Brewery of the Month: Grand Rapids Brewing Company
Grand Rapids Brewing Company has finally found a home, back where it started: in downtown Grand Rapids. The original brewery opened in 1893 on the corner of Michigan and Ionia, and found itself defeated by Prohibition in 1920. It wasn't resurrected until 1993, when its doors re-opened on 28th street near Centerpointe Mall in the midst of West Michigan's original microbrewery surge. It lasted eight years, went through three stages of ownership, and eventually closed its doors in late 2011.
"When I heard that GRBC had been sold to [previous owners] the Shelbys, I regretted not having the opportunity to jump on it," said Mark Sellers, who currently owns GRBC. "For years before, I had wanted to move it downtown if I ever had the chance."
After the 28th Street building was repossessed by its landlord (Centerpointe Mall), Sellers purchased the equipment, as well as the assets, seizing his chance to bring GRBC back to downtown Grand Rapids. He decided on 1 Ionia Avenue, previously occupied by MyBar and an art gallery, right down the street from his first Grand Rapids bar, HopCat.
"I'd been working at HopCat since the place opened, and brewed there for the last two and a half years," said Brewer Jake Brenner. "I transitioned over here in August, and we've been working nonstop since."
Also recruited to the brewing staff was Stu Crittenden, former head brewer for the 28th Street GRBC.
"I originally started brewing at Michigan Brewing Company and transferred to GRBC," Crittenden said. "I got in touch with Mark, who told me he was going to purchase the system, and we started the project of getting everything settled in here."
After months of intense internal renovation and establishing the brewery, head brewers Brenner and Crittenden began pumping out the first organic microbrew in the region in preparation for the Dec. 5 grand opening.
"We were going absolutely non-stop, we were kegging 20 minutes before the doors opened," Brenner said. "We knew it was going to be busy, but it was way more than an of us expected."
The response was massive. Beer lovers flooded the brewpub and devoured the entire stockpile of beer prepared for the open, driving the tap presence for GRBC's brews down to one or two beers for the first month.
"We had a line of 200 people at open that went down the street past HopCat," Sellers said. "From the moment we opened, we were at capacity for 14 days. It was amazing."
After quickly expanding their cellar space by 30 percent in the first three weeks due to demand, GRBC has a much stronger presence on the tap list board.
The taproom is spacious with plenty of natural light, the walls are covered with old GRBC memorabilia, and both sides of the brewpub have their own stunning bar. GRBC also boasts an innovative full menu with something for everyone in your party, and you can even end your dining experience with a Dry Stout Float.
"We didn't want to mess up any of the historical elements," Sellers said. "we wanted to bring it back to the old 1918 look, It was fun, but very challenging."
The only beer that remains from the old establishment is the classic Silver Foam American Lager, tweaked slightly for the new brewery. Other standards include John Ball Brown, Campau's 90 Dollar Pale (named for the famous $90 purchase of downtown Grand Rapids by Louis Campau), Lucius Lyon Dry Stout, Roselyn Bliss Mango Blonde Ale, Fishladder IPA, and Brewer's Heritage Hefeweizen. The brewery has also done two collaboration brews with local breweries Pike 51 in Hudsonville and Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids.
BEER OF THE MONTH – Saugatuck Brewing Company Neapolitan Milk Stout
This seasonal release from Saugatuck Brewing Company takes dry stout to another level. Strawberry, chocolate and vanilla additions are finished off with a healthy dose of lactose sugar, giving Neapolitan Milk Stout a very smooth, silky mouth-feel.
This stout pours black with a dark brown head, an aroma full of chocolate, strawberry and soft roast. The body is light and full of dark malt flavors and roast, with a prominent strawberry and chocolate presence while the vanilla stays in the overtones. Perfect for a cold Michigan day.
Founders Brewing Company announced a 26 million-dollar expansion and adds "Rubeus" to production schedule for summer 2013.
New Holland Brewing Company announces active scouting of downtown Grand Rapids for a new brewpub.
The 4th Annual Traverse City Winter Microbrew & Music Festival is Feb. 9. For more information, see porterhouseproductions.com.