Beer City Tally Update

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So as we near the end of 2013, I thought we’d better take a moment to update the list of craft brewers in and around “Beer City, USA.” As in last year’s list, I apologize for the “local” nature of this list, but this is focused near my roots and hope this is helpful to locals.
For those of you in Beer City, have you tried them all? Am I missing any?

METRO +/- 20 minutes from downtown (18 open / 10 in planning):
B.O.B.’s Brewery
Brewery Vivant
EB Coffee & Brewpub (Caledonia…existing restaurant, brewery in planning)
Cedar Springs Brewing Company (in planning)
Cellar Brewing (Sparta)
Crankers
“Dutton Project” (in planning)
Elk Brewing (in planning)
Founders Brewing
Grand Rapids Brewing Company
“Grand Rapids Project” (moving location…in planning)
Gravel Bottom (Ada)
Grill 111 (Rockford…existing restaurant, brewery in planning)
Harmony Brewing Company
Harmony Brewing II (former Little Mexico…in planning)
Hideout Brewing Company
HopCat
High Five Co-op (in planning)
Jaden James (Kentwood/Cascade)
Mitten Brewing Company
New Holland Brewing (Grand Rapids location…in planning)
Osgood Brewing Company (Grandville)
Perrin Brewing (Comstock Park)
Pike 51 (Hudsonville)
Rockford Brewing (Rockford)
Schmohz Brewery
Two Fisted Brewing Company (Jenison…in planning)
White Flame Brewing Company (Hudsonville)

NEARBY +/- 45 minutes (12 open / 5 in planning):
57 Brew Pub & Bistro (Greenville)
Barking Cat (Wayland…in planning, but apparently abandoned & therefore not included in the totals above)
Big Lake Brewing (Holland)
Blue Cow Cafe (Big Rapids)
Cranker’s (Big Rapids)
Fish Hook (Muskegon…in planning?)
“Fremont Project” (Fremont…in planning)
Middle Villa Inn (Middleville…but apparently for sale)
Muskegon Brewing (in planning, but also apparently abandoned & not included)
New Holland Brewing Company (Holland)
“Newaygo Project” (Newaygo…in planning)
Odd Side Ales (Grand Haven)
Old Boys’ Brewhouse (Spring Lake)
Our Brewing Company (Holland)
Pigeon Hill (Muskegon…in planning)
Saugatuck Brewing (Saugatuck)
Tripel Root (Zeeland…in planning)
Unruly Brewing (Muskegon)
Walldorff (Hastings)

That’s quite a list, all within roughly 45 minutes. It’s also a significant increase over one year ago…with 15 more area breweries actually open and 6 more in planning. Of those that are open, I’ve not tried the new Crankers in Grand Rapids or the Middle Villa yet, so there’s still work to do this year, although I’d better hustle to try MVI before it’s too late as it’s rumored to be for sale or pending close.

All of us at BAF wish the newcomers the best of luck as well.

Again, if I’m missing any that someone is aware of or in planning, please add them in the comments.

UPDATE (23.1.14): several new projects in planning added.

Overheard

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“Good people drink good beer.”
Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

“It’s so cold out there today, I saw a teenager with his pants pulled all the way up.”
- guy sitting next to me at the bar a week ago, as the snow was piling up in West Michigan.

“Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”
- Ernest Hemmingway

“Here’s to alcohol, the rose colored glasses of life.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned

“There are two kinds of people I don’t trust: people who don’t drink and people who collect stickers.”
Chelsea Handler, My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands

“Never trust a man who doesn’t drink and quotes the Bible.”
- D.O.A.

“We were not a hugging people. In terms of emotional comfort it was our belief that no amount of physical contact could match the healing powers of a well made cocktail.”
David Sedaris, Naked

“Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the Bible says love your enemy.”
Frank Sinatra

“Bud Light? I thought you wanted a beer?”
- overheard at popular local sports bar.

EDIT (17.12.13): One more from yesterday that is too good not to share…

“I dunno. Everything I know about love, I learned from Conway Twittey songs.”
- overheard at the bar.

