Checking Out Grand Rapids’ Newest Brewery – City Built Brewing Company
I left the Free Beer and Hot Wings intern booth on Tuesday and went directly to my car, anticipating my conversation with City Built Brewing Company co-owner, Edwin Colazzo (Ed). I had already visited City Built twice in its first two weeks of being open and ordered a few things from the menu: Pastelillos, Bori Balls, SS Flavor Canoes, and of course, several beers, ciders, and meads. My impression of the Puerto Rican style food was that it was very good, not spicy like I had expected, but flavorful and exciting. I've never been a beer aficionado, although I like it well enough, but after trying Chaga Khan (a Chaga Chocolate Stout), PolyHopoury (a Northeast Dry Hop IPA), TKBY (Kettle sour Saison) and the Mandarina (a wheat IPA), I find that I am becoming more of a believer in the science, art and love of Craft Beer (to understand how I have viewed Craft Beer in general, check out Foil Arms and Hog's very funny video, 'We All Know a Craft Beer Snob').
I had run into Ed the day before at another brewery in town. When I saw him, cold beer in hand, I blurted out, "Ed, I feel like you're cheating on yourself!" He smiled and explained that he's a beer nerd and loves good beer no matter where it's from. He and his wife, Karen Collazo, can be seen around town enjoying the fruits of Grand Rapids lush, beer-centric culture, and adventurous food palette. It's because of this that I find myself interested in City Built Brewing Company beyond its great food, tasty beer and 'on point' staff. The owners care about Grand Rapids and are committed to making their corner of Monroe a better place, ultimately impacting GR in a positive way and enhancing the already thriving neighborly respect I see growing here every day.
I was welcomed into City Built by Ed, who offered me a beer of my choosing. I went with the Cream Ale option, Crème de la Cream, which I had not yet tried, and sat down in the 'waiting area' that felt more like comfortable, café seating. While Ed got some music going, Easy Star All Star versions of Radio Head, Pink Floyd and The Beatles, I took in the atmosphere of the building. Dark browns complimented by green, high ceilings to make the dining area feel large and open, but with an interior arranged in a way that captured a cozy, small bar feel. Most of the walls were windows, allowing a view of the river and side street, and a clear look into the room holding the 10-barrel brewing system.
Ed sat down with his beer and we began.
Katie: You and co-owner, Master Brewer, Dave , projected to make 600 barrels of beer your first year and have the capacity to make 1,000. Has this changed at all since your opening?
Ed: It hasn't. We still think 600 is doable. Can we get there in the taproom, that’s the goal. And we've started some distribution to share our beer locally.
Katie: You're already selling?
Ed: Yeah, we're at Seven Monks, HopCat, Craft Beer Cellar, Riverside Lounge, and a few other places have said yes, but don't have our beer yet.
Katie: In an interview with MLive in 2015, you mentioned East Hills Brewery Vivant as a model of how to grow a neighborhood brewery carefully and conservatively. Knowing what you know now, how did you do as far as the opening and were you prepared?
Ed: I think we were prepared. We didn't run out of beer. We didn't run out of food. I think we served our neighborhood, which is our goal. And we keep seeing our neighbors, which is cool.
Katie: Did anything unexpected come up or any changes occur now that you're open?
Ed: Definitely it was a mental set that needed to change. Now we're making money and it's understanding how to be a good steward of the money, we have some big goals, but we also have debt. So how do we pair debt and continue to work toward our goals? And seeing people in our space and understanding how the space is used. We're closed [now] because we're realizing the way we're using our space, we need to change some things.
Katie: So, what do you take home in your Growler?
Ed: Cascading into Darkness.
Katie: What about your wife?
Ed: She would do that or the PolyHopoury.
Katie: Will you offer Howlers and Crowlers eventually?
Ed: We hope to have a Crowler machine.
Katie: What is the most popular choice for Growlers so far?
Ed: Probably the PolyHopaury and then the Mandarina. Actually, the Chaga is right up there too.
Katie: Let's talk about the Chaga Stout…Mushrooms, really? How is this beer going over with your customers and was there ever a time when you questioned the use of mushrooms?
