Founder’s Brewing Company (Grand Rapids, MI)

For Friday night in Grand Rapids, we had a reservation at the Raddison – the only hotel downtown that could take us, and it was a disappointing place to stay (the wireless connection and the air conditioning didn’t work…)  But what we liked about it was that we could walk (approximately 1.7 miles) to Founder’s Brewing Company (we planned it that way, and it was a nice evening for walking!), which is in the Brass Works Building and right along the Grand River on Monroe Street.

Grand Rapids has some revitalization going on – warehouses along the river being remodeled into fashionable living quarters, improved buildings and roads emerging from the downtown area – we only saw a small part of it, but it looks like they are using their resources to create a livable city.

Founders Brewing Company consists of almost nothing, which was everything we expected!  Approximately 16 identical steel-topped tables line the floor of this brick warehouse.  There are darts on the wall, a pool table, and a small bar in the far corner (an Apple computer that doesn’t work is placed in the opposite corner.)  Huge windows reminiscent of factory lighting line the front wall, and two other walls give a fish-tank view of the brewing operations. Continue reading

Bilbo’s Pizza & Brewing (Kalamazoo, MI)

On a whim, we stopped in at Bilbo’s Pizza and Brewing – we were driving down out of town and saw it across the street from Western Michigan University.  Voted best pizza in Kalamazoo, our parting thought was, “it’s a good thing they have great pizza and guest taps!” (Read no more if you are interested in learning about their beers!)

The very nice guy behind the bar talked to us about the beers they make at Bilbo, and gave us samples of the three available that day (we were there at Happy Hour, so all pints of Bilbo’s brews were only $2.)  The choices were Wizard Wheat (an American Wheat), Dragon Red and Sledgehammer – in my opinion, they all tasted pretty much the same, but D was a good sport and ordered a pint of the Sledgehammer.I was moments away from ordering a “pop”, but D recognized New Holland’s Mad Hatter and suggested I try that (bartender-guy served it to me saying it is his favorite!)  It was excellent – so much better than anything Bilbo was making – but I knew that both of us finishing beers would be a bad idea, so I passed most of it off to D so I could drive us on to Grand Rapids.

Bell’s Brewing, Inc. (Kalamazoo, MI)

Just a short drive away from Battle Creek, it was easy to find Bell’s Eccentric Cafe, home of Bell’s Brewery, Inc. (formerly Kalamazoo Brewing Company.)    At the junction of multiple train tracks, this building doesn’t boast much at all from the outside.  Once inside, our first experience was the restroom…I really liked the restroom, and it was just a sign of things to come!

Stepping down into the brick-walled, warehouse-style building, it was obvious why they call the place “eccentric cafe”!  The bar area was lined with items that ranged from beautiful to strange.  Most of it looked like African art with a little bit of everything in between.  In retrospect, I would call the Dark Horse MORE eccentric, but there was plenty to enjoy at Bell’s.

The menu was impressive – mostly vegetarian, and anyone wishing otherwise would have to search.  Everything was pretty informal here.  No table service – so we sat at the bar – and for those wishing food, you order at the window, pay at the bar and receive a pager, then pick up at the window.  Beers were served in 12 oz glasses, 16 oz plastic cups or 20 oz glasses (glass snifters in some cases), and only plastic was allowed in the beer garden.  Locals would actually order by saying, “I’ll have a plastic of [insert beer here]!” Continue reading

Arcadia Brewing Company (Battle Creek, MI)

As a special treat for our fourth wedding anniversary, we stayed at the Rose Hill Inn in Marshall, MI, which is an elegant Victorian home built in 1860.  The grounds were spacious and well-groomed. The pool looked inviting (heated using a solar system!) and they thought of everything for the guests – cold drinks, fresh-baked cookies, chocolate and salty snacks, antiques to view and purchase, common rooms with TV and DVD, wireless (which we couldn’t access) and a house cat.

After a hearty breakfast of coffee, fresh fruit, yogurt, freshly baked cinnamon-chocolate rolls, toast, and scrambled eggs with cream cheese, chives and ham, I was ready to do the Marshall Riverwalk!  We found an elaborate trail that mixed concrete and composite plastic, and it gave plenty of shaded walking areas with multiple river overlooks.  Our out-and-back trek was 2.1 miles with a nice mix of flora and fauna to observe along the waterway.

We returned to checkout at the Rose Hill and Jerry, the innkeeper, asked if we were headed to Battle Creek for Arcadia Brewing.  It hadn’t been in our plans, but after looking at a map, it was directly on the way, so we took on the challenge. How nice that we did! Continue reading

Dark Horse Brewery (Marshall, MI)

Upon first glance, this place is not much at all!  It looks like an extension of the Wacky Willy’s, which is, perhaps, a beer distributor, and when we walked in the door we were greeted only by a cloud of cigarette smoke.  The tables and chairs are mismatched, from my distant perspective, the bar appeared to be home constructed, the ventilation system was exposed, 923 mug-club mugs hang from the walls and ceiling…I was definitely overdressed!

Unlike last night where we were toured around the place, the locals just gave us less than a glance and we made our way to a vacant table.  We were promptly acknowledged by a very patient wait person who really knew about the beers.  (As it turned out, Michelle is the Taproom Manager, and was basically running the place!) Continue reading

The Brew Kettle and Ringnecked Brewing Co. (Strongsville, OH)

The Brew Kettle is home of The Ringnecked Brewing Company, as well as a B.O.P. (Brew on Premises) and a beer bar.  It’s a simple location – concrete and steel, chalkboard beer list and patio that appears to be chairs pulled into a parking lot, but the surface does not describe the atmosphere inside or among the personnel / clientele relationships.

