The Mitten. America's High-Five. Michigan... I never quite know what to expect out of visiting a new place and had no idea what we were in store for when flying in to Michigan to help judge the 2011 Great Lakes Cider & Perry Competition. What we found was really kind of a surprise. The day we arrived didn't see much cider for us but we did get a quick look at a really great town.
In just about every pocket and corner Grand Rapids chock full of energy, creativity, and from what we hear seems to be enjoying some rejuvenation. From our espresso in the morning to dinners and drinks at night, every place we landed there was an emphasis on high quality, a genuine sense of localism, celebration of season, and a strong farm to table connection.
Within one of the many beautifully restored buldings and spaces is where we found our espresso fix. Coffee on Old Time Cider? Well as some might know that my day job is coffee related, my girlfriend Heather too. We are pretty tough customers when it comes to espresso and her more than I as regional and national level barista competition judge/head judge. I don't often talk about coffee here on OTC but as far as I am concerned MadCap Coffee is well worth a few words here and it represents the spirit and attitude we would find so widespread during our visit in West Michigan.
Not only was the espresso and coffee some of the best I've ever had, MadCap Coffee is one of the most gorgeous, clean, creative, thoughtfully furnished spaces we've had the chance to visit. I swear we'd move to Western Michigan just to be a regular at MadCap. Don't take my word for it they got the hardware to prove it. I reconnected with some of my handy work in their shop. Co-founders Ryan Knapp and Trevor Corlett recently took home the 1st and 3rd place trophies in the Central Regional Barista Competition. Coincidentally both of them will be going on to compete at next week's United States Barista Championships. Good luck guys!
Heather is always traveling to barista competitions and we had the good fortune of her knowing both Ryan and Trevor fairly well enough for a great dinner reccommendation. Trevor suggested we visit an excellent farm to table restaurant that was an account of theirs. Bistro Bella Vita.
The Bistro Bella Vita was spectacular. The food, service and atmosphere were flawless. Everything was super local and very natural, and the servers had all the dirt for you on all their sustainably sourced goods. Bistro Bella Vita is so fresh in fact that they don't even own storage freezers. Everything is delivered fresh, kept fresh and made fresh. For dinner we had two beers from Bell's Brewery an extremely popular regional beer brewer. Bell's was everywhere in Michigan. I had an Oberon from Bell's which is seasonal and one of their most popular beers. For dinner we had Boeuf Bourguignon and a Cassoulet. A memorable dinner out, first class farm to table meal at a more than reasonable price.
After dinner we visted HopCat also a fiercely local and also recommended to us by the MadCap guys. A pretty amazing pub actually. We were there to meet Great Lakes Cider and Perry Association President Gary Awdy have some local beers and yes even some cider. Meeting Gary was fun and an honor. He is totally dedicated to cider and is a really great cidermaker in his own right. I had heard good things now and again about Gary from mutual acquainences and they were all true. A good guy and a great cider advocate.
Hopcat is the quintessential pub and it was packed nealy full on a Thursday night. Fact is that Beer Advocate has recently named them 3rd best beer bar in the World. Most all the selections on HopCat's massive beer list were Michigan based and they even had a few Vander Mill ciders on tap and one of my favorites Uncle John's Baldwin Cider was on queue. We also hung out a bit with Fox Barrel's Bruce Nissen who was involved in a promo night at Hopcat.
After a couple of beers we had to call it a night. The following day we would be big day of touring though West Michigan and visitng a couple of it's cidermakers; Vander Mill and Robinette's Apple Haus & Winery.
Big thanks to the Great Lakes Cider & Perry Association for the inviting us helping to make this visit possible. If you are in Michigan or planning on it make sure you check out a few of it's many many craft cidermakers.