Growing up in a small Michigan town deeply rooted in German heritage, with my ancestors among the original settlers, I thought I knew a bit about German stuff. With such a background, I confidently walked into my interview with David Ringler, the Director of Happiness at Cedar Springs Brewing Company. But, oh boy, was I in for a delightful shock!
Cedar Springs Brewing Company
Cedar Springs Brewing Company is on Main Street in, you guessed it, Cedar Springs, Michigan. The checkered flags and awning catch your eye; you can’t miss it. There is plenty of street parking and, BONUS, a rather large parking lot behind it.
Red Lozenges Mystery
Of course, Chuck was with me for our interview with David. He noticed before I did the red and white checkered flags hanging throughout the Cedar Springs Beer Hall. Even the tap handles sport a red and white checkered pattern. “So what’s the deal with the red lozenges?” Chuck asked David.
David started to reply and stopped, “You are the first person who’s ever known what a lozenge was.”
Chuck confessed, “I looked it up.”
David replied, “I was going to be so impressed.”
But David was impressed when Chuck mentioned his heritage was rooted in German, Scottish, and Czech. “He is a good drinker; he is,” he said, sounding oddly like Yoda.
But I digress, and you, dear reader, want to know about the red lozenges. So real quick, Bavaria’s flag has been rocking for over 600 years, the snazzy blue and white checkerboard. Cedar Springs has always had a penchant for painting the town red! It’s home to the fiery Red Hawks, the vibrant Red Flannel Festival, and even the street signs are showing off their cherry-red flair! “And so we just took the red and white and said, okay, we’re going to make that ours,” David said.
Brewing Connections: Communal Tables
The Cedar Springs beer hall boasts European-style communal tables, where you might arrive as strangers but leave as friends. David passionately shared the German beer hall custom, where camaraderie is the order of the day, and the joy of spontaneous conversations light up the atmosphere.
The bar dominates one wall, while the other walls are a sea of windows, giving you the feeling of being in a large outdoor space.
David explained in a German beer hall if you spot an empty space on a bench, it’s customary to ask, “Can I sit here?” Usually, people are accommodating, and by the end of your session, you might just leave with a few new friends.
“That’s one of the cool things about the German culture and one of the things that we try to do here. It’s been neat to see that evolve here. When we first opened, people would be like, you want me to sit at that table? There’s already… No, no, no, just sit down. They’d have a beer, and they’d say hi. And the next thing you know, they’re talking,” David shared, smiling.
Stammtisch: A Tradition of Regulars
Cedar Springs has embraced the “Stammtisch” tradition, which centers around a decorated table they use for their mug club. In German, “Stammtisch” translates to “regulars table.” In beer halls across Germany, you’ll find these tables marked with signs indicating reserved times.
These reservations are made for specific groups, be it coworkers, a biking club, a chess club, or a school group. They gather at these designated times, always assured that their table awaits.
Traditionally, these tables were marked with distinct items like a large ashtray or a unique lamp, signaling it’s a Stammtisch. Every local knows you don’t occupy such a table unless invited.
Speaking of which, David is part of a Sunday Stammtisch in Germany. They meet reliably every Sunday, dressed in their designated attire. “If you look closely, you’ll see a small Stammtisch sign on the table,” David said, sharing with us a picture. The picture was taken during one of his visits to Germany when he introduced Cedar Springs beer to them.
Bavarian Halls: The Heart of the Conversation
“What did I love about those Bavarian halls and the beer gardens?” David asked, not really expecting us to answer, and then answered his question, “It was going and sitting at a table and talking to people. And it was, I mean, this was before social media. That was social media. How did you find out what was going on? You sat at the Stammtisch, and you talked to people. Whether you want to call it gossip or whatever, but you know, people talked about what was happening and what was going on.”
Gemütlichkeit: The Soul of Cedar Springs
Central to David’s ethos is “Gemütlichkeit,” the German word encapsulating warmth, friendship, and comfort. He wanted to infuse this feeling into Cedar Springs, a sentiment rooted deeply in his own heritage and reinforced when he lived briefly in Germany. “I was born here (in Cedar Springs), and I wanted to share that with my home, and I wanted my friends to experience that too,” David explained.
