The Experience Grand Rapids folks sure know how to showcase a beer city. Thanks to their wonderful tour, I am about halfway done filling out my Grand Rapids Brewsader Passport! The first and second parts of my Grand Rapids tour has been a group affair with about 30 other bloggers and writers. Now, it is up to me to continue exploring Grand Rapids on my own. I still have quite a bit left to do and only 2 more nights in Grand Rapids. Before I check in to my Airbnb, I am off to hang out with some blogger friends for one last beer before they depart for home.
The Mitten Brewing Co.
Located in an old firehouse, with a pole still intact, The Mitten Brewing Co. is home to a great place to grab beer and food. For me, it is also a place where I can enjoy more great camaraderie with some fellow beer bloggers. I am meeting Jeff, Christina, David, and Amy for a beer before Jeff and Christina head to the airport for their journey back to Colorado.
I met Jeff and Christina Estes on my first night of the Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference and we have been getting to know each other better ever since. Jeff and Christina live in Castle Rock, CO, and run Bottle Makes Three, a wonderful craft beer blog out of the Rocky Mountain State. Not only are they craft beer enthusiasts like me, they are also friendly and hilarious. Jeff and Christina are friends with another blogger I have been lucky to get to know, David Bardallis. David runs the craft beer blog, Ann Arbor Beer, writes for the Great Lakes Brewing News, and authored the book, Ann Arbor Beer. David’s girlfriend, Amy, is also a beer connoisseur, and is happily enjoying the beer shenanigans with David.
I arrive and park in the lot and roll into the taproom. Immediately, my inner baseball geek’s spider senses are tingling as I see a blown-up version of the rarest baseball card ever on the wall. This Honus Wagner baseball card is worth enough to buy a lot of craft beer. The insane collection of Detroit Tigers memorabilia and signage festooning the taproom is impressive. While craft beer is one of my biggest loves, baseball was my first. I was but a wee lad when the Minnesota Twins destroyed the Detroit Tigers in the playoffs en route to an improbable 1987 World Series win. I am geeking out and I haven’t even seen the beer menu yet!
The beer list is a welcome sight because it is flush with malty drinking options. The Mitten does taster flights, which is what I go for. I order a mix of malty and refreshing options. Between the Put Me In Kölsch and the British Mild, I am enjoying myself more than Jack Morris facing a weak 1984 San Diego Padres lineup. The beers are great, however, it is the company that makes my experience here special.
My four companions are laughing and making great conversation. There are some jokes made about the pole and it turns out that Jeff is a big fan of firehouses. They all ordered a pizza flight. Yes, you read that correctly; a flight of pizzas. Each small pizza has different toppings and they look fantastic. I am still full from Founders, but the rest of the crew still have several hours of travel ahead of them so they dig in.
In Wisconsin, it seemed like every place had cheese curds. We determined that cheese curds were the official beer food of Wisconsin. Since we traversed Lake Michigan and got into the mitten, every place has had some variant of hummus. Christina began to harbor a vociferous hatred for the spread because it is everywhere! We joked that the only topping that could make these wonderful little pizzas better would be some really nice hummus. David, Jeff, and myself got a nice picture together and then it was time for Jeff and Christina to depart. Jeff and Christina order up an Uber and we say our goodbyes. I thank them profusely for being such fun people and letting me hang around with them on the first night of the conference. I also vow to see them again on their home turf in Colorado.
Luckily, David and Amy had one more stop in them before they had to drive back to Ann Arbor. We decide to head to Greyline Brewing, which is not far from The Mitten Brewing. I snap a few more pictures and finish my beers while David and Amy head out.
Greyline Brewing Co.
When a new brewery starts in Grand Rapids, MI, it isn’t a couple of friends who are glorified homebrewers. Typically, the people who start a brewery in Grand Rapids have brewed elsewhere professionally. Greyline Brewing Company is no different. The people behind the brand have a wealth of professional brewing experience in Michigan. I walk into the taproom and notice modern and simplistic decor. Sometimes I think that a brewery worries more about taproom decor than the actual beer. I soon find out that the beers are as clean as the architecture.
I belly up the the bar with David and Amy. We reminisce about the conference and talk about the Michigan beer scene. David graciously gave me a copy of his book, Ann Arbor Beer and signed it for me. I had to repay the kindness by giving him a bottle of Surly Darkness, a much sought after Russian Imperial Stout from MN. He will no doubt shar
e it with a specific friend of his who loves dark beers. We make plans to meet up in Ann Arbor in a few days after he and Amy get back from a Beatles music festival in Chicago. We continue to have great conversation and chat about beer and life. The time comes for them to head out and it is time for me to go check into my Airbnb.
