Reporter writes history of 'Grand Rapids Beer'
The story of how a frontier town grew to become Beer City, U.S.A. has been told.
Thirsty historians, craft beer enthusiasts and Grand Rapids fans in general will be glad to hear that the book “Grand Rapids Beer: An Intoxicating History of River City Brewing” hit the shelves at local book stores last month.
American Palate, a division of the The History Press in Mount Pleasant, S.C., published the 192-page book, which is now available at Barnes & Noble, Costco, Schuler Books & Music and online at Amazon.com, where it has sold out a number of times.
“Grand Rapids Beer” tells the stories of the people who developed beer in the Grand Rapids area from the early 1800s through today.
It is the first book by Pat Evans, a local writer and craft beer connoisseur.
Evans is a reporter and researcher for the Business Journal, and one of his beats is the beer industry.
He’s also director of content and a sales representative for Mitten Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids.
Last December, The History Press reached out to Evans about writing “Grand Rapids Beer.”
Evans will host a book signing at Schuler Books & Music on Feb. 24.
“An Intoxicating History”
Evans said craft beer’s roots in Grand Rapids began in 1836, when the city was a tiny frontier town with one man making one barrel per batch.
Now the area has about 30 breweries and is consistently ranked as one of the best places on the planet to drink craft beer.
“In 1836, before we were even a city, was when the first brewer came to town,” Evans said. “He was an Englishman named John Pannell. He was the only brewer for a couple of years, and then this guy named Christoph Kusterer, he was German, came to town from Ann Arbor.
“Eventually, Pannell got sick of brewing apparently and wanted some gold, so he went out to California. Kusterer took over and moved it over to down where the county building is right now and turned it into a big operation. He was really smart and heavily invested in the community.”
The first half of the book deals with the up-and-down history of the West Michigan beer industry before the 1950s, and the other half deals with it up to today.
Although the book touches on the industry in places like Holland and Muskegon, Evans said it mostly stays focused on Grand Rapids, because it’s a near-perfect city to watch the industry rise, fall and rise again.
“It’s not like San Diego, Portland, Denver and other coastal cities, because they’ve always embraced the craft culture,” Evans said.
Evans said that in Grand Rapids, you can regularly see people drink craft beer for the first time and “learn about what makes it different as a culture versus just drinking.”
“It’s fun to watch it as a guy who’s studied it at length and to see people learn about it at a natural pace,” Evans said.
Evans added that nationally craft beer has grown from 3 percent of the market to nearing 15 percent of the beer market.
“People right now are really focused on finding the greatest beer or the ‘white whales,’ if you will, following distributors to get these hyped-up beers,” Evans said. “But there’s great beers everywhere you go, and there’s also terrible beers everywhere you go. It’s just trying to find what you like.”
Evans, 25, has been writing about craft beer since his days as a reporter and editor at Michigan State University’s student paper, The State News.
Although he grew up in a family that drank craft beer, it wasn’t until after he was 21 that he began drinking it and gravitating toward it analytically.
Evans said every Friday, he would go the nearby liquor store with friend and buy craft beer singles and create a six pack, with two of each kind, and then they’d “write a little blog on it.”
“Throughout the year, we probably tried more than 100 different types of beers and that was a huge introduction to craft beers,” Evans said. “That was craft beers 101.”
Evans eventually began writing heavily on the topic of beer when he joined the beer blog MittenBrew.com.
After college, he continued to write about beer when he began covering the beer beat at the Business Journal.
Contrary to what many people may assume about beer writers, Evans is clean-shaven and conservatively dressed.
He’s said he’s actually pretty low-key about alcohol, a fact he loves about the craft beer culture.
“People assume or think I drink all the time, because I write about it, and I don’t,” Evans said. “Honestly, I drink maybe two nights a week, and it’s not drinking to get drunk. I hate that.”