Founders Imperial Stout
Cue Vader's Imperial March and storm to downtown Grand Rapids for the inevitable return of Founders Imperial Stout. This 10.5% ABV silky smooth stout is brewed in 10 varieties of malted barley and remains complex and rich. Available only from January until the end of February while it lasts, grab a cellar-temperature pint of this brew and curl up with your favorite snack bowl for a winter treat.
235 Grandville Ave. SW, Grand Rapids; foundersbrewing.com, (616) 776-1195
Café Toledo at Clara's on the River
Sport your tweeds, grab your New Yorker, drape your scarf accordingly and head over to Clara's on the River to sit in comfort while pretending you're an intellectual instead of some bum getting tanked on coffee drinks. Warm, sweet, caffeinated alcohol in moderation inside this former train station on a snowy afternoon might make the perfect coffee date or inner-winter alcoholic's delusions blossom. The classic Café Toledo is comprised of Bailey's Irish Cream and Kahlua Coffee Liqueur, chocolate, coffee, and whipped cream. After indulging in this simple, classy beverage, try the other nine variations.
44 McCamly St. N., Battle Creek; claras.com, (269) 963-0966
Nothing is worse than attempting to scrape the last scoop of coffee from an empty can on a wintry day with iced over roads. Instead, subscribe to The Regular Coffee Co. for a one-month supply tube of good ol' Regular Coffee. An offshoot of Rowster New American Coffee, The Regular Coffee Co. has dumped all frills for one-and-a-half-pound tube of whole bean coffee for $20, which covers taxes, shipping, and handling. And, no, they don't offer decaf.
632 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids; regularcoffee.com, (616) 682-7122
Sleeping Bear Hot Chocolate at Water Street Coffee Joint
(Pictured, top) The scenic block point where Water Street Coffee Joint perches in downtown Kalamazoo offers up one of the best spots to sit and sip a mug of hot chocolate. Ground dark chocolate is melted into milk with cinnamon and topped with whipped cream. You'll quickly discover any cavities. 315 E. Water St., Kalamazoo; waterstreetcoffeejoint.com, (269) 373-2840
Tea at Global Infusion
This colorful and eclectic Fair Trade marketplace offers handcrafted jewelry, décor, clothing and some of the best loose-leaf tea you can find in West Michigan. With more than 100 teas to choose from, you may saddle up and stay at the coffee and tea bar, sipping and steeping.143 Diamond Ave. SE, Grand Rapids; globalinfusion.net, (616) 776-9720
As welcome as a white Christmas and as fresh as the promise of spring, the Candyland from the master mixologists at the J W Marriott puts a great spin on the chocolate-mint theme. Godiva white chocolate liqueur is blended with light creme de cacao and peppermint schnapps, but the really out-there additions are the basil syrup and strawberry puree. This is one odd-sounding concoction, which is sure to become a new favorite. 235 Louis Campau St. NW, Grand Rapids; ilovethejw.com, (616) 242-1500
Always ready with a clever and tasty drink, San Chez Bistro delivers with customer favorite, the Outer Banks. Like an amped-up steamer, the Outer Banks consists of freshly steamed milk flavored with Grand Marnier, Baileys, Buttershots and chocolate for a sweetly comforting nog. Delicious as is, the Outer Banks is not hurt by a shot of espresso on those long winter nights. 38 W. Fulton, Grand Rapids; sanchezbistro.com, (616) 774-8272
Perhaps the go-to spot for classic romance on the 14th, the fondue restaurant called the Melting Pot specializes in serious chocolate. For imbibed, rather than eaten chocolate, search the tempting drinks menu for the white chocolate cappuccino. Espresso and steamed and frothed milk enveloped in white chocolate and Godiva White Chocolate liqueur are as perfect a pair as one could ask for. 2090 Celebration Dr., Suite 130, Grand Rapids; meltingpot.com, (616) 365-0055
Uncommon Grounds Cafe
For the teetotaler and the minor, there is plenty of fabulous chocolate, maybe none more so than the French Guiana latte at Uncommon Grounds. These Saugatuck coffee roasters know their beans and mix them into drinks to their best advantage. The French Guiana is a sweet and spicy mélange of ground chocolate, cinnamon, vanilla and cayenne pepper with the standard milk and espresso.
127 Hoffman St., Saugatuck; uncommongroundscafe.com, (269) 857-3333
Happy hour has been an American tradition for decades. For first-shifters it is a welcome buffer time between the job and home, but for those who work unconventional hours it can seem like just another perk for the daylight crowd denied to those who labor at night. Enter Logan's Alley, perfectly situated on Michigan Avenue in Grand Rapids, just a catheter's-throw away from the medical mile and all those who staff it 24/7. This bar's happy hour starts at 7 a.m., and whether you've just gotten up or never gone to bed, it is a judgment-free haven for morning drinkers.
