My two partners in crime (and hops) and I recently planned a brief but exceptionally action-packed trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan. The city has been referring to itself as Beer City USA for 10 years now, and after having spent some time there, I feel it’s fair to say that the title has been earned. There are 40 breweries in Grand Rapids, which has less than 200,000 residents – roughly 20 breweries for every 100,000 residents. To put that in perspective, move.org listed the top large cities for breweries, and Portland OR led the way with 13 breweries per 100,000 residents. Not close. So, this was an easy call as the venue for the Grand Beercation.
I’ll give away the end of the story up front: over the course of two days, we visited 18 breweries and sampled over 240 different beers. More on how we came up with this plan, itinerary, and dizzying lineup of beer in a future post. This post is just about our trip to Beer City, USA … aka Grand Rapids, MI.
Before visiting Grand Rapids (I’m just going to call it GRMI for the rest of the post … to make life easy), it’s essential to download the Beer City Brewsader app. The app has handy information about each spot and is pretty useful to help you plan which breweries to hit next, based on your location. There is a GPS-based check-in ability at each brewery with a unique code. Once you’ve checked in at eight different locations, you score a free t-shirt. (No, we didn’t get a second shirt once we hit the 16th brewery.) Hit all 40 breweries and you become the Ultimate Brewsader. Life goals …
Too many to write about each of them, but I’ll hit a few of the highlights here.
We actually didn’t have this one on our short list initially, and it would have been a huge fail if we missed it. This may have been my favorite stop on the trail. Archival Brewing sits in Plainfield Township just north of GRMI on an old golf course site. The concept here is the use of naturally occurring local ingredients while focusing extra attention on lesser-known styles of beer. Sure, they still brew an IPA, a Mexican lager, etc. But the thing that really stuck out to me was the vast array of distinct and oftentimes overlooked styles of beer. It’s harder and harder to find a California Common, a Kottbusser, an Altbier, or a Sahti. We really enjoyed the visit, and the staff there was more than happy to discuss these forgotten styles of beer with us, too. Archival is an absolute gem … and provides an amazing view of the surrounding area. And to think we almost missed it!
Yeah – I know. You know New Holland and you’ve had several of their beers. But when in Rome …
We just had to include this beer-Mecca of sorts. I love Dragon’s Milk. And I have really enjoyed sampling the varietals that have come out in the past several years. So, obviously we had to go to the source. We were not disappointed. The beer … just, yeah. From kölsch to IPA and sour to stout, New Holland probably makes it, and they probably make it well. The drumroll moment of the night (at least for me) was the last beer we had. 2022 saw the emergence of Dragon’s Milk Reserve: Maple Cinnamon. I didn’t think that anything would ever top the Cherry Chocolate version from a few years back, but this one is tremendous.
This place wins out for the exceptionally cool vibe. (Yes, the beer was good, too – but just wait ..)
The building was initially a livery for 16 white horses; and then part of a funeral home; and then a chapel was built there to support the funeral business. And now it’s a place that aims to create and serve ‘the good life’ – and that’s where Brewery Vivant get its name. This is an absolutely gorgeous and unique spot for a beer. The food is amazing, the beer harkens back to traditional European styles (specifically Belgian and French styles), and the vibe was super lively. Vivant is the right word – there was an energy in the room that was equal parts palpable and intoxicating (pun intended.)
My favorite part of this stop was the beer that became one of the highlights of the entire trip. I needed a last beer to finish off the flight. You’ve been there before: you need to fill one last slot on the flight card and nothing really jumps out at you, so you just scribble something down as a bit of a throwaway choice. I eventually rated my ‘throwaway choice’ as a 4.8 on Untappd. This beer comes from the Unapologetic Fruit series – and I love that name. “Yeah – there’s a crap-ton of fruit in this one. Don’t drink it if you don’t want to!” Fruited Farmhouse + Sour = Sangria. And yes – it’s tastes like a sangria that includes every fruit ever. It seemed like each subsequent sip brought out a different fruit flavor: oranges, pears, grapes, blackberries. Kinda wish I had one in hand right now.
Beer-Mecca, part 2. We ended day one at Founders – another bucket list-esque brewery for the gang to hit. 1) We were not disappointed, and 2) we came away a bit surprised. The beer was every bit as good as we thought it would be. To be able to have CBS, Nitro Breakfast Stout, Barrel-Aged Nemesis, and so much more was an absolute treat. I also really liked 86 Bananas (Belgian Blonde) and Green Zebra, a fruited gose that is NOT usually something I’d go for. That’s the beauty of a trip like this with great friends – we had an amazing opportunity to sample so many different styles and flavors that we might otherwise skip.
The surprise of the night came in when looking at the food menu. Yes, boys and girls. it’s important to put some food in the belly when going all day! The food was delicious! I’m sure the pizza, salads, and soups are all fine. But the sandwiches. Oh my goodness – the sandwiches were outstanding. Get The Dissenter and then thank me later!
Bottom line here … get to GRMI … Beer City USA … Grand Rapids. Whatever you want to call it – call it the spot for your next beercation. You’ll have a GRAND time!!