The alarm on my Fitbit goes off and I swear I just turned the lights off five minutes ago. Time to rise and get on that tour bus for another day of beer and food. Today, we are heading to breakfast at Wolfgang’s Restaurant and then onto tours at Brewery Vivant and Founder’s. After yesterday’s incredible day of beer fun put on by Experience Grand Rapids, I can’t fathom how today could possibly be better.
Since the whole point of this Grand Rapids trip is getting to know new people, I grab a table with some folks I don’t know. Some people hate stepping out of their social comfort zone, but I cannot get enough of it. The menu at Wolfgang’s is robust and I am having one hell of a time making my breakfast choice. I order the protein-packed ham and cheese omelette to sustain me. I am in good company as it seems like everyone is embracing the coffee until beer method of hydration. There are a variety of amazing dishes all around the table. Luckily, some of the other bloggers put their breakfasts up on their social media feeds and that is where I got the pics of the amazing food.
As the conversation progresses, I start asking about other cool things to do in Michigan. Jeremy Hylen, who is seated immediately to my left, is co-founder of BreweryFinder.org, a great resource for beer travel. He has a wealth of information for me. It also turns out that Jeremy has a background in English and was a professor before becoming a pastor. Jeremy is a great resource for Michigan brewery lore as he grew up in Michigan. He proceeds to give a lot of great suggestions of must-see breweries.
A few seats away, Erin Klema, a blogger at The Epicurean Traveler, lives in Grand Rapids and she also gave a ton of great ideas for beer stuff. I think that one of the most important things to keep in mind when planning a beer trip is to make sure you get the local expert’s opinion on where to go. In this case, Jeremy and Erin are the perfect resources.
The omelette the size of Oklahoma arrives and I dig in with great vigor. There have been few times in life when an egg dish has bested me, but this brontosaurus-sized baddie is just too much for me. The last thing I want to be is too full for beer when we roll into Brewery Vivant. Our Experience Grand Rapids tour guide grabs the check and it is time to vamoose to Vivant!
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to drink beer in a funeral chapel? Well, go to Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids, MI, and you can experience it for yourself. Brewery Vivant’s focus on Belgian and French style beers is laser sharp. The taproom is heavenly when it comes to ambiance for a beer. If I didn’t have my GPS on, I would swear I was in Europe. Since they are not open for the day yet, we have the entire place to ourselves.
Kate, Director of Sales and Marketing, is telling us all about the beers. Kate apologizes for the absence of the gentleman who usually talks about the beers to groups. She explains that he just had his first child, to which Huck exclaims, “That had to hurt!” This one-liner signals to all that it is definitely time to drink. It is a good thing that Ward, the man working the bar, is more than willing to get us tastes of whatever we want.
Since I love a good Saison, I start with the Farmhand and work my way down the taplines. Brewery Vivant’s logo has a red rooster on it, so I get a Big Red Coq, their take on a red ale. Since most beer bloggers have the maturity of a 12-year old boy, you can imagine the commentary that the name of this beer brought on. I will let your imagination take the ball and run with it on that one. My favorite of their mainstays is definitely The Undertaker, a Belgian Strong Dark Ale. This beer has tremendous dark fruit notes with a nice roasted malt character. I can imagine that this beer pairs tremendously with the food that comes out of this kitchen and I am thinking that I might have to come back here for dinner.
They just released a special mixed culture beer called Escoffier. The beer’s name, Escoffier, reflects the brewery’s focus on French cuisine. Talk about a complex and amazing beer, Escoffier is an American Wild Ale with a wonderful amount of tartness to go with the funk. From Escoffier, it is on to Love Shadow, an imperial stout with a massive amount of chocolate, dark fruit, and toffee. Just like all things on this tour, our time is running short and we have to proceed to our next stop. I purchase a few bottles in the gift shop to bring home and board the bus.
For years, Founders Brewing has been a fixture in my beer fridge. They truly make a beer to go with each season. Whether it is their porter or imperial stout in the winter, or All Day IPA and Rubeus in the spring and summer, they are a brand that I gravitate towards. Their mantra, “Brewed for us,” articulates their dedication to originality and creativity. To say the opportunity to tour Founders Brewing is a bucket list item is putting it mildly. We arrive at this Grand Rapids beer powerhouse and are led to a little taproom not far from the office area of the brewery building. The Founders staff welcome us to the brewery and splits us into two groups for the tour.
They brief us on the etiquette for the tour and remind us to not take any video. What are they trying to hide? At this point, I wonder if Backwoods Bastard is actually made by leeching blood from an angry hillbilly they keep in chains down in a vault. Of course, we bloggers are happy to follow the rules and begin the tour.
Touring a brewery while everything is in motion and things are happening is fascinating. From the impressive size of the production area to the massive fermenters that house All-Day IPA, Founders is amazingly colossal. Seeing the crane contraption that they use to dry-hop batches of beer and realizing that it is about the size of the living room of my first apartment is awe-inspiring.
Looking around, it is nice to see that I am not the only one who is impressed by everything going on. I am sad that we do not get to see the space where all the barrels are being aged. I guess that going back up to the tasting room to try everything that they have on tap is a nice consolation prize. We are seated and then beers are brought around. In addition to libations, they have an array of snacks to help soak up the alcohol.
This is the end of the line for the tour and I take a minute and soak it all in. This amazing group of people, many of which I can now call my friends, have made this entire experience unforgettable. As we continue tasting, talking, and laughing, the time flies by faster and faster. I say goodbyes to people who are meandering back to the real world and plan to meet up with others at the Hopcat in a little bit.
Hopcat Grand Rapids
I go back to the hotel, grab my things and then dial up the directions to Hopcat. I know that Hopcat is a chain of bars. However, it is also rated the #1 brewpub in the country. Since this location is the original spot, I figure it is worth my time. I get there and find many of the bloggers are still going strong. Some are squeezing in one more beer before they head off for the airport.
It is nice to gather and cheers one last time before saying goodbye. While the post-excursion tour is fantastic, making beer friends is the highlight. I am almost done with my flight when I get a FB message from Christina Estes saying that she and her husband Jeff are at Mitten Brewing with David Bardallis and his girlfriend Amy. I tab out, finish my beers and get set to head to a new place to see some familiar faces.
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