Congratulations West Michigan: You’ve added fuel to the hype train.
The Best of the West results for the best beer, hooch and other drinking-related categories come as no surprise, but this is a popularity contest, after all.
That said, no one will dispute the bona fides of the winners in either of the top beer categories: Bell’s Two Hearted Ale for best IPA and KBS from Founders for best stout. Both beers rank among the standard-bearers for their individual styles in the nationwide craft beer scene.
Likewise, there’s no question best brewery award winner Founders has left a mark in the hearts and minds of West Michigan with its compelling backstory (How many times have you heard that they almost went bankrupt?) and for its consistency in turning out good products.
But let’s dive into these results a bit more. Bell’s and Founders are the top two breweries by volume in the state of Michigan, and they’re also among the so-called old guard of Michigan’s craft breweries. There’s some history there in how both breweries’ beers helped shape the palates of a generation of Michigan craft beer drinkers, and they’ve each pioneered American craft beer styles.
The same could be said about Vander Mill’s ciders, which have become the go-to cider in bars and restaurants across the region. The company further solidified its reputation with the recent opening of a new production facility and farm-to-plate restaurant in Grand Rapids that makes some of the best-tasting dishes around — all of which pair well with Vander Mill’s draft specialty ciders.
The award for best new brewery goes to a well-deserving candidate in Greyline Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids. With industry veterans at the helm, the company launched without the quality or inventory issues that plague many new breweries. Greyline’s portfolio of beers tend to be on the hoppy end of the spectrum (Mosacca IPA and DryPA being two favorites), but they’re also making some solid stouts (the Shakey Knees coffee stout, in particular). This will certainly be a brewery to watch as it continues to develop and innovate.
On the hooch side, Long Road Distillers has certainly eked out a name for itself in just over a year in business, stacking up international honors for its gin, vodka and aquavit, a traditional European herbal spirit. Well, the much-lauded Long Road can add Best of the West honors to its ever-expanding trophy case, as it took home “Best Distillery” honors. While its spirits are the stars, the company is focused on the craft and art of cocktails at its West Side Grand Rapids location. (Pro tip: Start with a flight of Long Road’s spirits — served neat — to be able to key in on the nuance of each product when you try it in a cocktail.)
Whether or not you agree with the final tallies in each of these awards, it’s clear the readers of Revue have spoken. Here are the results in alcohol-related categories of the inaugural Best of the West Awards, as well as a few editor’s picks.
Bell’s Brewery – Two Hearted Ale
Founders Brewing Co. – All Day IPA
Perrin Brewing Co. – Grapefruit IPA
Citra Warrior by Railtown Brewing Co., Dutton
The hophead-favorite Citra hops take center stage here, but remain nicely balanced by the malts and the addition of honey. The expanding Railtown, which is adding on to its taproom and brewing facility, really hit a homerun with this mainstay beer.
Founders Brewing Co. – KBS
Founders Brewing Co. – Breakfast Stout
New Holland Brewing Co. – Dragon’s Milk
Plead the Fifth by Dark Horse Brewing Co., Marshall
This Russian imperial stout is good fresh, but its roasty and chocolatey complexity tends to shine especially after a year or two in the cellar. Plead pours the color of motor oil and features a super-thick body. Its 11 percent ABV is also well-masked, but you’ll still want to take it slow with this sipper.
Founders Brewing Co., 235 Grandville Ave. SW, Grand Rapids / (616) 776-2182, foundersbrewing.com
Perrin Brewing Co.
Tibbs Brewing Co., 402 S. Burdick St., Kalamazoo / (877) 762-7397, tibbsbrewing.com
This nanobrewery has a great atmosphere and produces beers that put its much larger rivals on notice. Brewing everything from hoppy IPAs (Citra And Take It) to traditional European styles (Hell-Jen Belgian Tripel), Tibbs is a “must-stop” kind of place in Kalamazoo for its great beers and friendly staff.
BEST NEW BREWERY
Cedar Springs Brewing Co.
Grand Armory Brewing Co., 17 S. 2nd St., Grand Haven / (616) 414-7822, grandarmorybrewing.com
When Revue stopped into Grand Armory on our lakeshore beer tour earlier this year, we appreciated the range and execution of beer styles the nanobrewery was able to pull off. We also immediately fell in love with the company’s atmosphere with its original YMCA basketball court wood floors and reclaimed Brunswick bowling alley lanes turned into tables.
Vander Mill, 505 Ball Ave, Grand Rapids / (616) 259-8828, vandermill.com
The Peoples Cider Co.
