Grand Rapids, Michigan has one of the best beer scenes in the country, with 60+ craft breweries along their Beer City Ale Trail that are putting out some amazing brews (not to mention delicious food). Voted Beer City USA in national polls and named Best Beer Town and Best Beer Scene by USA TODAY, Grand Rapids has quickly become a popular beercation destination for hops heads.
Experience Grand Rapids recently invited us to come check out their beer scene for ourselves, and when we shared this news on social media, the suggestions started flooding in. “Make sure you hit up Founders!” “Are you visiting Creston Brewing?” “Dude, you can’t leave Grand Rapids without trying the crack fries at HopCat.”
With so many breweries in town, it was impossible for us to hit them all, but we made a valiant effort, visiting 11 breweries in just two days and collecting enough stamps in my Brewsader Passport to score me a sweet Brewsader t-shirt to commemorate my visit.
So how does one choose which breweries to visit? Honestly, that’s the challenge that brewers here face, as they all produce great beer. So to differentiate themselves from one another, they’ve upped their food game, each offering their own signature dishes to go along with their beers.
Here were our 5 favorite Grand Rapids breweries:
1) Founders Brewing has been named the third best brewery in the world, and it’s a must-visit if you come to Grand Rapids. As the story goes, founders Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers quit their day jobs to get into the brewingr business, but their unremarkable beers weren’t wowing people and they were on the verge of bankruptcy. So they decided to brew the kind of beer that got them excited about brewing in the first place: complex, in-your-face ales, with huge aromatics, bigger body, and tons of flavor. Their Kentucky Bourbon Stout (KBS) was met with rave reviews, and the rest is history.
They’ve got a wide variety of beers to choose from, and one that really won me over was their Lizard of Koz, a bourbon barrel aged Imperial Stout with blueberry, chocolate, and vanilla. It was ridiculously good. Equally good were their sandwiches, which are hand crafted, just like their beers. Seeing as how it was lunchtime, I decided to order the Backwoods Bastard (bourbon barrel-smoked pulled pork, Colby Jack cheese, tangy coleslaw & Dirty Bastard BBQ sauce on toasted ciabatta roll), and it was SO FREAKING GOOD!
2) Brewery Vivant is a distinctly unique brewery in the fact that it’s housed in an old funeral home, featuring rustic farmhouse inspired beers (like their signature Big Red Coq) alongside European inspired cooking from their scratch-kitchen. Their Duck Confit Nachos is a popular menu item that pairs well with their beers, and who doesn’t love some Poutine? The food is on a whole other level, and they use locally sourced ingredients.
Furthermore, Brewery Vivant was awarded the first ever LEED certification for a production brewery in the US in 2012, designing their space to use less water and energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which not only save them money but also benefits the environment as a whole. These guys just don’t talk the talk when it comes to being environmentally friendly, but they walk the walk as well.
3) The Mitten Brewing Company (named after the shape of their home state) is a vintage baseball-themed microbrewery that also pulls double-duty as a pizzeria. That’s right, because what goes better with ice cold beer than some piping hot pizza? Taking the marriage of beer and pizza one step further, the beer isn’t the only thing you can order as a flight – They offer a flight of pizza, allowing you to sample up to six different varieties of their delicious pizza. My favorite was the chicken and waffles pizza!
Located on the West Side of Grand Rapids, The Mitten is located in a historic firehouse, and it even includes the original fireman’s pole. Despite expanding the building with the addition of a second story taproom and bi-level outdoor decks, this place can still get pretty crowded at night (especially on a weekend), so make sure you stake out a table early, or you’re bound to be waiting for awhile. But trust me, it’s totally worth it!
4) New Holland Brewing is known for their Dragon’s Milk Stout, and they’ve since introduced a number of other Dragon’s Milk varieties. So, I decided to order up the Flight of the Dragon so I could try all of them. In retrospect, that might not have been such a bright idea, given that each of them were over 11% ABV. But it was totally worth it, as Dragon’s Milk is pretty amazing and totally lived up to the hype.
We visited The Knickerbocker location (on Grand Rapids’ West Side), and the building is just incredible. It’s a massive space, and the architecture is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Add in unique fixtures (like a huge metal dragon when you first walk in) and the gorgeous flight tray you see above, and you can see why The Knickerbocker stands out from the crowd.
5) City Built Brewing Company is another spot you should definitely check out. One of the newer breweries in the area (opened in 2017), City Built offers 4 tiers of beer, from the mild to the wild, along with something you don’t see nearly enough.. Mead! I fell in love with their Beyoncé Blackberry Mead, and I would have been happy staying here all afternoon drinking them (and eating some of the delicious looking Puerto Rican food that they serve up), but sadly our limited time didn’t allow for it.
We had a chance to meet up with the owners (Dave Petroelje and Edwin Collazo), and they took us behind-the-scenes, giving us some background on them and where they see the business going. Definitely keep an eye on them, as these guys are going places!