I work my way to through the rest of the beers and several are noteworthy. Most of my selections are darker and of the stout variety. For some odd reason, I have noticed a shift in my palate as the trip has progressed. Maybe it is just that time of the year where I am getting ready to transition from the hoppy and refreshing beers of summer onto the maltier and darker beers of fall and winter. The Shugga Milk, a Baltic Porter, the Shakey Knees, a stout, and the Fade, an oatmeal stout, all grade out well in my book. Wonderful use of malt depth and complexity is the tie that binds these beers together. I also loved the Mosacca, an American IPA, that showase, you guessed it, Mosaic hops in all their glory.
Beer Karma Is Real
I wrap up my tasters and get the Airbnb pulled up on Google Maps and head out. As I walk to my car, the universe decides to sprinkle a little beer trail fairy dust on the parking lot. I am pulling out of my spot and I spot a dude wearing a Speciation Artisan Ales shirt. Why is this important? Well, in my trip research I came across a brewery that focuses on mixed fermentation and small batch beers. This piqued my interest because I I love mixed culture beers the way a fat kid loves fudge. The only issue is that they do not have a taproom and as a result, are not open to the public. The shirt caught my eye, and in the least creepy way possible, I rolled down my window and said, “Hey, tell me more about that shirt.”
The events that followed are proof that beer karma exists. My simple act of asking a fellow beer enthusiast about a shirt set in motion a series of events that introduced me to new friends, affirmed my belief in the generosity of mankind, and brought me into a wonderful FB community celebrating beer in Michigan.
The gentleman in the Speciation shirt could have easily pretended not to hear and blown me off. However, he graciously chatted with me and I gave him a card and explained my trip’s intentions. He said that he is friends with the owner of the brewery and has a bunch of their beer at home. He invited me to meet him later at Founders for a beer where he would give me a bottle of Speciation to bring home and try. I happily oblige him and told him to text me when he is on his way there. Maybe you are thinking that I am crazy and naive? I can assure you I am not. Like Luke Skywalker closing his eyes to blow up the Death Star, I am trusting the “beer force.” I have been down this road when it comes to meeting great people through craft beer before and I am not about to stop now.
After checking into my Airbnb, I unpacked and get settled. While doing a bit of reading, my phone buzzes. It is Speciation shirt dude, whose name is Henry Smith. I dial in the directions for Founders and head out. It is nice to be headed back to the brewery at night. The crowd is mighty and there are several fire pits on the deck where people are drinking and having a good time. Henry is at the bar with a seat saved for me. He is seated to my left and a couple, who also met Henry today, are seated to my right.
After we get talking, it turns out that Henry met up with a couple from Chicago, Angel and Liz, earlier in the day. We have all been visiting the same taprooms in the same order, we just didn’t see each other. Henry is an amazingly friendly person. He works a lot of hours and today is his day off. Rather than just doing his own thing, he befriended Angel and Liz and took them around to a few taprooms. Now, he is here to give me a local beer geek’s take on the Michigan beer scene. Henry is an ardent supporter of the Grand Rapids beer scene. As he rattles off all the places where he holds mug club memberships, my eyes go hazy.
More than Henry’s affinity for great beer, his generosity for people who like beer and travel to Michigan is extraordinary. In addition to grabbing a 750 ML bottle of Speciation beer for me, he gave Angel and Liz a curated six-pack from his cellar. Henry’s generosity reminds me that the world is mostly full of good people. Henry felt bad that I wasn’t going to be able to try the beer at Speciation and wanted me to experience it and share it with friends.
Henry moderates a Facebook community dedicated to beer enthusiasts of Western Michigan. Oftentimes, he will post a bottle or two of something rare on the site and say where he is. The first person to come and meet him for a beer gets the bottle. His purpose is simple: good beer usually brings out good people. He meets someone new and shares a beer with them. Henry believes beer is meant to be enjoyed with friends. I cannot say I disagree and believe Henry’s spirit of kindness and giving is admirable.
Henry does not expect anything in return when he gives someone beer from his personal stash. However, I know that I have a bottle of Surly Darkness with his name on it. In the spirit of beer karma, I present him with the bottle and he is genuinely shocked. I tell him that he went above and beyond the call of generosity and this gift is the least I can do to repay his amazing act. We say goodbye and I walk back to my car smiling. Today’s events all encapsulate why I travel for beer. Community, kindness, fun, friendship and a reminder of why we are all here are all themes of the day.
I look forward to a good night’s sleep and I know that tomorrow will come early. There is no rest for the weary when you are out on the beer trail. I am learning fast that Michigan’s craft beer culture is no joke and the people love and respect beer. I cannot wait to see what tomorrow will bring.
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