Jesi Sly, sometime-bartender on the a.m. shift, says the time is "like a normal happy hour at 5 p.m., except it's at 7 a.m.. It's not as rowdy usually (as a typical happy hour,) but it can get that way." She thinks a beat and corrects herself, "OK, Fridays can get crazy." Sly seems to greet every patron by name, bustling as the bar is on a Saturday morning, "Oh my goodness, the whole bar is regulars!" Still we uninitiated are not made to feel out of place. Happy hour specials are simple and effective; everything is a dollar off. The Bloody Marys are prepared with care and served with a sidecar of lager. Drafts are varied and well-poured. Popcorn is free, though food served to neighboring bar seats puts it to shame. Everything about Logan's Alley encourages the relaxation and ease that a good happy hour should engender, and it does it before many of us have even had our morning coffee.
Logan's Alley happy hour runs 7-11 a.m. Monday-Saturday. 916 Michigan St. NW, Grand Rapids; logansalley.com, (616) 458-1612
Wine School: South France & the Loire Valley Blends
Reds on the River, Rockford
Feb. 7, 7 p.m. / $30 / reds-live.com, (616) 863-8181
Wine school classes are a fun and interactive way to learn about wine. Join Reds on the River's knowledgeable staff to try the wines of Southern France and the Loire Valley, complete with paired appetizers. $30 per person, call for reservations.
Dinner in the Dark
San Chez: A Tapas Bistro, Grand Rapids
Feb.14, 7 p.m. / (616) 774-8272
For an unforgettable Valentine's Day, put your trust in San Chez Bistro as the lights are turned off and your senses are turned on. Dinner in the Dark is just what it sounds like, but so much more: an exciting and new way to taste exquisite pairings of food and drink. The event is $65 per person and inclusive. Make sure to call for reservations.
San Chez Bistro
The Café de San Chez starts with flaming high-proof rum to caramelize a sugared rim. A holy trinity of Spanish brandy, Kahlua and Crème de Cacao follow and are topped with rich coffee and whipped cream.
38 W Fulton St., Grand Rapids; sanchezbistro.com, (616) 774-8272
Sweetly bridging the gap between the holiday season and the March observance of St. Patty's Day is CitySen's Nutty Leprechaun, a concoction of Bailey's Irish Cream, hazelnut liqueur, Goldschlager and coffee. As the gold settles in the glass, the spicy alcohol penetrates the brain to delicious effect.
61 East 7th St., Holland; cityflatshotel.com, (616) 796-2112
If an icy boost is more appealing, try stopping by twin restaurants Rockwell's or Republic for a smooth and sweet Double Espresso martini. Van Gogh double espresso vodka is fortified with an electrifying dose of caffeine and the martini is balanced with Stoli Vanil, espresso liqueur and a rich splash of cream. Espresso beans finish off this decadent drink.
45 S. Division Ave. SE, Grand Rapids; rockwellsrepublic.com, (616) 551-3563
For the impatient man-child in all of us, there is the one, the eternal Jagerbomb. Though available almost anywhere, we suggest the one at the Meanwhile Bar. Five dollars and a quick sling of the wrist is all it takes to start the invigorating elixir on its way to the bloodstream - just where we want it.
1005 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids; meanwhilebar.com, (616) 233-1679
Pictured: Bartender Mike Lopez heats things up while making the signature ‘Cafe de San Chez.’ PHOTO: Lydia Clowney
Happy Hour of the Month: Tavern on the Square
The first thing you notice when entering Tavern on the Square is the sunlit bar. Huge windows face west and north, and the sun shines in to glance off the array of liquor bottles. But what sets this happy hour apart from all the others? Server and de facto bartender Matt Rzepka says it's because, "we have a great variety." True, Tavern's specials are much more wide ranging than the norm. Here, one can choose from house wines at $3 a glass and half-off the huge number of draught beers. Specialty martinis normally run at $7.95, but are half-off during happy hour. A handful of delightfully small plates are also $3, a boon not to be missed when the options include soft pretzels with two mustards and intriguingly cinnamon-spiced, house-made sweet potato chips with honey-yogurt dipping sauce. Or try the boneless Buffalo wings, which go with a frosty pint of Hoegaarden White Ale about as well as anything could. At less than $7 for the both, one can even afford to disagree.
With an almost conspiratorially helpful and friendly staff, spending time at Tavern can feel like you've been instantly welcomed into a secret club, especially given the camaraderie between customers at the bustling bar.
"[The crowd] varies from day to day because [happy hour] runs seven days a week," Rzepka said.
