeared to be a historically preserved fire station.  Exposed brick and duct work throughout.  It had a baseball, specifically Detroit Tigers theme and although I'm a big Cleveland Indians fan, this was still cool in my book.  They had old Tigers Stadium in the lobby area to sit in while you're waiting for a table (or waiting for your husband to pull the car around because its brutally cold outside).  Old school baseball pictures and signs were throughout as well.  The main area was one big space - think fire station garage obviously.  I headed up the bar and the bartender was a pretty cool dude and looked pretty busy.  The bar was fairly small and was packed, but sweet looking.  I ordered our beers and some dude next to me with a Perrin Brewing (I'll get to this brewery in a bit) sweatshirt what I got.  He was with other dudes with Perrin Brewing sweatshirts who all appeared to be brewers from Perrin and had beard championship worthy mustaches.  I got the following:

Country Strong IPA: American IPA at 7.2%.  Nothing too memorable from this beer.  Just a standard IPA.
Eigthy-Four DIPA:  Imperial/Double IPA at 8.4%.  The name of this beer sticks with the Detroit Tigers theme (1984 was the year of their last World Series championship).  I thought this was a fantastic beer that had a perfect finish and great kick.

I told the Perrin dude what I got and it seemed like he approved.  Nice dude.  I get the feeling the other breweries in the area fully support each other and the great beer throughout Grand Rapids.  I brought our beers over to the corner in the back of the bar at a high top table Patty was waiting at.  We enjoyed, but nursed our beers a bit while watching the Olympics.  Although, we were spacing our beers out since we got there, I still wanted to get to our hotel and check in, so we could walk the rest of the night and really let loose.  We took in the rest of the setting of Mitten, I grabbed a souvenir pint glass (because the logo is sweet here) and took off. 

4 out of 5 for this place.

We checked in at the Courtyard Marriott Downtown Grand Rapids and got situated.  I suggest this hotel if you're staying in the heart of Grand Rapids because its centrally located and walkable from several breweries, great bars and restaurants.  We headed right up the street for a 5 minute walk to our next brewery.

Grand Rapids Brewing Company

When we walked into this place it was wall-to-wall people with terrible cover music blaring from a band in the back room.  I immediately thought this place was a cookie-cutter, riding in on the success of other local breweries coattails, downtown bar.  Its in a sweet looking old building and the bar was pretty huge a cool looking too.  We lucked out and grabbed some bar seats.  We took a look at the menu and grabbed a smoked Polish kielbasa to snack on because we hadn't had a real dinner.  I was ready to start hitting my groove with these beers because I knew I did not have to drive anymore. 

The Fishladder: American IPA at 7.5%.  This beer was gross.  I'm not sure if it was the beer or the bad lines that the beer came through, but it had that dive bar, stale nasty taste.  Awful.
1826 IPA: English IPA at 6.2%.  This was Patty's beer and I only had a few sips, but nothing even worth reviewing.

We finished our beers while trying to not yell to much over the terrible music and had our sausage that was just ok and needed some yellow mustard that I grabbed from behind the bar.  The bartenders were really nice here too and the bar itself was impressive.  It had carved out letters of the name of the brewery which was really ornate and cool. 

We needed to get the hell out of this place because we couldn't take the downtown bar feel.  We walked out and headed to our main destination in Grand Rapids.

Ranked at 1.5 out of 5, mostly because the actual bar was sweet looking and our bar tender was friendly.

Founders Brewing Company

We got into Founders around 11-11:30ish.  The place was packed, which I'm assuming it always is on a Saturday.  They had a band going I had never heard of called Afro Zuma.  This was a complete jam band with hippies dancing full out in front of the stage.  We got in line to grab beers at the end of the bar, which was about 10 people deep.  I asked Patty to hold the spot in line and instead walked down to the middle of the bar to grab a few beers.  I instantly got served, which was to my delight.  We ordered some standard beers that are distributed in Cleveland because I didn't see anything that popped out that was Founders taproom-only. 

All Day IPA: A session IPA with low ABV%  that I knew Patty could handle this late into the night.  This is a great beer for drinking all day as the title explains.
Red's Rye IPA: A rye IPA that is hoppy and bitter that I love.  This is one of my favorite beers to pick up at my local beer spot and I was thrilled to get it on tap from the source.

Afro Zuma is not really the type of music I'm into, but they were rocking out.  It was a twelve piece band, with a horn section, percussion section, a female backup singer and one intense lead singer.  This guy was in love with the music which the crowd fed off of.  The hippies were shoeless and grooving with their eyes closed, getting hypnotized by the jam session.  Pretty amusing and fun.  Patty let me know we had one more place to get to though before last call though.  I finished my beer and Patty had me finish the second half of hers because she was beered out at this point and we took off at around 1am and headed to our next destination.

Founders always gets a 5 out of 5 in my book.

Hop Cat

Hop Cat has one of the best beer selections in the city.  Now, since this was pretty late I had to take it easy on what beer I got.  We were also looking for some late night food which they had.  They have what appeared to be 50 tap handles, including their own beers along with other local selections.  Very sweet layout here.  Old school dark lacquered bar and tables throughout.  The bar was the focal point of this place and was huge.  We ordered some late night tacos and wings and I got a beer, while Patty opted for a Pepsi because she was done for.

