Monday, 30 August 2021 11:49

Drinking With Our Ancestors

Written by  Josh Veal
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Great beer has a story. And at Archival Brewing, it’s all about the stories.

Owners Callee and Levi Knoll opened doors just two months ago in July, but their story goes back far before that. The duo went to college together at GRCC and have 30 years of combined experience in the restaurant/brewing industry, all leading to this moment and their very own brewery. For Levi especially, owning a restaurant has been his life dream for years.

“I’ve known since I gave up wanting to be a professional baseball player when I was a kid. Since then, I knew I liked cooking. Got my first job in restaurants when I was 15, and instantly fell in love with every dynamic of this world.”

At the intersection of Rockford, Comstock Park and Northview, Archival Brewing sits on West River Drive at the site of a former golf course — their main taproom was once the clubhouse! Within a short drive are LMCU Ballpark, AJ’s Family Fun Center, Cannonsburg Ski Area, Frederik Meijer Gardens and other restaurants/breweries.

With a focus on recreating beers from history, you might think Archival is only for beer nerds like me, but it’s already an incredible gathering space for families and the community at large.

The taproom is clean, sunny and homey, offering a one-size-fits-all experience (or at least, I liked it), but there’s more to come: By the time you’re reading this, the beer garden might just be open for business. An outdoor bar, dozens of seats around tables, fire pits, cornhole, bocci ball courts, a small stage, heaters and more will provide a place to enjoy your drinks in the great outdoors. Not to mention events like acoustic music and yoga likely coming in the future.

Enthusiasm is clear, with the initial Mug Club Membership selling out in 15 minutes, though they’re adding 112 more.

It’s easy for the Knolls to reach the community because they’re already a big part of it. Archival thrives on partnerships with others in the biz, including local malt/hop suppliers, Two Scotts BBQ, Green Wagon Farm, Speciation Cellars, City Built Brewing, TwoGuys Brewing, Jeff Ham Ceramics, and more. Whether it’s labor, equipment or advice, they’re all in it together.

That also means bringing on some experts, like Head Brewer Jake Steele and Head Chef Kristen Nunnelly, both of whom have years of experience working at other beloved restaurants and breweries in West Michigan and were looking for a change. Nunnelly’s menu offers elevated starters, sandwiches, entrees and desserts with seasonal ingredients, but all at brewery prices (meaning, actually affordable). And of course, there’s also a kids menu.

Of course, even with all this, the beer is the true highlight in my mind. Archival’s approach is fascinating, pairing a dive into history with every single drink on the menu — including housemade cider and mead. 

Strict Observance, their Belgian dubbel, is named after the monks that originally created it, explained Callee, who also works as the assistant brewer. “They’re from the order of the Cistercians of the Strict Observance in Belgium.”

“When Belgium regained its freedom,” Levi added, “they were able to move into the monasteries and rebuild those and start brewing beer, and so this recipe follows that guideline. Then Harwood, our English porter, is a 3.8% ABV porter for the working class, you know? You get out of work coming off the docks or whatever, and you all go fill up the pub and get your choice of a mild, bitter, or porter.”

Every one of the drinks has a story, and staff are well educated on it all. When Levi got into homebrewing years ago, the history is what he fell in love with. “I like the story history tells. You know, recreating this English Porter from the 1700s. It’s what our ancestors would have drank at the time. It’s the story of, what was available? What happened at that time? Why did they use the ingredients that they did? Why did they make it lower ABV? 

“It’s just the story and the realization that I can create the same thing my ancestors were drinking.”

Knowing the history of libations means Archival is building on a strong foundation, resulting in entirely excellent beer, cider and mead. When I tried to discover their secrets to making such impressive drinks right out the gate, the Knolls said it’s all about avoiding shortcuts and using authentic ingredients, doing things the hard way.

Despite my praise, the duo behind Archival remains humble.

“We’re low on the totem pole, coming from homebrewing,” they said.

Well, that’s not what I tasted.

 

A TASTE OF ARCHIVAL

Ægir’s Wreath, Sahti: A hopless ocean of malt, coming from rye and juniper. I found it to be smooth, warm, and robust — perfect for the coming season.

Kettleena Sour, Catharina Sour: Delicious, fruity guava flavor with just a touch of tart. Happy Summer!

Harwood, English Porter: Very pleasant, earthy and smoky, like a chimney in London — just kidding, it’s much better than that.

Strict Observance, Belgian Dubbel: All the necessary complexity of a Belgian brew, but not too estery, and with a touch of nice fruitiness.

Millstone Ridge, English Cider: To me, this tastes just like eating an apple. A very good apple!

Wild Intervention, Spontaneous Cider: Funky, with yeast from a pear tree. I’m basking in the wild, sour, dryness of it all. 

13th Month, Elderflower Mead: It tastes like seltzer’s more successful cousin. The smooth, not-too-sweet, elderflower profile here is truly enticing.

Highland Honeys, Scottish Heather Mead: As a lover of tea, I could drink this herbal, floral mead all day long. And maybe I will! Who’s gonna stop me!

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