EDIT (1.1.14): A final from this morning…

“My check liver light came on this morning.”
- Tater, nursing his New Year’s hangover.

Raise a Glass

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Today marks the 80th anniversary of the repeal of “The Noble Experiment,” Prohibition, with the passage of the 21st Amendment to the Constitution. It’s interesting to note some of the consequences of the occasion as many states have considered or passed reforms to their liquor control laws, most of which are vestiges of this era.

In Michigan, a series of reforms has been debated over the past year. It appears the package of bills is being held up over a single issue dispute, regarding the unique Michigan practice of banning promotional items in bars. For non residents, that means you never see logoed glassware, napkins, coasters and the like in the Great Lakes State. That ban may or may not stay in force, but it’s fate is likely to determine that of the rest of the reforms as well. From our perch, we don’t care one way or the other on this issue, but do hope it’s resolved soon allowing everything else to move forward.

That said, it’s interesting to peruse some of the “odd” liquor laws around the country. Purposely created by the 21st Amendment, control is left to the states, which means that a patchwork of rules, regulations and goofy laws are dotted all across the land. Some of the dandies include:

  • In Alabama, it’s unlawful to provide alcohol or tobacco to animals in public parks.
  • In South Carolina public schools, by law, devote the fourth Friday of every October, called Francis Willard Day, to teaching kids about the dangers of overindulgence.
  • Several states (Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Utah) permit only “low-point” beer—anything 3.2% alcohol by weight or 4% by volume—to be sold in groceries and convenience stores. Stronger beers can only be sold in liquor stores.
  • Massachusetts bans “happy hour” specials. Bar owners get creative, though; since they legally can’t offer drink specials, they offer food discounts instead.
  • Oregon allows bars and restaurants to offer happy-hour promotions, but ban them from being advertised.
  • Growler laws vary state by state. Maryland allows only five establishments (all brewpubs) to refill growers. Florida bans growler refills altogether. Delaware’s governor signed a bill into law in May 2013 allowing liquor stores to sell and fill growlers on site. Michigan recently expanded growler fills to licensed bars & restaurants in addition to breweries and brewpubs previously allowed.
  • Until recently, Virginia banned the mixture of wine and spirits…effectively outlawing a sangria.
  • In Colorado, it’s illegal to be “drunk on horseback.”
  • Utah liquor stores are run by the state and close at 10 PM.
  • In Iowa, it’s illegal to run a bar tab (unless paying by credit card) or to pour any liquid – including water - down the drain in the presence of a police officer.
  • 1989’s Drug-Free Schools and Campuses Act (DFSCA) make it illegal for any U.S. exchange student under the age of 21 to drink in a foreign country, even if it is legal in that country.
  • Kansas only made on-premises liquor sales legal in 1987, and as of today 29 counties still prohibit such sales. To obtain a license to run a liquor store, prospective owners must be an American citizen for ten years, a Kansan for four, can not be employed in law enforcement, and must never have been convicted of a felony, a crime of moral turpitude, or any alcohol offense… and if you’re married, your spouse has to meet the same requirements.
  • Minnesota and Tennessee are so opposed to basic convenience that they forbid the sale of any non-alcoholic beverage in a liquor store, meaning that even the most basic cocktails require multiple stops to acquire mixers.
  • Pennsylvania has some of the weirdest alcohol sale laws in the nation — no beer in grocery stores, six-packs can be purchased in restaurants while cases and kegs must be purchased from special “beverage outlets.” All liquor stores are owned and operated by the state. All beer brands and labels sold must be “registered” with the state as well, which often proves a nightmare for craft brewers.
  • Alaska allows minors to drink alcohol, as long as it was not served in a licensed bar or restaurant and it was given to said minor by parents or legal guardians. In other words, they can drink at home where nobody should know anyway.
  • In Missouri, it is illegal to put drugs in alcohol. No “coke” mixer for you.
  • Nebraska prohibits any physical contact between the bar’s owner or employees and the bar’s customers, involving any kissing and/or any touching of either party’s personal and private areas of the body.
  • In Ohio, it is illegal for sellers of alcohol to give you anything alcoholic for your birthday, anniversary, Christmas, or any other celebrations.
  • Texas bars alcoholic bottle labels from carrying any design that can be associated with the U.S. flag, the Texas flag, or the armed forces.
  • Members of the military can import more than one gallon of an alcoholic beverage into Florida without paying taxes on it, while average citizens cannot.
  • In North Dakota, coupons are absolutely forbidden on sales of alcohol.

