Founders Brewing Company
235 Grandville, Ave. Grand Rapids
Founders' growth and current success began in 2007 on Grand Rapids' Monroe Avenue in Grand Rapids, nearly 10 years after Dave Engbers and Mike Stevens opened the brewery in the Brassworks Building.
"The momentum behind the brand had already picked up," Stevens said. "We knew we needed a facility that we could produce a lot more product out of."
Engbers and Stevens began scouting Grand Rapids for a new location for their growing brand. After searching, they settled on an abandoned Truck Depot on the corner of Grandville and Cherry, a location that included surrounding land, perfect for future expansion.
"Our number one priority in moving here was to keep that feel, that culture, that soul that we had developed in the Brassworks space," Stevens said.
Founders claimed its new home in late 2007 with the intention to grow, but at the time, Engbers and Stevens didn't know by how much.
"We did our soft opening, and we didn't open to investors or to VIPs," Engbers said. "We opened to our mug club members. We thought it was important to open our doors first to those who had been supporting us for years. It took seven minutes to fill the taproom."
The taproom features a long wood bar and large open windows that allow light to flow into the room, while large bay windows allow you to watch the brewers at work on the old 35 bbl brewhouse or peek into the old cellar space. West Michigan is very familiar with the taproom's standard line: pale ale, Centennial IPA, porter, and Red's Rye, but even this lineup has changed with the company.
Red's Rye and All Day IPA are now seasonal bottle releases to preserve freshness, and it was also announced that Rubeaus will return late summer for the first time since 2008. The brewery also introduced the Backstage Series, a special bottling of rare taproom offerings to hit the distribution market.
"Part of our responsibilities as brewers is to continue to create new flavor profiles and beers, find some new and exciting flavors," Engbers said. "When you find one that people really gravitate to, the Backstage Series allows us to take those beers to a much larger audience."
To meet the demand for their product, Founders had to start growing a little sooner than planned.
"The original idea was that we could stay in the original footprint for five years without modifying the building," Engbers said. "And we didn't make it a year and a half."
In the first year, Founders doubled its production and has continued to grow every year since. The first expansion included a new walk-in cooler, expanding cellar space and installing a brand new 85 bbl brewhouse. As of right now, Founders is in the second phase of expansion, a $26 million project that will increase production to 320,000 bbls a year, construct a two-story office complex, expand the taproom (along with a second bar) and the company store, and increase cellar space in the brewery with the installation of a fleet of 600 bbl fermenters. The expansion also includes a beer garden out front and a beer school inside.
For two friends who began homebrewing together, the journey to their massive success has been a long and winding road.
"Probably the most humbling day was when we opened here," Engbers said. "Mike and I were standing on the stage before we opened the doors, and I remember saying, 'Will we ever fill it?' We were both worried because it was so big, and Mike starts laughing and says, 'We damn well better.'"
BEER OF THE MONTH
Short's Anniversary Ale
Here's a little kick to your spring: A 10% ABV blood orange wheat wine from Short's.
This beer pours hazy deep orange-red with an off-white head that is full of orange, grapefruit and citrus hops. The flavor rides on a big, malty backbone that's full of wheat tangibles and full of bright citrus flavors, peppercorn and coriander while remaining well-balanced. The mouth-feel is a bit thick with a very mischievously hidden alcohol presence, and finishes slightly bitter. A great ripe beer to usher in your summer.
Oddside Ales in Grand Haven recently announced that it is entering the beer distribution market with bottles.
The World Expo of Beer, Michigan's largest international beer sampling event, happens May 17-18 in Frankenmuth.
More than 99 of Michigan's finest microbrews, ciders, meads and brats are featured at Michigan Beer & Brat Festival in Thompsonville on May 25.