What’s Brewing On Bridge
By Candice Smith Fleszar, Discovery Michigan
The strength of Beer City USA is growing so much that you can easily walk past three breweries in five minutes on Bridge St. I love to help people enjoy Grand Rapids, particularly walking through it, so let’s check them out, while learning a bit of Westside history as we stroll.
Breweries on Bridge Street aren’t new. When our German population started swelling in the 1840s, so did breweries, including on the Westside. One of GR’s prominent men and early brewers built up Bridge St, including the 1884 building on the Turner/Bridge corner (now Swift Printing Company). Peter Weirich owned several bars, as well as P. Weirich Brewing Company/The Michigan Brewery, started in 1856. Remnants of Michigan Brewery still stand eight blocks West on Indiana St. just South of Bridge.
Now, 150+ years later, Bridge Street breweries again are sprouting.
Across from the Weirich Building is New Holland Brewery’s Knickerbocker. Once you’re reminded of their best-selling Dragon’s Milk by coming face-to-face with a massive winged metal beast in the lobby, it’s worth checking out Knickerbocker’s design. The 40,000 square foot space was created with distinct zones, each with their own vibe, including furniture, fixtures and art. At ground level, you can visit The Trees (feels like a forest), which you stroll through to the beer garden. Note the summer herbs growing on the wall that go into Knickerbocker food and drinks. From the lobby, the open staircase takes you straight toward the Zeppelin Cocktail Lounge, where you step into the 1930s, plus distillery tanks working on the next batch. Ordering a Knickerbocker flight has endless picks of craft beer and spirits. If you can’t get enough Dragon’s Milk, “Flight of the Dragon” is available with a handful of variations. Consider a Dragon’s Milk brownie on the side while you’re there. Yes, you read that right… a chocolate beer dessert.
Step across Bridge St to the newest kid on this block, Jolly Pumpkin Pizzeria & Brewery, which opened this spring. They specialize in great sours, which taste more acidic or tart than other craft beers. As a brewery tour guide, I’ve had guests proclaim they don’t like sours, only to finish the tastings listing their favorite sours. You can do the same. And if you’re hungry here, you can order some good vegan and gluten-free options. Remember to welcome Jolly Pumpkin to the neighborhood when you stop by!
Onward West as you stroll past the boxing statue of Stanley Ketchel, a Westside kid who barely hit double digits when he started honing his skills as a street fighter. About a decade later, the “Michigan Assassin” would reign as World Middleweight Champion and is still considered one of the best who ever lived. His domination of the ring ended when he was murdered at age 24. Ketchel’s 1910 funeral drew the largest crowd ever in the city until President Ford passed in 2006. Boxing champs still visit Ketchel’s grave 2.5 miles away at Holy Cross Cemetery.
Approaching Seward Ave, the 50-foot train signal tower is likely the only of its kind left in Michigan. More than 100-years ago, the men working here operated the switchboard for crossing signals for Bridge, First, Second and Third Streets as hundreds of trains moved through the city.
Our last stop on this brewery stroll is just one more block down at Stocking Ave. It’s tough to go wrong with Harmony Hall brews, which carry the bonus of unique names, like Luscious Lyon, which sounds almost like the name of a city founder. Harmony feels like a German beer hall, which appropriately enough is inside an early 1900s Bavarian sausage factory of a German Westsider. If you’re hungry, try some hand-made sausage on what’s been named one of the best pizzas in Michigan!
To continue your great beer tasting experience, walk around the 11th Annual Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer & Food Festival (November 15-17, 2018) at DeVos Place just over the bridge from the Westside. You might spot me in my volunteer apron ready to pour.
Candice Fleszar-Smith, 2017 CTA of the Year, is the extremely enthusiastic owner of Discovery Michigan, which helps locals and visitors experience Grand Rapids and beyond in ways they didn’t know existed. He family arrived in West Michigan in the 1840s, which fuels her love of local history, including beer and so much more (the list is somewhat endless). Visit www.DiscoveryMichigan.com to learn how to customize your group tour!