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A brewery to reach across many divides

Creston Brewery partners hope to create a gathering place for all.

December 4, 2015
| By Pat Evans |
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Creston Brewery
Co-founders Cailin Kelly, Vincent Lambert, Molly Bouwsma-Schultz and Scott Schultz hope to make a true neighborhood gathering place with Creston Brewery, located in the former DeKorne Furniture Showroom on Plainfield Avenue. Photo by Johnny Quirin

Molly Bouwsma-Schultz wants people to dance at Creston Brewery when it opens next year. She hopes it will be a place where people will come to interact and be themselves.

“People always ask, ‘Where do you go to dance?’” Bouwsma-Schultz said. “We want to provide a place to dance that isn’t a Top 40 dance club setting. I know there are people who love to go out and shake it.

“When I think of Creston, I think color, spice, quality and diversity. And that means fun.”

Bouwsma-Schultz, along with co-founders Scott Schultz, Vincent Lambert and Cailin Kelly, want the brewery to be a diverse community gathering place. Renovation begins Tuesday, and Schultz said he believes it will be about a five-month period until it opens, likely in late spring.

The four partners settled on the former DeKorne Furniture Showroom, 1504 Plainfield Ave. NE, in the Creston Business District after an original location on Wealthy Street fell through. Schultz said it’s amazing the former furniture store fits so well as a footprint for a brewery and taproom.

The partners, who have connections to the neighborhood and building, fell in love with the idea of being on the northeast side of Grand Rapids. Kelly grew up in Creston and went to Creston High School — she still wears her great-aunt’s class ring from 1928. Bouwsma-Schultz’s grandmother worked at the DeKorne building.

“We wanted to start in an area that was diverse,” Schultz said. “Creston has mansions on the hill and low-income housing. We want to celebrate that. It’s a nice microcosm of how America and our city really is. You can have a millionaire sitting next to someone making minimum wage — that’s how you create community.”

At the heart of the brewery’s quest to bring in a diverse array of clientele is music. Schultz and Bouwsma-Schultz are in the local band Vox Vidorra, which performs a wide selection of music including folk, indie, reggae, jazz and hip hop.

“It’s definitely a unifying factor for us to offer free music and affordable beer,” Lambert said.

“We’ve seen it firsthand — it’s what brings people together,” Bouwsma-Schultz added. “You leave your pretentions at the door and everyone comes together to hear some music. That’s a starting point.”

The brewery’s food menu will include a base of tacos, burritos and bowl salads. The twist, however, will be in the way the staples of rice, beans and proteins are spiced, Kelly said, and will be changed as veggies come in and out of season. Lambert said the hope is to keep menu items under $10.

The food can be paired with the beer, Bouwsma-Schultz said, using the example of a Moroccan-spiced burrito with a porter using complementing spices.

“It’s all about how we express creativity,” Schultz said. “For me, it’s beers. For Molly and me, it’s music. For all of us, it’s community.”

Unlike many startup breweries in West Michigan, Creston Brewery will start with a large brew system. Many breweries start with a nano setup, often in the three-barrel range. Creston Brewery will open with a 20-barrel brew system.

Schultz has experience on larger scale systems, having worked as a brewer at three breweries, including, most recently, Founders Brewing Co.

He said the space calls for a larger system, and it also will allow them to distribute.

“We can stay local, lean and mean,” Schultz said. “It’s not big enough that we’ll sit on product, and it’s not small enough we’ll run out before we finish kegging it. It’s a perfect size.”

Schultz said he likes to avoid common beer guidelines when he’s brewing. He used an example of trying some roasted wheat and deciding to make a brown ale with it, adding maple syrup or molasses.

“I’m all about what the end flavor, experience, is like,” he said. “It doesn’t fit into a style, but it can be surprisingly drinkable and always defying expectations. Beer is a spectrum to me, not a categorized system. All that matters is, you drink it and you like it.”

Defying expectations of what a brewery can be is what Lambert hopes Creston Brewery will accomplish. Lambert said the brewery hopes to create an international flair, which, he says is underutilized in Grand Rapids. Beer, food and music are all luxuries of modern life, but if it’s affordable, fun and approachable, it can reach across many divides, he said.

“I was joking, but not really, with Scott when we were starting out; I said, ‘If this is a conventional brewery, I’m out,’” Lambert said. “I want to show people something new.”

Whether that’s a band that’s never been heard before, a spice never tried before or a beer that lights up taste buds, Bouwsma-Schultz wants the Creston Brewery to be an educational experience.

“We’re trying to create a space we would want to go,” Bouwsma-Schultz said. “When you go out of town, you go to a bar and experience an array of experiences you wouldn’t get at home. We want that in Grand Rapids.” 

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