Best spots for beer and grub in Grand Rapids

The main reason I chose to visit Grand Rapids, Michigan, for a few days on my own was to decompress and recharge. Additionally, I didn’t exactly hide the fact that I wanted to spend time in Grand Rapids to take in the thriving beer scene. With more than thirty craft breweries in the area, I would need more than a few days to hit them all. Instead, I made a mental checklist of the breweries I wanted to visit most, leaving plenty of wiggle room in my itinerary to stop at others if I felt so inclined.

My first stop was craft-beer mecca, HopCat. Opened in 2008, HopCat consistently finds itself on beer publications’ “best of” lists, as well as on the receiving end of numerous awards. The beer menu is vast, featuring Michigan brews as well as beers from around the world, and is organized in sections based on beer styles (for example: Pales, IPAs, Imperial Ales; Porters, Stouts, Black Ales). The menu also includes HopCat’s own seasonal beers, brewed in-house and in small batches. I was most excited about trying the house beers since they were completely new to me. I tried two: Beer Right Meow (American IPA) and Cucuribita Nigra (maple pumpkin porter). They both were fantastic but that porter was stellar. Two more reasons HopCat rocks: 1) free wifi; 2) Happy Hour, Monday-Friday, 2-4pm. Any Michigan beer, including house beers, normally priced below $8 is on special for $3. Can’t go wrong there.

HopCat Brewery | Grand Rapids

HopCat | Credit

Brewery Vivant | Grand Rapids

Brewery Vivant

It’s the setting of Brewery Vivant that drew me in. I first became interested when I discovered that the brewpub was once an old funeral chapel. Later on, I learned that Brewery Vivant is committed to sustainability and is LEED silver certified. All I had to do then was actually visit the brewpub and try the beer that I’d heard was superb. The re-purposed space is charming and gives off an old-world kind of feel, as if you might be in an actual monastery. The bar is centered in the rear of the space, situated before an archway through which stained glass windows colorfully filter in natural light. That is where I sat, right at the bar, and opted for the Camier flight. It included generous portions of Farm Hand (French-style farmhouse ale), Pumpkin Tart (pumpkin ale), Tree Bucket (Belgian Double IPA), and Moe Lasses’ Stout (stout with molasses). I was there around dinner time and figured I should order some food, so – abiding by my own rule – I went with the poutine (if I see poutine on a menu anywhere, I order it; simple rule). Everything I consumed at Brewery Vivant was incredibly delicious but the real star of the evening was the Tree Bucket. Amazing. And if Brewery Vivant isn’t already cool enough, there’s free wifi.

The Mitten Brewing Company came highly recommended by my friend Liz Garibay of History On Tap (she’s a beer expert and a historian; therefore, she is my idol). I didn’t know much else about the brewery or the space but if Liz says it’s worth a stop, then it’s worth a stop. I arrived to find the brewpub housed in a landmark Victorian-era firehouse and it was pretty happening for a rainy Tuesday night. I was able to score a seat at the bar and there was baseball on the TVs so I was happy and instantly comfortable. I needed dinner so I asked for a food menu and that’s when I realized it’s strictly a pizzeria. Not that I don’t like pizza – I love it! But I knew an entire pizza would be wasted on just one person. So I ordered a calzone off the appetizer menu. It was so tasty and I ended up needing a box to take away half of it. It wasn’t until I went to the restroom did I begin to realize that the brewpub has a prominent theme. The row of baseball-stadium seats at the entrance should have given me a clue, but it didn’t hit me until I noticed the walls covered in baseball photos and memorabilia. Awesome! Beer and baseball: two of my most favorite things. I got back to the bar and noticed that even the names of the beers are baseball-related. The bartender had selected my beers for me and just told me the styles, not the names, and I didn’t take notice of the beer names written on the chalkboard. I could not have loved Mitten Brewing Company any more than I did. And what did I have to drink? Country Strong IPA (American IPA) and Rye.B.I. (black rye pale ale). I’d definitely recommend both, though it appears that the Rye.B.I. is no longer on tap.

Mitten Brewing Co |Grand Rapids

Mitten Brewing Co | Credit

This last spot isn’t a craft brewery but if (when!) you go to Grand Rapids, you must go to The Winchester. This gastropub is an anchor of the Wealthy Street Business District and is an absolute gem. I stopped in for lunch on my last day in Grand Rapids and I decided that, if I lived there, I’d be at The Winchester every day. Even though the bar menu features a wide selection of Michigan craft beers, I chose instead The Montreal, one of their inventive, signature cocktails. It sounded too good to pass up; it’s made with Traverse City bourbon and Michigan maple syrup. If I didn’t have to drive back home to Chicago that day, I’d have had a few more Montreals. As for what I ate, I knew the day before what I was going to order when I’d looked at the menu online. All I needed to see was “stuffed poblano” and I was sold. It’s what I ordered and it exceeded my expectations. The pepper is roasted and stuffed with long-grain rice and shrimp chorizo, and served atop a bed of black beans and spicy tomato sauce. Total heaven on a plate.

