Monday, July 26, 2010

Grand Rapids Brewing Company

Is this a rebadged Motel 6 sign?
The Grand Rapids Brewing company is a victim of its environment. When I see a small, nondescript building on the side of a busy, boring road filled with malls and chain restaurants and Best Buys and Target stores, I tend to dismiss it. Great breweries are tucked away in little- traveled districts, or they’re in quaint little shops in quaint little tourist towns. Nothing good could come from a building whose architect clearly studied at Ponderosa University. . .

it has more in common with an OCB than a brewery. . .

The preconceived notions, how they crumble. I’ve been avoiding the Grand Rapids Brewing Company for years, simply because of its location. In fact, it took the cajoling of my in laws (and my own reluctant acknowledgment that I would, eventually, have to go there anyway) to convince me to drive on one of the most boring, stereotypically suburban roads in the city and make my way to the GRBC.

The inside of the building was deceptively large, with no less than three separate dining areas; this allowed those who prefer their time at the full bar with some much needed space from families and their children – and vice versa. The atmosphere is warm and cozy without being claustrophobic, and the wooden tables and late 19th century décor was cheesy but in a friendly and inviting way. The “flair” consisted of pieces from the brewery’s history, which has been in Grand Rapids since the 1890s.

I was most surprised, however, by the quality and depth of the beer. The Grand Rapids Brewing Company is not a flashy or experimental brewery, so don’t expect a mind bending list of crazy flavors to try. Their entire beer selection consists of 5 choices: wheat beer, American style pilsner, a fantastic red amber, stout, and pale ale. All very simple beers, but these simple beers are also the easiest to brew incorrectly. It’s easy enough to hide flaws in the brewing process by jamming so many hops or so much citrus flavor that you mask the foundations of the beer; that’s why so many brewing companies are jumping right to the high gravity beer selections – many times a big beer will cover up a brewer’s mistakes. I'm not claiming that all big beers are brewed by bad brewers, of course, nor am I saying I don't like an Imperial IPA or a double stout; I'm just laying out that sometimes, I prefer a well made, simple beer.

left to right: wheat beer, stout, Irish red, pale ale, pilsner

The Grand Rapids Brewing Company does just that by creating delicious, well balanced beers that stand on their own. The River City Red, for example, is a malty amber ale that finishes with just the perfect amount of dry hops. I’m not typically a red beer fan, but the color, feel, smell, and taste of this amber makes me regret strongly that this brewery doesn’t bottle its product.

The stout, however, was the highlight of my evening. I love dark, heavy stouts, but with most dark beer they’re just too filling to enjoy, especially while eating. Incidentally, this is why Guinness is so popular; despite its taste and color, it’s technically a light beer, both by calorie count and by how easily it sits in your stomach. The stout here shares that quality with Guinness (New Holland’s Poet Stout is one of the few other dark but easy to drink beers). It’s no slouch on flavor, with a strong toasted malt built under hints of coffee, with a smooth finish that anyone can appreciate.

Paired with the beer was some of the most surprisingly delicious family style restaurant food I’ve had. Don’t be surprised by the fact that everything on the menu is familiar; like the beer selection, this is a place content to serve standard items that excel in quality. We sampled their cheese and jalapeno stuffed pretzels and their waffle fry-nachos for appetizers; the nachos were hot and crispy with all the toppings one should expect, but the real highlight was the fried pretzel bursting with cheddar cheese. This, served with a jalapeno dipping sauce, should be on every menu I visit. It was hot and crispy and chewy and light and spicy, all at once. Perfect. For my entrée, I ordered the brisket reuben, served with bbq coleslaw and home made chips. The chips were standard and not altogether amazing, but they didn’t disappoint and served for a nice, salty foil to the brisket, which came out hot and tender and sweet, on perfectly toasted rye bread. The sandwich was well worth the price of admission.

Pretty close to life changing.

Brisket. Cole slaw. Oh yes.

The Grand Rapids Brewing Company offers exceptional service in a family friendly environment while keeping on tap some well balanced beer selection. They’ll never be known for their originality or their experimental choices, but they don’t really care; they do what they know how to do, and they do it perfectly. This is a gem of the Grand Rapids community, and well worth a 40 mile trip to visit.


Seth said...

Note: All of our photography is ours unless explicitly mentioned in the caption. Laura took these shots of the building.

eric said...

Photo credit for Laura with her beer sampler goes to me. =)

I'm also disappointed that my behemoth of a hamburger wasn't mentioned. Spot-on description, though.

Seth said...

Apologies for not crediting the photography, I was remarking just on that ones that looked like I took them from google.

This post was a bit of a struggle for me to format correctly; several shots that I thought were good did not make it here, including the nachos, your burger, and the brewery itself. I blame the economy and Blogger's fidgety posting system.

eric said...

No biggie. I just figured since you made a point of mentioning photography credits in your first comment, I'd be a whiny baby. ;-)

I can understand about having to edit down. Less is more and, unless you actually tried my burger, what's the point of putting it in the post? I just loved how comically large it was.

Laura said...

I liked the guns you were shooting me while I was taking the photo.

Bowlf said...

How come no one mentioned the brisket sandwich *I* ordered?

Laura said...

Seth, it sounds like everyone agrees that you really biffed it on this one. You should just delete it and start over.

Anne Barber said...

Thanks for this review, I have been studiously avoiding GRBC for the same reasons.

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