Where To Drink Belgian Beer in an Old Funeral Chapel

I’ve tasted tasty brews in many odd places in my day, but a recent trip to Michigan revealed a new brew stop that I was just dying to try out.

Brewery Vivant, located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is located in what used to be a funeral chapel. Too morbid? I think not.
1Jason Spaulding is the President of Brewery Vivant and he opened the super-popular New Holland Brewing Company in 1997. He later attended the Doemens Brewing Academy in Munich, Germany and traveled around Southern Belgium learning from other breweries along the way.

After returning to Michigan, a funeral chapel seemed like the perfect spot for a new brewery. This particular part of Grand Rapids is nicely walkable/bikeable with easy parking on side streets nearby.

2Brewery Vivant was designed to remain small and specialized. It has a Belgian beer theme, which is what drew me here in the first place. Well that, and the possibility of chatting up the haunting spirits of wise Belgian brewing monks.

3I stopped by early on a Friday evening and the place was already packed. There was a wait for a table, but since I just wanted to sample some brews, I made my way back to the less-crowded tasting room. Standing up to sip at the barrel tables was just what I needed after a long car ride.

4Brewery Vivant has a 20-barrel brew kettle, several 20, 40, and 60-barrel fermentation tanks, and a couple maturation tanks. The brewers have been producing between 1,600 and 2,000 barrels in recent years.

As typical, I ordered a flight to sample what these monkish types had to offer. Flights were a bit pricey in my opinion – $10 for 4 of their standard brews or $12 for your choice of 4. The standard brews included a French-style Farmhouse Ale, a Belgian-style IPA, a Hoppy Belgo-American Red Ale, and a Belgian-style Dark Ale.
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Triomphe, the IPA, and Undertaker, the Dark Ale, got my top two votes. To switch it up, I tried the Smoky Wheat, however, it really didn’t have the smokiness I was looking for at all. Pepper in the Rye was also drinkable, but not too memorable.

Slow jams played softly on the radio and lured me into filling a growler to accompany me back to the hotel. My growler fill of choice was the Triomphe Belgian IPA – refreshing with just enough full-bodied, hoppy flavor.

The main bar eerily resembled an alter, with a stained glass window as the centerpiece and a total church-like vibe. Although it was admittedly an intriguing use of space, I failed to encounter a single haunting experience. Perhaps it wasn’t the right cycle of the moon.

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Funeral accommodations are turning into some of the most interesting food and drink establishments lately it seems. My family actually celebrated Easter a couple years ago by making lunch reservations at a funeral-home-turned-restaurant. Needless to say, some family members of younger years were more comfortable with the arrangement than others!

A couple people on Yelp raved about the bathroom sinks, which I found a bit odd. They’re the kind of sinks that look like a long slab of marble – or virtually no sink at all. A little unique, but I wouldn’t show up for the sink if you’re not a beer fan to begin with.

Grand Rapids is actually an awesome place to visit for craft beer fans – there’s Founders, HopCat , Harmony, Elk, Mitten, Hideout, B.O.B., the Grand Rapids Brewing Company in town as well. I’ve hit up a couple of these while passing through the area over the years, and I can’t recall much in the way of disappointment. And actually, in the last couple years it’s won a bunch of awards for being a top American beer town.

ale-trail-map-imageHere’s an ale trail map to guide you. Who needs GPS when you have cartoon pints in all directions?

An Introduction to Beer Tourism in Portland

The city of Portland, Oregon has more craft breweries per capita than anywhere else in America. That makes this West Coast city a required destination for beer lovers from across the country and beyond. According to local beer magazine, Oregon Craft Beer, there are at least 56 breweries in the city of Portland, 76 in the Portland metro area, 30 in Central Oregon, 21 in the nearby city of Bend, and 12 in nearby Eugene.

To help you find a starting point in your craft beer tour, these are a few of the best craft breweries to visit in Portland. I’ve made it to a several of these already, and plan to hit up the rest when I return in the near future!

Lucky Labrador Brewing

Dogs are prevalent and welcome all over the city of Portland, and the Lucky Labrador celebrates the city’s love for canine pals. Lucky Labrador Brewing has been around since 1994 and the one in Hawthorne is the original of its four expanded locations. This is a great place to sit outside with a sampler flight on a nice day and to grab a bite to eat. The pulled pork sandwich is a local favorite!

