Newsmaker: Beer City, U.S.A. spills over


HopCat in downtown Grand Rapids has 48 craft beers on tap and is a key player in Beer City, U.S.A. Photo by Adam Bird

Editor’s note: The Business Journal is recognizing 10 nominees for its 2012 Newsmaker of the Year Award, based on their long-term economic impact on the region. One nominee will be featured each day on — leading up to the Jan. 21 announcement of the 2012 Grand Rapids Business Journal Newsmaker of the Year.

Although it was growing quietly the past decade, the West Michigan brewing industry exploded in 2012.

From being named Beer City, U.S.A., to the six new breweries opening up in the area to the “Thank You, Beer!” exhibit at the Grand Rapids Public Museum, beer was everywhere.

In February, Harmony Brewing Co. opened up in Eastown and was later named Small Business of the Year by the Neighborhood Business Association. It was the second straight year a brewery won the award, with Brewery Vivant winning in 2011.

Brewery Vivant expanded its distribution footprint to Chicago, maxing out its capacity at 5,000 barrels. The brewery also collaborated with New Belgium Brewing Co., creating Escoffier, which was named one of the top 25 beers of 2012 by Draft Magazine.

Founders Brewing Co. began a new expansion project worth $56 million and will double its capacity to nearly 340,000 barrels. It’s the company’s fourth major expansion in five years and should boost it into the top 25 largest breweries in the United States. Founders also turned 15 in 2012, and the brewery also made Draft Magazine’s top 25 beers with its anniversary barley wine Boltcutter.

The U.S. also passed its previous pre-prohibition record of more than 2,100 breweries in the country. Michigan has more than 120.

Perrin Brewing opened in September, and with a load of startup money, already is the third-largest brewer in West Michigan, behind Bells Brewery and Founders.

Early October saw the Public Museum’s exhibit open, with two months of tastings and classes on beer, all while showing off the proud brewing history of Grand Rapids and celebrating the current boom.

The Mitten Brewing Co. opened in October, marking the area’s first sports bar brewery, with such beer names as Peanuts and Crackerjack Porter and the ’84 Double IPA, named after the 1984 Detroit Tigers.

Our Brewing Co. opened in Holland, selling out of its 13 kegs in less than 15 hours.

The American Homebrewers Association also named Grand Rapids its choice to host the 2014 National Homebrewers Conference. The conference will bring an estimated 3,500 visitors to the city and DeVos Place.

“Michigan has a really great brewing community,” AHA Director Gary Glass said. “Both home and microbrewers are very much involved in the community, and that’s certainly a drawing point. And people across the country consider Michigan as a great beer state.”

The Grand Rapids Brewing Co. re-opened under new ownership, Mark and Michelle Sellers — the same owners as the world-renowned HopCat downtown. The re-branding harkens to the original Grand Rapids Brewing Co. from before prohibition. It also is the Midwest’s first organic brewery.

The Sellers, before GRBC even opened, also announced their expansion to Lansing, where they will open a second HopCat location and open up the Lansing Brewing Co.

Rockford Brewing Co. opened in December and capped the year of brewery openings. Prior to its opening, the brewery held a pub crawl in Rockford, tapping its kegs throughout restaurants and bars in the city.

But 2013 already is looking to top 2012 with breweries in Muskegon, Grandville, Ada and Gobles preparing to be tapped. Fifth Third Ballpark will see the Michigan Brewers Guild’s Winter Beer Festival in February, which sold out in less than a day.

The consistent brewery openings will only help the industry, according to Founders President and CEO Mike Stevens.

“Why not come together, push together and push that percentage up, rather than push up against the people who make that percentage?” Stevens said. “That support system lives within our community, and we’re taking an entire segment and working together to build it.”

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