Saturday, July 23, 2016

Michigan Brewery Tour, part 4

It was raining when I woke up on Sunday morning in my run down luxury hotel room.  It was going to be a few hours before I got myself together and made my plan for the day so iI hoped it would stop by then.  No such luck.  It was raining lightly when I left for Founder's Brewing Company, which was about 20 minutes away and was going to be my first stop.  There are so many breweries in Grand Rapids that while I was in town, there weren't going to be any long trips.  When I finished and turned south for Kalamazoo though, that's when the distances would get longer.  The rain did pick up briefly on my trip to Founder's, but it stopped by the time I arrived.  When I arrived though, at 11 am, I discovered that it didn't open until 12 pm.  I was not going to stand around for an hour because I had places to go and beer to drink so I quickly looked and found that Grand Rapids Brewing Company, which was about half a mile a way opened at 11 am, so that is where I went.  I was happy to see that the vintage space also had ample bike parking on the street.  I walked in and sat at the bar, met one of the friendliest bartenders I would meet on this trip, and was happy to find out that they were serving brunch.  For my brunch, I was very hungry so I ordered something hearty, a Waffle Sandwich with Fried Chicken Breast, Fried Egg, and Smoked Cheddar smashed between two Rum-Infused Waffles, topped with Powdered Sugar and Vodka Soaked Cranberries, and served with Silverfoam Syrup and Home Fries.  While the place was a tavern and brewery, it still struck me funny that the waffle sandwich and syrup were both made with alcohol.  It was very good, sweet and savory, and would provide me enough energy to be going for a while (even though my trips in the morning and early afternoon would all be short).  The flight they served was 6-3 oz pours of beers that the brewery had predetermined that they wanted to feature.  It gave a good variety of the beers that they brew, which all seem to have low IBUs and were pretty sessionable, but it might have been nice to be able to look at what else they might be serving.  I was served Silver Foam American Lager (4.5% ABV, 10 IBU), Rosalyn Bliss Blonde (a blonde Ale infused with Mango-Ceylon Tea, 5.2% ABV, 19 IBU) Violet McMillan's Cranberry Pale Wheat, John Ball Brown Nut Brown Ale (5.5% ABV, 25 IBU, Brewer's Heritage Bavarian Hefeveizen (5.6% ABV, 11 IBU), and Fish Ladder IPA (7% ABV, 80 IBU).  While the beers were not bad, a small taste of a session beer is going to be light on taste.  Of these beers, the Fish Ladder IPA had the heftiest taste, although I think I might have preferred the Violet MacMillan's if it had been a little heftier.  It did have a nice tartness to it, but it was a little light.  The Fish Ladder had a solid taste, although I'm not sure that I liked the specific hop flavor.  I had a nice brunch, a nice conversation, and enjoyed trying the beer, but I needed to continue my tour, so I left to return to Founders.

Founders Brewing Company is the largest brewery in Grand Rapids.  It has a large space, centrally located, that is very open and has a wide variety of beers.  I sat at the bar, in front of the chalkboard menu, and saw that they had a nice selection of beers served only in the tap room.  I decided that since I am pretty familiar with the beers that they served, I would try the ones that I couldn't get elsewhere because it would probably be a while before I was able to get up here again.  Looking around the room, which was very open and used a lot of rough wood, I saw that while they did serve food, and the large menu had some stuff that looked really good (a lot of barbecue), it was counter service and there was a long line, so I was glad I had eaten previously.  For my beers, I chose Ctrl Alt Delete, a Munich-style Alt Ale with a copper color and a bigger flavor than its 3.3% ABV might indicate, Nitro Rubaeus, a tart raspberry ale infuse with nitrogen to soften the edges and give it a nice head (I had had and enjoyed the Rubaeus before, but it was sharp and needed to be sipped.  The infusion of Nitrogen softened it up and gave it a good head while still leaving it very tart.)  Red's Rye IPA, a very good Rye IPA I had had previously; I decided to have this one for a friend of mine.  My last beer was Nitro Frangelic Stout, a hazelnut oatmeal stout with a very good head.  With the hazelnut flavor, it really reminded me of Frangelico (hence the name).  Of these, I think that the Ctrl Alt Delete was my favorite.  Founders seems very much like a destination place and there were what looked like a lot of tourists there (including myself).  While the beer was good, there might be other places I preferred to go first.

