Edwin Collazo is constantly looking for ways to celebrate culture through food and beer. As the president and co-founder of the Puerto Rican-inspired City Built Brewing, 820 Monroe Ave. NW, Suite 155, Collazo continues to evolve the brewery’s offering to showcase a variety of cultures. You’ll find influences from Puerto Rico and Mexico to Germany and the Czech Republic on the City Built Brewing menu.
“Many cultures exist in Grand Rapids, but, in some ways, they’ve been overlooked. We take pride in highlighting diverse cultures and feel there’s an opportunity to do that through our menu and tap selection,” Collazo said.
Collazo points to favorable timing and surrounding himself with great people as the foundation of City Built Brewing’s continued growth.
“We found success because we offer a different cultural experience, something that Grand Rapids may not have been ready for even 10 years ago, but the city is definitely ready now. We’ve benefited from good timing and a great team,” Collazo said. “We believe that the city benefits from diversity.”
At its core, Puerto Rican cooking traditions have roots in Spain, Africa and the native Taínos. Collazo recalls the formative experience of growing up in a multicultural family environment in Defiance, Ohio, as a catalyst for his appreciation of food and culture.
“As a child, my food experience didn’t take place in Puerto Rico, it was in Ohio,” Collazo said. “Both of my parents are from Puerto Rico and our family includes people from Mexico, Cuba and many other cultures.”
Collazo likes to say that City Built Brewing’s menu is “Sorta Rican.”
A City Built Brewing staple is the snackable Bori Balls! These Puerto Rican rice croquettas are stuffed with Spanish rice, bacon and spiced ground beef, rolled in panko breadcrumbs and then deep-fried. The Bori Balls! are served with a creamy sofrito sauce.
While the Puerto Rican influence on City Built Brewing’s menu is undeniable, its offerings extend far beyond the Caribbean.
Try these beers
“Our food and tap rotation are both very diverse, so we always have something on our menu that pairs well with our beer and vice versa,” said Edwin Collazo, president and co-founder of City Built Brewing Company. “No matter your palette, we have a beer for everyone.”
Fans of City Built’s big stouts should be eager to try the Cinnamon Roll Stout, a collaboration with Ascension Brewing Company in Novi, Michigan.
Prague Underground is Czech Republic Pilsner made with Saaz hops, which give it slightly herbal and spicy notes when it hits the tongue and a pleasant floral aroma.
Fifth Street Hooligans is a bold double dry-hopped IPA that features Citra, El Dorado, Sabro, Callista and Befuddlement hops.
An extremely easy-drinking beer that pairs well with many items is Alemania, a refreshing Mexican lager with a hint of toasted malt and a slightly fruity finish. “Served with lime, Alemania is a crushable beer that pairs well with anything,” Collazo said.
Many casual beer drinkers may not be aware of the connection between German and Mexican beer. “German brewers migrated to Mexico in the 19th century and over time, the recipes evolved. Our Alemania beer recognizes this connection,” Collazo said. “The Spanish word Alemania directly translates to Germany.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic and 2020 quarantine, Collazo launched Li Grand Zombi kitchen, an alter ego of City Built Brewing. Li Grand Zombi offers a Creole-inspired menu that embraces the Louisiana style of cooking where West African, French, Spanish and Haitian influences collide.
The pop-up kitchen menu changes weekly and offers items exclusively until they run out.
One of the most popular items by far has been the Hot Chicky Sammich, a thick, buttermilk-brined chicken thigh topped with remoulade, shredded lettuce, tomato and pickle slices stacked on a house-made brioche bun.
In addition to Li Grand Zombi, City Built has needed to pivot its operations due to COVID-19. With help from the city of Grand Rapids, the brewery established a 1,800-square-foot tent on the other side of Monroe Avenue NW, directly along the Grand River. Customers can now place and pick up food and drink orders inside the brewery and enjoy them safely across the street, inside the tent.
Collazo appreciates the overwhelmingly positive responses that his menu receives and hopes that City Built Brewing continues to be recognized equally for its evolving beer list.
Since opening in 2017, City Built Brewing has constructed a reputation for crafting bold IPAs, fruit-forward sours and big stouts, a trend that Collazo says will carry into 2021.
“We’ve made significant progress [to our beer menu] in 2020,” Collazo said. “The work that we started in 2020 will continue in 2021.”
With the expertise of head brewer Rob Qualls, City Built Brewing customers can expect about two new beers per month throughout 2021. Qualls said the team is hard at work crafting new on-trend brews, a highly involved process that requires many hours of research and development.
“I start with an intense research process, reading a variety of books and articles around different flavors and cultures,” said Qualls. “Then, the process moves to execution. We repeat the execution phase until we consistently get the beer just to the right point.”
This story can be found in the January 2021 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox each month, subscribe here.