Zugspitze: Hefeweizen that was insanely good and a great easing into the end of the night beer.  It was so good I had two.

We enjoyed our late night food and watched some Olympic curling and hockey.  I was about spent for the night and we took it to the last call, so it was time to head back to the hotel.  Its also the reason I have a short explanation of our time there because it was a bit fuzzy at this point.

Hop Cat gets a 4.5 out of 5.

We crashed hard and I woke up a bit dehydrated as you would imagine.  I decided we needed a nice hearty breakfast, so I Googled best breakfast spots in Grand Rapids.  It just so happens a place that was voted best breakfast in Michigan on some 2013 poll was 12 minutes from our hotel.  It was called Anna's Place

Besides from waiting a bit for our food, this place was awesome.  I got the Huevos Rancheros with Carnitas, Patty got the western scramble and we shared the crème brule french toast.  This put us into an early coma, but we still had two more breweries to hit before we headed home and the first one was only 6 minutes up the road.

Hideout Brewing Company

This place was tucked away at the end of a drive that had a bunch of condos.  We walked in and the name fits it perfectly.  It was a Sunday afternoon lunch crowd so pretty low key.  Our bartender was knowledgeable and looked like she was exhausted being the only bartender staffed.  She was taking care of business though.  I walked around the bar a bit, which had an upstairs almost loft type area with a few TVs, dart board and every old school video game system you could think of which was sick.  NES, Atari, Super NES, Playstation 1, N64, Gamecube along with games for each.  Pretty sick to play old school video games while drinking awesome beer.  I didn't get to play though because some doofuses were watching the Michigan basketball game on the TVs.

We ordered a flight here to try and maximize our visit.  They had about 35 of their own beers on tap which was insane.  I'll try to highlight our tasters the best I can.

Smuggler's Hazelnut Stout: Simple, easy drinking stout at 5.6% ABV. The bartender told us this was one of their most popular.  I thought it was pretty good.
Grapefruit Rye Pale Ale:  Pale ale at 6.5%.  This was what the name says, very grapefruity with a rye taste.
Sour Pale Ale: 6.5% ABV.  One word: gross.
Cinnamon Porter: 7% ABV.  This was pretty decent and I love cinnamon, so this probably was my favorite of the flight.
Belgian Quad: 13.2% ABV.  This Belgian was super strong but delightful, probably my second favorite of the flight.

We enjoyed our beers, which I made Patty drink most of because I had to drive 4.5 hours home later on.  I asked to buy a small taster glass with the Hideout logo when we were leaving and the bartender was nice enough to say, don't worry about go ahead a just grab one.  Nice gal.

3.5 out of 5 from me.

We headed over to the final brewery on the trip about 15 minutes away.

Perrin Brewing Company

This place was legit.  It was a huge complex with emphasis on design.  I read this article on the owner, Randy Perrin and how he plays close attention to aesthetics to something as small as using old school cans and have simple names for the beers.  The brewery itself had a beautiful layout and was big and wide open.  It reminded me of an Oktoberfest type setting.  As we walked in Patty grabbed a weight on the shuffleboard and started tossing down to the end of the board.  She didn't realize these other folks were still playing and were just observing her every move.  She giggled and apologized after she realized they were watching.  I was happy I caught her in the act too.  I walked around a bit and they have a great place here.  An upstairs for small parties decked out with two dining tables and chandeliers, a chowing area that reminded me of a food truck setup, that had a window to order food and picnic tables to eat at and full windows to view into the actual brewery where the kettles were.  I was truly impressed.  Our bartender with a nice full beard (This is not very descriptive because they all had nice full beards) took our order - one water for Patty and the following:

Rye of the Liger: A rye beer with a bitter aftertaste.  Very tasty.  Nothing really that set it apart from the several other beers I had all weekend though.

I sipped on my beer and Patty sipped on her water as we watched more Olympic hockey.  I finished it up and was ready to make the long drive home.  I took in the scenery too and gave it a ranking of 4 out of 5. The bartenders were all really nice here too, thanking us for choosing their brewery to visit all the way from Cleveland.  They had nothing to thank us for, because I should have thanked them for putting together this impressive brewery in an impressive city:

Grand Rapids, Michigan - What the locals call Beer City, U.S.A.


Grand Rapids Brewery Info

Beer Advocate: I researched my brewery locations basically all on Beer Advocate:

My Rankings:
  1. Founders Brewing Company - 5/5
  2. Hop Cat - 4.5/5
  3. Perrin Brewing Company - 4/5
  4. Mitten Brewing Company - 4/5
  5. Hideout Brewing Company - 3.5/5
  6. Rockford Brewing Company - 3.5/5
  7. Harmony Brewing Company - 3/5
  8. Grand Rapids Brewing Company - 1.5/5
Mapped out: I would visit the breweries on the out-skirts of town first like I did and then pick a downtown centrally located hotel to walk to the ones in downtown so you don't need to drive all over the place after sampling all the great beer.

Thanks Grand Rapids!


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