The brew historians at Archival Brewing in Grand Rapids put history into each pint they serve while keeping their eyes on the future.
Set upon a slight rise overlooking a beautiful park at 6266 West River Dr in Belmont (just a smidge North of Grand Rapids) is Archival Brewing. The beautiful park was once a golf course. Now the golfing is done with flying discs instead of a little white ball. The former clubhouse provides Archival Brewing with a home for its fabulous brewery and kitchen.
The space is open and bright, with outstanding views. The rustic wood bar and timber accents remind you of lodges you find up north or out west. Their outdoor beer garden setup is even more spectacular. The balcony from the taproom looks down upon a huge gravel and cement patio with fire pits, bocce and cornhole courts, and another full set of taps. On top of a beautiful view with a fantastic brew, Archival will have live music every Friday night in their beer garden.
Our first deep dive into the historical beers of Archival came at the Michigan Brewers Guild Detroit Fall Beer Festival in 2021. Archival was a new brewery to us. Our good friend Dan Potter had just started working with Archival as their sales representative. He was excited to share their Sahti with us; an ancient Finnish farmhouse ale brewed with juniper or spruce instead of hops. Archival’s take on this historic brew was excellent, and we made a mental note to visit them.
Chatting with Dan Potter
During our recent trip to Grand Rapids, we decided to make Archival our last stop of the day. We wanted to savor their delicious beers, indulge in a scrumptious dinner, catch up with our dear friend Dan Potter, and discuss all things Archival Brewing. It was the perfect way to cap off an amazing beer adventure!
There are lots of intriguing items on the beverage menu at Archival. One, in particular, is called “Grafted.” Dan gave us the lowdown.
“We do ciders. Currently, we have our “Evercrisp” cider, which was a collaboration with the MAIA (Midwest Apple Improvement Association). This year they rented out this entire space (the Archival Brewing space), and they brought in all of their farmers and their distributors to promote this new variety of apples (Evercrisp). So we did a cider with the Evercrisp apple. And then, we also made a beer-cider hybrid called “Grafted,” which is a blend of the Evercrisp cider and our Kolsch beer.”
Something for Everyone
In addition to the hybrid beer-cider and ciders, Archival serves mead. Dan mentioned, “We’ve tried to keep gluten-free options available. Out of 22 taps, we have five that are dedicated gluten-free to be either cider or sparkling mead. I know a lot of people aren’t familiar with mead, but it’s just a honey wine. For people that have had meads, a lot of times, they’re more like a cordial, very sweet, very high alcohol content.
Ours are a little bit different. They’re a little bit more traditional, more on the herbal side. We like to call them sparkling mead. I’d say the closest comparison, which isn’t a really good comparison, but the closest would be that of a seltzer, but a lot of different types of flavors going on.
We like to incorporate gluten-free options because not everybody can drink beer. And then we extend that into the food menu in the tap room with lots of gluten-free options, which appeals to many of the celiacs crowd and gluten intolerant.”
History by the Pint
If you pursue the beverage menu at Archival, you get a basic description of what the beer, cider, or mead is like, in terms of taste (dry, floral, hoppy, etc.), and you also get a slice of history. The great thing about this is that you can then jump on Google to run down the rabbit hole of history behind the beverage.
Dan expands on sharing the history of beer:
“One of the things that we like to do is try to find the original recipe for that style of beer and then just recreate it so there are no modern twists. We use historic brewing methods to achieve the end result, and then we like to tie a piece of the history to the beer. If you read the descriptions on our menus, it will give you a little piece of history.
It’s a fun thing for the guests also. People have said, Man, we read the thing and heard a story from you. Then we went online and dug deeper; then we found out about this.’ I’m like, that’s really cool because that ties to this beer over in this country, and then it brings it all together. They’re like, No way!! I’m like, Yes!
There are a lot of common things that happened in history with beer that were happening all over Europe and the world. We can recreate them (historic beers) and try to get as close as we can to what it would have been originally. One of my favorite sayings is that everybody out there is trying to reinvent the wheel. We’re trying to teach people how the wheel was invented.”
Dan continued, “Another of my favorite sayings is everybody likes to take grandma’s recipe and tweak it. Make it their own. But we think that Grandma’s recipe was the best. So we’re trying just to make it the same way she did.”
Dan explained people are very interested in historic beer styles right now. Many beer enthusiasts, including Dan, say, “I’ve done all the IPAs. I’ve done all the dark and delicious big bourbon barrel beers. Hey, what’s this other beer style that’s been around for thousands of years? I’ve never had that.”
