Our first taste of the Annual Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer & Food Festival was November 18. Think of it as Restaurant Week, amplified to new heights and all nestled under the expansive roof of DeVos Place Convention Center in Grand Rapids!
The 16th Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer & Food Festival
It is a culinary paradise, brimming with over 1,200 varieties of wines, beers, ciders, and spirits from around the world, complemented by mouth-watering creations from local culinary masters.
Alas, we missed the culinary geniuses at the Meijer Food Stage Culinary Presenters. Yet, the festival’s vast expanse, segmented into unique zones like the Barrel Room, the Vineyard, and Beer City Station, offered endless exploration. Each area, dotted with restaurants and vendors, promised a discovery at every turn.
Snagging Free Delights
Finding Old Friends
Our stroll through the Barrel Room brought us face-to-face with Allen Serio of Wonderland Distilling, whose gin and tonics and Old Fashioneds were a hit. Chatting with Mike Turriff from M4 CIC distributors in the Vineyard and a reunion with other members of our “Beer Family” in Beer City Station made the experience even more memorable.
We hit three of the Beer City Station’s tasting sessions and one of the sessions in Vineyard Spirits.
Exploring the Light Side
Ben Darcie was our host for the “Exploring the Light Side” tasting session. He is a veteran beer educator, promoter, and brewery representative for Short’s Brewing Company and founder of Experience Beer.
Darcie said, “I started doing beer tastings because no one was doing beer tastings I wanted to take. I figured I may as well make it exist.”
Originally, Darcie’s course was a ten-week experience where they’d focus on a different set of styles every week. They’d move through them alongside a panel of pro brewers and homebrewers. He’d include a bit of history along the way. Darcie said, “It was really fun.”
For a lager, Darcie decided to go with a PBR “because it’s just kind of a part of the conversation that we can’t really ignore, which is macro beer,” he said. “They crush every single box perfectly.” in terms of what a lager should be.
Cheboygan Brewing was up next with their Blood Orange Honey – an American style wheat ale. Here, the focus was on a light beer in the wheat realm. We ended with Jolly Pumpkin’s Bam Biere giving us a taste of an outstanding farmhouse ale.
Like Darcie’s Experience Beer classes, our exploration of the light side of beers was a lot of fun and provided a great variety of light beer styles.
Historical Beer & Styles
During the “Historical Beer & Styles,” with John Gonzalez from Behind the Mitten and Archival Brewing owner Levi Knoll, they talk about the brewery, its focus on historic beer styles, and its food options. Knoll introduced us to three of their unique beers: The Duke Says Nein, Harwood Porter, and Ægir’s Wreath. He shared the history and characteristics of each beer, including the ingredients used and the brewing process.
Beer Curious? Pro Tips for a Tastier Taproom Experience
Ley distributed tasting sheets to the participants with sections on appearance, aroma, flavor, and palate. He would often redirect us back to it.
An assortment of beers was handpicked, from light lagers to complex stouts; each beer offered a unique flavor profile and story behind its creation. A few we tried:
- Bell’s Lager of the Lakes: This quintessential American lager delighted our palates with its golden hue and crisp, refreshing taste.
- City Built Brewing’s Dark Czech Lager: With its mixture of dark malts, this beer offers a rich and roasted flavor profile. It shattered the misconception that dark beers are intimidating, proving that they can also be approachable and enjoyable.
- Jolly Pumpkin’s Farmhouse Ale: It introduced us to the world of sour beers. This unique style, often associated with acidity and tartness, surprised us with its rustic and earthy notes.
The tasting challenged common misconceptions about certain beer styles. We discovered that dark beers can be approachable, sour beers can be diverse in flavor, and bitterness can be enjoyed in an IPA. This tasting experience urged us to step out of our comfort zones and embrace new flavors. If you get a chance to experience a beer tasting with Jason Ley, do it.
War of the Roses
We saved our only non-beer tasting for MOTU Viget Spirits, a spirits company based in Grand Rapids and Detroit, Michigan. Jonathan Jelks and Jamiel Robinson took us on an engaging tour of their signature products: Motu Viget Brut, Avani Vodka, and Eye Candy.
Their sweet rose’ Eye Candy, features the silhouettes of women from various ethnicities. It showcases MOTU Viget Spirits’ belief that true beauty goes beyond appearances, celebrating the strength and accomplishments of women.
This wine also features geographical coordinates, connecting drinkers to the neighborhood where Ty Mopkins, Detroit native and creative, grew up. Mopkins joined the Motu Viget Spirits team in early 2023.
“Ty Mopkins brings expertise, relationships, and national gravitas that will create awareness about our spirits portfolio. His design genius will help to reinforce our program and accelerate the growth of Motu Viget Spirits,” Jelk said in a Crain’s Grand Rapids article.
MOTU Viget Spirits has many exciting ventures on the horizon. They are preparing to open their first wine bar in Muskegon, Michigan, where they can explore new wine selections and test innovative ideas. Additionally, MOTU Viget Spirits hosts an annual event at the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Detroit, uniting industry leaders and tastemakers while raising funds for worthy causes.
Archival Brewing Pairing Dinner
We splurged for the six-course pairing dinner with Archival Brewing from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Every bite and sip was delicious. Levi Knoll, Archival’s owner, guiding us through each course was an added bonus.
- First Course: Sesame Seared Tuna Lettuce Wrap paired with Cloud Piercer, New Zealand Pilsner
- Second Course: Elotes Dip paired with Dead in the Lauter, Dark Mexican Lager
- Third Course: English Fish and Chips paired with Harwood, English Porter
- Fourth Course: Gochujang Chicken and Waffles paired with Fritz’s Folly, West Coast IPA
- Fifth Course – Fresh Berries with Sabayon paired with the Duke Says Nein, Kottbusser
- Sixth Course – Chocolate Caramel Mousse paired with Strict Observance, Belgian Dubbel
The 6-course pairing dinner with Archival Brewing was a gourmet extravaganza. From the first to the last course, paired with a unique brew, it was a testament to the culinary artistry and brewing excellence of Archival Brewing.
A Feast for the Senses at the Grand Rapids International Food, Wine, & Beer Festival
As the curtains close on the 16th Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer & Food Festival experience, we’re left with a kaleidoscope of flavors, sights, and sounds that truly celebrate the art of food, wine, and brewing—from the intimate encounters with skilled distillers and brewers to the delightful culinary pairings, every moment demonstrated the passion and creativity that fuels this vibrant festival.
For more photos, drop into the gallery for the Grand Rapids International Food, Wine, & Beer Festival.
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