Explore Beer City

Activities to attract even the novice beer drinker.
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Grand Rapids Beer Trolley
The Grand Rapids Beer Trolley.

Great Lakes Pub Cruiser

A great way to tour Grand Rapids and check out its breweries is on the Great Lakes Pub Cruiser. Choose from a series of routes around downtown and pedal your way through the city. You can bring beer on the pub cruiser and it makes stops at breweries along the way. You can choose a two-, two-and-a-half- or three-hour tour. The tour duration determines how many breweries you’ll get to enjoy.

Founders Film Series at Celebration Cinema

Pair Founders beer with a movie during the Founders Film Series at Celebration Cinema North in Grand Rapids. The series began Sept. 4 and runs through Nov. 6 this year. Each classic film is paired with a different Founders beer.

For instance, on Oct. 2, enjoy Breakfast Stout while viewing “The ’Burbs,” or on Oct. 9 watch “Forrest Gump” while sipping a Pilsner. See Celebration Cinema’s website for a full list of the films and beer pairings on tap this season.

Beer Trolley Grand Rapids

You’ve probably seen the Beer Trolley cruising around downtown filled with revelers celebrating as part of a bachelor or bachelorette party, a birthday shindig or some other special occasion. The Beer Trolley offers custom tours as well as themed tours like the current Project 1 tour or upcoming Christmas Lights tour.

“Project 1 Tours will consist of getting our groups around to all three installations in addition to highlighting past ArtPrize pieces that remain around town,” said Austin Dingledine, who owns GR Beer Trolley with his sister, Jaleen. “There will also be an opportunity for our groups to actively participate in these installations, as well.

“Christmas light tours have been a big hit for the trolley. You can see the event description and tour times online. We host a great mixture of office Christmas parties, as well, during this time.”

Trolley tours start with a stop at the Craft Beer Cellar where you can stock up on beer, wine or cider for the ride. It’s recommended that you bring a small cooler of ice with you on your journey. The tours run for 21/2 hours and help you safely see the city while imbibing.

Grand Rapids Beer Trolley is in its third year. It operates from March through December. Visit grbeertrolley.com.

Games & Grog

Blue Bridge Games partners with City Built Brewing once a month for game night at the brewery’s location on Monroe Street. Margaret Kleist, owner of Blue Bridge Games, said the partnership began in January and came out of a shared “love of beer and board games.” Game nights take place on the third Tuesday of each month.

Kleist said Blue Bridge Game members and regulars from City Built often are in attendance at the game nights, but she said they also see new faces regularly as people find the game nights through social media. So, newbies are always welcome and won’t feel out of place joining in on the fun.

Blue Bridge Games has a store library of over 150 titles. For Games & Grogs, the store selects “a smattering of quick games that appeal to large audiences.”

“There is no fee for the Games & Grog event at City Built,” Kleist said. “Attendees typically come hungry and thirsty to enjoy City Built’s delicious food and drink.” You also can head straight to Blue Bridge Games and enjoy the store’s full library for $5 for a full day of play.

See the full events calendar at bluebridgegames.com. The next Games & Grog events are Oct. 15 and Nov. 19.

Downtown Market cooks up beer events

The Grand Rapids Downtown Market shares its love of craft beer regularly with events and classes based around the city’s breweries. This October, the Downtown Market boasts three beer-related events for you to choose from.

Oct. 5: Oktober-Feast: Kick off Oktoberfest with a class all about beer and food. Start off with a beer cheese spread, followed by schnitzel topped with a caper brown butter sauce. Complete your feast with hot, homemade German potato salad. Enjoy small tastes of German-style beer paired with each course. Purchase additional beverages from a curated market bar.

Oct. 18: Flight Friday (Not just beer; flights of food, too): Join the Downtown Market for a Friday full of flights, bites and Market delights. Market Hall merchants and restaurants will have beverage and food flights available for purchase on Friday, Oct. 18. Trying something new has never been so easy — you never know, you might just find a new favorite drink or dish.

Oct. 22: Cooking with Craft Beer class: Don’t just drink the good stuff – learn to cook with it, too. This beer-inspired menu will include a refreshing seasonal salad with a pale ale vinaigrette, delicious brown ale-braised chicken and rich chocolate stout cupcakes. Yes, beer in dessert! Complement your meal with your favorite brew, available for purchase from a curated list.

Music and beer

If you’ve enjoyed a concert recently at Founders Brewing, you have Luke Sass to thank. He is in charge of booking bands for the Founders stage.

“Founders is not unique in the brewing community because we like music, we are unique because we invest in it — and we always have,” Sass said.

“I first was introduced to Founders as a tour manager for Four Finger Five. Back in those days, Founders could hardly pay the bills, but they always not only fed us and gave us free beer … they paid us fairly,” he said. Sass attributes this to Founders co-owners’ love of music and willingness to invest in talented musicians.

