Beers & Bands with John Sinkevics
Written by Eric Mitts. Photo: John Sinkevics with local brews.


Grand Rapids is known for one thing: Beer. Well, now it’s known for beer. Before, it was known for furniture, then for a president, then for hockey, a brief stint for Betsy DeVos, and now, finally, we’re back to beer. 

Although, one could argue that the town that made Founders famous might be better described as the birthplace of another fine tradition, one more nascent and evolving: The land of exceptional local music.

“We’re on the cusp of some really great things musically here, we’re like a small Austin ready to go,” said John Sinkevics, Local Spins publisher and host of Local Spins on WYCE. “We have really good talent here and people like being here. I think there’s great potential.”

If anyone has credibility on both the subjects of beer and live music in West Michigan, it’s John Sinkevics. After reporting with the Grand Rapids Press on local breweries and restaurant reviews through his “Dining Out With Kids” series for over 15 years, Sinkevics made the jump to Local Spins in 2012 to write for music full-time. Since then, the website’s earned repute for its energetic coverage of regional artists and their variety of local performances, both big and small.

“Nobody else was really covering the music scene that intensely or locally,” Sinkevics said. “It was really hard to get your music out there. So, it’s really important to have that outlet, and I’m happy with how Local Spins has been going.”

With a celebrated drinks scene and a blossoming arts community, it feels like time to take stock of what the two together have to offer, so Sinkevics and I sat down to taste it ourselves.

BOOB SWEAT

We began with a yearly offering from TwoGuys Brewing in Wyoming, MI: a pineapple orange blonde ale called Boob Sweat. Made in partnership with the Grand Rapids punk band of the same name, this drink’s low barrier of entry with regard to alcohol content (only about 5.5%) reflects Boob Sweat’s approachable, DIY sound. And if a citrus flavor can be considered “punk,” then there’s certainly a connection here. Easy on the ears without ever sacrificing energy or attitude, Sinkevics recognizes how tight the band’s sound is, as well, especially on their latest EP: Sorry! We’re Open.

“There’s a mix of some other stuff in there, as well, but it’s definitely got that punk feel to it, that sort of full throttle, muscular thing,” Sinkevics said. “I love the female vocals, because I think that adds a different spin to what some punk bands are.”

Sinkevics, who admitted he doesn’t always gravitate toward sour beers or citrus, noted how his taste buds quickly got used to the flavor of Boob Sweat as he began to enjoy it more. Rather than sacrifice taste for a higher alcohol content that might muddy the flavor, Boob Sweat keeps things simple by presenting an alluring aroma and following through with a refreshing, bright aftertaste.

“I could see this being shared around a campfire or a garage rock block party,” Sinkevics said.

RIP VANRIPPER

Next up is an offering from Speciation Cellars, Will-O-The-Wisp, named for the fifth track on 2023’s Passage from GR doom and death metal trio Rip VanRipper. The band’s partnered beverage with Speciation came out with a loud first impression; first, with its electric color and, second, with its powerful aromatic: blood orange and a jam-packed amount of clove.

“Farmhouse ales tend to have more of that sour-y feel to it, but this feels more like a cider than a beer to me,” Sinkevics said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a beer like this. It’s incredibly unique.”

Sitting neatly at 8.0% ABV, the Will-O-The-Wisp aims to shock and ground you, much like the noisy sonic layering of the best examples in metal music. What may sound like a jumbled mess of chords and notes to an unenthusiastic listener is actually a well-crafted, immaculately played tsunami of beautifully discordant melodies and improvised breaks.

“I don’t listen to a lot of heavy metal, necessarily, but I’ve been to my share of metal shows,” Sinkevics said. “What I think people overlook with metal music is the instrumental virtuosity that’s required to play some of this stuff.”

Rip VanRipper’s Passage is no exception to this, celebrating each member’s musicality with an underlayer of steady guitar that keeps the beat loud and even. While discussing heavy metal, Sinkevics recalled an experience he had watching Billy Strings, a Lansing-born guitarist, perform at The Pyramid Scheme this past March. While he’s mostly known for bluegrass, Sinkevics was impressed with the musician’s knack for hardcore when playing alongside Lansing’s Flesh and Blood Robot.

“Of course, he’s a virtuoso guitarist, but he’s playing metal in this case,” Sinkevics said. “It was really interesting to see him revel in playing this stuff he grew up with. It’s louder, more in your face. But, bottom line is, there’s lots of interesting stuff going on in the background.”

Whether someone’s listened to metal or not, most people seem to have some sort of opinion regarding the genre. Community-driven, DIY groups such as Rip VanRipper, then, continue to battle preconceptions that all metal music and metal-loving fans are harassing or violent. On the contrary, Sinkevics explained, who stated that he’s met some of the nicest, most supportive music-lovers at heavy metal and hardcore shows. Once audiences get past the volume and dive deeper into the encompassing nature of the sound, then new metal fans are born.

“Same thing with this beer, I’m liking it more now that I’ve had it a bit more,” Sinkevics said. “I still think they should do more blood orange and less clove.”

EARTH RADIO

Mitch Ermatinger, owner of Speciation Cellars, has overseen plenty of band collaborations in the past: Coffin Problem, Zao and Battlecross to name a few. Each beverage is intended as one-off experiences, either premiering for a particular show or larger event that features the partnered band. With their latest drink, Solar Reckoning, the connection to local future-soul and alternative rock group Earth Radio is a bit more figurative.

Solar Reckoning, a field beer blended with dandelion, lavender, bee balm, echinacea and honey, premiered as a part of a larger summer solstice celebration alongside the Blandford Nature Center, with Earth Radio headlining. Sinkevics recalled how he first met the band’s lead vocalist, Hannah Laine, who had approached him several years ago to learn more about how to break into the local scene.

She’d eventually do just that, embracing motifs from funk and rock to solidify Earth Radio as a wholly unique and impenetrable psychedelic sound that feels both old and new—timeless.

A slow jazz track played, paired with a tallboy can of lavender flavored field beer, neither of which Sinkevics was in any rush to finish. Earth Radio’s improvisation complimented the mingling flavors of Speciation Cellars’ new solstice beer, lazily alternating between flavors one after another. Then, Laine’s voice blended in, moving graciously through its otherworldly range. Everything about it seemed to fit just right.

“There are characteristics of each one of these beers that do seem to match what the bands are trying to do,” Sinkevics said. “That’s interesting.”

The taps dried up, my playlist ended, and soon the night was over. It’s clear to us that our arts and drinking communities are in very good hands. As long as breweries keep crafting batches of unique ales and local bands keep giving it their all, traveling out to your favorite venue for a pint and some live music continues to be one of the best ways to spend a night in Grand Rapids.

“Getting to see some really talented people in a small venue, it’s great,” Sinkevics said. “There’s really nothing better than that. It’s a lot of fun, and you’re doing the right thing. You’re supporting the arts.”