The next brewery on the agenda was ELK Brewing, a small place neighborhood place (that is apparently working on expanding in the northern suburbs of Grand Rapids).  When I arrived, I discovered that Sunday was half-price pint day.  When I asked about flights, I found that a flight of pints would cost the same amount as a standard flight, so I decided not to have a standard flight.  As I would be biking a long distance, I decided that a flight of pints would probably not be a great idea either.  I told the bartender, who was also an owner, this and he was very excited, because he is a cyclist himself.  He suggested that I get a pint or two and if there was anything else I wanted to try, he would gladly give me a sample.  I started off with the Expresso Blonde because I had tried a coffee blonde by OddSide Ales that had blown my mind.  This one was pretty good, but was more subtle on the coffee flavor.  I also tried the PB &J'Ale'y because it sounded too weird not to try, the Rye IPA, the Dankalicious IPA (again with the pot references), and the ESB.  The flavors of PB&J were in the PB & J'Ale'y, but I'm not sure that that was a good thing.  Of the two IPAs, the Dankalicious had a deeper and longer lasting hoppy flavor and I think that's what I preferred.  Of the bitter beers though, I think that I liked the ESB best.  After having the pint and the several tastings, I decided that it would be best to stop there and when I went to settle up, the bartender wished me a good journey, told me to say to the other brewers down the road, said that the beer was on the house.  I was very happy and while I did accept the free beers, he also got a very good tip.  The next stop was a former funeral home half a mile down the road called Brewery Vivant.

Being only half a mile away, the ride was easy and it was pretty easy to find.  I was happy to see that it had a large bike rack in front.  I had been told that Brewery Vivant was located in a former funeral home.  While it was pretty big, it wasn't exactly what I expected.  It looked more like a church to me and the inside furthered that theme for me.  It had plaster walls, timber ceilings, and a stained glass window at the back of the room behind the bar.  I am not sure if the building or the theme for the brewery came first, but they go together extremely well.  The aim is to evoke the feeling of a Belgian or French Abbey and the beers that they make are Belgian Abbey Style, with the many beer styles that that involves.  Looking at the food menu, I was kind of sorry that I wasn't hungry yet because the food that they offered was very definitely a step up from standard pub fare.  There was the standard burger, and a few sandwiches, but there was also a Charcuterie and Cheese plate, Escargot, Steak 'N Frites, Roasted Bone Marrow, and Diver Scallops, among other things.  Their aim is to be local, seasonal, and as farm-to-table as possible.  Even though I didn't have any, the food really excited me, and I will have to figure out a way to return, just for the food.  While I talk about the food without having it, I did try a flight of their beers which were served in 4-5 oz glasses.  The beers that I tried were  Farm Hand French-style Farmhouse Ale, Big Red Coq, a Hoppy Belgo-American Red Ale, Devastation Bourbon Barrel Aged Double IPA, and Wit Belgian-Inspired Wheat Ale.  Teh beers were served in 5 oz goblets and a curved serving tray.  All of the beers were very good, but my favorite was the Devastation.  It was a big lightly sweet beer with flavors of bourbon (vanilla and wood) and pineapple flavors.  It also wasn't exceptionally bitter.  With the pineapple flavors, it actually kind of reminded me of a Tripel.  The place was nice, the food looked good, the beer was good, and the people were friendly, but it was time to move on.

The next stop was also fairly close, Harmony Brewing actually has two locations that each brew (although their beer menus are similar).  The original was closer and in the direction that I was traveling.  Harmony Hall, located on the west side, is larger and tries to evoke a German beer hall.  The original is located in a former party store and has a nice patio.  It also has some interesting nature and hop murals.  In all honesty, it really reminded me of something hippies or deadheads might put up.  The inside of the place was oddly shaped, but it did have a small tight corner where I could sit quietly while my phone charged and I enjoyed my beer (My charger was fully charged, but I found it better to use someone else's power when I could so I could save the power on the charger when I did need it.)  The food menu featured sandwiches and pizzas cooked in a brick oven.  While I wasn't really hungry, my next stop was going to be a while so I thought I should grab a snack.  I grabbed the bar mixwhich was a fairly standard mix of Pretzels, Peanuts, Cheez-Its, and Sesame Sticks.  Fpr my beers. I had a Grand Jollification Berliner Weiss, Darth Daddy Black Cream Ale, Elderberry Vandyke Pale Ale, Grand Daddy Rapids Light Pale Ale, and Grapefruit Moon IPA Shandy.  The beers were interesting, I hadn't had a good sour beer yet, but the Berliner Weiss was a good representative of the style and the Grapefruit Moon IPA Shandy was interesting.  Certain hops, including the hops used in the IPA portion of this have a grapefruit flavor, so adding grapefruit juice seems a natural fit.  I was surprised though, at how high the alcohol content was on this (6.2% ABV).  Not that I am complaining, but shandys are generally in the 3.5-4.5% ABV range.  It was very good in any case.

