Brewery Vivant says on their web site that they are inspired by the small breweries that dot the countryside along the border of southern Belgium and northern France. This is an area that Lauren and I toured a few times when we were more into the Belgian beers so we were excited to check out Vivant, despite not being so into the Belgians anymore.
The building Vivant chose for their brewpub fits their aspirations pretty nicely. They describe it as a historic funeral home, but it resembles an old church on the outside and an even older church in the main part of the interior, which has a big U-shaped altar-bar and is surrounded by tables. They have a few offshoot rooms that are more modern and a small patio with 5-6 smaller tables outside.
The beer really does all have a Belgian tilt to it. I tried the strong saison brewed with citrus and it didn’t float my boat. They had a Belgian Pale brewed with pink peppercorns that was more my style. I’m no longer in a Belgian phase as the beers are all a bit sweet for me, but I could taste the quality in Vivant’s beers.
They also serve food that was highly touted in a couple Grand Rapids magazines / web sites. The menu was pretty small while it tasted fine, we wouldn’t come back for the food.
Elk Brewing is a two year old brewery located in the Eastown neighborhood of Grand Rapids. It’s a small place with a great neighborhood feel. The tasting room is dominated by a cool eight-seat, L-shaped metal and wood bar. There are 8 or so small tables around the bar and then a big patio out the back. They serve sandwiches there, but the food seams an afterthought (it may be awesome; we didn’t try it). In short, it looks and feels like a brewery should.
Unfortunately, I didn’t love the beer. I tried the two IPAs they had on tap, one a double, and found them both just too malty, not uncommon since we’ve entered Michigan. Lauren had the Pale though and was quite pleased with it.
Elk Brewing does not currently bottle or can their beers for distribution.
FOUNDERS BREWING COMPANY
Due to several years of explosive growth, Founders is now one of the largest craft breweries in the world, with distribution in 30 countries and 37 states.
Majority owned by three local Grand Rapids residents, all of their distribution is currently done on a massive building on a single square block (really more the equivalent of 4 square normal city blocks) just outside of downtown, although the company is currently building a satellite facility a mile away.
Much of their strong growth in recent years has been on the back of my favorite of their beers – and one of my favorite overall beers, the highly flavorful and (relatively) low alcohol content All Day IPA. We learned from our visit that it is the number one selling session IPA in the world and the number 4 selling IPA overall. It has become Founders’ best selling beer by a long shot, and for good reason in my view.
The tasting room for Founders is located in the same massive complex as the brewery. There is a huge outdoor seating area and then inside a really large room with a large bar and a smaller, but still large, second room with a smaller bar, the other side of which sits the gift shop. Founders also serves food and there are three windows where customers can queue up to place an order.
While the beer at Founders ranges from good to outstanding and the atmosphere at the brewery is nice enough, despite the size, the place was a bit logistically annoying. Visitors should be prepared to wait on themselves. There is no wait staff – all beers must be ordered from one of the bars and all food from the food windows – they even give their food customers a buzzer so that they can come pick up their own food when it is ready. Yet despite the efforts to cut labor costs wherever possible, they inexplicably don’t have any descriptions on their beer lists so the beertenders have to take a fair amount of time to explain the offering to guests. On the plus side, we found the folks behind the bar to be quite knowledgeable and very enthusiastic about the beer.
And, it’s the beer that leaves the lasting impression at Founders. We didn’t taste the All Day as we’ve been well stocked with it for several weeks, but did try several other IPAs, including their flagship regular American IPA Centennial. The other highlight for us was a seasonal hazelnut coffee stout.
HARMONY BREWING COMPANY
Harmony Brewing Company has two locations in Grand Rapids, one in the Eastown neighborhood that we visited and one on the Westside. The Eastown location is in a former liquor store that had been sitting vacant for 10 years before Harmony moved in. It’s a neat little building, triangle-shaped on the inside, invoking images of a European city eatery. Fitting as it is also a restaurant (pizza – we didn’t try any of the food) and a full bar.
As we had the dog, we sat outside on their patio (also shaped like a triangle to accommodate the street). It was obscenely hot outside so I ordered a drink I would normally make fun of, a shandy. Of course, this shandy was made with an IPA as opposed to a lager and with grapefruit juice instead of lemonade so it was cool enough. And did I mention that it was obscenely hot?
After a refreshing shandy (ok, I really did like it), I tried just their mainstay IPA on its own. It was one of the better beers I’ve had in Michigan. Liked the beer; liked the spot.
As near as we can tell, Harmony only brews for distribution in their two brewpubs.