Detroit-based Atwater Brewery is going on the road -- to Grand Rapids.
The city that has been branded "Beer City" by national polls for the number of breweries, tap rooms and beer-centric bars it has, is welcoming Atwater this week, as the brewery marks a soft opening of its newest Michigan biergarten and tap house at 201 Michigan Street NW.
On Wednesday, Atwater welcomed about 100 people through the door of its third tap house for a test run, said Atwater owner Mark Rieth. The grand opening will be Oct. 26, but doors are open and beer is flowing until then.
Atwater is opening in the newly renovated Rowe building on the city's northwest side, a former industrial area that has seen a surge in repurposed buildings. It has a warehouse district feel similar to the brewery's Detroit location.
"We're two and a half hours away but it feels like home," Rieth said.
"That's what's really exciting about this area of town -- everything is moving in this direction," he added. "It fits in with our goals -- repurposing a facility and having outdoor space. We have a nice biergarten outside."
Atwater never strays too far from its Detroit roots, however, and in the new tap house you'll find reclaimed wood from Detroit, as well as reclaimed doors and marble from Grand Rapids buildings.
Apartments and condos are springing up in the area around the Rowe building, as well as a Michigan State University research center, and Atwater will be ready to serve the new residents and employees brought by those projects.
Why Grand Rapids? "We opened our first offsite location in Grosse Pointe Park, and as we looked at expanding that footprint, Beer City was a natural," Rieth said. "We're connecting the two largest cities in Michigan."
Rowe Realtor Sam Cummings of CWD Real Estate Investment is a big Atwater fan, and so that connection made Grand Rapids an easy choice, Rieth said.
"We didn't have any preconceived notions -- it's all about reinvesting, and it's all about Detroit," Rieth said about Atwater's vision. "This enables us to be closer to our customers out here and to engage the local community."
Atwater's Grand Rapids tap house is a smaller version of the Detroit facility, using a 4-barrel brewing system -- all from Germany -- instead of the 50-barrel system in Detroit.
Atwater joins a slew of already established brewing companies in Grand Rapids, and Rieth said Atwater's reputation as an established brewer will help it fit right in with the others. "My perspective is there's never enough," he said.
The new tap house will be a collaborative effort between all of Atwater's brewers, starting off with the ever-popular Vanilla Java Porter. Grand Rapids will offer that in seven varieties, including cinnamon and raspberry, that were tapped for the first time Wednesday night.
The tap house will offer a rotation of 40 beers on tap, as well as Atwater spirits, craft cocktails and hard cider, just as the Detroit tap room does.
Food won't be an afterthought. Atwater recently brought in executive chef Adam Hightower for a new menu that launched in Detroit last month, and the Grand Rapids site will feature five or six unique offerings.
As a gesture to its new neighbors, a portion of sales from October will be donated to the Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation to support public school programs.
Even Grand Rapids-based retailer Meijer Inc. is joining the welcome party for Atwater. There will be some unique floor displays, on-site tastings and media events at area stories.