Overall, we had an amazing time in exploring the Grand Rapids beer scene with our #MenWhoBlog buddies. It is crazy to think that we barely scratched the surface, only visiting 11 of the 60+ breweries that GR has to offer. They’ve definitely earned the title of Beer City USA, and I highly recommend it to any beer aficionado looking to satisfy their thirst for foam and hops.
Want more? Then make sure you check out Men Who Blog, as they’ve compiled a list of posts from all of the other guys who took part in the Grand Rapids beercation weekend with us.
From Cocktails To Mocktails: 3 Boozy Drinks With Non-Alcoholic Variations
The summer season is fast approaching, and many people choose to enjoy it by drinking nice, cool cocktails under the warm, summer sun. Of course, there will be days when an alcoholic drink won’t work for any number of reasons. Maybe you want to enjoy the taste of a mimosa but not the late-afternoon hangover or drowsiness. Perhaps you really want that screwdriver at your favorite cocktail house, but you already volunteered to be the designated driver. Or maybe you could choose to avoid alcohol altogether as part of a sober lifestyle.
Even if consuming alcohol is a no-go, the idea of a delicious, mixed drink on a relaxing day or energetic night out still could sound appealing to you or someone else. Mocktails are a safe and healthy alternative to the original concoction.
The term “mocktails” originated during the 1970s and ever since has been a savior for people who want the delightful taste of a mixed drink but with one specific ingredient missing.
A few classic alcoholic recipes can be tinkered with to create non-alcoholic masterpieces. These variations of popular cocktails either replace alcohol with the ideal replacement ingredient or drop the booze altogether. Vodka becomes ginger ale. Champagne becomes grape juice.
In the end, the alcohol might be missing but the taste is nearly identical to, if not better than, the original.
The Recovery Village has a useful summary of how to craft the non-alcoholic version of this brunch-time favorite. They also offer treatment for anyone struggling with substance abuse like the Ohio drug rehab. Mimosas are usually created by combining orange juice with champagne or sparkling wine.
This Mockmosa recipe trades the champagne out for some sparkling white grape juice, which makes a perfect non-alcoholic replacement. Look for grape juice brands that are dry in flavor, with little or no sugar or corn syrup, to replicate the champagne taste. Combine them in a champagne flute and, if you want to add a unique touch, garnish the drink with a mint sprig.
Usually, screwdrivers are made by combining vodka and orange juice. Replacing the alcoholic ingredient with ginger ale doesn’t drop the tastiness level at all. Leaf.Tv shows how to prepare this variation of the simple two-ingredient mixture.
Start with ice cubes, fill half the glass with ginger ale, and then top it off with a pulpy orange juice brand of your choice. Finish the process with a swizzle stick to combine the two liquid ingredients until the colors have swirled together to mimic a screwdriver. Before the ice melts, sit back and drink up.
Virgin Cucumber Mojito
This smooth-tasting drink is a favorite when temperatures rise and the summer season hits its peak. The alcoholic version includes rum, but it’s not really necessary to create the drink’s refreshing taste. A Frugal Chick has a great alternative to this classic, and the only change is dropping the alcoholic ingredient. Combine one lime, some mint leaves, white sugar, two cucumber slices, ice cubes and soda together for another version of perfection.
Cocktails are a staple of American drinking culture, especially at restaurants or bars with a group of friends or on a date. In the summer, they become staples for days spent by the pool or on the beach. But don’t give up — or give in to temptation — if you originally hoped to spend your day or night without any alcohol. These mocktails not only flatter the originals with their imitation, but they sometimes raise the bar even higher.
Space Beer Is The Final Frontier Of Beer
If you’ve ever seen people drink those little travel bottles of booze on an airplane because they are nervous about flying, imagine what you’re going to need when you are flying toward outer space to stay in one of those fancy space hotels.
Space Beer, that’s what you need. It will help you to blast off while you’re blasting off. Hailed as the world’s first beer for space, Vostok Space beer is specially designed to be drunken in space. Is that proper English? You’ll get drunken in space alright.
Anyway, 4 Pines Brewing Company and Saber Astronautics have teamed up to not only create a space beer but also a space beer bottle so people can drink it in space. Why? Because, beer.
These guys know that space travel is our destiny and they want to be ready with the necessary beverages. As they point out on their Indiegogo page, there is now more recreational space flights that have been booked than there have been astronauts in space in the last 57 years.
Space tourism is happening, and soon. Do you want to take your trip without beer? Of course not. Whether it’s a suborbital flight or a trip to Mars, a beer would be great. You need a space beer bottle because physics are different in space. There’s no gravity for the liquid to pour. They equate it to making a fuel tank for beer.
This is a noble cause. When you are that first tourist on the moon, you’ll stop and say, *BURP* “That’s one small burp for man, one giant burp for mankind.”
