Drinks with Pat: Five years of Thornapple

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Shortly before leaving for Las Vegas in 2017, I shot a segment of “Beer Beat with Pat” on WZZM 13 at Thornapple Brewing Company, at 6262 28th St SE in Grand Rapids.

I remember that shoot fairly vividly as I finally felt fully comfortable on camera after shooting those segments for nearly two years with Jennifer Pascua, and I was sad it was soon to come to an end.

Nearly five years later, and I’m back living in Grand Rapids, and Thornapple Brewing Co. is ready to celebrate its fifth anniversary.

Thornapple founder Eric Fouch recently reached out to me to chat about the establishment’s spirits and cocktail menu.

Pat: What’s new this summer at Thornapple?

Eric: We’ll be doing our five-year anniversary party this summer, and on July 4, I’m rolling out my new bourbon made with heritage red, white and blue corn, and I’m calling it Red, White and Bourbon.

We’ve got a new cocktail program too, so I’m starting to try to raise awareness about the program and that we have spirits. We appear to be the best kept secret in having award-winning spirts.

Pat: Why the renewed focus on spirits and cocktails?

Eric: We opened up with all three licenses [beer, cider and spirits]. We made that conscious decision from the beginning, and I got all the manufacturing licenses six months before the occupation license, so at the six-month mark, I could roll out a year-old whisky aged on oak.

I don’t know if we didn’t advertise enough, but the spirits didn’t catch on. We’ve had mug club members look up and ask when we got spirits after two years. They’d just been sitting there for two years.

We just want to re-embrace the one-stop shop with our own ciders, our own meads, our own spirits, our own beers and a restaurant.

We haven’t had a bar manager to push the cocktails, but now we have a new general manager who is excited about that and (pushes) the cocktail envelope, and we’ll take advantage of that.

Pat: What spirit should people be checking into?

Eric: The gin has won the most awards between the gin and barrel-finished gin. Most recently, our whiskey and reposado (tequila) won gold medals at the U.S. Whiskey and Spirits Championship, the spiced rum took silver.

The bourbon, I haven’t entered the bourbon in many competitions, but I’m dialing in the grain bill to where I like it. It’s my favorite spirit on the board and then the gin.

Pat: What else should people be checking out at Thornapple?

Eric: I’ll put my pizza up against anyone in town. We always seem to miss the boat on lists. We never seem to make the list.

But MLive put out a list of the 10 best pizzas in Grand Rapids, and we didn’t make the list, but the picture they used was our pizza. Our pizza is overlooked.

Going back to Nevada

Readers, come back to Nevada with me briefly, if you would. One of the best craft whiskies I had the pleasure of enjoying actually happened in the depths of quarantine, when my wife and I participated in a cook-at-home lesson with a chef in Las Vegas put on in partnership with Frey Ranch Distillery.

The 1,500-acre farm is just under the Sierra Nevada mountain range and grows all its grains on its own farm. That was pretty mind-blowing to me, since Nevada isn’t exactly an agricultural hot bed.

But that whiskey was tasty.

While Frey Ranch Distillery is not in Michigan (yet), I highly suggest seeking it out if you can get it. I recently secured some of its Straight Bourbon Whiskey and Rye Whiskey. Friends in other states are great. And it was not a fluke. They are still excellent whiskies.

What’s Pat drinking?

This week, I was in Toronto for a conference. While there I ventured to Steam Whistle Brewing and had some excellent Pilsner made in the shadow of the CN Tower. That was cool, and the bratwurst was tasty too.

It’s an old railroad depot of some sort, and I highly recommend a stop if you make your way up to the T.O. soon.

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