This place started out as a brewery and BOP, and expanded when they realized people wanted to eat before, during and/or after they were brewing, so a family-friendly beer bar emerged.  24 different beers were on tap, rotating as we sat there, and to my delight, sample platters are available (I’m NOT a sampler kind of girl, but sometimes you can’t have a pint of everything!

We each tried a sampler – D had the five Ringnecked items, and I had five supplied brews.  There were plenty of locals (lunch-time and afternoon visitors, staff visiting after hours and ladies celebrating a birthday) and it looked like they had a nice menu (we just shared a stick of Mike’s Fresh Smokies.)  Speaking of “smokies”, the place was completely non-smoking! Continue reading

Great Lakes Brewing Company (Cleveland, OH)

We drove into Cleveland in a rainstorm, but were pleased to meet Great Lakes Brewing Company on a sunny, tree-lined side street (actually, we found the brewery and tasting room (designated for private events) first, but an employee redirected us.)

Established in 1988, it is clear why Great Lakes has been in existence for 20 years.  All of the beers we had were bold and true to style.  We knew most of these brews from bottles, but this was our chance to have them on tap!

The place was really nice – a little outside eating area that needed to dry up a bit, and inside on the first floor, a nice bar and dining area overlooking the brew works area.  On the way downstairs, it looks like they are modeling a Tuscan garden seating area (indoor and outdoor with a wood-fired oven on display), and the Beer Cellar area has rustic beauty with lots of stone accented by wood beams (we didn’t visit the 2nd floor.)  Best of all, every seating area, including the bar and the outside dining, was non-smoking!

I started at the bar with a 12 oz of Holy Moses (they were out of their pub exclusive hefeweisen – Market Street Wheat – a German style hefe with hints of clove and banana.)  Holy Moses on draught is even better than the bottle.  This Belgian-style Wit is 5.4% ABV, and has a gorgeous milky golden yellow color in the glass.  The smell of citrus and flavor of chamomile made this a light, pleasant choice for a sunny summer day starter beer. Continue reading

Hereford & Hops (Cranberry, PA)

I’ve been listening to Craft Beer Radio (podcast) out of Pittsburgh, PA and they speak often of Hereford & Hops – a fairly new restaurant (to this area) where the highlights are microbrewed beers and grilling your own steak.

We arrived late on Wednesday night, so the place wasn’t very crowded, and the host offered a quick tour of the facility.  The pub area was decorated with dark woods and an Irish theme; the tanks wee displayed nicely in the back. It was spacious, and included a large non-smoking section and a little “library” area.  Had we chosen to eat there, a selection of sandwiches and pizza, as well as the 50-cent taco bar, were available.

We ate in the restaurant section where the menu included many cuts of steak which we were able to choose and grill (in the grill room) on our own.  I guess it’s a “man thing” – I let D cook the 16 oz
New York Strip which, for $12.95 each, we could share along with the salad and baked potato bar.

I personally wasn’t excited about dealing with the raw meat or walking all arouond the restaurant to get my accompaniments, and I was disappointed that the potato bar only had high-fat toppings (they did TASTE good, but they weren’t god for me!)  But I wasn’t disappointed by the level of service.  When the salad bar was refreshed with hot rolls, the host made a special trip to our table to offer them – I wouldn’t have chosen one myself, but I was glad he offered because they were really good! – herbed with carmelized onion.

In the grill room, as his only customers, Adam paid good attention to us and our steak.  D noticed bagpipes in the corner and sure enough, Adam is a piper!  He offered to play, and it was really enjoyable.  He plays in a band, and could talk about the celtic band scene with us.  His music was just a treat! Continue reading

The Golden Triangle of Beer (PA)

We’ve dubbed it “the golden triangle of beer” in central PA because you can conceivably visit all three of these places in a one day drive. If you really want to enjoy them, however, get a room at the Gennetti Hotel in Williamsport and make an overnight trip out of it!

Selin’s Grove Brewing Company in Selinsgrove ranks in my book as the best brewpub in the country (considering all factors – beer, food, atmosphere, personnel, location, etc.) America must not disagree too much, as it was ranked #13 on BeerFly’s Top 50 Places to Have a Beer in America. Steve and Heather are brilliant brewers, and the pub is fabulous. This past weekend they put on a Chipolte Porter, and prior to that a Mai-Bock, and a Russian Imperial Stout (aged 5 years – first brewed for the birth of his son.) Captain Selin’s Cream Ale knocks all other cream ales out of the water. Saint Fillin’s Barlywine is a November treat (often available with vertical tasting!) Whether it’s IPA on cask, Penn’s Kriek, Stealth Triple, Snake Drive Stout…they get every style right every time.

Bullfrog Brewery in Williamsport: Terry is always brewing bold and creative things; right now they have a Vanilla Bean Brown on tap (described as: Luscious caramel, cocoa, toffee and of course vanilla round out the flavors of this nut brown ale. Using half a pound of Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla beans creates a silky, silky smooth treat that you won’t know whether to drink or to eat.(5.7% ABV)) This has become a favorite for our extended family of beer drinkers. His Edgar IPA is a fabulous for hop heads, and his Apricot Wheat is a summertime favorite.

Otto’s Pub and Brewery in State College: A few years ago, Charlie left Bullfrog to open Otto’s, where you can always count on finding some of his standard brews, rotating seasonal/special beers (right now it includes Sumatra Stout – a dry stout brewed with Mandeling Coffee) and something on cask at all times (right now that is Bourbon Aged Old Fugget and Arthur’s Best Bitter) Every Friday, a fresh firkin is tapped.