Happy hour at Tavern on the Square runs Monday through Saturday, 2-6 p.m.; 100 Ionia Ave. SW, Grand Rapids; tavernonthesq.com, (616) 456-7673
Wine School: Meritage Grapes, Separate and Together
Reds on the River, Rockford / Jan. 10, 7 p.m.
$30 / (616) 863-8181
Class includes interactive presentations and appropriately paired appetizer. Reservations required.
Bloody Mary Mix Off
Old Boys' Brewhouse, Spring Lake / Jan. 21, 12-5 p.m.
Five tickets to vote, $2 each or five for $5
Proceeds go to the Spring Lake Heritage Festival
Old Boys' is going bigger and better with its Bloody Mary Mix-Off. Not only will there be a heated tent and more room, but prizes will be awarded for the favorite Bloody Mary, Best Decorated Booth, Best Pajamas and Slippers. There's also a 50/50 raffle, a live auction, live music and $2 drinks.
Sampling Saturdays with Sense of Wine
Sense of Wine, Kentwood / Jan. 7, 2-5 p.m.
senseofwinegr.com, (616) 965-7308
Kentwood's Sense of Wine opens its doors to tasters every Saturday from 2-5 p.m. Different wines will be tasted every week.
Some of the greatest drinking experiences are had not in the crowded bar or nightclub, in a tasting room or even indoors at all. As the weather crisps and thoughts turn to holidays, it can be good to get away from it all. Now is the time to pack a thermos and mittens and take a chilly walk in this gorgeous state we call home. Of course, the season brings viruses with it, and one is oft stuck miserably in front of the television, nursing a flu. Fortunately, these hot drinks are good for toting along in the wilderness or just on the short stroll to the couch — in either case they make great autumnal toasts.
The hot toddy was made for just such a season. This warming concoction was once taken to soothe, but it is just as good when hale and healthy. The toddy can best be described as a sort of whiskey tea, as it is prepared by pouring boiling water into a mug over a measure of whisky. The hot water releases the aromas of the liquor in a wonderfully cozy way. Typically doctored to great effect with lemon and honey, its curative powers may have been overstated. It is soothing nonetheless and an enlivening tote-along. Avoid your high-end whiskies for this, as the lemon and sugar can overwhelm subtleties. David Russo, libations expert at G.B. Russo and Sons likes, "Paddy's Irish for a hot toddy. It is very smooth, and a good value."
Another great cold remedy for the winter months hails from Japan. Though somewhat unusual, the hot sake, honey and egg yolk that make a tamagozake are a harmonious combination. Said to bring restful sleep and boost the immune system, the drink capitalizes on the round, smooth flavor of sake combined with the richness of egg yolk for an umami explosion. Worries about ingesting raw egg may be assuaged by gentle coddling. For further assurances of safety and deliciousness, use a locally produced, Animal Welfare Approved egg from Crane Dance Farm in Middleville, Mich., which are available at the Fulton St. Farmers Market on Friday and Saturday mornings and the Ada Farmers market on Tuesdays.
Libation of the month: The Bitter End's Mayan Mocha
A great coffee shop feels like a privilege. There are not a lot of places where a dollar or two will buy you a seemingly unlimited rental of a comfortable table in a cozy room with WiFi and restrooms included. The Bitter End (752 W. Fulton St., Grand Rapids) takes the privilege one step further, being open 24 hours. Thus it is always available as a haven for cramming students, second shifters and insomniacs alike. The dark-wood room is inviting with high, pressed-tin ceilings and walls covered with photos and posters. The atmosphere is welcoming too. Whether meeting a friend to catch up or just catching up on homework, one won't feel out of place.
Of course, there is more to the Bitter End than plain old drip. For the more adventurous and sweet-loving among us, Barista Stephanie Campbell suggests the Mayan Mocha. This is no ordinary mocha, but "a very warm, Latin American- inspired" drink with brown sugar-cinnamon syrup and creme de cacao. Unlike other chocolate-flavored syrups, "the creme de cacao is made from cocoa beans, so it is more of a dark, bitter chocolate. Paired with the cinnamon it is very delicious."
The rich chocolate and espresso pair wonderfully with the spice of the cinnamon, and brown sugar lends a fruitiness that white sugar never could. The Mayan Mocha is the perfect antidote for an uncaffinated soul.
Mayan Mocha is available at the Bitter End starting at $4.
Free Wine Tasting
Clay Avenue Cellars, Muskegon
Nov. 12, noon to 6 p.m
Clay Avenue wines are made to keep the flavor of the fruit. The fruit comes from local growers, the wine is never stripped and artificial colors and flavors are not added. The wines are described as smooth and flavorful — because of the generous amounts of fruit used in each batch. Come out
and sample some great wines.