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.
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.
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.
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.