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The taste of downtown Grand Rapids

Jason Heystek pulls a barrel sample at Founders Brewing

Meet Jason Heystek. His business card identifies him as head cellarman and lead guitar at Founders Brewing.

He’s also the guy in charge of barrels at Founders, the Michigan brewery that stirred up the Internet this week by announcing a it would sell a 30 percent of its company to a Spanish brewery.

In a follow up story, Founders CEO Mike Stevens said, “We were looking for someone who truly understood the soul (of) this brand.”

Which implies they damn well want to retain that soul. How will that work out? I’m making no predictions. I’m not very good at them. Remember Session #67 (the one in which we predicted how many breweries would be operating in 2017)? I typed 2,620, a number far too distant to see in the rear view mirror to see any more.

A bigger deal than who in what country owns what percentage of the brewery — it matters to some people, and in a perfectly valid way, but that is a different discussion — are the plans to make a lot more beer. Three years ago Founders brewed 41,000 barrels and soon the brewery will have the capacity to make 900,000 barrels. There’s no guarantee they’ll reach that target, but they’ve shoved a lot of chips on the table. And they did that before striking the deal with Mahou San Miguel.

It’s a whole different scale. It took some doing, but they figured out a way to scale up production of Breakfast Stout, and All Day IPA is a powerful endorsement for investing a million dollars in a Krones canning line. Quality isn’t easy, but maybe it is the easy part. We start talking about soul when we starting considering the connection Founders has established with its customers.

Stevens understands this. When they announced this expansion that will cost $40 million just earlier this month Stevens said it would have been easier to build a new brewery in the suburbs than shoehorn an expansion onto its crowded downtown site. “It’s important to us ultimately to stay downtown, to stay in Grand Rapids,” he said. “Grand Rapids is where we started our business. We’ve been growing in Grand Rapids. My partner and me were born and raised in Grand Rapids.”

Barrel aged beers are part of that connection. They aren’t as easy to scale up. Sure, there’s plenty of room for barrels at Michigan Natural Storage, a former gypsum mine with six miles of tunnels. And, sure, Goose Island Beer Co. has done a pretty astonishing job of scaling up production of Bourbon County Stout, and its variations. Once again, sure, almost nobody who drinks the barrel aged beers from Founders knows that Heystek climbs around on top of the barrels, checking the progress of the wide variety of beers he puts in them. And, by golly, they pass the place test — brewed downtown and hauled three miles to the same place as always to age.

But there’s something different. Maybe not something you’d taste “blind.” Maybe you need to have met Jason Heystek — a constantly funny guy who is flat out serious about Founders beer. I’m pretty sure a lot of people in Grand Rapids have.

When you’re alone and life is making you lonely
You can always go downtown
When you’ve got worries, all the noise and the hurry
Seems to help, I know, downtown

– From “Downtown” (Written by Tony Hatch, sung by Petula Clark)

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Public drinking, in context

Terminal Bar, from the book of the same name

Among the photos on page 105 of “Terminal Bar: A Photographic Record of New York’s Most Notorious Watering Hole” is one of a man with his chin resting ever so lightly on his closed right hand, looking like he could have been a silent screen star in the 1920s although the picture was taken in 1973.

The caption reads: “He used to come in on Saturdays, and the more he drank, the more lipstick he put on. He drank beer.”

That’s it. A reader is free to fill in the rest of the story.

Or there’s Charlie on pages 88 and 89, with beard and without; in 1977, in 1980, and at other times. “He once told me that these pictures of him were going to be valuable because he was going to do something. Every time he came in, he drank something else.”

So the description at Amazon simply doesn’t do “Terminal Bar” justice. “In 1972 Shelly Nadelman began a ten-year run bartending at one of New York City’s most notorious dives: the Terminal Bar, located across the street from the Port Authority Bus Terminal near Times Square. For ten years, right up until the bar closed for good in 1982, he shot thousands of black-and-white photographs, mostly portraits of his customers — neighborhood regulars, drag queens, thrill-seeking tourists, pimps and prostitutes, midtown office workers dropping by before catching a bus home to the suburbs — all of whom found welcome and respite at the Terminal Bar. This extraordinary archive remained unseen for twenty years until his son Stefan rescued the collection, using parts of it in a documentary short. Featuring nine hundred photographs accompanied by reminiscences in Shelly Nadelman’s inimitable voice, Terminal Bar brings back to life the 1970s presanitized Times Square, a raucous chapter of the city that never sleeps.”

At the time Termnal Bar was featured in the movie Taxi Driver it was known as being one of the roughest bars in the city. That was mostly a media fabrication, Nadelman says in this NPR interview, and instead he describes it as the gayest bar in New York.

It closed in 1982, and it appears there isn’t a sign of it remaining on Eighth Avenue. (If you were looking for a place with a wide beer selection you’d head for the nearby Beer Authority, but that’s a total aside.)

Describe “Terminal Bar” as a documentary if you’d like — 10 years in the life of a New York City bar and the lives of its regulars and its passers-through — or call it a book for the imagination.

*****

Disclosure: 1) I received this book after a PR person contacted me to see if I’d consider looking at it. 2) If I spotted it in a book store I would have bought after flipping through maybe a dozen pages. But this is a sort of book I’m predisposed to like.

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Did people really smoke while brewing in the 1950s?