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Bridgeport Brew Pub

The Bridgeport Brew Pub is the oldest craft brewery in Oregon, but that doesn’t mean it’s outdated or losing popularity at all. You can find this brewery in an old industrial building that’s covered in ivy in the Pearl District. This is a popular place to grab a drink and dinner after the city’s First Thursday Art Walk. Try one of the wood-fired pizzas or pick one of the vegan options on the menu to accompany your brew of choice.

Hopworks Urban Brewery

Just as Portland enjoys its dogs, the city also has a strong biking culture. Not only does Hopworks Urban Brewery encourage patrons to bike instead of drive to its pub, but it even has a stationary bike on site! Hop on and help power the brewery’s electricity and you’ll earn yourself a free pint! Hopworks is located in the Williams neighborhood in Southeast Portland, and it’s also a great place to eat if you’re a vegetarian.

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Storm Breaker Brewing

Storm Breaker Brewing is located in the historic and trendy Mississippi Avenue District of Portland, and it has a very chill atmosphere, both inside and in outside seating area. Feel free to bring your dog with you on the patio! Storm Breaker is a nickname for Mount Hood, which towers in the distance of Portland and is known to break storms coming off of the Pacific Ocean. And if you’re not into beer, you can also order a specialty house cocktail, a uniquely-designed burger, or the daily grilled cheese special.

Deschutes Brewery and Public House

Although the actual brewing facility for Deschutes is located Bend, Oregon, this brewery is so popular that it has multiple locations. The Portland pub is located in the posh Pearl District and has 19 Deschutes beers on tap. This pub gets very busy on evenings and weekends, but unfortunately, reservations are not accepted. Even non-beer-drinkers flock here because of the food, which is focused on all-natural, seasonal, sustainable, locally-sourced, and homemade ingredients.

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Rogue Distillery and Public House

Another famous must-drink location for brew lovers visiting Oregon is Rogue. The actual Rogue Brewery is located in Ashland, Oregon but if you don’t have time to make it out that way, stop by the Rogue Public House in Portland. Rogue is a huge institution in the Pacific Northwest, and the brewery has locations in Newport, Astoria, Eugene, San Francisco, and Issaquah, Washington. Portland’s Rogue Distillery and Public House is open 365 days a year, has 38 beers on tap, and allows dogs on the patio.

Occidental Brewing Co.

The Occidental Brewing Company is located in North Portland and is well-known for its German-style beers. Soak up the historic vibe of the St. John’s neighborhood and the nearby bridges of the city. The atmosphere is friendly, and although the brewery doesn’t serve food, you’re welcome to bring in something from home or a nearby restaurant. If you’re not yet familiar with Occidental brews, consider trying a 4-ounce sampler of the beers they have on tap to decide which one’s your favorite.

Cascade Brewing Barrel House

You can visit the Cascade Brewing Barrel House in the Southeast section of Portland and enjoy the large, friendly patio. If you’ve never tried a sour beer before, this is the place to do so because the brewers have become somewhat famous for their sour creations. As the name suggests, Cascade also specializes in barrel aged beers, which tend to be stronger and a little more expensive. You can find some very unique brews at Cascade and order some food while you’re at it too.

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Upright Brewing

Located in North Portland, Upright Brewing has a no-frills tasting room in the basement of a business building. Although it’s small, it’s incredibly friendly and a must for beer geeks. The brewmasters here are knowledgeable about their craft and love what they do. You can usually find about a dozen beers on tap, and the prices are very reasonable. But remember to bring cash, because Upright doesn’t accept credit cards!

Oregon Public House

Although the Oregon Public House doesn’t actually brew its own beer, it makes our list because it’s the first nonprofit pub in the world – with 100% of the profits going to charity. This pub partners with a variety of charities that work to improve social justice, community and environmental needs. The charities are responsible for bringing in volunteers to work at the pub when the organization is being featured, meet fundraising goals, and handle promotions. Recently supported charities include Braking Cycles, a local youth outreach program, and the Red Sweater Project, a nonprofit that assists children in Tanzania.

