I recently took a trip back home to Grand Rapids, Michigan for the holidays. It’s funny how one year away can make such an impact on your perception of a place you thought as familiar. I don’t mean this in a negative way, for the most part. I enjoyed my time in the Land of the Hand, but much had changed in “Beer City USA” since I last had been home including a massive expansion of my former home base (Founders Brewing Company) and the introduction of several new breweries, one of which was in a building I literally drove by a million times and never noticed.
Anyone who listens to our podcast can probably tell I miss Founders about as much as my family and friends, and the fact that they don’t make it this far west is a real fucking drag. Luckily I know plenty of good people to help me get my fix. But I’ve had to sit on the sidelines and watch the start, progress sand completion of a HUGE expansion that transformed the brewery into something I barely recognize. I would ask anyone and everyone to describe it to me, and their words never did it justice. I absolutely couldn’t wait to go there myself and take in the new layout first hand.
I need to back up for a second and justify my Founders Fanboydom. I was dragged there at the tender age of 23 or 24 which means it had to be roughly 2005 or 2006 and they were still in their original location on Monroe Street. On this particular night, we had already been going at it pretty hard at Jukes and Stockbridge Pub (pouring one out to both, as they are now closed). Not sure whose geniusfuck idea it was to hit up Founders since the closest thing to craft beer any of us drank at the time was Guinness, but we went.
I ran (read: waddled) into the bar, arms waving at my sides in excitement like a kid hauling ass up to an amusement park ahead of his parents. I remember the rich, grainy smell of the bar that I would come to remember and the packed taproom. I sidewinded up to the bar, looked over the tap list and in a moment of split decision making, order a pitcher of the Imperial Stout. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and even the bartender alerted me to the fact that a pitcher was $27. Did I fucking stutter? Give me the Imperial Stout, bitch!
I barely remember the first beer from that pitcher, but despite the massive hangover and throwing up on my friend’s dog, I fell in love. The following year I purchased my first mug club membership, a membership I would hold until last year (I almost kept my membership despite moving across the country because it physically hurt to think about not having a mug). The first 5 of my 7 year stretch as a mug member had a special ritual in picking out my name etched on the mug. I would make sure the night I planned on renewing as night where I would get absolutely annihilated drunk before picking the name. This way, when I got the mug, it was almost always a surprise. I’m pretty shocked there weren’t ever any swear words on them.
Founders also facilitated my palate’s incredible journey. When I first started frequenting the brewery, I was going for the darkest beers on the menu. That first encounter with their imperial stout must have really set the bar, and my love affair with the dark side culminated with my first real beer event, the Black Party. This event was a celebration of their darkest beers and almost always near the release of their renowned Kentucky Breakfast Stout (A beer I ironically never really appreciated until I moved away).
However, sometime in late 2006, I went through an aggressive transformation at another Founders Beer event. It was at Harvest Fest that my taste buds sprouted into hop buds, sprouted vines and erupted out of my mouth and immediately wrapped around my skull and encompassed my entire head. Translation: I now identified as a hop head. Gone were the days of ordering the darkest thing on the menu. I had left the dark side and joined the craze that was just beginning to sweep the craft beer nation.
Flash forward to me walking into the newly expanded brewery on Grandville Avenue. This was about as glorious of a reunion as seeing all my friends and family. Despite the overhaul, it felt strangely like home much in part to the most nostalgic thing Founders could have done. They actually put up a second bar indoors that was the original bar from their original location that I had drunkenly demanded a pitcher of Imperial Stout at so many years ago.
I refused to leave the brewery that night until I had ordered one more beer at that bar. I’m not that old, but shit, I had some awesome memories at that bar and it took me back. Nostalgia is a strong force to reckon with, so I embraced it. The part that stuck with me was seeing the city and old watering holes that shaped me into the man I am continue to grow, but at the same time remember their roots. It made me remember my roots and we all should stop and think of where we came from every now and then.
An open mind and a few beers can make anywhere an adventure.