MONDAY BEER LINKS, MUSING 12.15.14

Ed Reisch of Reisch Brewing in Springfield, Illinois

A ‘good mixer.’
The State Journal-Register in Springfield, Illinois, occasionally hauls out photos from its archives. This one is from December 1953. It shows Ed Reisch, the fourth generation of his family to run Reisch Brewing, at a brew kettle. The brewery closed in 1966 and Reisch went to work at Pabst Brewing in Milwaukee. His son, George (his tweet led me to this photo), became a corporate brewmaster at Anheuser-Busch (now AB InBev). His grandson, Patrick, is a brewer at Goose Island Beer Co. in Chicago. I’m pretty sure Reisch was not manning the kettles that day. The shirt and bow-tie are one giveaway; the cigarette in his left hand another. And on a historic note, it seems that Reisch Brewing still had oak fermentation vessels in the 1950s. [Via The State Journal-Register]

Beers from my past-Pt 1: The Anheuser-Busch American Originals.
Mitch Steele — you know, the guy who once brewed at Anheuser-Busch, now oversees brewing at Stone, and who wrote a book about IPA — digs into his garage and his memory to start a series about when he worked in new products at A-B (mid- to late-90s). He plans to include details about Faust, which has been getting new attention recently, in the next one. [Via The Hop Tripper]

Black-Market Brews: Inside the Super-Secret World of Beer Muling.
Who needs lions and tiger and bears when you’ve got whales and mules, oh my? Just when you thought the New Beer World couldn’t get any stranger there’s a story like this. It would have broken my spirit to spend any time reading discussions that followed at Rate Beer and Beer Advocate, but I particularly like this comment on the STL Hops forum: “I feel that actual mules would think that this term is derogatory to them and possibly to farmers and whatnot who actually use mules.” [Via First We Feast]

The King has left the building.
h/T to Roger Baylor for pointing to this. He put it better than I can (not the first time I’ve written those words about his blog): “Writing well is very, very hard, and the best way to approach it is to tell the truth and write what you know. Sometimes, what you know is awfully hard to write with honesty.” [Via Louisville Beer]

Big Beer: Is Consolidation Limiting Your Drink Selection?
Beer family treesSkip to the end for the dire warning: “If the consolidation trend continues to absorb more and more of the world’s brewing market, we could see the same product sold under different brand names in an attempt to give consumers the illusion of choice.” Obviously not happening in our small world. But the real reason I’m pointing to this is it uses a great graphic first posted at Quartz at the beginning of October and until Saturday overlooked by me. Of course, it is already out of date. There’s a Blue Point branch on the AB InBev tree but no 10-Barrel. [Via Business CheatSheet]

Fear Beer? Sometimes the Best Wine is a Beer (or a Cider).
Mike Veseth writes, “I spoke about the trends I have observed traveling the world in the past year and one of them is the rise of craft beer and cider and their growing incursion into the wine space. I see it everywhere and the people I meet are often surprised that it is a widespread phenomenon. I thought it was just something that’s happening here is a common response.” Read that last sentence again. [Via The Wine Economist]

Urban spelunking: Leinenkugel’s 10th Street Brewery.
A reminder that an “ultramodern” and “highly automated” brewery meant something different in 1985, when G. Heileman Brewing built this facility. Today? “At best I would call 10th Street a partially automated brewhouse, some of the temperature controls of the mash and some of the brews vessel to vessel movements are automated – with the brewer pressing a button to start and stop the processes – but that would be it.” [Via OnMilwaukee.com]

New brewery in Thibodaux to offer King Cake Ale.
Cinnamon, vanilla and lactose aren’t ingredients that constitute something specifically local to south Louisiana, so it’s probably a stretch to call King Cake Ale a place-based beer, but it’s probably worth a trip to Thibodaux just to make sure. [Via WWLTV.com]

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On the demise of beer, & your weekly ‘place’ updates

MONDAY BEER LINKS, MUSING 12.08.14

The great beer abandonment: America’s young drinkers are increasingly drinking wine and hard alcohol instead.
“Even the beer world’s coveted corner, craft beers, which has been gaining market share for many years now, might be on the verge of hitting their peak. ‘While we’re not there yet, we’re definitely approaching bubble territory,’ Spiros Malandrakis, an industry analyst at Euromonitor, said this past summer.”
[Via Washington Post]

Craft Beer Report Card: Have We ‘Failed Our Female Fan Base’?
Enough.
The Sexist Nightmare That is Being a ‘Barmaid.
Jessica Miller, who was one of the one of the women surveyed for the “How Craft Beer Fails Its Female Fan Base” story in the 11.24.14 links, offers indepth perspective on the issue. The next two links provide a different sort of persective.
[Via Hey, Brewtiful; Hipster Brewfus; The Vagenda'; h/T Boak & Bailey’s Beer Blog]

Learning to love constraint in brewing, or, Globalization and the terroirs of music, soccer formations, and local beer.
Truly local beer requires a beer culture.
The first was written for Boak & Bailey’s call to “go long” but I didn’t spot it until Monday. It begins with a series of digressions (“I swear this eventually has to with beer”) but they turn into a fine way to introduce the idea of “commitment to restraint.” And it ties directly into what Lars Marius Garshol has to say in the second. You know you should take the time to read something that includes this thought: “Strong forces are pulling the other way, toward drowning everything in the soup of sameness.”
[Via The Brewolero and Larsblog]

Persimmons.
Indigenous ingredient of the week.
[Via Richmond-Times Dispatch]

Fourteen rules concerning wine blogging.
They work just as well for beer.
[Via Via Steve Heimoff]

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