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It’s easy to get overwhelmed in Portland’s craft beer scene, but fortunately, there are lots of local experts who are willing to be your guide. And with so many breweries to tour and taste in town, some obvious safety concerns come to mind.

Hop on a guided BrewCycle to pedal off some of those empty calories while getting from Point A to Z a little safer. Current BrewCycle stops are the Lucky Labrador, Lompoc Brewing, Bridgeport, Pints, and Old Town Brewing Company. And while you’re in town, try to catch one of the city’s huge beer festivals, like the Oregon Brewers Festival, North American Organic Brewers Festival and the Portland International Beerfest.

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*A version of this article was published in an online travel magazine I write for, Trips to Discover

Brewing for the Thirsty People of Lafayette Indiana

After an afternoon of aiming at airborne pieces of clay at the Oakwood Gun Club, I found myself craving something cold and refreshing. Since the Gun Club is located in the middle of nowhere, I had to travel an hour and twenty minutes south to find the sort of satisfaction I was looking for. Fortunately, I was headed that way anyway to camp for the night.

Located in an obscure industrial park in Lafayette, Indiana lies a magical place called People’s Brewing Company. By and large, some of the best breweries I’ve ever stumbled upon have been tucked away in shady warehouse districts that practically beg you not to step foot in them.

You’d better but the address in your GPS because People’s doesn’t really have a legit sign – just a plastic banner, which reads “Making Beer for the People.”

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Saunter up the stairs like you know what you’re doing and make your way to the small bar in the back. A big friendly guy will greet you and quickly pour out whatever you’re thirsting for. When I visited on a late Saturday afternoon, this Vermont native was the only bartender on staff, but he was quick, efficient, and full of no-nonsense.

After some not-so-strategic pondering, I tried a small sample of everything People’s had on tap. A sampler of six beers runs you $6, and additional samples are just  a buck each.

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After a not-so-scientific evaluation, I settled on People’s coffee-esque Irish Rover Stout (5.5 IBU @ 6.5%) to fill up the lonely growler rolling around in the back of my Jeep. Honorable mentions go out to The Abbott Belgian Dark Strong (IBU 2.0 @ 8.2%) and Agent Oats Oatmeal Stout (3.0 IBU @ 5.2%).

Nothing was so unique that I instantly had to write home about, but what was done was done well. Filling a growler was a no-brainer, the cost of most growler fills is just $8 and $11 for strongs. As a frame of reference, Revolution Brewing, the closest brewery to my apartment back home in Chicago, charges between $14 and $22 for a growler fill. Peoples 3

This place has a total local vibe to it, with plenty of regulars coming and going to fill their growlers or grab an afternoon pint. Everyone seemed to kinda know everyone else, yet I never felt out of place. Although this is a college town, the crowd seemed to be mostly 30s and 40s. Unfortunately, there’s no outdoor seating, but it’s not too difficult to inch your way up to the open garage door to take in the aromatic waves of tractor-trailer fumes wafting by.

Inside its 6,000-square-foot facility, the brewery has offered tours and a 1,000-square-foot tasting room since 2010. The brewers here specialize in small batch recipes and have about six beers on tap at any given time.

Peoples 4If you find yourself passing through Indiana for whatever weird reason someday, do yourself a favor and stop by People’s Brewing. It’s unpretentious enough to show up in whatever you’re wearing, yet friendly enough to make you remember it each time you’re passing through the “Crossroads of America.”

People’s Brewing is open from 2 pm to 8 pm on weekdays and noon to 8 pm on weekends.

Whip In: Austin’s One-Stop Brewery/Indian Restaurant/Concert Venue/Grocery Store

I can’t think of another single place in the world that combines the best aspects of craft beer, Indian food, live music, and grocery shopping. Whip In does exactly that, and does it pretty well.

Roadside sign

Roadside sign

My boyfriend, who happens to be Indian, and I came across Whip In’s website while searching for breweries to sample in the Austin area. We were intrigued at the unlikely combination of Texas comfort food, traditional Indian food, and craft beer. From what I understand, Indians aren’t exactly known for their breweries.

The Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmern even did a little piece on the place, however, I don’t feel he does it justice. Sorry to call you out, buddy, it’s going to take more than footage of your chewing to convince me of Whip In’s awesomeness.

Scoping out the menu

Scoping out the menu

Back in 1986, the owners, Amrit and Chandan Topiwala, bought a convenience store in the Travis Heights Neighborhood and made a living off the gas pumps and B-movie selection.

For whatever reason, beer sales began to outweigh gas sales and priorities were shifted.

Texan-Indian Cuisine and Brews

Texan-Indian Cuisine and Brews

 

The convenience store was transformed into a dhaba (traditional Indian/Pakistani roadside restaurant) pub with a full kitchen and homemade brew house. The menu features a mind-boggling fusion of Texan comfort food and authentic Gujarati cuisine. And since it’s in Austin, Whip In practically had no choice but to service local and organic fruits, vegetables, and meats.

Whip In is big on brunch and it has a big section for it on the menu. We settled on a combo dhaba bowl with chana masala, masoor dal, and Zambian corn. We also got an appetizer of samosas and a follow-up entree of dal sliders. With their warm naan, spinach, and mushrooms, the dal sliders were definitely my favorite pick.

Namaste Brewing

Namaste Brewing

Appropriately, Whip In calls its in-house brew house, Namaste Brewing. They had a surprisingly number of beers, although several of the taps had run dry before we showed up.

You can order a sampler of four beers for $10, and we did exactly that. Our picks were the Brahmale, Sitas Revenge, Austinerveisse, and Vishnavi Triple.

 

Outside seating space

Outside seating space

  • Brahmale = postcolonial IPA made w/goodflow honey, grapefruit peel & lemongrass 9.5%abv
  • Sitas = french saison made w/striselspalt&aramis hops 6.5%abv
  • Austinerveisse = berlinerveisse style german sour wheat made w/peaches 4.5%abv
  • Vishnavi = strong triple brew I seem to have misplaced my notes on
Feast time!

Feast time!

Nearly all the beers on tap were high in alcohol content, with 8% and 9% being totally common. I must admit, the combination of strong beer and strong flavors did do a number on my unsuspecting stomach after awhile.

Rambler Rose

Rambler Rose

 

 

 

For a Saturday night, Whip In was busy, crowded, and a little chaotic. As a first timer, I was a little overwhelmed trying to wrap my head around this place. Fortunately, we found a seat at the bar, so there was no wait time. If you aren’t so fortunate, you can push your way to the back and browse the couple aisles of groceries that seem wonderfully out-of-place. The owners have traded in their convenience store snacks for hippie fair like tofu-turkey and Tom’s Natural Toothpaste.

Namaste, ya'll!

Namaste, ya’ll!

Whip In has indoor and outdoor seating, and each space has its own stage. Rambler Rose, featuring a 8 1/2 month pregnant lead singer/percussionist, took the stage while we were finishing up our dinner.

Whip In definitely offers a unique dining/drinking/listening/shopping experience you can’t find anywhere else. Upon first impression, the spot seems to be a bit all over the board, and unable to decide what it is and what it wants to be when it grows up. But whatever it is, I like it. And I hope to visit another place like it some day.

How to Drink Your Way Through Iowa

How do you top off a trip to visit the world’s largest gnome in Ames, Iowa? By celebrating with lots of drinks…of course!

There are six long, grueling hours between Ames, Iowa and Chicago. Fortunately, there are plenty of places to stop along the way.

Without further ado, here’s a road map (in photos) of how you too can drink your way through Iowa. Don’t mind the monkeys and gnomes…they’re of legal age and they can probably handle their liquor better than you can.

1. Court Avenue Restaurant and Brewing Company, Des Moines, IA.

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2. Exile Brewing Company, Des Moines, Iowa

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3. John Ernest Vineyard and Winery, Tama, IA

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4. Third Base Brewing Company, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
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5. Ackerman Winery, Amana Colonies, Iowa

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6. Millstream Brewing Company, Amana Colonies, Iowa

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7. Backpocket Brewing Company, Coralville, Iowa

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IMG_1477We all knew that a lot of booze was consumed in Iowa, but who knew that so much of it was made within its borders? Not I, said the drunkard.