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The Other Beer City USA

On a tour of U.S. beer, Grand Rapids stakes a claim

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Many, many towns and municipalities across the US call themselves "Beer City" these days. During my travels around beer country, I still say Bend, of course, is the best one. (That statement's in print, so it must be true.)

The western Michigan city of Grand Rapids is the only one actively promoting "Beer City" as a nickname for itself, however, and it's fair to say they've got a decent claim at it. This is pretty clear for any visitor once they pick up a free Beer City "Brewsader" passport, a bit like the Bend Ale Trail on steroids, with entries for 32 breweries in the greater area.

Beer dates to the 1830s around these parts, with German settlers bringing their brewing equipment over from the Old World. Beer had its first heyday around the turn of the century, when the Grand Rapids Brewing Company was one of the largest buildings in downtown (lovingly renovated and reopened as a brewery in 2012).

A quarter-million barrels were produced here before Prohibition, but beer didn't really kick off again until 1997, with the establishment of Founders Brewing off Canal Street. Founders, alongside Bell's Brewery an hour south in Kalamazoo, are two of the major regional craft brewers that Deschutes competes with in the Midwest. Here the line ranges from All Day IPA (one of the beers that kicked off the concept of a "session IPA") to the original Breakfast Stout, a sublime combination of oatmeal, coffee and chocolate. It's got a great big taproom not far from the downtown hockey arena, serving up equally large deli sandwiches and keeping itself full nearly all week.

Other Grand Rapids Must-Visits:

· HopCat: There are now 12 HopCat locations across the Midwest, but the original is just a few blocks from Founders. It's got 49 taps of beer from across Michigan (including six or so of their own) and around 250 bottles of mostly Belgians. Come for the taps, stay for the "crack fries" and poutine.

· Brewery Vivant: There's farmhouse, and then there's farmhouse. This brewery is located inside an old church and funeral home. The bar forms a U shape around what used to be the altar, creating a unique environment to enjoy the Belgian-style wits and red ales.

· New Holland: Downtown GR plays home to this brewery's Knickerbocker taproom, the center of their experimental brewing and distilling operations. They're undoubtedly best known for Dragon's Milk, a heavy barrel-aged stout, and the bar usually has multiple variations on tap at once.

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