Drinks with Pat: The beverage evolution now

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As Drinks with Pat takes shape (maybe you’ve noticed it’s a recurring column at this point, or maybe you haven’t) I’m going to use it to chat with fun people.

Maybe that’s about drinks or the drinks they make. Or maybe I’ll chat with chefs Grand Rapids Magazine has come to love, or musicians or comedians making a stop in town, like Charlie Berens recently.

For New Year’s, I chatted with a local sommelier for sparkling wine recommendations. Recently, I chatted with Cedar Springs Brewing’s owner about his upcoming taproom in Grand Rapids. So if you want someone to be featured, reach out!

Today, I come full circle yet again. When I moved back from Las Vegas, one of my first stops to get the low-down on Grand Rapids beverage for Grand Rapids Magazine’s November/December issue was Mitch Ermatinger, owner of Speciation Artisan Ales. The resulting article I still like a lot, but Mitch is a guy who knows the trends of the beverage world well — even though he doesn’t drink beer now because he was diagnosed with celiac disease.

I sat down with Mitch for a more detailed look at what’s up at Speciation, the cool brewery at 928 Wealthy St. SE.

Pat: Let’s start with you. How are you doing with celiac?

Mitch: It’s been a challenge. I was diagnosed almost three years ago. It was pretty easy at first, but it’s gotten harder and harder, both to avoid social situations and gluten in general. I thought I knew what it was when I was diagnosed because my brother has it, but the further I get into it and the more I learn about it, I didn’t actually know what I was truly diagnosed with.

As far as operations (at Speciation), that hasn’t changed, we still have the same team. We’ve always had the same team. It’s literally the same production people as 2017. That’s pretty rare for a small brewery. They’ve stuck with me, and I trust their palates. We’re doing a lot (more) ingredients and blends now than we did before. I really have to rely on them. Before, I would smell stuff and get an idea of the flavor, but now, I don’t even do that.

P: You opened a new taproom while I was gone, how is that going?

M: We opened in late June 2020, so this will be our third summer open. It’s going great; we love it. The first year-and-a-half was wonky, because, well, the pandemic, but even without that, we were operating two locations. We decided to close the old location for tons of different reasons. The main reason was to focus on the taproom. Since we closed the old location, we’ve really settled in a lot more and made it more homey. It allows us to experiment a little bit more, because we’re not trying to just pump out beer for production. We still specialize in sour beer, but we’ve focused away from that.

P: Last time I came in, it was a nice, loaded tap list. What’s new?

M: We’ve shifted to more styles. We use kveik, a Norwegian farmhouse strain that comes from farms in Norway, but it ferments hot and clean. It’s super versatile for clean tasting styles. So we make a pseudo lager — that’s been our No. 1 seller. We have a pale ale on pretty consistently, really just a juicy drinking pale ale. We also just brewed our very first IPA, we’ve done all kinds of wile IPAs, but that does not taste anything like an American IPA. It’s our take on a cold IPA, which is like a drier West Coast IPA and a style I’ve seen get a little bit of traction and our production team loves. It’s sort of like the anti-hazy IPA, not that we’re against them. We’re using this hop called Zappa, a true American hop. It’s crazy tropical, like fruity peoples with a citrus-y edge.

We’re really focused on that kind of stuff, clean farmhouse ales and saisons, and we’ll see where that takes us. I think that’s where craft beer is heading right now — more approachable beer.

P: And then you’ve gotten really into wine, with Native Species.

M: We’re releasing The Iron Bell again soon, our Frontenac Gris Rose Pet Nat, a super strawberry and tropical fruit bubbly wine. It’s probably all of our favorite wine. We have a bunch of wine that we just released a couple months ago. The staff really loves Blankets of Ash, a Cabernet Franc Pet Nat, it’s more grassy, blackberry leaves. And we have a Syrah Pet Nat, juicy blackberry jam bubbly wine.

Honestly, a lot of pet nats — it’s frustrating, because we have people who go crazy over our fruited sours, but if you put a juicy pet nat in front of them blind, they’d go crazy for them. If we told them it was a blackberry sour beer, they’d lose their mind. It’s really like a cross between lambic beer and traditionally bubbly wine. We’ve been focusing on pet nat, but this spring, we’re launching a bunch of still wines that we’ve had in barrels for two years.

P: Anything fun coming up in the taproom to check out?

M: We’re doing a lot of metal shows actually, about every six weeks. That’s been our most successful ongoing thing we’ve done. We didn’t really expect anyone to show up, but we’ve been dabbling, and every show has gotten bigger and bigger.

Then we’ve done a lot of pop-ups, actually Basalt is doing a pop up tonight. We’re trying to incorporate food more.

Then, we’re going to have a spelling bee viewing party — it brings out all the nerds — then a big solstice party on June 17. We also have specialized trivia — Harry Potter last night. Just basically nerd stuff; that’s what I like.

What Pat’s been drinking

My wife and I went to “Hamilton” when it was in town at DeVos Place. I wouldn’t mention that except for I recently received a bottle of Hercules Mulligan Rum & Rye, a weird mix of rum, rye whiskey, ginger and bitters. It’s pretty tasty on its own but also makes a really cool base for cocktails.

Also, as spring hits, there might not be a better cocktail than a Negroni to start spending the warmer evenings outside. I’ve had some cool gins lately, including Grey Whale, Hendrick’s new expression Neptunia, and, not technically a gin but its relative: Bols Genever. Try them out in a Negroni, a real basic recipe to start, but play with it:

1 ounce gin

1 oounce vermouth

1 oounce Campari

Pour over big ice cube. Stir. Enjoy.

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