I’m finally there! All of the brewpubs I’ve ever been to are now uploaded and catalogued to 50 States of Brew. I say almost, because I’ve neglected visits within the past couple of months as well as a very select few I’ve been saving. So now it is time for the top ten list.
Founders Brewing Company
235 Grandville Ave SW
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Visited on June 13, 2010
I’ve been to Founders several times, and each visit just further cements its place in my perfect score club. That’s right, we’re down to the last three on my top ten list of all-time breweries (that I’ve visited), and each of them are pretty much interchangeable in my mind. But for the sake of actually having a list and publishing results in some sort of order, I’m calling Founders #3.
For starters, Founders has done the best job converting a brewing facility without a restaurant into a kickass taproom. Large tables, a long bar, garage doors that open to a nice patio on beautiful days, and an almost non-existent kitchen that nonetheless pumps out awesome sandwiches make it feel as though the taproom was actually the main reason for the location choice rather than a later addition. And then, of course, there’s the beer.
I don’t know that any other brewery has as consistent of a lineup as Founders. The regulars are all delicious, including a Scottish Dirty Bastard and Porter that are – in my opinion – the quintessential examples of their styles. The seasonals are even mor exceptional, if that’s even possible. The Breakfast Stout is perhaps my favorite beer in the world. Other entries like Old Curmedgeon, Double Trouble, and one of the few fruit beers I actually enjoy Rubaeus, only solidify their position on a global stage. And everybody knows the legend of the hard-to-find Kentucky Breakfast Stout, or KBS for those in the know.
In short, Founders makes me want to move to Grand Rapids.
Founder’s sits just far enough outside of the city of Grand Rapids that the area seems removed from all of the hustle and bustle yet provides a distinctly urban feel. In short, it’s a happening place but the traffic doesn’t suck. Brick roads and lots of big, old, cool buildings adds to the ambiance. And we’re just talking about the exterior.
The dining hall is a gigantic open space with hard floors, a long-ass bar, towering ceilings, and several giant rolling doors that open to an expansive patio. The doors are so big and so frequent that you can’t really even tell where one begins and the other ends without looking at the ceiling. It has an authentic feel that I simply fell in love with.
Emphasizing the fact that this is a brewery and not a restaurant, there are no true servers. The kitchen consists of nothing more than a stocked room ready to make hot or cold sandwiches accompanied by chips or pre-made broccoli/potato salad. You head up to the window, place your order, pay, and then pick it up when your buzzer goes off. It’s a pretty efficient system.
The food itself is delicious for how simple it is. There are dozens of sandwiches to choose from, each slightly unique combinations with nothing but fresh ingredients. I’d take some points off for the lack of an actual kitchen, but these sandwiches are some of the best you’ll ever have.
But the beer. Oh my God the beer is good. Everything from session pale ales to heavy imperial stouts aged in maple syrup barrels; this place has something for everyone. I did not have a beer I didn’t like, but I was most surprised by a vanilla honey wheat beer. I typically hate wheat beers simply because they don’t offer enough flavor. But this one was truly a golden brew, which I believe was the name as well. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the Canadian Breakfast Stout too. I just couldn’t drink a whole pint of it before driving home.
The service was terrific too. Even though they don’t technically have servers, one of the bartenders took my order of a sampler consisting of everything they don’t bottle and brought it out to me himself. He then took the time to meticulously describe each beer including the types of malts and hops used. It was way over my head, but I appreciated it nonetheless.