There are other goofy laws out there, but they all share one thing in common as to their origins: the Amendment passed eighty years ago today.

Congress Gets it Right

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“American craft brewers promote the Nation’s spirit of independence through a renaissance in hand crafted beers like those … produced here by the Nation’s founding fathers, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, for the enjoyment of the citizenry.”

—The U.S. House of Representatives, Resolution 753, June 6, 2006

Most Interesting

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Ah, yes….”marketing.” Despite my affection for the “Interesting Man” campaign, I’m not sure that’s exactly what a borderline faux craft company needs.

LINK

As a summary, the guys who make Kona, Widmer, Redhook – and are partially owned by ABInBev, and therefore falls outside the definition of “craft beer” defined by the Brewers Association - have hired the firm who makes the “Most Interesting Man in the World” commercials for Dos Equis, which is a subsidiary of Heineken.

I just wonder how effective traditional advertising can be for a craft brew audience? I realize that Sam Adams does commercials, but so did Pete’s Wicked Ale - and they’re not around any more. You cannot “out market” the major brands, and I think the major brands are learning that they’re increasingly fighting over a smaller slice of the pie. Unfortunately for them, the brands that are consistently growing are NOT being fueled by traditional marketing.

My Wirtshaus: Rule for Success at Stammtisch!

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When my German friend gently chastised his daughter to “behave yourself in the restaurant,” the precocious 5 year old girl replied, “Daddy, it’s not a restaurant – it’s a Wirtshaus!”

In Munich’s Tal 7 stands the most traditional and interesting “Wirtshaus” in Germany. Roughly translated, a “Wirtshaus” is partly a bar and partly a restaurant. In England, perhaps the word “Pub” comes closest to the mark. It’s an institution and an essential part of any beer lover’s visit to Munich.

When foreigners enter, they believe they are simply in a restaurant. They slowly figure out that it’s strictly seat yourself, and that if you actually want to eat or drink you going to have to sit at common table with others. Even if they figure all this out and actually manage to order food and drink, most will leave without even grasping where it is they have been. Maybe it’s the language or maybe it’s the culture that is the barrier. Perhaps both.

I visit the Weisses Brauhaus several times each week. With an atmosphere reminiscent of “Cheers,” I love to meet up with the other regulars and watch the tourists wander by our table. Interacting with the staff is particularly entertaining and they genuinely enjoy the special relationship they have with their “Stammgäste.”

The regulars, the “Stammgäste” have become like family. Some of them you like, and some of them you don’t. But you love them all just the same – just like your family. They are a cast of characters each with great stories to tell and often with a great nickname. We have Trainman George, Climber Kurt, Uncle Scrooge, and Philosopher Hans, just to name a few. Other regulars we just know from passing though we always recognize one another and give a wink or a nod, acknowledging we are members of the same club.

Everyone comes from a different background. Maybe even a different culture. Some are highly educated. Some like the symphony and others like AC/DC, but we all love the beer and atmosphere at the Weisses Brauhaus, so in some way we all feel related. So many nights here, I have laughed myself to death and on other nights I have cried with my Stammtisch brothers. I have heard stories from the war and stories of escape from East Germany. Stories of buildings built, stories of death, and stories of faraway lands. Told in the first person over a few beers, these stories are better than any TV show and more revealing than any book. The conversation flows as easily as the beer and everyone revels in the camaraderie of being together in this place together.

Grumpy, rude, inattentive or impatient are all words I have seen describe the waitresses here. Those words are usually only spoken by tourists who are new here and haven’t taken time to learn anything about the culture. The waitresses I see are hardworking, funny, efficient, and committed to ensure their guests are provided for. Many of these ladies seem to work the entire day from open until close and are on their feet all day. Servers in Germany typically need to take care of more tables than their counterparts in America, so patience is required. It also helps if you can quickly communicate your order and avoid tying to customize or substitute items. This is a busy place full of thirsty people, so you can’t monopolize the server’s time! There is room for 600 guests inside and another 200 outside in the summer time!

