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Grand Rapids Brewing Company strives to maintain organic, local focus in spite of challenging obstacles

A year after their downtown location opened, the brewery continues to promote local food, beer and history.

/Marie Orttenburger

GRBC Sundays

GRBC serves brunch dishes paired with bloody marys and other beers and cocktails on Sundays. They also have live acoustic entertainment in the evening starting at 8 p.m.

/Marie Orttenburger

/Marie Orttenburger

If there are two things you know about Grand Rapids Brewing Company (GRBC), it's their historical legacy and their unique all-organic fare. These are themes the brewery is committed to maintaining, even in the face of the challenges they present.

The name "Grand Rapids Brewing Company" has been in the area off and on since 1893, when it originally opened as a merger of six different breweries. On December 5, 2012, it opened downtown as a part of BarFly Ventures. Decorated with reclaimed furniture and dedicated to serving dishes prepared with food sourced locally, the organic and local themes pervade the entirety of the business.

GRBC is the first USDA certified organic brewery in the Midwest, and the only organic brewery in Michigan. While this is no doubt an achievement for the brewery, it does not come without challenges.

"Not all of the ingredients [for brewing] are processed or grown organically, so we are limited in the flavors and styles we make," says co-head-brewer Corey Nebbeling.

In order for the brewery to maintain their status as USDA certified, the brewery must not only use all-organic ingredients, but none of their equipment can be used to make anything that isn't organic. This creates some limitations in what head brewers Nebbeling and Jake Brenner can make.

"Being organic affects our recipe creation by having access to only certain ingredients, which is a fraction of what conventional breweries have access to," says Nebbeling. "Because of this, we brew beers that are more traditional and true to style."

Still, the brewers are committed to maintaining the brewery's image, and are constantly finding ways to obtain their organic ingredients from Michigan-based sources.

"We believe it's important to be organic because it complements the vision of our restaurant," says Nebbeling. "We are a from-scratch kitchen and we use locally-sourced food items as much as possible."

Though being an organic brewery creates hurdles in the way of locally sourcing all the ingredients for making beer, it hasn't stopped the brewers from incorporating some local history in the beers they make.

"Grand Rapids has a rich history in more than just brewing. A lot of the names of our brews are Grand Rapids-centric and/or have a bit of Grand Rapids history attached to them," says Nebbeling.

The Rosalynn Bliss Blonde, John Ball Brown and Senator Lyons Stout are just a few of the brews that feature important figures in Grand Rapids history. The brewers have also recreated the original light lager from the first Grand Rapids Brewing Company established in 1893, Silver Foam.

"It's important that GRBC ties in the history of the original GRBC because of the simple fact that we want to be an integrated part of this community as much as possible," says Nebbeling.

In addition to making themselves a part of the Grand Rapids community as a whole, the brewery also strives to maintain strong relationships with the other local breweries in town. The brewery just recently hosted the High Five Co-op Brewery to showcase the beer they brewed together and promote membership of the co-op.

"[Collaborating with breweries] helps bring in tourist dollars that help not only us but the whole city," says Nebbeling.

They are also a part of the Grand Rapids Society of Brewers (GRSOB), which meets monthly.

"We try to come up with collaborations, challenges and ways to get people from outside Grand Rapids to come to Grand Rapids," says Nebbeling. "Plus, it adds to the camaraderie of the brewing industry."

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