Good beer comes to those who wait.
I had been standing waist-deep in the Muskegon River for hours on a rainy spring weekday more than a decade ago as I played hooky from classes at Aquinas College. The day started off slow without a bite as my watch hit noon, and it appeared my truancy would not be rewarded with any steelhead.
But then the stars had aligned and the fishing was simply on fire — or on fleek, in Millennial-speak. By the time my buddy and I called it quits in the afternoon, we had landed well over a dozen of the silvery trout. We were tired and hungry.
It would have been the perfect capstone to the evening to stop off at a local pub and relive the day’s piscatorial pursuits over a pint or two. But even then, as a broke college student, I was a craft beer snob — blame Bell’s Two Hearted for being my gateway beer of choice — and the options in Newaygo County were non-existent.
Thankfully, that situation is changing.
Enter: Newaygo Brewing Company.
The Looman family has been plotting for years to find a way to bring their homebrew concoctions to a wider audience, and they got serious in 2014. Nick and Krista Looman quit their jobs in the Grand Rapids area and moved up to Newaygo County to start a new microbrewery.
They say their choice of location was very intentional as they wanted to give people “a reason to stop in Newaygo.”
Located on M-37 in the middle of the city’s old downtown in a building built in 1899, Newaygo Brewing brews on a 5-barrel system and plans to offer 18 taps at a time, as well as a selection of cask ales. They plan to add a new firkin each week — and to source ingredients locally.
“Our goal is that within six months, we want to have our ingredients 80-percent Michigan-sourced,” Nick Looman told Revue in April during a sneak peek of the brewery and restaurant.
Since they hope to be a destination or a stop for people headed through Newaygo, the emphasis is on drinks in the 4 percent to 6 percent ABV range so that patrons will be able to try a couple of beers and still continue on with their travels, he said. But he doesn’t rule out special bigger beers, either.
The microbrewery also likes to blur the lines of traditional English and American styles. For an English-style ESB, for example, they’ll brew it with an American yeast, hence the name “Turncoat ESB.”
The Loomans also brought on Dan Humphrey — the former owner of Michigan Beer Cellar in Sparta — to serve as brewmaster and help translate their homebrewing recipes to a larger scale.
While the signature cask ales were not yet ready for our tour, we did sample a wide variety of the taps, including:
- The Maple Kristal Wheat, a beer whose appearance doesn’t fit its flavor. While light and coppery in color, the maple gives this beer a robust sweetness. All three of the Revue testers were surprised by this one as none of us are huge wheat beer fans. The flavors were well put together.
- Espresso Stout, which features a great nose and flavor of dark roasted coffee. It pairs exceptionally well with chocolate, but more on that later.
- Ray Bentley Coconut Brown, an homage to the man who operated businesses in the building in the mid-1900s. The coconut made itself known without being too sweet and fit with the roasty malts typical of brown ales.
- Pinky & The Grain, a raspberry blonde. Here, the brewer succeeded in creating a light and refreshing raspberry blonde beer that actually smells and tastes like raspberries.
- Penoyer Porter and the Jawbone Milk Stout were both solid beers that stuck closely to their intended style.
- Dog Days IPA, Amarillo IPA and River Country Pale Ale.
The pub offers a full menu featuring appetizers, soups and six specialty pizzas, which can be made with gluten-free crust or the ingredients can also be placed on a massive russet potato.
“We’d also like to be as much farm-to-table as possible,” Nick Looman said.
Revue sampled three pizzas: the pulled pork and apple; chicken barbecue; and roasted vegetable hummus, topped with a cherry vinaigrette reduction. The food is masterfully crafted by Scott Looman, Nick’s father, a former kitchen manager and teacher who retired to help start the brewery.
Save room for one of Newaygo Brewing’s desserts, including a family recipe carrot cake and a chocolate cake with lemon glaze that’s fittingly paired with a small pour of the Espresso Stout. It’s so decadent and so damn tasty.
The Loomans say they hope to cater to the many people who come to Newaygo for the fine trout fishing and tubing and other year-round recreation, as well as those who’ve hit the road from southern Michigan for points north but are thirsty for hand-crafted beer and food. In part, they saw an opportunity to bridge the craft beer gap that spans the middle of the state from Grand Rapids to Traverse City.
While the owners had hoped to open the brewery much sooner, they say the business development process took longer — and cost more — than anticipated. At one point, the company launched a crowdfunding campaign but later cancelled it and brought on local investors to get the beer flowing.
But even in the long wait to open the doors, the Loomans were able to find a silver lining.
“The delays were a blessing in disguise,” Krista Looman said. “They really gave us time to improve the beer.”