With more than 80 breweries in the greater Grand Rapids area, it’s no wonder the city is known as Beer City, USA. However, only a couple of decades ago, Grand Rapids wasn’t nearly as prominent on the map. 

In this first installment of a blog series “Breweries That Built Beer City, USA,” we’re taking a look at a brewery that helped found the city’s reputation for craft beer: Founders Brewing Co.

Despite its massive size (the brewery now takes up an entire city block), Founders’ focus on quality brewing is still showcased by its specialty taps in Grand Rapids.

Photo Credit: Experience Grand Rapids


Establishing Roots

Many Grand Rapids locals regard Founders Brewing Company as one of the main breweries responsible for establishing Grand Rapids as Beer City, USA. 

Following its opening in 1997, Founders didn’t immediately find its strong foothold in Grand Rapids’ craft beer scene. Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers opened Founders during the nation’s first major wave of brewery openings in the mid-1990s and began brewing some beers that didn’t warrant as much success as the co-founders anticipated.

After nearing bankruptcy, the pair decided it was time to take the lid off their creativity. They created beers like their now-infamous Dirty Bastard and KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout).

Since 2007, Founders has maintained a double-digit growth rate, becoming one of the nation’s largest breweries distributed across the nation. 

Founders' focus on beer that's “Brewed For Us” lead to the creation of brews like Dirty Bastard and Kentucky Breakfast Stout.

Photo Credit: Experience Grand Rapids


“We can’t take all the credit … I would think we’ve played a fairly significant role in that and it brings a lot of attention to West Michigan,” says Mike Stevens, Founders co-founder. “It’s been neat to watch.”

Trusting their gut after their initial struggles is where the brewery’s “Brewed For Us” slogan derives from. Stevens and Engbers realized that it was better to follow their instincts than following trends or brewing what they thought people wanted.

“We never looked anywhere but inward to satisfy the beers we wanted to make,” Stevens says. “We didn’t pay attention to what the market was looking for or demanding. It’s been cool to know that we’ve done it our way.”

All of Founders’ barrel-aged beers are worth a try, but the flagships like Centennial IPA, Porter, and All Day IPA are all worth sipping on. At the taproom, however, you can find samples of dozens of creations not available across the brewery’s nationwide distribution footprint.

Despite its massive size (the brewery now takes up a full city block), Founders’ focus on quality brewing is still showcased by its specialty taps in Grand Rapids.

We never looked anywhere but inward to satisfy the beers we wanted to make...We didn’t pay attention to what the market was looking for or demanding. It’s been cool to know that we’ve done it our way.

Trading Spaces

In 2006, coinciding with the beginning of its massive growth spurt, Founders Brewing Co. moved across downtown Grand Rapids, from its original Brass Works Building location to its current space at 235 Grandville Avenue. 

Since moving in, the building has gone through multiple renovations, becoming a hub for beer lovers, families, visitors, and locals, alike.

The move was not unfounded, as craft beer aficionados began flocking to the brewery. The large, open taproom is often bustling with activity and buzzing with conversation. Several days a week, it’s filled with music from local, regional, and national musicians. The outdoor patio area stays busy much of the year, even into the cold seasons, thanks to a few giant outdoor heaters.

Recent accolades, like Thrillist proclaiming Founders the best brewery in Michigan in 2018 and Zymurgy magazine calling it one of the best breweries nationally, suggest that pilgrimages to Founders won't end any time soon.

Menu Options

Along with its world-class beers, Founders also serves up great food options — like the Red’s Rye, with roast beef, capicola muenster, spicy mayo, tomatoes and red peppers, and the Louis A. Cornelius, with corned beef, roasted chicken, cheddar, cream cheese, Dirty Bastard sauerkraut, and 1,000 Island dressing on Polish rye.

Founders' offers brewery tours Wednesday through Sunday.

Photo Credit: Experience Grand Rapids


Facility Tours and Events

Before or after grabbing a beer and grub, customers can visit for a tour of the brewery Wednesday through Sunday for $15/person. These group facility tours are available at various times each day and must be booked in advance on Founders’ tours page.

Founders also hosts a variety of events, such as a palate exploration class, where customers can experience beer pairings with foods from cheese to donuts. The brewery also features live music on a regular basis, including national, regional, and local acts. For more events, visit Founders’ events page.

Founders' Mug Club offers several exclusive perks, including a personalized mug and discounts on beer at the brewery.

Photo Credit: Experience Grand Rapids


Mug Club

If you’re a fan of Founders, check out their Mug Club, which offers plenty of exclusive benefits to members, like a personalized mug, everyday discounts ($1 off all beers, $2 off all growler fills, and $1 off howler fills), member-only events and contests, and more.

As a member of the Mug Club, you also become the first to have access to insider information about the brewery. Find out more on Founders’ website.

Head to Founders Brewing during Cool Brews. Hot Eats., a month-long celebration from February 15-March 15, coinciding with Beer Month GR. It highlights Grand Rapids’ craft beer scene, along with plenty of beer-infused menu items.

Learn more about Founders Brewing in this episode of Beer City Eats, which is hosted by Adrian Butler.

 

For more information on local breweries that also offer unique food and craft beer experiences, visit our list of beer events, and be sure to grab or become a Beer City Brewsader® passport or download the app. A visit to Founders counts towards your Brewsader (stamps at eight breweries) or Ultimate Brewsader (stamps at 40 breweries) status!

Breweries That Built Beer City logo jpeg

About the Breweries That Built Beer City series: Grand Rapids first earned the title Beer City USA in 2012, when there were far fewer breweries than the 40+ currently on the Beer City Ale Trail. This blog series focuses on those early pioneers – breweries that built an industry from the ground up starting in 1997 and firmly established the city’s reputation for world-class craft beer.

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