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Jim Dykstra's picture

Grand Rapids: A Midwestern Beer Mecca


Harmony Brewing Company and Harmony Hall – Jackson van Dyke, who founded the award-winning Harmony Brewing Company along with siblings Barry and Heather, was kind enough to meet me at his newly built Harmony Hall location, which has the communal feel of a traditional German beer hall suffused with a calming, wholesome vibe.

"We tried to do a unique take on a beer hall with elements of fancifulness and whimsy," said owner Jackson van Dyke.

While walking me through a handpicked flight from the 25 beers they have on tap, I felt progressively more at home, despite being far from it. No doubt the beer helped, but the building itself had a unique charm.

“The words that we kept repeating when we were building the space were celebratory and mystical realism, while also are taking cues from the history of the building itself,” Van Dyke told me. “Harmony Hall was originally built as the Rauser Sausage Factory in 1908,” he said, “so we used that to inform our menu.”

Both tap and food menus are diverse, and often complement each other, as was the case with my classically inspired Hopwurst, described as a “cheddar brat made with our Fiddlestix IPA – creamy and cheesy with subtle citrus and hop flavor – topped with house-made bourbon bacon jam and red cabbage slaw.” It was beyond expectation, pairing as well with 100% Michigan-hopped Fiddlestix and whimsically named Starstuff IPAs as with their Black Squirrel, a smoked and peated porter.

After the meal, Jackson showed me around their new 10-bbl system which will triple total capacity of the two brewpubs. The entire operation is imbued with life, and keeping with the theme of the city, the passion for quality is evident in every sip.

Grand Rapids Brewing Company – The all-organic Grand Rapids Brewing Company is the product of BarFly Ventures owner Mark Sellers, creator of HopCat, which was founded in Grand Rapids and has since spread to over 30 locations. If you were looking to dress up and drink, this would be your go-to. Though not averse to the casual drinker, this brewery has a bit more of an upscale, formal feel, and would make a good date spot before hitting the town due to its central location. It’s also a short walk away from Van Andel Arena, home of the American Hockey League’s Grand Rapids Griffins, as are three or four other breweries and brewpubs.

ELK Brewing Co. – The fledgling ELK was founded in 2014 by Eric and Lisa Karns, whose initials inspired the name. I was one of the first ones in early Saturday afternoon, and thus had a seat directly in front of the taps. Bartender Kate was extremely helpful, and started me with their Rowster’s Coffee Porter, supplying the right amount of roast to start the day. It’s got a great “neighborhood bar” feel, as many of the patrons were on a first-name basis with Kate, and larger family parties filed in as the day wore on.

(All photos courtesy Experience Grand Rapids except for Harmony Hall Tap Photo, courtesy Steph Harding)


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