A friend told me that Grand Rapids would be a good place to visit for biking and beers and my visit did not disappoint. There was plenty to explore during my few days there – a long-distance rail-trail passes through along the Grand River and it passes nearby several of the city’s twenty-plus breweries. Grand Rapids promotes itself as “Beer City, USA” and boasts 80+ breweries on their “Beer City Ale Trail” – not really a trail but rather a map of all of the breweries in a much larger regional area. Grand Rapids has latched on to beer as a major tourism promotion theme and have a brewery app, distribute beer-themed swag, promote beer tours, beer-themed hotel packages, and hold a winter “beer month” straddling February and March.
Beers Along the Trails in Grand Rapids
In the Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming is the Kitzingen Brewery, a small, neighborhood brewery near the Buck Creek Trail that caught my attention. This place is owned by a veteran who, like me, was stationed in a place called Kitzingen, Germany during the Cold War era. The place displays memorabilia from Kitzingen and from Army life of that era that was all very nostalgic. The owner wasn’t there, but I did sign the veteran’s registry which had pages and pages of entries.
The big dog (brewery) in town is Founders Brewing in the downtown. Their facility is modern and well organized – the staff that I encountered seemed to be having a good time. Another modern, slick facility near the downtown is New Holland Brewing’s Knickerbocker. The Knickerbocker houses a modest-sized brewhouse and a separate distilling facility (they are a branch of the original brewery in Holland, MI).
Harmony Hall is as funky and distinctive a place as Founders and the Knickerbocker are slick and modern. The building started as a German sausage factory in 1908 and has a quasi-old-world feel to it, It also served as a Mexican restaurant for a while before being repurposed as a brewery. Two other breweries near downtown that have considerable history and character are Brewery Vivant and Mitten Brewing Company. Vivant is housed in a renovated mortuary complex and has earned L.E.E.D. certification as a “green” building. Mitten is housed in a old-school firehouse built circa 1900 that oozes character. It looks like a good place for beer lovers who like pizza and are Tigers fans.
Perrin Brewing is another roomy, modern facility ina stand-alone location in a close suburb north of the city. As I understand it, Perrin was acquired by Oskar Blues a few years back. The Bier Distillery was a sleepy stop just off the White Pine Trail as I rode north. From the trail, I took a short, weedy bushwack and then risked life and limb crossing an overly fast and busy highway. I would say it concentrates more on the spirits than the beers, but my caution and patience were rewarded with a cold one none-the-less. I made Rockford Brewing my turnaround on the ride. Rockford is a pleasant little village along the river and the brewpub features a fly fishing motif to go with malty refreshments.
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On the Trails in Grand Rapids
It took a bit of imagination and creativity to use Grand Rapids bikeways for brewery touring, but it worked out fine. Grand Rapids bills itself as a biking mecca and there is considerable information to be found online. The best map I found to get me started is on the tourism site.
Several bikeways were useful for my purposes. White Pine Trail is a long-distance rail-trail that starts in GR and travels more than 90 miles north to Cadillac. Buck Creek Trail is a short, windy connecting route through mostly residential areas. Millennium Park has an extensive web of trails throughout its 1500 acre expanse. I picked one to be a south-north connector. At both the southern and eastern edges of the park the Kent Trails system provides additional connectors into the city. The Grand River Edges Trail is a big loop using bridges to connect pathways on both river banks near the downtown. There a variou gaps that require getting out onto the streets but I understand there are plans to eventually connect everything up.
Grand Rapids Art Walking
I did find a bit of great walking during my stay at the Frederick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, More than 150 acres of grounds ranging from well-tended to handsomely shaggy are laced with walking paths, resting spots, water features, and more than 80 interesting sculpture installations nicely complemented by their surroundings. Many of the art pieces seem to come right from a science fiction dream book. I could see several being the inspiration for alien creatures in some future movie.