Grand Rapids is a city of beer superlatives. It’s home to the third best brewery in the world and the best brewpub in the nation. The city’s been repeatedly crowned one of the country’s best beer towns and a top destination for ale aficionados.
Our expectations were high. And Grand Rapids delivered.
Here are our five favorite Grand Rapids breweries. Let us know who we missed in the comments!
Grand Rapids Breweries: The Tried and True
235 Grandville Ave. SW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
You have to go to Founders. It’s a Grand Rapids institution, and everyone knows it. The bar was packed by 4pm on a Thursday and standing room only by dinner time.
Of all the brewers in Grand Rapids, we were most familiar with Founders. Their All Day IPA made numerous appearances at last summer’s backyard barbecues. It was the first stop on our Grand Rapids beer tour.
The brewery is located in an old trucking depot. Former garage doorframes now serve as giant openings that connect the taproom with a spacious outdoor deck. A fire pit and gas lamps keep al fresco drinkers warm.
I asked for something I could only get at the brewery and they poured me a dark oatmeal stout. It was tasty but heavy after a long walk from the hotel. Greg stuck with the All Day IPA. Smart choice.
If you like beer, you have to come to Founders. But I’d recommend coming in the daytime to beat the crowds.
Besides, it’s called the All Day IPA.
No Cats Were Harmed in the Making of This Beer
25 Ionia Ave SW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
After downing some rounds at Founders, we walked to HopCat, a Grand Rapids brewery repeatedly named one of the best brewpubs in the US. Beer Advocate disagreed, saying HopCat was one of the best in the world.
I really liked this space. Tall white letters on the bar’s brick exterior indicated the building was once an office furniture store or factory. Inside, vintage liquor ads hung from the 15-foot ceiling and dangling lanterns illuminated a long ribbon of taps. Thursday night was perfectly crowded with only two stools open at the bar and a steady din that wasn’t too loud for you to listen in on the conversation at the next table.
Greg ordered the hoppy Beer Right Meow house IPA and I got HopCat’s cucumber and lime-flavored Naughty Nicodemus rice ale. Both were delicious.
HopCat also serves sandwiches, burgers and soups, but the star of the food menu is the aptly named Crack Fries. We got them “loaded”: French fries swimming in cheese sauce, onion, jalapeños and bacon. It was all we could do to even make a dent in the salty pile of awesomeness.
Pray for Beer
925 Cherry St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506
Creative beer, good burgers, and a quirky historic building made Brewery Vivant our favorite Grand Rapids microbrewery.
The bar is housed in the shell of what was once the city’s largest funeral home. The building still looks like a church, right down to the sign blaring the word “Chapel” above the heavy wooden doors.
Inside, dark rafters criss crossed at the ceiling and a stained glass window illuminated the bar. Spare lanterns dangled above long wooden benches. We haven’t been to Belgium’s monastery breweries (yet!), but I bet this is as close to the experience as you can get in Michigan, and maybe even the USA.
Brewery Vivant’s specialty is Belgium and French-inspired beers. We particularly enjoyed Thems The Hops, a florally Belgium IPA.
New Kid On the Block
700 Wealthy St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
After visiting Grand Rapids’ better-known breweries, we wanted to check out some place less established. We walked a few block to ELK, one of the city’s newest microbreweries.
Friday afternoon we had the place almost to ourselves. Like the other breweries we visited, ELK’s interior had a pleasantly repurposed look. Exposed duct work crawled across the ceiling and the open room was outfitted with steel-topped tables and dark wooden stools.
We got a flight of five beer samples. The IPA, porter and black IPA all had a malty finish. We’re not big fans of malt, so these weren’t our favorite Grand Rapids beers. But if that’s your thing, check this place out.
Big Old Brewery
20 Monroe Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
B.O.B.’s Brewery is located in the basement of The B.O.B. (or The Big Old Building), a century-old, four story, square brick building transformed into a downtown entertainment complex.
On Friday night the walls of The B.O.B. throbbed with dance music. A bouncer checked our IDs and we made our way through a crowd of kids wearing designer club gear.
It wasn’t exactly our scene. But everything changed when we descended into the basement brewery. The music and club kids disappeared and Alex, the uber friendly bartender, immediately poured us a few complimentary beer samples.
“I want to make sure you like it before you buy,” he explained.
The focus at B.O.B.’s is small batch brews with funky flavors like papaya, mango and chipotle. Greg went for the 8.5% Spooky Action double IPA and I tried the coriander-flavored Hopsun. Good stuff.
My favorite part of the bar was the long chalkboard that stretched across the rear of the room. I spent a few minutes reading the beer trivia scribbled here.
Did you know George Washington had a personal brew house built for him on Mount Vernon? Yeah, neither did I.
For a complete list of city breweries, check out the Grand Rapids beer trail »
We worked with the Grand Rapids and Traverse City tourism boards in arranging our trip to Michigan, as well as with individual companies and organizations. No one reviewed the stories we wrote in advance of publication. All opinions expressed here are our own.