Crane’s Cider Mill (tie)
Ridge Cider Co. (tie)
Sietsema Orchards, 8540 2 Mile Rd. NE, Ada / (616) 676-5584, sietsemaorchards.com
There’s just something pleasing about sipping on a hard cider and looking out at the source of that prized liquid — the apple orchard. It’s a downright pastoral scene at Sietsema Orchard and Cider Mill, and the cider is delicious to boot. Our favorites are the Dry-Hopped Cider and the bourbon barrel-aged Orange Label. The company is also becoming more widely available at major retailers. Look them up!
BEST CRAFT BEER SELECTION
HopCat, 25 Ionia Ave. SW, Grand Rapids / (616) 451-4677, hopcat.com/grand-rapids
Hops at 84 East, 84 E. 8th St., Holland / (616) 396-8484, hops84east.com
An oasis in the Holland restaurant scene, beer bar Hops at 84 East has you covered if you’re looking for a wide range of beers from Michigan-based craft breweries, as well as some rare selections from the top brewers nationwide. They also make killer pie if you’re like us and typically want to pair your beers with a pizza (or two).
Long Road Distillers, 537 Leonard St. NW, Grand Rapids / (616) 228-4924, longroaddistillers.com
New Holland Brewing Co.
Gray Skies Distillery
Coppercraft Distillery, 184 120th Ave, Holland / (616) 796-8274, coppercraftdistillery.com
For the last few years, Walter Catton has been racking spirits into oak barrels and aging it to make whiskeys and bourbons. Fans of rye will undoubtedly want to try the Rye Malt Whiskey, made from all local ingredients, just like all of Coppercraft’s products. The distillery is currently expanding its space to add more barrel storage, as well as a full kitchen later this year.
New Holland Brewing Co. – New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon
Long Road Distillers – Vodka
Long Road Distillers – Gin
BEST BLOODY MARY
The Winchester, 648 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids / (616) 451-4969, winchestergr.com
Donkey Taqueria, 665 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids / donkeygr.com
Arktos Meadery, 1251 Century Ave. SW, Ste 200, Grand Rapids / (616) 350-0412, arktosmeadery.com
Bardic Wells, Montague
Cascade Winery, 4665 Broadmoor Ave. SE, Grand Rapids / (616) 656-4665, cascadecellars.com
Lemon Creek Winery
Fenn Valley Vineyards
All Best of the West Categories:
BEST WINE LIST
Reserve Wine & Food, 201 Monroe Ave. NW, Grand Rapids / (616) 855-9463, reservegr.com
BEST BEER OR WINE STORE
Martha’s Vineyard, 200 Union Ave. NE, Grand Rapids / (616) 459-0911, mvwines.com
Riverside Liquors, 5432 Northland Dr. NE, Grand Rapids / (616) 419-4090, facebook.com/riversideliquors
Tucked away in a strip along Northland Drive near the Grand River, Riverside has an ever-expanding selection of craft beer, wine and liquor hand-picked by owner Roger Plowman. The staff is always willing to offer a suggestion and point you in the direction of a must-try new product.
CONVENIENCE OR LIQUOR STORE
Martha’s Vineyard, 200 Union Ave. NE, Grand Rapids / (616) 459-0911, mvwines.com
Smitty’s Specialty Beverage
Rishi’s International Beverage
Cap & Cork, 3924 W. River Dr. NE, Comstock Park / (616) 214-8351, facebook.com/capandcork
One would be hard-pressed to find a nicer guy in the business than proprietor Manu Singh at Cap & Cork. The affable owner is always quick with a beverage suggestion from among the store’s rotating selection, which includes hard-to-find and limited-edition craft beers.
Bell’s Brewery 355 E. Kalamazoo Ave., Kalamazoo
Even as new breweries continue to pop up, and as we continue to be recognized as one of the greatest craft beer meccas on the planet, you simply can’t discuss the best breweries in West Michigan without mentioning Bell’s Brewery. It’s an institution. This Kalamazoo staple continues to be ranked among the best breweries in the country, with favorites like Two Hearted Ale lauded as one of the finest IPAs on the entire planet and the spring release of Oberon being treated like it’s a legitimate holiday. Bell’s also boasts first-rate food offerings and some of the best live music options in The Zoo. —Dwayne Hoover
BEST NEW BREWERY:
Trail Point Brewing, 6035 Lake Michigan Dr., Allendale
With so much good beer readily available within Beer City USA, it can unfortunately be all too easy to overlook some true quality brews in surrounding areas. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Trail Point Brewing in Allendale. Conveniently located off Lake Michigan Drive, Trail Point always has it all. From their cream ales and IPAs to stouts and scotch ales, the brewers here have proven they’re Jacks of all trades (or tastes, rather). The brewery itself does not serve food, but welcomes guests to bring their own dishes in, or to order food from one of the many surrounding restaurants. With their calming rustic décor and biergarten, it’s the perfect place to sip a few brews and wile away a few hours over a game of Catan, or some good conversation. —Josh Spanninga