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Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers

Founders Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers

 

BC: With all the recent changes in yeast and hops, do you think a brewer today can still have a favorite hop or yeast?

Mike: We are very consistent with our yeast. Niney-eight percent of all the beers at Founders come from one yeast strain. We do mess around with other yeasts but in reality we don’t dance around much there. As far as a favorite hop for me I think it just changes with time. We all might have started with Cascade, then shifted to Centennial, then moved on to Amarillo as time moved forward. It kind of goes around in a circle. For me I appreciate more the citrus and floral hop varieties with bright aromas.

Dave: As Mike said we pretty much use one yeast strain at Founders that we like. As far as hops go there are a lot of hop varieties we use however there are one or two that we like and tend to favor. We do so many things with barrels, fruits and adjuncts like coffee and chocolate that there are such a wide variety of beers we offer. We try to make sure the beer makes sense and the flavors complement each other. Adding things just to create novelty is not what we do. It hurts the industry when people don’t make good beer. Barrel-aged cherry custard wintery ale can be made but it doesn’t make any sense. At the end of the day we as brewers have to make great beer.

BC: For those readers who are contemplating taking that one giant step brewing beer commercially, what advice would you consider essential?

Mike: You can take this with a grain of salt and I don’t know if I mean this literally but I would advise you not to lead with an IPA. More to the point you need to be an individual and you need to do something different to stand out. It goes back to my lesson. What did I lead with? An amber ale and a pale ale like everybody else was brewing. Today IPAs are the hottest category. They aren’t going away but if you don’t brew something else that people will remember you by, you could end up where we did back then.

I would encourage you in the development of your business to try and take an angle that is going to put you on the shelf a little bit different than everybody else. It’s so much more competitive than it was 20 years ago. The other side of this is quality and consistency. The 1980s were in its rawest form and by the mid 1990s the industry was growing until it crashed then it picked up again. We were part of it with extreme beer. There were also crazy eclectic recipes and who can out do who kind of thing going on but now we’re kind of the old timers. I see it turning the other way and coming full circle. I’m not just saying this because of All Day but things come back to the fundamentals of beer making every so often. The industry is not going back to brewing shitty yellow fizzy beer but I think now what is in play for the consumer is they are looking for quality and consistency. Use the consumer but don’t over complicate things and confuse them. They will accept variation but they hate surprises. With so many options I explore with 20% of my beer purchases but 80% are the ones that have a demonstrated quality and that is the beer I am taking to the BBQ tonight. You don’t want to be in that 20% because if you stay there routinely that means you are either inconsistent or you are making crazy things too far out for the consumer.

Dave: I would have to say if you want to take that step from homebrewing to starting a brewery my first suggestion is start by working at a brewery. Understand what you are getting into and understand it will change every decision that you make in your life. When you own a business you go all in. You can’t half ass it. You have to be passionate about it and you can’t fake your way through it. Everything you do you have to think about how it affects your business.

When we started there weren’t that many breweries to gain experience at and the truth is neither Mike nor I ever worked at a brewery. We were both homebrewers. It took us 20 years to shake a lot of things out. I wish we both had worked at a brewery before we went all in. The other piece of advice is know why you are doing it. If you are getting into the beer business because you want to make a lot of money you are doing it for the wrong reason. You have to love making beer. You have to be passionate about it.

(Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series. The second post will cover the early years of Mike and Dave’s friendship, favorite beers and flavors and thoughts about homebrewing.)

