Visiting Odd Side Ales, a brand new (and tiny) brewery in Grand Haven, was a very interesting experience wrapped in a quest and surrounded by confusion. Located in a nondescript plaza on the main drag of Grand Haven, it has no easily recognizable sign out front, and shares the building with a boring looking Italian place (which Laura informs me is actually delicious), a reception hall, a coffee shop, and several corporate offices. In fact, as we were wandering, lost, a wedding party was also wandering around the building. To make matters worse, Odd Side Ales is not yet listed on the corporate business list.
Once you do find it (enter, take a right, first room on the left), things change. For a place in a corporate-style plaza center, Odd Side Ales exudes personality. It doesn't try too hard to be retro hip or hipster cool or yuppie chic; it's just a laid back, simple environment. There's two old style cork dart boards available for use. A corner of the bar has a set of padded chairs, for those who prefer a more intimate setting, while the rest of the area is sparsely populated with an even mix of bistro and regular-height tables. The walls are painted a calming blue, save for the one outside wall, which remains naked white brick, adorned with photography of what I can only assume is the brewing equipment.
The bar is a conversation piece on its own; beneath the lacquered finished is a complex and abstract design made entirely of different types of malt. It's original and intricate without being distracting. While we were there, Chris (owner, bartender, and master brewer) was using some of the space to put together some of the darts his more unruly patrons had damaged. Shame on you, dart players.
Odd Side Ales serves no food; in this, they share something in common with Schmohz brewery in Grand Rapids. And like Schmohz, you can bring whatever food you want in to pair with your beverage or share with your friends. This turns out to be quite convenient, given the plethora of eateries located within walking distance of the brewery. As I enjoyed my beer at the bar, I noticed people eating pizza, Mexican food, and Italian food.
Of course, without serving its own food, Odd Side Ales must stand alone based on its beers and its personality. And stand on those merits it certainly does. Chris is a knowledgeable and passionate brewer. Every single beer I tried was above par, and many were spectacular. His Realignment raspberry ale was sharp and tart, with no hint of that sickly sweet I lambast other beers for. The bourbon aged Jackalope American Amber was a new experience; I've had bourbon-aged stouts, porters, pale ales, and IPAs, but this is the first American Amber I've had that got “the treatment,” and the result was delicious. The bourbon flavor was more mild than one would expect, with minimal carbonation and a mix of caramel and hops. They even have a “segue” beer for rice lager fans: the Lite Brite was crisp and light without sacrificing too much flavor. All of the beers were great in their own right, and Chris was extremely knowledgeable about all of his beer and even changed a tap when a specific ale did not live up to his exacting standards.
In terms of personality, this place was that rare experience that made me want to own a pub exactly like it. The wait staff was friendly and very excited just to talk about beer, and the location means – in addition to a plethora of selections from which to eat – Odd Side does a brisk business of wedding parties, eager to explore the rest of the building that houses their reception hall. And nothing makes for more entertainment than a wedding party. The live music, too, was not just “enjoyable” – it was very, very good. Typically, I actively avoid places with live music because it's either hopelessly boring, terrifically loud, annoyingly distracting, or some combination of the three. The twin bass players at Odd Side Ales were none of those things, being both entertaining while still letting me carry on a conversation with the bartender. They fit the décor of the place quite well.
Between the professionalism and excellent service given to us by the owner, the pleasant and laid back atmosphere, and the delicious, original, and well balanced beer, I'll forgive Odd Side Ales for being hard to find. It's a hell of a gem in Grand Haven, easily a 100 mile trip out of your way to check out. I know I'll be back, and back often.