The beer is the main attraction and the focus is on the Weissbier. The George Schneider and Sons brewery has been in business since 1872 And is currently in the 6th generation – all the proprietors using the name George. Instead of just resting on his laurels, the current owner, George VI, has expanded the Weissbier offerings of his brewery. He has faithfully recreated a Weissbier once served at Munich’s Oktoberfest during his grandfather’s era and George VI has even collaborated with American brewing sensation, Garret Oliver, of the Brooklyn Brewery to create a Weissbier that pays homage to the IPA craze in America – even using hops from the Pacific Northwest. (Tap 5 Hopfenweisse). Even better, success hasn’t gone to his head and George VI is often seen at his flagship tap in Munich. On such occasions, he greets all his customers and always tries to make time for a short chat.

The Beer
First you must realize that Weissbier was reserved for royalty until the 1800′s. Comprised of at least 50% wheat, the government didn’t want to see the valuable wheat crop repurposed to beer, thus driving up the cost of bread. Today, when you drink the “Bavarian Champagne” or “Bavarian Cappuccino,” you are showing the world that you are as good as a king.

Here are the two beers you must try when you visit:

Schneider Weisse Tap 7 Unser Original: Starting with George Schneider I, George Schneider VI is now in control of this family run brewery in Kelheim. Still brewed according to the original recipe from 1872, this is a darker colored Weissbier. It’s rich, dark amber color has just a wisp of banana and is more associated with its clove aroma. It’s a fully bodied beer with sweet, dark bread flavored malt and lingering wheat flavors with light touch of lemon and banana at the finish. Alcohol: 5.4 %. Beer Advocate: 89, “Good.” Rate Beer: 97 Overall / 95 Style.
• Schneider Aventinus Tap 6: Aventinus is the quintessential Weizen Bock (Strong Hefe-Weizen). It’s dark brown in color with a ruby red tinge and offers an aromatic hint of ripe banana, dried rasins, and plums which plays of its licorice and roast malt profile. It’s well balanced nature and rich flavors hide it’s true alcohol content, so be careful! Alcohol: 8.2%. Beer Advocate: 96, “World Class.” Rate Beer: 100 Overall / 100.

If you still have anything left in the tank, you can try the Eisbock – a super strong version of the Aventinus whereby the mash is frozen, forming ice crystals that can be removed from the beer, driving up the the alcohol level. Then I would go for the aforementioned Hopfenweisse – but only if you can sleep in the next day!
Additionally, Schneider offers a great alcohol free version, and a light version with1/2 the alcohol of an original. Further you can try a “blond” Weissbier, or the “green” one which recreates Schneider’s version of an Oktoberfest style beer. If you don’t like the yeast,you can also get a filtered version called “Kristall Weizen.” If for some incompressible reason you don’t like Weissbier, you can order a Helles from the Tegernseer brewery, or various soda’s produced by Schneider und Söhne. Also, a Rotling or a Silvaner wine would be worthwhile.

Beer Etiquette:
• Wait until everyone has a beverage before you take a sip
• Raise your glass and say “Prost!”
• Leading with Bottom of your glass (the rim is much to brittle!), look into each persons eyes as you clink glasses. Failure to do so results in 7 years of bad sex.
• Be sure never to reach over or under other’s extended arms. This is a bad omen and all too often results in a broken glass and spilled beer
• Never fail to take a sip after you clink glasses. Failure to drink after saying “Prost!” will be taken as an insult.
• Never play with your cellphone while sitting with others – this is rude behavior. If you need to do something, first excuse yourself from the table.
• If you are with others at the table, tick marks are often made on your coaster so you don’t screw the others at your table. It is hard to keep track of how many you had!