As David talked, I heard the acoustic guitarist playing at Cedar Springs Brewery say, “And now I have one of my originals for you,” then started to sing, “Rocky Mountain High.” I wasn’t sure why this made me smile. Maybe it was the Gemütlichkeit, the song, or the joke the singer just made.
A Taste of Germany: Schmeck Gut
“This morning, while grabbing breakfast, a guy noticed my wife’s t-shirt,” David shared. On the back, it read “Schmeck gut,” which is German for “tastes good.” David explained to the guy it was from the German brewery in Cedar Springs.
The guy was surprised. Despite living in Belding, only 15 miles away, he’d never heard of Cedar Springs Brewing. Curious, he asked if they serve schnitzels and Weiss beer, to which David replied, “Yeah, of course, we have that.”
It’s fascinating how such interactions help build a sense of community. “People get stuck in their ruts, and they do their own thing, and sometimes when you change it around, you sit them at a table with somebody they don’t know. You get them out of their paradigm, and suddenly you open up worlds, and you start to create a new experience.” David said.
A Toast to Weissbier
David built the brewery out of sheer love for a particular type of beer. He was always jetting back and forth, lugging cases of this beer home because it was nowhere to be found locally. He appreciates all types of beer, but if he were stranded on a desert island, this is the one he wants. David tapped his glass.
“I have a couple of friends that have breweries in Bavaria and a handful that still make this beer,” David said. “Even in Munich and Bavaria, this style is rare.” Most breweries there stick to producing Pale Weiss beer or Dunkelweizen. Only a select few continue to craft this specific beer, which he modeled his after.
I’ve held you in suspense long enough; it’s the original Weissbier. It is a traditional wheat beer. The color is deep, auburn, or brick color and is surprisingly cloudy. David added, “It’s served hazy. We also joked that this was the hazy beer before hazy was cool,”
The Legacy of Christoph Küsterer
“So, for me, it was always trying to bring in some of that culture and that feeling. The original vision was smaller than this. It was going to be a little beer hall closer to what you’ll see at the Brauhaus,” David said.
The Brauhaus David mentioned is the Kusterer Brauhaus on Grand Rapid’s Bridge Street. He opened it in 2022 and is a tribute to Grand Rapids pioneer Christoph Küsterer who was the original German brewer in West Michigan. He immigrated through Ann Arbor from the Black Forest, and he was a professional brewer. He arrived here in 1844, and he founded a brewery in 1847.
David shared that Christoph Kusterer was the first professional brewer and grew to become the largest, most prominent brewer in West Michigan. He, unfortunately, died in 1880 in the sinking of the Alpena in Lake Michigan. His brewery was called City Brewery, and his sons took over and renamed it the Küsterer and Sons Brewery. They were still the largest, most prominent in the city. And then, they merged with five other German brewers in 1893 to form the original Grand Rapids Brewing Company. That was huge by the eve of Prohibition. They had a capacity of well over a quarter million barrels. But the family completely divested during Prohibition.
Cedar Springs Brewery wanted to connect with that. David said, “They were the first German craft brewer. Küsterer was the first German brewer. And so, we wanted to have that local region connection. And so our entire German lineup of beers are all Kusterer beers.”
Kusterer Brauhaus is intended to be a mini Hofbräuhaus, where it’s a beer hall with a little deli and a snack bar. The inside offers a variety of seating and big Stein lockers for mug club members. “We have a small three-barrel system down there where we do some experimental beers,” David added.
A Vision Realized
While David’s initial vision was modest, Cedar Springs Brewery has blossomed into a hub that seamlessly melds the German Hofbräuhaus feel with Cedar Springs’ vibrant local culture. The addition of Kusterer Brauhaus brings this same feel into Grand Rapids. Whether you’re there for the experimental beers or the rich history, it promises an experience steeped in Gemütlichkeit.
There are more pictures in our visit to Cedar Springs Brewing. After you take a look, let us know what you think.
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