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.
925 Cherry St SE
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Visited on July 24, 2011
So this is it. This is the place you’ve been waiting to hear about. The brewpub that stands out first and foremost in my mind as the best establishment I’ve ever visited. Perhaps its that I knew nothing about the place going in and feel like I found it on my own. Or perhaps it’s just that the place is freaking amazeballs. Either way, Brewery Vivant is, to me, the quintessential small brewpub.
Let’s start with the location. Brewery Vivant completely transformed an old church into a staggeringly beautiful restaurant. It’s the stained glass windows behind the bar. It’s the beauty of the bar itself. It’s the outdoor patio for warm summer days. It’s the long German-style tables in the main dining hall, with gorgeous original wooden rafters crisscrossing overhead. Even the light fixtures are abnormally awesome.
And then there’s the food. It’s rather pricey – especially for dinner – but ohmygodisitworththemoneyeverysinglegoddamntime. You tell me how I’m not supposed to fall in love with duck confit nachos, pork belly BLTs with fried green tomatoes, or fried oyster hash. The menu goes above and beyond anything I’ve seen before, in both ingenuity and execution.
Brewery Vivant also gets helped along by the fact that I discovered it right around the time my tastes for Belgian beers began flowering. No, wait. Scratch that. Brewery Vivant is the reason my tastes in Belgian beers began flowering. From the cask aged high gravity beasts to the traditional Belgian offerings to the fusion American/Belgian hybrids, everything offered out of their taps is solidly golden heavenly angel songs. On my first visit, it was the Zaison Imperial Saison that left me speechless. Later in the year, it was the Big Red Coq – perhaps the greatest named beer on the face of the planet, given the brewery’s logo. From high gravity ales to light and refreshing styles, Vivant delivers in all categories on all cylinders.
Finally, the wait staff is just awesome. It’s not uncommon to find the owners and brewmasters hanging around the premises, and they’re always willing to chat. Every single person on the staff knows their beer. And more importantly, they know Brewery Vivant’s beer.
Now, you may think I’m being biased toward Michigan by selecting both Founders and Brewery Vivant to be in my top three. But I assure you, I am not. I’ve been around the block, and these guys run with the best in the world. There’s a reason Grand Rapids has been named “Beer City USA” two years running, and it’s not the plethora of beer bars and breweries that are nonexistent. Sure there’s a few, but nowhere near as many as in Asheville, Portland, Seattle, or Denver. The accolades come on the back of these two establishments.
Quality over quantity.
After nearly 200 visits to microbreweries, I’ve found a new favorite! Welcome to a new kid on the block, Brewery Vivant! Set on an outstanding red brick street hosting several farm-to-table restaurants that make my mouth water just outside of downtown Grand Rapids, Brewery Vivant is the perfect combination of modern, unique, and delicious.
The restaurant portion is set in an old church that has been beautifully restored. Giant wooden rafters, original tables, stained glass windows, and a gorgeous bar protruding in a semi-circle from the altar. On the altar is a beautiful back bar lined with glasses, taps, and just pure awesomeness.
The food is remarkable. A small lunch menu is chock-full of creatively made, locally sourced options. Pork belly BLT with fried green tomatoes. A Monte Cristo made of brioche and cinnamon anglaise. A lobster corndog. Hash with fried oysters and Wisconsin white cheddar. You get the point. I’ve tried the first two, and they blew me away.
I’m not a big fan of Belgians for farmhouse sours, and I was afraid I wouldn’t care for the style no matter how well done. But boy was I wrong. Light, refreshing, yet soulful Farmhouse Ale, spicy super saison worth the $25 growler fill, hoppy Belgian red dutifully named the Big Red Coq, and many more. They will keep me coming back again and again, and I’m glad to learn they are now canning pints!
The service was also great. Very knowledgeable about both the beer and menu with helpful advice and a very positive attitude.