If You’re A Fan Of Jack Daniel’s, You’ve Got To Make The Pilgrimage To Lynchburg
Earlier this month, the folks at Jack Daniel’s flew us down to Lynchburg, Tennessee to visit the iconic Jack Daniel’s Distillery, where the world-famous Old No. 7 has been produced for over 150 years, to learn firsthand about how their Tennessee Whiskey is made.
As someone who’s been drinking Jack Daniel’s for the greater part of 20 years, I was excited to learn more about the brand’s history of making whiskey, and the man behind it.
Our journey began in Nashville, about an hour and a half north of Lynchburg. During our ride to the distillery, our guide gave us some history about Jasper Newton Daniel (Jack), and the interesting road that led him to start Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey.
Born in 1849, Jack Daniel was the youngest of 10 children, with his mother dying shortly after his birth (likely due to complications from childbirth). A few years later, his father remarried and had another 3 children with his new wife. Jack leaves home at a very young age and he is taken in by Reverend Dan Call, where he works on the family farm. And on his farm, he had a still, which Jack quickly took interest in it.
It’s here where Jack learns the art of whiskey making from the preacher and his head distiller, Nathan “Nearest” Green. In 1866, Call decides to focus on his calling as a minister, selling his whiskey business to Jack. Jack in turn hires Nearest as his Master Distiller. A few years later, they open the now-famous distillery in Lynchburg, and the rest is history.
A short while later, we arrived at the Jack Daniel’s Distillery, and gathered together for a VIP tour hosted by none other than Assistant Master Distiller Chris Fletcher! As you can imagine, he’s got extensive knowledge of the whiskey making process, which he shared with us in great detail as he took us through the entire facility.
Not only that, but Fletcher is actually the grandson of retired Master Distiller Frank Bobo, the distillery’s fifth master distiller from 1966-89. Needless to say, whiskey is in his blood.
The first stop on our tour was Cave Spring Hollow, which houses Lynchburg’s greatest natural resource – clean, pure, spring water. The cave’s layers of limestone naturally impart a variety of minerals to the water which contribute to Jack Daniel’s character. More importantly, the limestone also removes iron (which is bad if you are making whiskey) from the water.
Did you know that every bottle of Jack Daniel’s sold around the world is made with water from this source? I actually got to take a drink from the spring, and it was perhaps the purest water that I’ve ever tasted.
From here, we made our way to the Rickyard, where they stack 5-foot tall pallets of hard super maple, douse them in raw, unaged whiskey, before setting the wood ablaze. The inferno peaks at over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit before burning down into smoldering embers. The resulting charcoal is used in the charcoal mellowing process.
We got to take part in this process, and it was pretty wild, the heat getting so intense that you had to walk away after awhile or risk getting burned. How these guys manage to keep cool in the hot Tennessee summers is beyond me, but my hats off to them.
Afterwards, we walked down to the Distillery Building, where we got to learn more about the whiskey making process including the whiskey stills, the fermenting tanks and the charcoal-mellowing vats. That last part is perhaps the most important, filtering the 140-proof, unaged whiskey drop by drop through 10 feet of handcrafted charcoal.
It’s this extra step that imparts the distinctive smoothness you have come to expect from Jack Daniel’s, and it’s what makes this a Tennessee Whiskey and not a bourbon.
Next, this whiskey goes into American White Oak barrels that are hand-built at Jack Daniel’s Cooperage. Once assembled, the barrel’s interior is toasted and charred using a proprietary method to coax the wood’s natural sugars out and caramelize them. The whiskey enters the barrel colorless and raw, but during the maturation process, the whiskey draws all of its rich amber color and much of its distinctive flavor from the barrels.
As you can imagine, if Jack Daniel’s were to reuse their barrels, they’d get diminishing returns, as the first batch of whiskey already draws out most of the flavor from the barrel. That’s why they only use a barrel once, after which they sell them off to third-parties.
Interestingly enough, a number of variables determine how long a barrel of whiskey stays in the barrelhouse, including the barrel itself and where it’s located in the barrelhouse. Barrels located on the upper floors (where temperature changes are more extreme) tend to mature faster than barrels on the lower floors, where it’s generally cooler.
So rather than rely on age, a team of whiskey tasters sample each and every barrel to decide when they’re ready for bottling. Master Distiller Jeff Arnett showed us this process by bringing us to one of the barrelhouses and taking us up to the 6th floor, where he tapped into a couple of barrels and let us sample them right from the source. In a word.. incredible!
If that wasn’t enough, they also set up a tasting for us, where we got to sample every product in their portfolio, including Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7, Gentleman Jack, Single Barrel Select, Rye, Honey, Fire, and more. I really enjoyed the Single Barrel Select, but Honey and Fire were also standouts for me, and I definitely need to pick up a few bottles of these for myself.
Overall, I had a great time visiting the Jack Daniel’s Distillery and seeing everything that they have to offer, and I’d highly recommend taking the tour if you’re coming through Tennessee, even if you’re not a whiskey drinker. There’s a ton of history here, and it’s sure to give you a newfound respect for Jack Daniel’s, and the man who started it all.