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pchchicago's picture
Founders Tap Room is NOT family friendly or able to handle large groups. On Saturday, November 24, 2018, my attempt to coordinate a family holiday gathering at Founders Brewing Tap Room at 235 Grandville Ave SW in Grand Rapids, resulted in harassment by Tap Room Manager, and assault by a wait staff employee. The day started when I called the Tap Room early to see if they would accommodate a reservation since we were bringing a larger group of 11 people that included 2 senior citizens, 4 children and someone with a broken ankle. I was informed that the Founders Tap Room that they do not accept reservations, but I was assured that at our desired arrival time of 4 pm, there would be plenty of room to accommodate our group without waiting. A few minutes before 4 pm, my husband and I arrived early to set up our seating arrangements ahead of the rest of the group. We found a larger table in the first room we entered, but it only fit 6-8 chairs. I asked a wait person with purple hair how we could arrange the table to accommodate 11 people. She told me that people usually move table and chairs together from other parts of the restaurant because that was “easier for her”. At first, her comment was offensive since she was stating that the workload of employees was more important than accommodating paying customers. Then I noticed a smaller table that had been vacated nearby that would add room for 4 more chairs. My husband and I moved the table and chairs (even with my broken ankle in a cast) next to the longer table. We arranged the chairs for 11 guests and a different wait person started setting place settings to get ready for our group. Out of nowhere, the Manager, Aimee Stevenson, arrived with a negative attitude telling us that we could not move the tables together without a valid explanation. I explained to her that her staff member with the purple hair told us to move the tables together, but she refused to listen to our reasoning. I asked her for another solution since we had 11 people about to arrive for a family reunion, and she did not have a workable solution. She pointed out smaller tables in the same room that could fit 4-6 people, and then told me to walk into the other room to see if tables were available. Based on her suggestion, I hobbled over to the other room with my broken ankle in a cast, and I looked up to see her walking so close behind me that she was almost hovering over me. I told her on a few occasions to “get away from me” since I could figure out a solution on my own. Her only suggestion was to use a table that was the same size as was available in the other room (up to 8 seats). She recommended that the other 3 people sit on a bench without a table surface to eat from. This was an unacceptable solution since were planning to eat appetizers, dinners, drinks, dessert – not just a casual gathering. As we were walking back to the original table, I told her that I wasn’t sure this place was going to work for our needs, and that I was going to write a negative review about how I was being treated, and how the Founders Tap Room was not able to accommodate large family groups based on lack of reservations and larger tables. To my extreme surprise, this is the point where she snapped. She told me that I had to leave the premise immediately. When asked, she did not provide me with any reasoning, and I am was utterly shocked since I purposely and carefully avoided yelling, use of profane language and interference with any other patrons. She told me she was going to call the police if I did not leave immediately. I have NEVER been threatened like this in over 50 years of dining at restaurants. I asked her for the name of the President since I wanted to contact him about this experience. She refused to give me that contact name, but she said she would get me a card for her District Manager, and then left. While waiting for the contact name, I walked outside to let our guests know what was going on. I walked inside and out a few times checking to see if she had returned with the business card. The last time I attempted to go inside to retrieve the card, a wait staff employee wearing a skirt who was waiting on tables outside, walked up to me and told me that I was “not allowed to enter the restaurant anymore”. When I asked him why, he provided no response to my question. I told him I was waiting for the Manager to provide a business card for me, and I continued to walk toward the door. He then pushed me, and he placed his arm across the door and across my throat. When I reached for the business card from the Manager, his arm pushed against my throat. This violent action out of line for the situation. Also, by refusing to serve our family group, Founders Tap Room refused service to someone with an obvious handicap, and persons based on age since 7 people in our party were over 40 years old, and 2 of them are over 65 years old. As I mull over the situation, I cannot arrive at any conclusion that would justify the violent treatment I received at Founders Tap Room. I took all of the necessary steps to create an excellent experience for my group who had never been to Founders before including calling in advance for reservations, arriving early to secure a large enough table, keeping an open mind for Manager to provide options (which she did not have any), and avoiding any confrontational behavior such as profane language, yelling or disrupting other patrons. The Manager and her staff acted inappropriately. This behavior is especially ridiculous when aimed at a group of church-going, family members who were far from being rowdy. The good news is that we moved our family reunion down the street to New Holland Brewery at 417 Bridge Street NW in Grand Rapids. Our group spent over $400 on appetizers, drinks, dinner and dessert, and the service and staff at this venue were excellent. They were easily able to accommodate a spacious location for our large group, and the food and drinks were both unique and tasty. We all agreed that we would both recommend and return to New Holland for a future event.

