Brewery of the Month: HopCat
HopCat is known for many things. It may be the relaxed outdoor patio, expansive bottle list, top-notch beer dinners, the 49 taps or the bar's recognition as the third best beer bar in the world by BeerAdvocate. One aspect that's somewhat overlooked however, is its beers.
Head brewers Jeff Williams and Jake Brenner man the brewhouse to supply the bar's demands. The two men maintain anywhere from two to eight taps.
Williams has been brewing at HopCat for three and a half years, since it announced it would host its own brews. Brenner, previously a bartender, joined the team two years later. His bartending and homebrewing experience made Brenner the perfect replacement for Brett Emanuel, who left to work at North Peak Brewing Company upstate.
The beer bar features two of its brews as mainstays. Hoppopotomus IPA is a complex American IPA that features four kinds of hops, while Sage Against the Machine is a spiced American Pale Ale with a solid balance, bright hops and a kiss of sage.
"Our brews are the freshest beer you can get at HopCat," Williams said. "If you get a pint of Hoppo, it's less than three weeks old."
Oftentimes the brewers also experiment by brewing small batches of new beers - some of which end up staying on tap for an extended period of time. These include Veiner Lager (Vienna Lager), Breadwinner (English mild) and Black Mamba (Schwartzbeir). A summertime favorite is Zugspitze Weizen, a summer Wheat that makes its way into the taproom during the hotter months.
"We have a lot of freedom," Brenner said. "We're allowed to brew whatever we want, so we do."
The brewery has been recognized for its brews in the West Michigan community, and the 2011 Winter Beer Fest proved it.
"Every festival, there are more people coming," Brenner said. "Special tappings draw a crowd, and we got a bit of hype that way."
People waited in long lines to sample HopCat's fare (including Oil Rigger, an Imperial Stout), and before the day was half over, the public had consumed everything the crew brought to the festival.
"I was excited to see every beer crossed off, one at a time," Williams said.
The next time you find yourself in downtown Grand Rapids, stop over to HopCat and explore its 49 taps of microbrew, and be sure to try a HopCat signature.
"It's a great experience to be brewing here with all the beers on tap," Brenner said. "We see how high the bar is set and we aim to surpass it."
Photos: Alex Atkin
Beer of the Month: Arcadia Ales Cereal Killer
It's getting cold out and this time of the year is reserved for big, strong beers meant to keep you warm. The weather calls for Porters, Stouts, Old Ales and Strong Ales. These are all beers with big ABVs, but the king of them all is Barleywine.
Cereal Killer - Arcadia Brewing Company's Barleywine - clocks in at 9.1% ABV. It's a significant, but rather modest percentage in the Barleywine world (they can rage up to 18% ABV) with a very pronounced malt profile. What would be a strong hops flavor is overpowered by the malt, blending together for a very intense flavor experience. The beer pours dark amber, with notes of raisin and citrus, all slightly roasted.
This is Arcadia's biggest brew, so grab a bottle while it's on the shelves this month. Sit down after a cold day and warm yourself up, Michigan style.
Nov. 6 — All Stouts Day at Bell's Eccentric Café in Kalamazoo. Every beer on tap will be a stout for the whole day. Also, the winner of the Bell's Homebrew Competition will be announced.
Nov. 12 — Breakfast Stout Breakfast at Founders Brewing Co. This ticketed event is a celebration of Breakfast Stout with a catered breakfast and live music. Pajamas are recommended.
Nov. 17-19 — Grand Rapids International Food, Beer & Wine Festival. This fourth-annual festival is held at DeVos Place and features samplings from Michigan wineries and breweries complete with food pairings. Purchase tickets at devosplace.org.