Harmony Brewing was my last brewery in Grand Rapids proper.  My next stop, Cranker's Restaurant and Brewery was south of town, but still considered a Grand Rapids area brewery.  The trip took a little over an hour which included my only traveling on an off-road bicycle trail.  My first impression when I pulled up was that the building used to be a fast food restaurant.  It was a stand alone building with angle parking on three sides, a long driveway, and a turnaround.  There was no bike parking and nothing I could lock up to, so I parked next to the building and hoped nothing happened to it.   Walking in did not dissuade me from the idea that this used to be a fast food restaurant although there was now a bar and the tables were upgraded.  I sat at the bar and ordered dinner and a pint because they did not offer flights.  The food menu was all over the place from barbecue, to sandwiches and burgers, to Tex-Mex.  I also noticed that they were a small chain, with locations also in Mt. Pleasant and Big Rapids.  It was pretty warm and I still had a long way to go, so I wasn't really interested in anything heavy.  I ordered two pieces of Fried Cod with sides of Grilled Vegetables and Mac and Cheese.  I also had a side of Parmesan Fries.  For my beer, I ordered a Professor IPA, a West Coast-Style IPA with flavors of Citrus and Apricot.  Both the beer and the food were okay.  They weren't bad, but neither were they outstanding.  I could eat and drink here, but it isn't a place i might choose again.  While I was here, I talked to a couple who seemed to have been doing their own brewery crawl.  They asked where I had been and where I was going and wanted to know about breweries in Holland.  I told them about the breweries there and they asked to take my picture, which they nicely tweeted back to me.
When I finished dinner, I had the longest ride of the day ahead of me.  The next stop was going to be at the Old Mill Brewpub and Grill in Plainwell, Michigan, about 29 miles south.  According to Google Maps, it would take me about 2 1/2 hours to get there.  I had noticed that it was taking me a little longer than Google estimates, because I was having to occasionally stop and check my directions.  The route was pretty much a straight shot, so I expected that the time should have been pretty close.  Unfortunately, after about two hours, I started getting a cramp in my leg.  I stopped for a few minutes to try to work it out, but it didn't do a lot of good.  I got back on the road and arrived at the brewery at 9:35 pm.  Unfortunately, the brewery closed at 9:30 pm.  The tradition of just missing the my last brewery of the night was continuing and I was not liking it.  The place looked very nice and apparently, the building is on the National Registry of Historic Places.  Built in 1870, it was once the largest buckwheat flour mill in the country.  It was very nice, but I would not be drinking there, so it was time to continue my journey to Kalamazoo to stop for the night.  The place that I was hoping to stay was 11 1/2 miles away and should have taken a little over an hour to get there.  This would have been during the daytime with two legs that felt fine.  As it was, my leg continued to get more painful and the terrain became more hilly as I got closer to Kalamazoo.  The road was also very dark, but luckily I had good lights and the traffic was light.  I made it to the hotel a painful hour and twenty minutes later and was given a room on the third floor.  I was also told by this clerk that I could put my bike in my room here as well.  Walking up the stairs on my own, let alone with a fully loaded bike on my shoulder, was not something I enjoyed, but I did make it.  I had some Advil with me, which I hoped would help, and I figured I could get some ice to help things out.  Of course, with the way things were going, I couldn't find my Advil and the ice machine was broken.  I did have some Icy Hot which I hoped would help a little.  My leg was sore, but tomorrow was going to be the last day and I was going to meet a friend who lives in Battle Creek early.  The riding was almost over.           


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