I wake up refreshed and with a clear sense of purpose: to get coffee. Maybe you think that all I do is drink beer? Well, I enjoy beer and probably drink more of it than the average person. However, coffee is also a necessity of mine and I love going to new places to find it. My conversation with my Airbnb hosts provide me with several great options for a cup of Java in Grand Rapids. I head out to Madcap coffee to get my caffeine fix. They serve coffee by the beaker at this place and I sit down to get some writing done.
My fingers type away at the keyboard, fueled by the much-needed caffeine. Catching up on social media, figuring out some blog ideas, and sipping away is glorious. The weather is perfect and there are so many people out and about. It is tough to stay focused with all the people watching but I manage to get a lot of work done. It is time to depart and head to my first brewery of the day.
City Built Brewing Company
The night before, Henry, my new beer friend, could not stop himself from saying great things about City Built Brewing Company. I knew that a place that has great beer and a Puerto Rican menu needed to be on my beer docket for the day. In a warehouse that borders a nice park and the river, City Built resides in the corner of the building. I get inside and start snapping pictures. I get about five steps in the place and I see some friendly, familiar faces.
Angel and Liz, my friends via Henry from Founders are sitting at the bar enjoying some beer and food. I grab a seat next to them and we start chatting. I am in a serious game of the “Six Degree of Henry Smith” and I think it is pretty awesome. Angel and Liz are here because Henry spent quite a bit of time gushing about the place. It is very modern with a green accent color that is prominent throughout the taproom. I also notice that Angel and Liz’s food smells amazing.
The menu is all traditional Puerto Rican cuisine, something I wish I experienced more in my life. Being Latino myself, I have a strong desire to learn more about different cultures in Central and South America. Angel and Liz are Latino as well and when the owner, Edwin Callazo, came out to talk to us, I was excited to hear about how he showcases the culinary element of his culture.
The conversation is brief, but impactful. I can count the amount of times when I have felt like I belonged in a group because of my ethnicity on one hand. Being adopted from Colombia and raised by white parents has always left me a bit confused when it comes to how to identify with a predominant culture. Edwin speaks frankly about the fact that there is not a brewery for us (Latinos). That is not to say that Latinos are not welcome in craft beer, but the percentages of Latinos in the craft beer marketplace are woefully behind the percentages of whites and women. Speaking of Grand Rapids, despite the welcoming nature to all in craft beer, there aren’t many breweries showcasing authentic Latino food.
For Edwin, City Built serves food that pairs marvelously with the beer on tap. The menu is robust, yet simple. With so many flavors to choose from, I feel like no matter what I pick, I am in for a treat. I decide on the Tostones and the Mojo Pollo tacos. To me, this food is a revelation, to Edwin, this is peasant food. Edwin says, “I grew up with this food.” There is something comforting and homey about the flavors. The texture of the Tostones is amazing. Wonderful crunch on the outside protects the warm and wholesome flavor of the plantains on the inside. The Mojo Pollo is rich in flavor and depth thanks to the spicing of the chicken. The brightness of the salsa adds balance. I like that the modicum of spice has my nose running just a little bit and makes me want to drink more beer!
The Strawberry Moon, TKBY, Downtown Julie Brown, and Monroe Weiss are my favorite beers. The Strawberry Moon is a kettle sour that doesn’t taste like a kettle sour. What do I mean by that? A kettle sour will often have a higher level of acidity that gives me a mild stomach ache. A poorly made kettle sour makes it hard to drink more than one because of the high level of acidity. The Strawberry Moon has a balanced and low level of acidity to it. I like the how the strawberry comes across in the beer. It doesn’t taste artificial or syrupy. The TKBY is a mixed culture beer with a great sour note to it. This beer has a complexity which I really like and the yogurt paired with the Saison yeast is a winner for me. The Downtown Julie Brown has a wonderfully roasty malt component to it which impresses me. All too often, a brown ale seems like a brewer’s afterthought. I can see that City Built really put some thought into their recipe because it stands out amongst the crowd. The best in show for me is the Monroe Weiss. The refreshing and bright body of this beer makes me crave sip after sip. Both Angel and Liz also enjoyed the Monroe Weiss.
All in all, the beers have a lot of nuance and showcase the brewer’s skills. Edwin Callazo’s passion comes through to me in every aspect of City Built. The beer and food are easy when you have understanding of ingredients and consistency. City Built is more than these things, however. City Built has a soul to it and I cannot say that about every brewery I visit. Edwin understands the nebulous concept of making people feel welcome. This place doesn’t feel like a brewery, it feels like I am enjoying great company in someone’s home. I cannot tell you whether or not that is Edwin’s intent, but I imagine it is a good thing in his eyes.
This morning’s experience has been a treat. Between the ongoing conversation with Angel and Liz about their family, the Chicago beer scene, and their collective passion for beer, I am definitely with my people. The entire experience that City Built has provided me far exceeds any expectations I had. Angel and Liz have to get on the road and I have to get to my next stop. We say goodbye and I am happy to have made some new beer friends.
In my trip research, I came across the Creston Brewery and it seemed really cool. The story of a brewery popping up in a historic neighborhood to be a point of pride to locals is something I love. Creston is doing their part to bring craft beer to a rare part of Grand Rapids that is underserved when it comes to good drinking options. However, a brewery needs more than just a feel-good story to get people to frequent; it needs a solid product. Good beer gets people returning and building a buzz, no pun intended.
The aesthetics of the taproom are bright with all the white paint and vibrant art on the walls. Breweries tend to have a lot of dark wood and low lighting. I am happy to see a lot of open spaces and plants. I don’t have to fight for a spot at the bar because it is only late afternoon. The other bonus about it being fairly early in the day is that one of the co-founders is here to chat. Vince Lambert is gracious enough to give me some of his time to chat about Creston Brewery’s story. Vince is a great dude who has a fierce passion for the Creston neighborhood, where he grew up. He says that music is at the core of what patrons find at Creston and they have live music almost every day.
As I peruse the menu, I notice a lot of my favorite British and American styles. I select a solid mix of malty and hoppy for my record-themed taster tray. I absolutely love the Creston Pilz. It is a wonderfully refreshing beer with a phenomenal crispness to it. Their Quimby, a brown ale, has a nice malt chewiness. My inner-beer geek does a cartwheel when I see the Lookout Hill ESB. Since the brown ale is a success, my bar for the ESB is high. The ESB is fantastic and more than exceeds my expectations. I do not understand why drinkers don’t go crazy for this style. ESBs drink smooth and have a great malt profile. They are also low in ABV, which is perfect for happy hours!
As I am sipping my way through the beers, Vince brings over their take on a New England IPA. This juicy and aromatic beer is an admirable representation of the style. The beers follow the inspiration of Shorts Brewing and the consistency of Founders Brewing; something that Creston strives for. I will happily come here again when I travel back this direction.
All in all, my experience with the breweries in Grand Rapids are excellent. The beer culture in this town is on par with other beer scenes in the country I am familiar with. I love that Founders is the driving force for creativity and consistency and others set out to follow that standard. I probably could have used another day to further explore the city, but I will be back sometime. Next, I am off to Kalamazoo to meet up with some new beer friends at Bell’s and see what other fun beer experiences await me on the beer trail.
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