Ed: I've been drinking that beer for five years, since Dave's been making it. It doesn't taste like mushrooms. It just adds some earthiness and woodiness that really goes well with the chocolate and the sweet that you get with imperial stout. It provides some balance and does a good job of highlighting what Dave's trying to do, which is use alternative bittering and flavoring agents to just hops.
Katie: Tell me about when you were brewing your own beer in your own home and you had that moment when you knew you wanted to start your own Brewery.
Ed: I don't know that there was one moment, it was more like I had been brewing for a long time, here and there or I'd hang out while someone was brewing. Then when I married Karen, she showed up with a tap handle and I was like, "You bought me a keg system!" and so I just decided I was going to brew more, decided to partner with Dave. She basically underlined, "Yeah, go ahead, make some beer." My first beer was with Dave. It was a Newcastle Brown which turned out good. In the middle, I had a bunch of beer that sucked, but I would drink them because there was alcohol in them. While we were raising money I was brewing 75, 80 times a year. We would give it away to our friends.
Katie: How did you meet Dave?
Ed: We were neighbors. Actually, we met at a house party in the house that eventually he bought with his wife.
Katie: And you said, "I like beer." And he goes, "Me too!"?
Ed: I knew he home brewed so I had him come and help me. Then I'd go to his house and brew with him. He'd kind of do it all, I'd just hang out with him.
Katie: Seems like a neat guy.
Ed: I think you'd find that a lot of homebrewers are all about, "Yeah, just come and hang out."
Katie: What would you tell these three people to drink at City Built: The Beer Expert.
Ed: Chaga [Khan] and Cascading [into Darkness] because the Chaga is an interesting take on how to bitter a flavor and add some complexity to beer. And Cascading because they did such a good job, it's really to style. It’s a fantastic Cascadian IPA. I think they're good examples of our Brewers prowess. They're good at what they do. There's a lot of science happening in our brewery.
Katie: So, you're talking about Dave? And there are other people?
Ed: There's Rob. Dave is the Chief Beer Officer and Rob is brewing all of Dave's recipes. He's already contributing in big ways to our brew house.
Katie: Ok, how about the beer hater? What should they try here?
Ed: Probably the Cream Ale, just because it's so easy. It's an easy sipping beer. The vanilla gives it a little sweet. And the TKBY. For some reason, non-beer people like that beer which is like a kettle sour.
Katie: And the inbetweener that wants to get a good buzz on with a beer that won't make them cringe or shock their taste buds?
Ed: That middle person would love the Mandarina. It's a really well-balanced IPA. I think that’s what they (the Brewers) have done well. None of our beers, the floral Saison or the Green Tea Chamomile, it's not like you're getting smacked in the face with perfumey scents. It adds to the beer flavor. It doesn't take it over.
Katie: Are there gluten free options on your drink or food menu?
Ed: Ciders, Mead and Wine and there are gluten free and vegetarian options on the menu.
Katie: When you're not thinking, brewing, or drinking beer, what are you doing?
Ed: We hang out with our kids a lot.
Katie: Do you consider City Built a kid friendly establishment?
Ed: (Gesturing to the corner of the building where there is a children's play area) I think we are. My kids grew up going to Founders and doing Brewery's with us. They liked the food there, or whatever, so we wanted that to be the same. We weren't sure we would get that here because there are a lot of young professionals, but we are definitely seeing lots of kids. We try to accommodate. There's changing rooms in the men's and women's bathroom. There's games here if people ask.
Katie: Is there anything else you want to say about CBBC, or to the people of Grand Rapids?
Ed: I have appreciated all of the cool things that people have said. I didn't realize everyone knew it was so hard. So, when people would come in and say, "We know it’s a long road, good work…," It's been neat to have people come in…wow people are rooting for us. But it also solidified that we had to be good. Because people were rooting for us and anticipating us, we needed to be what we are. And we kept getting good people [on staff] who are excited about what we're doing.
It will be interesting to see what unfolds in the NW Monroe area now that City Built Brewing Company has arrived.
City Built Brewing Company is located at 820 Monroe Ave NW #155 in Grand Rapids. Its hours are Wednesday and Thursday from 11am to 11pm, Friday and Saturday from 11am to Midnight and Sunday 12pm to 9pm.
If you would like more information about City Built Brewing Company, check out the their website, Facebook page, Twitter, and Instagram.