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pchchicago's picture
Founders Tap Room is NOT family friendly or able to handle large groups. On Saturday, November 24, 2018, my attempt to coordinate a family holiday gathering at Founders Brewing Tap Room at 235 Grandville Ave SW in Grand Rapids, resulted in harassment by Tap Room Manager, and assault by a wait staff employee. The day started when I called the Tap Room early to see if they would accommodate a reservation since we were bringing a larger group of 11 people that included 2 senior citizens, 4 children and someone with a broken ankle. I was informed that the Founders Tap Room that they do not accept reservations, but I was assured that at our desired arrival time of 4 pm, there would be plenty of room to accommodate our group without waiting. A few minutes before 4 pm, my husband and I arrived early to set up our seating arrangements ahead of the rest of the group. We found a larger table in the first room we entered, but it only fit 6-8 chairs. I asked a wait person with purple hair how we could arrange the table to accommodate 11 people. She told me that people usually move table and chairs together from other parts of the restaurant because that was “easier for her”. At first, her comment was offensive since she was stating that the workload of employees was more important than accommodating paying customers. Then I noticed a smaller table that had been vacated nearby that would add room for 4 more chairs. My husband and I moved the table and chairs (even with my broken ankle in a cast) next to the longer table. We arranged the chairs for 11 guests and a different wait person started setting place settings to get ready for our group. Out of nowhere, the Manager, Aimee Stevenson, arrived with a negative attitude telling us that we could not move the tables together without a valid explanation. I explained to her that her staff member with the purple hair told us to move the tables together, but she refused to listen to our reasoning. I asked her for another solution since we had 11 people about to arrive for a family reunion, and she did not have a workable solution. She pointed out smaller tables in the same room that could fit 4-6 people, and then told me to walk into the other room to see if tables were available. Based on her suggestion, I hobbled over to the other room with my broken ankle in a cast, and I looked up to see her walking so close behind me that she was almost hovering over me. I told her on a few occasions to “get away from me” since I could figure out a solution on my own. Her only suggestion was to use a table that was the same size as was available in the other room (up to 8 seats). She recommended that the other 3 people sit on a bench without a table surface to eat from. This was an unacceptable solution since were planning to eat appetizers, dinners, drinks, dessert – not just a casual gathering. As we were walking back to the original table, I told her that I wasn’t sure this place was going to work for our needs, and that I was going to write a negative review about how I was being treated, and how the Founders Tap Room was not able to accommodate large family groups based on lack of reservations and larger tables. To my extreme surprise, this is the point where she snapped. She told me that I had to leave the premise immediately. When asked, she did not provide me with any reasoning, and I am was utterly shocked since I purposely and carefully avoided yelling, use of profane language and interference with any other patrons. She told me she was going to call the police if I did not leave immediately. I have NEVER been threatened like this in over 50 years of dining at restaurants. I asked her for the name of the President since I wanted to contact him about this experience. She refused to give me that contact name, but she said she would get me a card for her District Manager, and then left. While waiting for the contact name, I walked outside to let our guests know what was going on. I walked inside and out a few times checking to see if she had returned with the business card. The last time I attempted to go inside to retrieve the card, a wait staff employee wearing a skirt who was waiting on tables outside, walked up to me and told me that I was “not allowed to enter the restaurant anymore”. When I asked him why, he provided no response to my question. I told him I was waiting for the Manager to provide a business card for me, and I continued to walk toward the door. He then pushed me, and he placed his arm across the door and across my throat. When I reached for the business card from the Manager, his arm pushed against my throat. This violent action out of line for the situation. Also, by refusing to serve our family group, Founders Tap Room refused service to someone with an obvious handicap, and persons based on age since 7 people in our party were over 40 years old, and 2 of them are over 65 years old. As I mull over the situation, I cannot arrive at any conclusion that would justify the violent treatment I received at Founders Tap Room. I took all of the necessary steps to create an excellent experience for my group who had never been to Founders before including calling in advance for reservations, arriving early to secure a large enough table, keeping an open mind for Manager to provide options (which she did not have any), and avoiding any confrontational behavior such as profane language, yelling or disrupting other patrons. The Manager and her staff acted inappropriately. This behavior is especially ridiculous when aimed at a group of church-going, family members who were far from being rowdy. The good news is that we moved our family reunion down the street to New Holland Brewery at 417 Bridge Street NW in Grand Rapids. Our group spent over $400 on appetizers, drinks, dinner and dessert, and the service and staff at this venue were excellent. They were easily able to accommodate a spacious location for our large group, and the food and drinks were both unique and tasty. We all agreed that we would both recommend and return to New Holland for a future event.

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