The idea of a vibrant beer industry in Grand Rapids is anything but new.
Back in the 1800s, a German brewer Christoph Kusterer made his home in West Michigan and become an incredibly influential businessman in town. His Kusterer Brewing Co. later acted as the foundation for the original Grand Rapids Brewing Co. in 1892, which turned into a large beer producer sending suds throughout the Midwest.
Now, Kusterer Brauhaus, 642 Bridge St., is open, paying homage to the Grand Rapids beer pioneer not far from where his original brewery sat downtown. Owner David Ringler is a lover of West Michigan beer history and the story of Kusterer has lived with his brand since his Cedar Springs Brewing Company, 95 N. Main St. in Cedar Springs, opened in 2015.
Even before Ringler opened his original location up north, he was looking around the Grand Rapids westside. In August, his long-time plans came to fruition with the GR outpost in honor of Kusterer. While it lacks the full German kitchen menu of the Cedar Springs location, it sets out to replicate a classic German beer hall, where Ringler spent plenty of time in his younger years. The food is a bit lighter, with a deli case of premade options and soft pretzels.
“Beer halls, public houses, those were the social media of their day,” Ringler said this summer. “That’s where people exchanged news and discussed politics and kept up with the latest. That’s part of the culture I fell in love with in my time living in Bavaria.
“You go, get a snack tray of a salad or meats and cheeses, sit there, nibble on this or that, and sip on a beer and talk. No one is looking at their phones or watching the scroll on ESPN or CNN they’ve seen a million times.”
In the world of craft beer, Ringler’s Kusterer brand of beers is an outlier. So much of the segment is about big, crazy beers; often the hoppier the better, or the crazier adjuncts thrown in to make it a smoothie beer makes beer nerds geeked. Ringler, however, prefers pushing out beers that are incredibly clean and classic in traditional German styles. These are beers that you can kick back and have a few, without having palate burnout and, in many cases, not get too loaded.
“The Germans obviously have been doing this for a long time, and part of the magic of what they do when you get into the brewing side is you’re really trying to create subtlety.
That’s a non-American thing, because we tend to hit people in head with a two-by-four of flavor. And that’s the reason IPAs here went from Burton-on-Trent to a California triple IPA that is, you know, 120 IBUs.
“They are drinkable by definition, and they are meant to accompany social experiences and the cuisine that region is known for and the way those beer halls have developed, just like what we’ve done here is to foster that communal sense.”