Essential Bean has been a part of the Caledonia community since 1999, with two owners before Austin Nichols took over. While the second owner was contemplating moving on, Nichols was working at a Bakery in Grand Rapids, after having completed a baking and pastry degree at GRCC. He spent seven years at the bakery alongside a couple homebrewers, and had always wanted to dabble in the business world. The opportunity arose in 2010 when Nichols learned through friends that EB was up for sale.
He had begun to explore the beer world after tasting his co-workers' homebrew. With EB available, the opportunity arose to take it to the next level by including a small on-site production facility.
“We basically built a business inside of a business,” Nichols said. “Ran the coffee shop for a couple years, and these chains kept on coming into town – if you don't have a drive-through, you really have to do something different.”
Nichols dove into the preparation process: acquiring licenses, finding the equipment and the brewhouse, and very importantly, finding the brewer who was going to anchor the brewing program – all while serving the community in the business' normal mode.
“I wanted someone that was going to come in and have total control,” Nichols said about the brewer choice. “If I don't like that style or that beer, I may sway them in another direction. It's not about me, it's about the customers. I want to be that great place to come drink and socialize. We are a brewery and a coffee shop, and it may not feel like all the other places out there.”
EB has eight taps, four of which are mainstays, while the other four are dedicated to seasonal and rotating offerings. The four mainstays include Goldsmith Light Blonde Ale, No X in Espresso Coffee Stout, Silver Fox IPA and a Rye Strong Ale. EB is currently featuring their fall offerings, but the rotating options upon my visit included the brewery's contribution to the Beer City Tree Project, called Oak Melon, an oak aged Saison with melon hops, a Vanilla Bean Porter, as well as a new, intriguing concoction called the Dirty Dancer.
“It's a light blonde ale served with a shot of fresh espresso,” Nichols said of the brew. “You pour it [into the beer] and it cascades down the glass. That's one you have to watch for yourself and see the reaction.”
EB Coffee & Pub started pouring its beers on April 2 after multiple soft openings.
“It was great to see the whole place alive and packed. It was amazing,” Nichols said.
EB has limited plans for the future and is just fine with keeping things the way they are.
“We just want to keep making great beer for Caledonia and the surrounding community," Nichols said. "We're always serving coffee to people who live here or move through here. We see people from out of town popping by on their way to Grand Rapids. It opens our door to a wider range of people.”
The next time you find yourself passing through Caledonia, stop into EB Coffee & Pub and enjoy some locally made beer and coffee, side by side, if you wish.
“You can come to Caledonia and have a really unique experience, not just in the quality of beer we serve, but in service as well,” Nichols said. “If you want to come and have some drinks morning, noon or night, this is the place to come. We've got live music, coffee, great beer and our staff is wonderful.”
BEER OF THE MONTH: Vandermill Totally Roasted CiderHard Cider, 6.8%ABV
This semi-sweet hard cider is packed with flavor to get you through the fall. Made from West Michigan apples, this cider is aged on house-roasted spiced pecans, which lends a fantastic nutty presence alongside notes of cinnamon and vanilla with a semi-tart finish. Available in four-pack 16 oz. cans, Totally Roasted can go where you go.
Brewery Vivant rolls out the barrels on Oct. 4 for its Wood Aged Beer Festival. The day features more than 20 of Vivant's wood aged and sour beers. Visit breweryvivant.com for more information.
Vandermill Cidery welcomes guests to a night full of cider, beer, food and music at Vanderfest on Oct. 4. For more information, visit vandermill.com.
At BontebOktoberfest, Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek welcomes Michigan breweries for a wandering beer and wine tasting alongside the animals. The event falls on Oct. 11. Visit binderparkzoo.org for more information.
Michigan Brewers Guild brings back the two-day Fall Beer Festival in Detroit Oct. 24-25, featuring more than 60 Michign breweries. Friday session is 5-9 p.m. and the Saturday session goes from 1-6 p.m. Enthusiast members get in an hour early. Head to mibeer.com for tickets and more info.