Dan continued, “It’s kind of cool like we’re coming over and reverting into this new, almost like an emerging market. But it’s not because it’s been around forever.”
Take It To The Grave
An example of a great beer with a fascinating story is Archival’s Scottish ale called “Take It To The Grave.”
Dan shifted into his storytelling voice to share, “Take it to the Grave’s” story. “It was a beer brewed by the indigenous people of Scotland, the Pict people, and then they were all slaughtered. There’s folklore that suggests that there was a father and son left. They (folks who killed off the Picts) were like, if you give us this recipe for your beer will spare your lives. The father was like, Go the hell! They killed him, and the recipe went to the grave with them. Hence the name of the beer; Take it to the Grave.
Somebody unearthed an ancient vessel containing remnants of the beer. They were able to reverse-engineer a recipe out of it. We recreated it, and it’s actually a wonderful beer. It’s got this coffee aroma to it when you smell it. When you drink, it actually pulls through that coffee (flavor) and drinks like a nut brown, almost even like a hazelnut brown.” Dan shared.
Hearing this story made me think about our trip to the Orkney Islands in Scotland. We visited Skara Brae. Drinking this historic beer led to more research and this great article on this old Scottish ale.
Back to the Future
I asked Dan what Archival is planning going forward. He replied, “Currently, our big focus is getting out and distribution. Getting our six packs out there and available. Developing our core brands and our seasonal brands. Really trying to figure out how many people we can get this to. Make it readily available.”
Dan shared that archival’s president Levi Knoll’s vision was to do historic old-world style beers because nobody else is doing anything in West Michigan and distributing it.
On top of Friday night music, Archival is working on a variety of special events. One which is in the works is a historic brew day. No dates or details yet that we can confirm, but hopefully, in the near future, you can get into the old school of beer making with Archival.
Finally, Archival Brewing is working on some collaborations with other breweries. The most recent is with City Built Brewing and their Pitter Patter porter, which uses pre-prohibition kilned malt from Sugar Creek Malt Co.
I mentioned to Dan that Archival should do something with Brewery Becker as they have the same enthusiasm for beer history. Dan replied, “That would be a really great collab!” Let’s make it so, people!
Dan’s Adventures in Beer
We’ve known Dan Potter for what seems like forever. We first experienced his smiling face and infectious optimism when he worked at Jet’s Pizza in Chelsea. They have a phenomenal tap list, and Dan was our go-to guy for the latest on the rotating Michigan taps. As we talked with him, we asked about his journey from serving beer in Chelsea to working in sales for Archival.
“It’s actually an interesting journey.” Dan said, adding, “You know, always kind of being affiliated with the industry but never actually working in it, that transition actually took years.”
Dan shared his story of owning a car detailing company but needing winter work. An opportunity for winter work in the U.P. opened up. What was going to be just a winter turned into a few years. The pandemic extended his stay. While trying to find an angle into the brewing industry, he worked at a gas station/beer depot /tackle shop sharing his knowledge and love of local beers. Dan also volunteered to help out at the Michigan Brewers Guild festivals. Eventually, he was shadowing the master of the megaphone and keeper of the front gates, Victor Lambert.
The pandemic put the brakes on everyone in the brewing industry, including Dan. Looking for a new start after the pandemic, Dan made his move to Grand Rapids (Beer City) and shared how he came across Archival Brewing. “I went onto my Google Maps. I saw there was Archival brewing, and there was this badge I’d never seen before. It said recently opened, and I was like, recently opened. I was like, who opens up at the end of a pandemic?”
Dan motored over to Archival and struck up a conversation with the bar manager. “I just moved here. Looks like you need help. I don’t even think there was ever an interview. I think I was hired on the spot.” Dan says with a smile.
Shortly after getting in the door at the taproom of Archival, Dan met co-owner Levi Knoll and impressed him at a beer festival. Dan said, “He (Levi) looked at me, and he was like, wait, so you know everyone? And I was like, yeah. And he’s like, no, like everyone. And I was like, yeah. He said, ” Okay, do you want to help us do this? And I’m like, yeah, that’s what I’m here for.”
We couldn’t be happier for Dan to make his dreams of working in the Michigan Brewing industry come true. He certainly is a great spokesperson for Archival, as his passion for this magnificent brewery shines through. Dan shares Archival’s enthusiasm for beer and history. If you get a chance to meet him, be sure to give him a big hug and tell him we said hello.
We’ve got a few more pictures of our visit to Archival Brewing as well as a few other treats from our Grand Rapids birthday beer run in our gallery.
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