Dodging the rain in a bottle shop

The air in Grand Rapids in late summer smells of cut grass and drenched daisies. The pewter-colored clouds overhead remind me of Cardiff, as do the suburban pavements, with weeds peeking out of each corner in almost impossibly vibrant shades of green.

As I stroll, the scent in the air changes a little. Rain is coming again, much sooner than I thought. I’m not entirely sure how I know this, and I don’t waste much time trying to figure it out. I’m walking faster now, the worn soles of my leather boots sliding against slippery curbs. I’m calculating how long it will take until I’m dry inside; ten, maybe fifteen minutes.

Then comes a clap of thunder, as if arguing with my plan. I scan the opposite side of the street for shops where I can take shelter, and spot one with a creamy orange glow seeping from the inside. I dart across the road like a nervous deer, and clumsily fall into the store just as the heavens open. The shopkeeper gives me a knowing smile. Revitalizing AC blows in my face as I wipe tiny beads of sweat from the back of my neck.

As I clean raindrops and condensation from my glasses, I’m delighted to find myself in a bottle shop. After replacing my glasses to my face, I realize that it is actually a beer, wine, liquor and gourmet food shop all under one roof. I slip into the walk-in fridge, reading each label for longer than necessary to savor the cold.

After twenty minutes of browsing, the rain begins to ease and I see my opportunity to dash back to my lodgings. I buy a selection of local beers and a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon before leaving.

The kitchen of the place I’m staying is unfamiliar to me. I can’t appear to find any glasses; only jars. I decide I’m too thirsty to continue the hunt through the cupboards.

I crack open a can of Jaa Raspberry Black Ale from Dark Horse Brewing. It both smells and tastes like Black Forest gateaux in a glass. The aroma is a rich, indulgent bouquet of red and black fruit. Then with the first sip, burnt sugar and bitter chocolate. I finish it on the sofa, with my feet on the coffee table, eyes closed, listening to the pounding rain outside.

A weekend in Beer City USA

Fall is a great time for visiting the Midwest. With the humid summer over, a gentle cool breeze whips through the air. My day out exploring the beer scene of Grand Rapids started with clouded skies, but luckily these cleared by lunchtime, and the bright sun took the chill off – just as well given that I didn’t have a warm jacket.

Grand Rapids is the second largest city in the state of Michigan. The metro area seemed sprawling but the downtown area felt quite small and walkable. So what made Grand Rapids earn the title Beer City USA?

Arguably, it all started with Founders in 1997. In the last couple of decades, Founders has become one of the best known breweries in the country, and their tasty beers have reached further shores; Byron burger restaurants in the UK have been serving up bottles of the crowd-pleasing All Day IPA for several years now. The Founders taproom was majestic. A lengthy beer list, speedy service and a killer food menu, all with a great view of the shiny brewery through floor to ceiling windows.

Recent years have seen aggressive expansion of the brewing scene in GR. The city was first recognised as ‘Beer City’ when it had fewer than 20 breweries, and as of now the city’s Ale Trail boasts 80+ breweries. So, it’s easy to see how 40,000 beer tourists flock here every year.

We finished the afternoon in town at Grand Rapids Beer Company. Sat at the counter, I enjoyed a lovely Hefeweizen. Then it was time to head home to sample some rich bottled stouts. My favorite was The Poet from New Holland Brewing; beautiful creamy mouthfeel and rich roasted flavours. Richer still was the slightly higher ABV Dragon’s Milk, which is aged in oak barrels for 120 days.

Any lover of great beer of all varieties would enjoy a weekend in Grand Rapids.¬†And, although it’s not quite a GR brew, I highly recommend getting hold of the Two Hearted Ale, brewed at Bells in Kalamazoo, MI. It’s one of the cleanest and most well-rounded IPAs I’ve ever had.