The Winchester | Grand Rapids

The Winchester | stuffed poblano | The Montreal

As I mentioned, there is no way I could have visited all of the craft breweries in and around Grand Rapids in one short visit. I know I’ll be back again and I’ll check out more places, but the ones I’ve listed here will undoubtedly tempt me to return.

I was a guest of Experience Grand Rapids on this trip. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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9 Responses to Best spots for beer and grub in Grand Rapids

  1. Jenny | A Thing For Wor(l)ds October 27, 2014 at 10:31 am #

    Great round-up, Francesca! I’m more of a wine-o myself, but lately, beer’s been growing on me bit by bit. (Oh crap.) If it’s a wheat beer, I’m all for it, but I still have to warm up to the IPAs. Now let’s talk about that stuffed poblano, though….I’m flying home right now for it.
    Jenny | A Thing For Wor(l)ds recently posted…How To Make Friends Abroad: The Lonely Expat’s GuideMy Profile

  2. Mindi @ 2foodtrippers October 27, 2014 at 5:53 pm #

    Everything you ate and drank sounds so good, especially the Tree Bucket and the Montreal. I’ve never been to Grand Rapids before, but it looks to be a very tasty destination.
    Mindi @ 2foodtrippers recently posted…Crazy GlobetrottersMy Profile

  3. Chanel | Cultural Xplorer October 27, 2014 at 8:11 pm #

    The pubs you visited sound great and that stuffed poblano looks delicious! 😀 Will keep this in mind if (when!) I visit in Grand Rapids! 😀
    Chanel | Cultural Xplorer recently posted…Photographing Nymphenburg PalaceMy Profile

  4. Traveling Ted October 30, 2014 at 7:31 pm #

    Wow, 30 breweries in Grand Rapids. That has to be more than the Chicago area. Incredible. I only need one reason, or 30 to visit Grand Rapids.
    Traveling Ted recently posted…Pictured Rocks Spray Falls photosMy Profile

  5. Pola (Jetting Around) October 30, 2014 at 8:32 pm #

    Francesca, the second I saw you post something on Facebook about craft beer in Grand Rapids, you put that city on the map for me. Well, for me and Mr. JA, because he’s the beer guy – I mostly just tag along, have a few sips (blog research, ahem…) and hope to find a coffee shop. In this case though, the coffee stout would be my choice! Perhaps a road trip is in order soon. 🙂
    Pola (Jetting Around) recently posted…Book giveaway: Tales From the Cross [Ends 10/30/2014]My Profile

  6. Cathy Sweeney November 2, 2014 at 9:26 pm #

    30 craft breweries? That’s impressive. I like each of the places you’ve recommended, but I’d be especially interested by Brewery Vivant — the atmosphere seems very cool and it it has such an intriguing past. This is definitely a post to pass along to my beer-loving hubby in hopes we’ll get a chance to visit Grand Rapids, too.
    Cathy Sweeney recently posted…From Foggia to Bari: Our 7-Day Puglia Road TripMy Profile

  7. Lance | Trips By Lance November 3, 2014 at 3:36 pm #

    I knew before our recent trip to Traverse City that when we passed through Grand Rapids it would be a place I’d love to visit. My friends and I try to go somewhere together every year or so where the focus is on sports and beer. Grand Rapids looks like a great option.
    Lance | Trips By Lance recently posted…Travel in Books: Finding Inspiration on PageMy Profile

  8. Ryan Zieman November 4, 2014 at 3:44 pm #

    Thanks Francesca for opening up my eyes to Michigan as a fantastic destination (now I’ve got Grand Rapids & Traverse city on my list). Being that it’s practically in our Chicago backyard, I frequent overlooked ‘Pure Michigan.’ For whatever reason Wisconsin got all the attention when my family wanted to experience the great outdoors. I agree with Jenny that a nice red wine is more my style, but the cerveza has been growing on me. My friend actually called me out on it the other day lol. Winchester sounds great with the cocktail and stuffed poblano – Yum!
    Ryan Zieman recently posted…Off the beaten path in Toledo, SpainMy Profile

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