Founders Brewing Company
So many of the big beer companies have that one special release every year that you just can’t wait to get your hands on. Goose Island has Bourbon County Brand Stout. Bell’s has Black Note. Dark Horse as BBA Plead The 5th. Three Floyd’s has Dark Lord. And, of course, Founders has Kentucky Breakfast Stout.
Out of all the breweries that do special releases, Founders is by far the easiest and most efficient. Tickets are bought online a couple weeks ahead of the release. There are five days to choose from. Whichever day you choose, you show up with your ticket and get your beer. No waiting in line. No having to make plans about a single day release. No hearing through the grapevine that the beer has been released.
The last several years have saw me getting my tickets for a day that I had to work. I would either stop before work and pick up my allotment or head over on my dinner break. This year, a friend from Chicago asked if I wanted to ride up to Grand Rapids with him. I figured I hadn’t been to the taproom in quite a while, so I took a vacation day and got my ticket for the same day as him.
We chose to get tickets on Wednesday because it wasn’t the first day and it wasn’t the weekend so we figured we’d both have a better shot of getting the tickets. Our gamble paid off. We both got tickets for Wednesday, so after he dropped his daughter off in school back in the Chicago suburbs, we met up in Kalamazoo then drove together to Grand Rapids.
The allotment this year was either two four packs and two bombers or three four packs and two bombers. I went with the smaller one while he chose the larger. We picked those up first from the side of the brewery. After we dropped them off in my truck, we headed in for lunch.
Founders Brewing Company is on Grand Rapids southwest side. What was once a small taproom and production facility now takes up a whole city block and has added to the Grand Rapids skyline. The brewery in on Grandville Avenue between Bartlett and Williams Streets right across the street from The Rapid Central Station.
Parking is pretty tricky. There is street parking all around the building and a pay lot behind it. The entrance though is on Grandville Avenue, so you will be walking almost no matter where you park. There used to be a small parking lot in the front of the building but that was eliminated to make room for the new patio.
J and I ate at Founders back in 2011. The taproom has changed so much since then that I almost didn’t recognize it. There’s a huge patio out front with fireplaces to keep you warm in the winter and the dining area has expanded into a newer part of the building. The decor is pretty simple with hardwood floors and exposed beams. The building is a former trucking terminal and while you have to look hard to see the building’s past life. the minimalist design of the place leaves some of those bones in place.
There’s a huge bar with mugs for their mug club members and chalk boards with the days tap offerings along the back wall. That was also full and not an option for the two of us.
The tables were all pretty full when we walked in the door. My buddy noted how smart Founders is for staggering the release. For one week in March, they’re all but guaranteed to have a full taproom all day as many make the pilgrimage to pick up their KBS.
There was a pub table being cleared off near the door so we waited for the waiter to finish then sat down. A different waiter came over pretty quickly with the beer list, but then disappeared for quite a while. I was looking for something that was a pub exclusive while my drinking partner was looking for anything he hadn’t had.
It took probably ten minutes for our waiter to come back just to take drink orders. We weren’t really sure what to do while waiting. I was close to flagging someone else down thinking the original guy who brought the beer menu got pulled on to something else. We wanted to try out a few other breweries on this trip and only had a limited about of time to do so.
When our waiter came back, I put in an order for Red Hot Cinnamon IPA. I was expecting something with a little heat to it. This didn’t have much heat. The cinnamon was pretty muted. It’s there, but it didn’t jump out nearly as much as I thought it would. The beer is a little bitter with a little pinyness and just a hint of cinnamon, but not the fireball I was expecting it to be.
The ordering food at Founders has always been confusing to me. Our waiter brought our drinks and as I was about to ask, he asked if we were going to order food. The way things used to be is that during certain times of the day, you would have table service while at other times, you would have to go to a window cut in to the kitchen. That window is now gone and there’s a huge order area for their deli. I had assumed we’d be going there, but the waiter took our order and food was brought to us so we never had to get up.
I had meant to order the sandwich I had always ordered when co-workers and I did carry out. The Devil Dancer. My brain wasn’t cooperating with my mouth though and I ordered the Dirty Bastard instead. It wasn’t a huge mistake because I actually thought this one sounded good, so I wasn’t disappointed in myself for ordering the wrong thing.
The Dirty Bastard is a pastrami sandwich on a Polish rye bread with Swiss cheese, lettuce, red onions, and a horseradish sauce. This is not a NY deli style sandwich but there’s still a pretty thick layer of the delicious, peppery pastrami. I’m not typically one for sauces, but the horseradish sauce gave this sandwich a little bit of a kick without tasting to mayo-y. I have no problem eating a warm pastrami sandwich with just meat and cheese, but the layers on this one really added to the overall flavor. The bread was nice and hearty and just slightly warm which helped melt the cheese into the meat. The sandwich came with a pickle, but not chips or any other type of side.
I didn’t really pay attention to what my buddy ordered so I can’t blog about it. He’s not a guy I see too often so we were just catching up and talking about beer. I don’t get too many chances to hang out with other guys at the bar and talk about all the delicious beers out there, so what he was drinking and eating wasn’t a priority on this trip.
The cost for the sandwich and beer was about $14 before tip. The cost for the KBS was much, much higher so it was a pretty expensive stop, but well worth it.
Working in Grand Rapids and living in Kalamazoo, I get into the Bells vs. Founders argument quite a bit. I love both places. They’re a little bit different yet a little bit the same as well. Founders is such a great, relaxing hang out just outside of downtown Grand Rapids. They’ve forever changed the G.R. skyline and they’ve helped make the city “Beer City USA.”
Whether you’re a beer person or not, Founders Brewing Company is one of those “must stop” places if you’re traveling to the city. They have a great deli menu and an even better beer selection. It’s one of those atmosphere’s that you just have to be a part of any time you’re in West Michigan.