Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Day trip to Western Michigan

Michigan is known for many things – cars, it’s sports teams, the UP, and (in the last few years) it’s brewers have begun to make Michigan a beer destination. Late last month, a few chums (Eric, Justin, Nick) of mine and I opted to make a day trip to Western Michigan to visit a few breweries. We had been planning this trip for a few weeks. Specifically, the planning began soon after two of us were lucky enough to be able to procure a ticket for Founders’ KBS release.

Besides Founders, we also wanted to stop by the Livery and Greenbush.  Both the Livery and Greenbush have been on my ‘to-visit’ list for some time. I was really looking forward to having the opportunity to visit both.

Out of our group of four, I was the lone person that had been to Founders before and I was looking forward to this Founders visit more than the previous ones. The reason for this was a networking contact that Eric had gotten in touch with at Founders (we’ll refer to him as J). The two of them (Eric and J) had arranged a collection of activities for our visit. Eric did not share any of the plans beyond a tour of Founders and a cookout at J’s house so the rest of us had good reason to be excited about the trip.

We arrived at Founders at around 11a local time. After parking our car, we rendezvoused with J at a Founders bay door. J let us in and led us to the taproom (which was not yet open). Once inside, J had us all get wristbands and then he told us to order a beer and have it put it on his tab. It was the first in many instances of great hospitality by our host.

After acquiring a beer, all of us went out to the Founders taproom patio and took a seat at a table near the entrance to the taproom.  We then spent a half hour or so talking about baseball, J’s time with Founders, and how J found his way to Grand Rapids. After acquiring a second beer, Eric and I opted to exchange our KBS tickets for KBS before we began a tour of Founders brewing facility.

Now, in all of my previous visits to Founders I could only look through Founders’ windows and gaze at the shiny steel and space from outside. Even then, Founders’ space and equipment looked large. I can tell you that the view from inside of Founders looks much, much bigger. Case-and-point, the photo below. Said photo shows me standing next to a 550 bbl fermenter (note – 1 barrel is approximately 31 gallons). Founders is planning on filling a nice chunk of their north cellar with more of these gigantic fermenters. NOTE - a time lapse video of Founders' north cellar construction can be found here.

Super small me next to a 550 bbl fermenter

After the above picture was taken we made our way to the packaging hall, but not before we passed by fermenters that contained 2014 KBS. I think it was the first time I had ever held the bottled version of a beer while walking past the fermenting version of the same beer. It was an odd, but great feeling.

In Founders’ packaging hall we saw their bottle fillers (both the 12 oz and 22 oz), the machine that makes their boxes (fun fact – it’s a prototype that was never put into production), and where their canning line will go. Perhaps this is my mechanical engineering mind speaking but I thought it was all beautiful stuff (especially the Krones machines). The bottling machines were shiny, large, complex, and it all contributed to the act of putting beer into vessels.  I may have shed a tear in the pack hall.

Founders' bottling line

Founders' box constructor

From the packaging hall we walked into a neighboring room where their keg machine is.  Fun fact – Founders fills half barrels and quarter barrels. 

From the kegging area, we walked to their brewhouse and learned that they are adding onto it (more info on Founders expansion can be found here).

Founders' brewhouse

The brewhouse visit concluded our tour, and so we decided to go to J’s house and return to the taproom afterwards (at which time we hoped the crowds would have reduced in size).

At J’s house we enjoyed some homemade brats and cookies. We also were introduced to this lovely wife and got to see a part of his recently purchased house. We also gifted J w/ some beer from our brewery, including a keg of a recently packaged beer of ours. We would have put said keg on immediately, but fresh All Day IPA was on and that is not something that we could say no to.

J had invited some of his fellow co-workers from the packaging department to the cookout so that we could have a chance to meet each.  I was happy to learn that they are as relaxed as the packaging people where I work, and they were all funny and easy to talk with.

After the cookout we returned to Founders where we had a bit more KBS, I had my photo taken with Jeremy Kosmicki , and we bid J adieu before we departed Founders for Benton Harbor and the Livery. It was tough ‘closing’ the Founders portion of our trip, but I am really confident that we/I will be back again soon.

The Livery was an enjoyable stop but we were not able to tour their facility due to the time of our arrival, and we did/do not have a connection there. Fortunately, we did enjoy a few of the beers that they had on tap. Of the ones I tried, I enjoyed the English pale ale the most. Unfortunately, none of their acclaimed sours were available (we were told they would be available in a few weeks). While we were not able to take any of their sours with us this time, we left with a good reason (among others) to return in the future.

After departing the Livery, we made our way for Greenbush Brewing Company. I had never been to Greenbush before, but I had recently read that they were going to begin distributing to Chicago. So I was interested to try what would be coming our way. 

Greenbush photo #1

The first thing you notice about Greenbush is how beautiful it’s building is – large windows, gentle lighting, and an old, wood bar. Also, the beer that they had available ran the gamut from a pale ale and a porter to a weizenbock and a tripel brewed with Vandermill cider. Such a great variety of beer, and not a bad one in the bunch. Chicago is a very lucky city to be on the receiving end of their beer. I am looking forward to visiting Greenbush again.

Greenbush photo #2

Like all good trips, this one felt like it went by too quickly, but I know that I’ll make it back to Michigan for more beer and more memories in the future.

I hope it goes without saying, but for those of you who do not live in Michigan, do yourself a favor and plan a trip to the lovely MI. You will not be disappointed.

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