The Rapidian Home

Grand Rapids Brewing Company boasts only certified organic beer in Michigan

More than a year after their opening, Grand Rapids Brewing Company maintains its title as the only certified organic brewery in Michigan and the Midwest.

What's On Tap at GRBC

  • Silver Foam
  • Rosalynn Bliss Blonde
  • John Ball Brown
  • Ominous Rapids 
  • The Fishladder IPA
  • Senator Lyons Stout
  • Roasted Rapids 
  • Violet Macmillan's Pale Wheat
  • Brewers Heritage Hefeweizen
  • Downtown Dank 
Bobby Edgcomb, left, assistant brewer, and Jacob Brenner, right, head brewer for GRBC

Bobby Edgcomb, left, assistant brewer, and Jacob Brenner, right, head brewer for GRBC /Robert Mathews

The original Grand Rapids Brewing Company (GRBC) opened back in 1893, but its latest incarnation sits at the corner of Fulton Street and Ionia, just a few doors down from their sister brewery, HopCat. GRBC is focused on brewing organically, just as brewers in the 19th century did.

“Back then, ingredients were basically certified organic [by default]. No one was using harsh pesticide and insecticide or chemical based fertilizers. In one sense, we’re kind of going back to traditional brewing,” says Jacob Brenner, head brewer for GRBC.

According to the USDA website, the organic seal for multi-ingredient food guarantees that the product was made with at least 95% organic content. To ensure that GRBC is maintaining the conditions necessary to stay certified organic, Ecocert, a company devoted to evaluating certified organic businesses, conducts inspections. 

“We have an inspection once a year to make sure that we’re still using all organic ingredients. I have to record all of my recipes and prove to them that everything is organic,” says Brenner.

The brewery has to keep careful records of their inventory as well, says Brandon Wilcox, general manager of GRBC. Representatives from Ecocert compare actual inventory with recorded inventory to verify the use of organic ingredients.

“The only thing we’re using right now that isn’t organic is our yeast because no one is really producing certified organic yeast at this point in time. Yeast is a way smaller [percentage] than that. It’s maybe one percent or lower,” Brenner says.

Organic brewing is not the only way in which GRBC is working to become healthier for consumers and the planet as a whole. They work hard to make sure as much of their food is locally sourced and organic as well.

“We source as much local produce and meat as we can,” Brenner says.

GRBC also strives to compost or recycle as much of their waste as possible. About 96% of the waste they produce is composted through a company called New Soil or recycled in various ways.

“At one point in time, we were giving the spent grain out to certified organic dairy farms that make organic cheeses outside of town. We don't do that anymore, because we were producing way more than the animals could eat,” says Brenner.

In keeping with their organic certification, GRBC only deals with ingredients from organic farmers. Organic farms are not permitted to use any synthetic chemicals that might contaminate the produce.

One such organic farm is New Mission Organics in the Leelanau Peninsula of Michigan. A large amount of the hops used in the beers brewed at GRBC come from New Mission, and they have creative pest control methods.

“[New Mission] uses millions of lady bugs…[that] eat stuff that would potentially eat the hops,” Brenner says. “They also just invested in a herd of sheep to help with weed control. He’s got 20 sheep right now, taking care of all that.”

Other ingredients come to Grand Rapids from other states and other countries.

GRBC gets some of hops from Roy Farms in Washington State. Organic malts come from Briess in Wisconsin. Most of the grains come from Germany.

Being the pioneer of the slowly growing organic brewing movement has had some drawbacks for Brenner and GRBC, however.

“Brewing organically is a lot more expensive,” he says. GRBC does its best not to pass that cost along to their patrons.

“We’ve kept our beer prices competitive with everyone else in town. We don’t want to scare anyone away with high prices,” Brenner says. He has high hopes that organic brewing will continue to grow in popularity.

“It might be a little more expensive now, but when it catches on in the craft brewing industry, hopefully we’ll see prices start to go down when there’s more demand for it,” Brenner says.

Several of the all organic beers are locally themed, including the John Ball Brown Ale and the Senator Lyons Stout. 

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.