Sass said Founders’ foray into music began soon after the brewery opened in its original location in the North Monroe neighborhood. Owners Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers offered the space to friends to practice and people began checking out these practice sessions. “Our nearly two decadeslong connection to music began,” Sass said.

Today, you can catch a band at Founders almost every other day. “The first Sunday of each month is our free matinee concert with the Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra, and every Tuesday, Nick James Thomasma hosts our Open Mic with sign-ups starting at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, we always present a free show, and our Saturday concerts are typically just $5 with a cover being paid at the door. That being said, you should always watch out for surprise shows to pop up on select Wednesdays and Sundays throughout
the year.”

When booking bands, Sass looks for “uniqueness, professionalism, a genuine interest in connecting with their fan base as well as ours, and an ability to leave people’s jaws on the floor through a dynamic performance.”

Along with its regular concerts, Founders also hosts an annual daylong beer and music festival, Founders Fest, in June that has drawn as many as 7,500 attendees. “In 2019, we presented a local Artist’s Row, a community engagement area featuring local charities, as well as a ‘Chase Your What If’ activation area for attendees. Basically, each year we try to just have more fun than the previous year’s event, packing the entire experience into eight hours filled with world-renowned beer, music, food and art all in streets of downtown Grand Rapids during the most beautiful
time of the West Michigan summer.”

The 13th Founders Fest is scheduled for June 20.

Hit the field with GRSSC

If you like sports, you can hit the field and the bar with Grand Rapids Sport and Social Club.

GRSSC organizes adult coed social sport leagues for young professionals and “the young at heart,” offering everything from softball and flag football to kickball and dodgeball. It offers seven-week sessions, with games organized once a week. Typically, games last an hour. Every game is followed by an afterparty at a local bar.

“This is where all the players are invited to our partner bar to socialize over pre-negotiated food and drink specials,” said Chris Wessely, CEO of Michigan Clubs – Sport & Social Club.

Wessely founded GRSSC in 2008 during the recession as a way to help young professionals “keep active, socialize and network.”

“Our end goal is to get as many people off the couch and active in town,” Wessely said.

The afterparty is an important component of the club. “This is where the magic happens,” he said. “Imagine a packed bar filled with people all wearing multicolored game shirts. When you walk in, you immediately feel part of the club. It makes it easier to approach people and strike up conversations. This is where you can make new friends, celebrate together the good game experience you just had and continue the party with everyone in a new setting off the field.”

League ambassadors also are charged with taking photos and making everyone feel welcome. Wessely said newcomers always are welcome and it is easy to join GRSSC. “You don’t even need a full team,” he said. “Our website is completely custom. You can sign up on your own as a ‘free agent,’ with a few friends as a ‘partial team’ and, of course, as a full team. You can register and pay right online. Free agents and partial teams can invite each other, building their team from within our system.”

Today, Wessely said GRSSC accommodates 9,000 players annually. It has become part of a larger parent company called the Sport & Social Group, which has a presence in 10 cities across Michigan and Canada. “Collectively, we accommodate over 115,000 players per year, making us the largest club in the world,” Wessely said.

GRSSC is making a difference in the city, from activating parks to introducing people to each other. “We are for people who like sports but love to socialize,” Wessely said. “In a world filled with people’s heads down buried into their phones, we love that we are able to get people to break away and come out, play, meet and socialize with other like-minded local peers — in real life. Long-lasting friendships have come from this, business deals and job offers — and a few lucky ones find that special someone.”

Beer is a drag

If you can’t get enough of RuPaul’s Drag Race, check out Grand Rapids’ local drag performers at one of these events this month while enjoying an ice-cold craft beer. Beauty Beyond Drag Productions is teaming up with a handful of local breweries and local pet rescues.

Tricks and Treats Drag Show at Harmony Hall, 401 Stocking Ave. NW, from 7-9:30 p.m. Oct. 12, benefitting Pleasant Hearts Pet Food Pantry.

Halloqueen at Creston Brewery, 1504 Plainfield Ave. NE, from 9 p.m.-midnight Oct. 19, benefitting Mosh Pit Rescue.

Halloween Drag Show and Costume Party at Atwater Brewery, 201 Michigan St NW, from 9 p.m.-midnight Oct. 25, benefitting Humane Society of West Michigan.

Trivia and music bingo

Atwater Brewery offers trivia every Tuesday night and music bingo every Thursday night. Both start at 7 p.m.

“We do have quite a following of people who come every Tuesday for trivia,” said Sean McHale, general manager.

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After five years as a digital and print reporter for the Grand Rapids Business Journal, Charlsie Dewey decided to take on the challenge of helping to launch a brand new publication. She became the digital editor of Grand Rapids Magazine. With the shared goal of "celebrating city living," GR|MAG launched in July 2017. It provides daily coverage of the vast arts, entertainment, lifestyle, and culture offerings in Grand Rapids.