In 2012, Grand Rapids emerged as a surprise newcomer to share the title of “Beer City USA” with Asheville, North Carolina. The following year, the Michigan city won the title outright and it’s an accolade they’ve enthusiastically grabbed hold of. It is a great beer city, one that is made brilliant by being compact, but dense with delicious beers, and by a strong local beer community.
Founders Brewing (235 Grandville Avenue SW, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49503) will almost certainly be your first stop in town. A big, bright beer hall, with glass looking through to the brewhouse, it has the ambience of a long-standing brewery; places aren’t built like this now. It’s old tavern in style: wooden, bar seating, loads of taps, classic bar food, a store on the side. You probably don’t need me to tell you to start with an All Day IP A, which is a modern phenomenon of a beer, a seasonal that turned into the top-seller within a few years, and the beer which we can reasonably say kick-started the Session IPA trend. Its rich pale malts aren’t sweet and have the important job of hoisting’ the citrusy, orangey, floral hops forward. It’s got the all-day-long, refreshing quality, but also a demanding kind of bitterness that keeps you interested. Later on, you’ll want to try their big stouts, which they’re also famous for, including the Breakfast Stout and anything aged in a bourbon barrel.
Drink Your Way Around Grand Rapids They Call It “Beer City” Photo Gallery
The rest of Grand Rapids is a big brewery crawl, where you can walk, bus, or grab a cab to anywhere you want to go, with nowhere being more than 10-15 minutes away. My favorite stop for beer was Creston Brewery (1504 Plainfield Avenue NE, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49505). It’s in what looks like an old-timey diner or too-bright hotel lounge bar, which is a little odd but you can overlook this for the very good brews. I loved their Lookout Hill ESB for its deep, deep maltiness, the kind that’s like eating a whole tin of the best cookies you’ve ever had (they use locally produced Pilot Malt House grains).
Brewery Vivant (925 Cherry Street SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49505) is one of those places that’s often featured on those “you won’t believe what this brewery used to be” lists, as it’s in a converted old funeral home. The stained-glass bar backdrop makes the whole room bright with color. The beers all have a Belgian-farmhouse inspiration and they’re all very good. Out near Vivant is Elk Brewing (700 Wealthy St SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49503), where they play with a lot of different ingredients and serve them in a simple taproom. They also have a second, larger facility in Comstock Park (700 Wealthy Street SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49503). Nearby is East West Brewing Company (1400 Lake Drive SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49506), a small kit run by the same owners as the Indian restaurant next door. They have an uncurried brewpub menu, but this is effectively a curry house brewpub, since you can bring in the Bombay Cuisine food to go with your beers.
There are two Harmony Brewing venues in town. The original brewpub (1551 Lake Drive SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49506) is out east and has wood-fired pizzas and a cozy local vibe, while Harmony Hall (401 Stocking Avenue NW, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49504) is west and has a sausage menu, reflecting the fact that the building it’s in was once a sausage factory. There’s a cheese IPA bratwurst served with bacon jam —if you don’t order it, then you’re an idiot. Beers varied but were mostly good, and there’s a lot on tap to choose from.
New Holland’s main brewery is 30 miles (50km) away, but they’ve opened a huge, modern brewpub in GR called The Knickerbocker (417 Bridge Street NW, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49504). This has a large central bar and loads of seating space, primarily with a sit-down food focus and a locally sourced menu. I recommend eating there, as they’ve worked hard on how the food and beer work together—I had a golumpki, a meat-stuffed cabbage and far tastier than “meat-stuffed cabbage” suggests (it’s also a nice combination of GR’s old German heritage and Michigan’s agriculture and farming). All the New Holland beers are there, plus some specials and brewpub-only beers. I love The Poet Oatmeal Stout, while Madhatter is the classic kind of Midwest-style IPA that’s all oranges.
In the center of town you’ve got The B.O.B. (20 Monroe Avenue NW, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49503), a fun, multipurpose Big Old Building which is the kind of place you’d probably end your night at if you’re a local and then regret the last few beers you drank… You’ve got a brewery there, plus bars, restaurants, a comedy club, and a nightclub. They have a good Peanut Butter Porter and I find any peanut butter beer hard to ignore—I love it in the same way that I love pineapple on pizza.
Grand Rapids Brewing Co. (1 Ionia Avenue SW, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49503) has a large corner space with the seating pushed tightly together. There are 17 or so taps of house beers, with the expected spectrum of styles. Down the street is HopCat (25 Ionia Avenue SW), a much-celebrated brewpub chain. I didn’t get the hype myself. The house beers were limited in range and quality, while the rest of the list—albeit enormous and very good—were guest beers. I also didn’t get hooked on their crack fries. Still, the tap list is massive, if that’s what you want.
To the north of town there’s Greyline Brewing Company (1727 Alpine Avenue NW, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49504), a modern space off the main street. Their nitro Oatmeal Stout is good and they make some ace IP As. There’s also The Mitten Brewing Co. (527 Leonard Street NW, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49504), a baseball-themed brewpub in an old firehouse—it’s a great building to look at. I largely liked all the beers I tried there, without anything jumping out especially.
Grand Rapids is a Beer City and it has claimed many similar titles in the last few years. It works as a beer city because it’s varied and interesting, easy to navigate, and there are some high-quality beers on tap. But, most of all, it works because the people who live there and work in beer really love, support, and celebrate it.
Founders (below) is one of the names that draws people to Grand Rapids, but spots like Harmony Hall (above) convince beer lovers to stick around the town for a few days.