Grand Rapids Beer Week fills up demand
When the state’s rowdiest beer festival claims Grand Rapids as its home, a week dedicated to beer isn’t outlandish — especially for Beer City, U.S.A.
Monday marks the beginning of Grand Rapids Beer Week — a week-long celebration of the craft beer industry that has exploded in the past three years — and the Michigan Brewers Guild’s 8th Annual Winter Beer Festival at Fifth Third Ball Park.
One day isn’t enough, said Jon Piepenbrok, managing partner of Liquid Table Solutions and organizer of the 2nd Annual Grand Rapids Beer Week. Piepenbrok started with Detroit Beer Week in 2009.
“The buzz surrounding the festival is huge — that’s all the people that can go,” Piepenbrok said. “We want to build a week, a beer vacation, where people come in and put money into the local economy.”
Tickets to the Brewers Guild festival sold out in 13 hours, angering many who didn't capture tickets, and attract about 8,000 people and 65 breweries.
“It’s such a unique festival,” Piepenbrok said. “Only in Michigan will we see 8,000 people drinking beer in a parking lot in the middle of February.”
Piepenbrok, who’s from the east side of the state, said he has heard of people who had been to every Brewers Guild festival in its 13-year history, but failed to buy tickets for this one. They’re still coming to Grand Rapids to participate in the Beer Week festivities.
There will be more than 50 events across the West Michigan area for Beer Week, including beer dinners and tap takeovers such as Monday’s Hudsonville Beer Night at HopCat and Wednesday’s Perrin Chinese New Year-themed beer dinner at Rockwell Republic.
Aside from the beer dinners and tap takeovers, the Grand Rapids Society of Brewers came up with its third installment of the Grand Series, The Beer City Grand Series. Previous installments were the Beer City Pale Ale and the Grand Pumpkin.
The series will push beers to their limits as seven area breweries brewed up high-alcohol-by-volume imperial beers.
“The concept is amazing,” Piepenbrok said. “It’s the brewers banding together and doing something awesome.”
Monday also marks the beginning of a two week event run by Experience GR — Cool Brews, Hot Eats. There are 57 restaurants and brewers participating in the event, which is similar to the bureau’s Restaurant Week and features a long list of menu specials.
The event is meant to inspire local chefs to use beer and get diners experimenting and expanding their palates, said Janet Korn, marketing director at Experience Grand Rapids.
“Beer tourism is a natural connection to pair with culinary tourism,” Korn said. “It will help diners experience both the great local craft beers and cuisine.”
The Experience GR aspect will help bring a new crowd to the beer industry, Piepenbrok said.
“It reaches out to the fine dining segment,” he said. “Every time you can get that crossover is fantastic. It’s bringing new faces in the door.”
The weekend capped by the festival is a celebration of all things Michigan, said Robert Wanhatalo, head brewer at the Mitten Brewing Co. and a native Yooper.
“It’s thousands of our closest friends, together, braving the state’s wild winter weather,” Wanhatalo said. “All for a taste of what we do best: brew beer.”
Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell has embraced the craft beer industry and loves the annual festival.
“I always go out to the festival — it’s so much fun,” Heartwell said. “It’s an incredibly important industry, both because it represents an emerging economic sector, but that it’s attracting young, educated people.
“Beer is a great thing for Grand Rapids,” Heartwell added.
Editor's note: reporter Pat Evans works at Mitten Brewing Co.