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Beertown, U.S.A.: Grand Rapids, Mich.

The nexus of the Mitten's booming beer scene.
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CATEGORIES: Beertown   Travel  

Founders Brewing's Taproom

Founders Brewing’s Taproom

Western Michigan is awash in breweries, but Grand Rapids has been at the heart of it all since Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers established Founders in 1997. They broke the mold with bold flavors and a “brewed for us” philosophy (ever heard of a little beer called KBS?); today, Founders still ranks among the best breweries worldwide. Craft beer enthusiasts like Mark Sellers of HopCat (one of our Top 100 Beer Bars) and Steve Siciliano (whose eponymous market fuels homebrewers) have continued to feed the region’s beer craze, and the industry has helped renew previously vacant neighborhoods like East Hills, now home to the striking Brewery Vivant. It was with this liquid momentum that Grand Rapids won the annual Beer City USA poll in 2012 and 2013.

Brewery Vivant
New Holland Brewing co-founder Jason Spaulding turned a former funeral home into the nation’s first LEED-certified brewery, and an ode to Belgian yeast. Stunning stained glass windows and vaulted ceilings make the place a natural Instagram op, but the rustic Belgian twists on Amerian ale (don’t miss Triomphe, a Belgo IPA, and watch for the deftly made seasonal PlowHorse stout) flaunt the beer brains behind the pretty face. 925 Cherry St., breweryvivant.com

Now big brother to a handful of HopCat siblings, the original remains one of the best beer bars on Earth thanks to 49 taps, 200-plus bottles and super-smart bartenders who take time to walk through them all. Fuel your beer session with the highly addictive Crack Fries, beer-battered, browned and seasoned to perfection. 25 Ionia Ave., hopcat.com

Just like its famous Kentucky Breakfast Stout, the brewery that put Grand Rapids on the nation’s beer map only gets better with age. Bask in the behemoth beer garden (part of a recent expansion) while the weather’s still nice; come late fall, book a tour, order a customized deli sandwich, and settle in with pints of the impeccable Backwoods Bastard Scotch ale, Red’s Rye IPA and barrel-aged beauties you won’t find anywhere else. 235 Grandville Ave. S.W., foundersbrewing.com

Grand Rapids Brewing
Michigan’s only certified organic brewery sits just down the block from its sister spot, HopCat. GRBC’s warm, reclaimed-wood watering hole brings the tavern concept into the 21st century with a successful composting/recycling program, and chef Adam Watts’ high-minded spins on pub grub—think bacon meatballs over creamy polenta. 1 Ionia Ave., grbrewingcompany.com

The concept’s called “Earth-to-table dining,” but the real magic happens between the farm and the sleek, striped booths: The kitchen creates artfully arranged plates that are almost too pretty to dig into, but with gnocchi, onion risotto, smoked duck and lamb T-bones all born of Michigan meat and produce, you won’t resist for long. Of course, the beer and cider list is strictly Michigan-made, too. 919 Cherry St. S.E., groverestaurant.com



Mitten Brewing
Housed in a Victorian-era firehouse, the brainchild of longtime friends and homebrewers Chris Andrus and Max Trierweiler is a shrine to two great American traditions: beer and baseball. Cheer on the Tigers and munch on housemade soft pretzels while sipping stadium-inspired brews like the roasty Peanuts and Crackerjack Porter. 527 Leonard St. N.W., mittenbrewing.com

The B.O.B.
Weekend crowds flock to the Big Old Building, a 70,000-sq.-ft. complex in the heart of downtown, to indulge in a succulent steak at Judson’s, comedy shows upstairs at Grins, or drinks at posh club Eve. Head to the basement of the four-story former warehouse to find the brewpub that churns out whimsical beers like the Spaceboy English Oatmeal stout and Spooky Action IPA. 20 Monroe Ave., thebob.com

OddSide Ales
Tucked in an old piano factory, this up-and-comer rivals its neighbor to the north, Shorts Brewing, with quirky, culinary-driven concoctions. Beers like Java Chip Mint Stout—modeled after Thin Mint cookies—drink like a meal, so it’s no big deal that the brewpub doesn’t serve food. Mug club members get to paint their own tankards, which adorn the wall behind the bar. 41 Washington Ave., Grand Haven, oddsideales.com

Siciliano’s Market
Owner Steve Siciliano turned a failing convenience store into this craft beer destination back in the mid-’90s. Now, it’s the most acclaimed artisan apothecary around, with everything DIY-ers need to make beer, cider, bread, yogurt and more, and a massive Michigan-driven bottle selection that cements it as the city’s best (beer) souvenir shop. 2840 Lake Michigan Dr. N.W., sicilianosmkt.com

Harmony Brewing
Locals come to mellow out with Grand Rapids’ finest wood-fired pizzas, topped with everything from Cuban-style shredded pork to basil plucked from the rooftop garden. Chat up the crunchy crowd at the patio’s colorful picnic tables while sipping smoked porter, fruited Berliner weisse and Grapefruit Moon, a 6.5%-ABV IPA-shandy hybrid. 1551 Lake Drive S.E., harmonybeer.com

Graydon’s Crossing
The brick-and-mortar embodiment of an India pale ale, Graydon’s is mostly English with a bit of Bombay—in the form of a menu loaded with Bangladesh burritos, eggplant curry and bibimbap. Nearly 50 rotating taps feature impeccable suds from around the Mitten to Belgium; what doesn’t change is the permanent cask of Bell’s Two Hearted Ale. 1223 Plainfield Ave. N.E., graydonscrossing.com

DAY TRIPPING: A pilgrimage to Bell’s Brewery
The powerhouse behind HopSlam and Oberon lies just 52 miles south of Grand Rapids. Weekend tours guide visitors through a history of Bell’s growth, from Larry Bell’s first 15-gallon kettle batch to the reopening of The Eccentric Café brewpub in 2011 after a $3 million renovation; afterward, take in a movie night or music session in the beer garden. Before heading back, hit the adjoining General Store for exclusive brewpub bottle releases and cans of Two Hearted, Oberon and—launching in metal any minute—Best Brown Ale. 355 E. Kalamazoo Ave., Kalamazoo, bellsbeers.com



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