There is an imponderable something that appeals to me about visiting breweries -- something beyond the simple fact that they serve delicious beer. Perhaps it is the eclectic vibe that just can't be found in an average chain restaurant, and is somehow beyond the reach of any neighborhood bar. We are immensely fortunate to have several such places in Grand Rapids: HopCat, The Hideout, Founders, and Grand Rapids Brewing Company, just to name a few. When you walk into these places, there's an amicable feeling of belonging, as if by purchasing a pint you become almost family. It's comforting and keeps you coming back for more.
When Seth and I visited Old Boy's Brewhouse in Spring Lake, that feeling instantly settles over me. As we enter the building, we immediately pass the gleaming stainless steal and copper brewing equipment, followed by various clever t-shirts, mugs, and other OBB paraphernalia. Within mere seconds of our arrival, this brewery has won over my easily meltable heart by playing to my (very large) animal lover side. The popular summer destination -- named for the owner's departed chocolate Lab -- stocks homemade doggy treats near the front entrance, alongside donation jars for local animal rescues and an information board for local adoptable pets.
As we approach the host's station, we are greeted by two smiling faces. We flip-flop back and forth between the choice to sit in the bar, the restaurant, or outside, and finally decide to sit out on the deck. As we are escorted through the bar area to the deck overlooking the Grand River, it's clear that this place is truly a dog lover's dream. Many walls of this hip place are covered with patrons' and workers' dogs -- both alive and remembered. And while you can't bring your pooch with you to the dinner table, you can bring a photo of your beloved pet for the restaurant-bar staff to add to the staggering collection of dog photos adorning the walls.
As we are seated, we soon discover that warm fuzzies aren't the only thing on tap at Old Boys'. The affable dog-centric theme complements the equally appealing chow and libation offerings. Our extremely attentive waitress greets us, hands us our paw-shaped menus, and takes our drink order. All of the beers sounded good, so we ordered a beer sampler to share. Included in our flight of beers were a Kölsch, an IPA, a red, a brown ale, a Bohemian pilsner, an imperial IPA, and an oatmeal stout. Seth and I immediately gravitated toward the light, refreshing Connor's Kölsch and the Old Boys' Brown Ale, with its rich, caramel nutty undertones. All of the brews are solid, but not overly intimidating. Both the Dogtail IPA and Kennel King Imperial IPA seemed to lack the expected pronounced hoppy-bitterness, but they did have a nice citrus/floral finish. The pilsner was crisp, clean, and slightly buttery and definitely the "session beer" of the lot.
While their menu isn't cutting edge on the whole - it doesn't need to be. The chef at Old Boys' has created an extensive pub menu that goes extremely well with beer. Dinner entrees carry a brew recommendation, and appetizers are made to share. Foodwise, we were very indecisive about what type of food we were in the mood for, so when the waitress dropped off our beer sampler, we decided to start off with the "Stacked Fresh Mozzarella" (fresh mozzarella layered with tomato, basil and drizzled with balsamic reduction). While it was tasty (how can you really mess up a Caprese salad?), it was not anything special for $10.
The next appetizer we decided to split was the "Roasted Chicken Lettuce Wraps," which came with bib lettuce, roasted chicken, Napa cabbage slaw, and OBB's homemade peanut sauce on a plate, meant to be assembled at the table. These, too, were pretty good, but we could have used more of the slaw and less of the peanut sauce. Another appetizer that was good, but wasn't really worth $10. Though my food reviews aren't exactly glowing, I feel as though it was due to our choices more than the actual quality of food served here, because the food being served to everyone around us look fantastic, especially the pan-fried lake perch, burgers, and beef brisket. I will definitely give the food here another chance.
By this time, we were done with our beer sampler and noticed many nearby tables ordering pints and pitchers of OBB's special concoction called Golden Sour. Initially, I turned my nose up at the thought of trying (and hating) yet another sour beer, until our waitress informed me that this is not a true sour-style beer -- it's actually a blend of the Bohemian Pilsner and lime juice. She brought us a small sample, and I immediately ordered a pint of it. It was light and tart and exactly what I was in the mood for while sitting outside on this warm, sunny day.
We lingered for a little while longer to watch people walking by on the river walk and boats passing through the channel on what could be one of the final few perfect Michigan summer days of the year. On our way out, we pass the dessert tray, loaded with double-wide carrot cake (a personal favorite), gigantic layers of deep, dark chocolate cake, and some kind of monster sundae. Not today, sweets. I am too sated. But I will return for you soon, and next time I will bring a photo of my two wiener dogs.
Without a doubt, my experience at Old Boy's is memorable. In fact, once winter is in full swing it will be torture to be away when I imagine sitting out on their deck on a warm, sunny day, sipping a cold beer. We may not be back again this year, but we will definitely return again next summer, and I would drive twice as far as we had to to get there, making this a 50 mile brewery.