The Food
The kitchen at the Weisses Brauhaus shows continual improvement. Under the leadership of Sepp Nagler, they continue to offer old Bavarian specialities from the “Kronfleischküche.” Granted that this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s reassuring that these old recipes continued to be on offer at the Weisses Brauhaus. On the regular menu, Bavarian dishes dominate, but often are given a slight modern twist. My favorites are the Zwiebelrostbraten and the Kaiserschmarrn, but you can’t go astray with any of the items. Something new is the movement called “BayernOx” which is being led by several of the major establishments in downtown Munich. If you see an item labeled “BayernOx” you are assured of organic, local beef.

The menus are available in an assortment of languages so you shouldn’t have any trouble with that. However, translation is not an exact science, so you can never be 100% sure. For instance, the Bavarian dish called Leberkäse has no Liver nor cheese in it and is often translated as “meat loaf.” It is meat (a mild sausage in the direction of Baloney, formed in a loaf. So, it is “meat loaf,” but it definitely not what someone from North America would think of as “meat loaf.” Get the problem?

Food Etiquette:
• Don’t be picky.
• Refrain from asking for substitutions. This isn’t Starbucks.
• If you have a food allergy, tell the server. They are professionals and know if the substance you need to avoid is in the dish you are trying to order. No one wants to see you go to the hospital, so don’t try to guess. Try to have a good translation of your allergic condition written clearly before come to Germany, just in case.
• When you are served, begin eating right away. As the kitchen finishes the orders, the food is served immediately and not held under heat lamps.
• When someone at your table is served, wish them a “Guten Appetit”
• Finish everything on your plate. Not finishing your dinner insults the kitchen and is wasteful.
• The Pretzels are not free. If you touch it, you take it. Don’t ever put a half of a pretzel back in the basket.

Payment:
• You are welcome to occupy your seat as long as you want. Bavarians consider it rude to have the server slap the bill on the table after the food is served. You need to ask for the check.
• You need to give the tip to her directly at this point. Do not leave the money on the table. To others, finding money on the table is like finding it on the ground outside – its finders keepers.
• Once she tells you the amount, it’s most common to round up the bill. for example, a bill of 37 Euros would result in a tip of 3 euros. If you had her a €50, you say “40″ and she’ll give you a €10.
• Germany is a cash based society and credit cards are not readily accepted. At the Weisses Bräuhaus, they will accept a Visa if the bill is over a certain limit. If you pay with Visa, tell her the amount to charge you before she runs the card (they have a hand help device and do this right at the table). If you aren’t fast enough, then give her a cash tip – which is preferred anyways.
• Splitting the check is normal. Just tell the waitress what you had and she will split the bill, no big deal.
• Don’t try to cheat. If you short the waitress, she has to pay the difference out of her purse. Karma being what it is, you will punished some time in the future.

Other tips:
• When you enter and are looking for a table, don’t block the aisles – they are narrow.
• Don’t forget that there is seating in the back and upstairs. On busy nights, there is a manager standing inside helping to direct people to where their might be space.
• If you see an empty seat, ask, “Ist heir frei?” If the seat is free, you will be told it is OK to sit down.
• Some of the tables are for “Stammtisch” and have a “Reserviert” sign the table.
• The “reserviert” sign will have a time on it. If it says 18.30 and it’s now 17.00, you can sit there for 90 minutes.
• When you go to the restroom, give the attendant at least a €.20 tip.
• All of Bavaria is no smoking inside – go outside to light up.
• Your waitress is your waitress – the other waitresses can’t help you. When you make your first order, pay attention to what she looks like.
• Never whistle for the waitress. Just put up a hand when you see her
• It’s hard to say this, but we Americans tend to be very loud. Try to dial down the volume.
• Most everyone speaks, or at least understands, some English. Keep your requests simple and clear and don’t be overly wordy: If you want a Weissbier, just say “Weissbier, bitte/please. Don’t say, for example, “When you got a sec, we’d love to put in a food order…” Huh?
• Weissbier is pronounced “Vice beer” not, “Wees beer”
• If there is a problem, be kind and calm. Yelling here will get you nowhere except thrown out.

If you decide to visit, it’s important that you take your time and enjoy the evening. If you have any luck at all, you’ll somehow converse with your table mates and have an entertaining and enlightening conversation. The Weisses Bräuhaus is an institution that must be savored!

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