A weekend in Beer City USA

Fall is a great time for visiting the Midwest. With the humid summer over, a gentle cool breeze whips through the air. My day out exploring the beer scene of Grand Rapids started with clouded skies, but luckily these cleared by lunchtime, and the bright sun took the chill off – just as well given that I didn’t have a warm jacket.

Grand Rapids is the second largest city in the state of Michigan. The metro area seemed sprawling but the downtown area felt quite small and walkable. So what made Grand Rapids earn the title Beer City USA?

Arguably, it all started with Founders in 1997. In the last couple of decades, Founders has become one of the best known breweries in the country, and their tasty beers have reached further shores; Byron burger restaurants in the UK have been serving up bottles of the crowd-pleasing All Day IPA for several years now. The Founders taproom was majestic. A lengthy beer list, speedy service and a killer food menu, all with a great view of the shiny brewery through floor to ceiling windows.

Recent years have seen aggressive expansion of the brewing scene in GR. The city was first recognised as ‘Beer City’ when it had fewer than 20 breweries, and as of now the city’s Ale Trail boasts 80+ breweries. So, it’s easy to see how 40,000 beer tourists flock here every year.

We finished the afternoon in town at Grand Rapids Beer Company. Sat at the counter, I enjoyed a lovely Hefeweizen. Then it was time to head home to sample some rich bottled stouts. My favorite was The Poet from New Holland Brewing; beautiful creamy mouthfeel and rich roasted flavours. Richer still was the slightly higher ABV Dragon’s Milk, which is aged in oak barrels for 120 days.

Any lover of great beer of all varieties would enjoy a weekend in Grand Rapids. And, although it’s not quite a GR brew, I highly recommend getting hold of the Two Hearted Ale, brewed at Bells in Kalamazoo, MI. It’s one of the cleanest and most well-rounded IPAs I’ve ever had.

 

 

 

Beer tasting at Goose Island Brewhouse

On my recent visit to Chicago, I couldn’t pass up the chance to visit the taproom for Goose Island brewery. Goose Island IPA was one of the first US craft beers I tasted some years back, but I’d never tried many of their other offerings.

The taproom offered excellent views of mash tuns and fermenters, and had an industrial vibe whilst also feeling like a real bar. This was right up my street; I really like it when breweries lean in to the function of their space, and go the extra mile to show off the shiny production facilities to drinkers in an aesthetically pleasing way.

The menu was extensive. My husband opted for the barrel-aged beer flight, and I chose a mix-and-match selection of some slightly lower ABV beers, so we both got to taste eight different beers.

Everything was good, and more importantly, nothing was boring or awful. The were some standouts, including the IPA Now, which was pleasantly heavy on the pine, and the Sofie Saison, which had the perfect balance between citrus and peppery aromas and flavors. The smoked Helles beer packed a punch, and I made a mental note to pair something like this with spare ribs in the future.

I’m not big on meaty scotch ales myself, but my husband thought that the Copper Project was about the best in this category he’s had recently. The biggest surprise was the Brasserie Blanc, a beer fermented with Napa Valley Muscat grapes, and aged in a wine barrel. My last foray into a white wine cask beer was rather unpleasant, so I was somewhat apprehensive. But it was great – crisp and fruity, yet still with a hint of oak. Something that would appeal to cider fans and highly adventurous beer drinkers alike.

Overall, a lovely time stepping out of my beer drinking comfort zone, and the perfect end to a city break. I’m already looking forward to my next visit to Chicago – please feel free to leave a comment if you know of any other breweries that I should check out next time!

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