The 2014 Beer Bloggers Conference is almost here! This annual convergence of beer bloggers, traditional media, brewers, and brewing enthusiasts descends upon San Diego, a city that regularly boasts placement in Top 10 lists of beer locales to visit. Experience Grand Rapids, a BBC14 sponsor, gives us their Michigan beer perspective. We look forward to tasting their beers at the conference, too!
A Note from BBC14 Premier Sponsor, Experience Grand Rapids
In May of 2012, 17,849 votes were cast in favor of Grand Rapids as Beer City USA; A tie with the votes cast for Asheville, NC. The two cities gladly shared the title and the glory during the fourth year of the online poll. In 2013, Grand Rapids mobilized for the win. Brewers, enthusiasts and unsuspecting brew-pub customers were swept up in the spirit of the campaigning process that lasted a week. 27,005 voters from Michigan and beyond rallied behind the burgeoning craft beverage industry in West Michigan and we brought the Beer City home.
Even by 2012, the state of Michigan boasted 122 craft breweries, 5th out of our fifty states. This number has only grown, with more breweries opening every month. Existing breweries in Grand Rapids are expanding and improving both taprooms and brewing systems in an attempt to keep up with demand. Hop heads, stout hunters, barrel-aged connoisseurs and even domestic beer drinkers are seeking out craft beverages for comparison, critique and enjoyment.
Kate Avery, the Abbess of Beer Marketing at Brewery Vivant, a Belgo-Franco operation located in a renovated funeral chapel, agrees with that statement:
We’ve made a strong case; we will ride the coattails of winning the last Beer City title. New places are still opening and beer tourism is powered by things like releases and festivals- the Grand Rapids beer community is savvy enough to continue.
Members of the brewing community all over town are often asked about the level of competition with so many promising brewers in the thirty mile radius. The one word that comes up in response?
The Grand Rapids Society of Brewers (fondly known as the GRSOB) was founded just a few months before the first Beer City title was awarded in 2012.
Their approach was grassroots: collaborate and share plans, odd recipes, hard-to-find hops, etc. Over the past two years, the mission statement has slightly changed. While the GRSOB still does all of those things, there’s also a technical aspect present in light of the sometimes overwhelming beer tourism in West Michigan. For example, it’s more important than ever for breweries to focus on sanitation to prevent a single batch from going to waste. There are now meetings about topics like sanitation, beer marketing, helpful Michigan farms, and beer festival realities.
But competition? “Rising tides raise all ships”, says Avery. “The brewers like when other people do well. The more breweries there are, the more we’ll need specialty farmers, distributors, bloggers and enthusiasts: we’re all proud to be from here and be involved.”
Like Avery mentioned, it is now beer releases and festivals that enthusiasts can attribute to Grand Rapids culture. These events have garnered national attention since Grand Rapids was placed on the Beer City pedestal and breweries have come to expect travelers from near and far to journey here for them. Releases like Founder’s KBS lead to lines that rival Black Friday shoppers, and just as many camp-outs.
For this year’s release on April 1st, Founders (Grand Rapids’ flagship brewery) sold tickets for the bottle release in the taproom and sent kegs all over town to be tapped and spread the crowds. The Michigan Brewer’s Guild hosts three festivals a year and for the past two, the annual Winter Beer Festival at Fifth-Third Ballpark has sold out in just minutes. Smaller festivals like BRU Fest, Brew-Haha, and Lansing’s first Beerfest at the Ballpark are also a place where the public can come and taste as much as they’d like- a brewery tour without the distance driving! Dozens of breweries bring their finest (and some experimental) wares to please any palate.
In addition to the people directly impacted by increased beer production, fringe industries that have thrived from Beer City excitement include local restaurants and hotels. Hotel packages centered around beer events have become commonplace, and some check-ins have even included growlers, t-shirts, or a Brew and Renew Spa experience!
Cool Brews. Hot Eats. 2014 was a huge hit as dozens of local chefs added some pizzazz to their menu by supporting a local brewery. These craft beverage and food pairings have become their own educational arena, with lectures and tasting sessions hosted at venues like Frederik Meijer Gardens and the Downtown Market. Apps like Michigan Microcaps have been designed and marketed to be fun on your phone, but also provide information about the closest brewery and their accompanying social media channels. The Beer City Ale Trail map released this winter by Experience GR has led locals and visitors to discover all sorts of hidden craft brewing gems around West Michigan.
We invite you to come visit us in Grand Rapids and see (and taste) for yourself why we are Beer City USA.
To schedule a trip, please contact Janet Korn at firstname.lastname@example.org