Burgers, Brasseries, and Barbeques
This Memorial Day weekend, as many Michiganders may be firing up and huddling around their grills to keep warm as they may be to celebrate the ceremonial start of summer with a barbeque. If you happen to fall into the later camp, this post is for you. It's written by a guy who—in an attempt to buttress his budding grill skills—spent two days behind the lines at Vivant's grill, cooking up burgers and steaks (mainly burgers) under the supervision of now-head chef Chris Weimer. Here are the trade secrets I’ve gleaned over time for bringing out the very best in burgers and steaks, some of which I picked up during those two unforgettable days on a professional grill at West Michigan's most beloved brasserie, Brewery Vivant. One note about the following instructions: they are written for those working with quality beef—beef that is primarily pasture-raised by a farmer experienced in the craft (a tall order, I know.) Vivant has been serving up steaks on its Spring menu from Heffron Farms, and—while I'm not sure to what extent the beef is raised on pasture—it has received accolades from guests dining at the Brewery. And, if you've become accustomed to enjoying the Vivant burger on your visits to the brewpub, perhaps you'll consider next time treating yourself to this juicy, locally-sourced ribeye steak. Cheers!
Cooking Burgers and Steaks in Seven Steps
1. Allow the meat, if frozen, to thaw slowly in the refrigerator. This usually takes a day or two.
2. Allow the meat to come to room temperature before cooking. Again, depending on the size of the cut, this can take anywhere from 1/2 hour to an hour.
3. Slather steaks with olive oil just prior to cooking (not necessary with burger) and sprinkle with salt and pepper: generously for thicker cuts of steak and bigger burgers, moderately for thinner steaks and smaller burgers.
4. If cooking steaks or burgers in a pan, lightly coat the bottom of the pan with some olive oil and allow the oil to heat over a medium-high heat. The oil’s ready when it just starts to smoke. If cooking steaks or burgers on a grill, use the “Four Second Test”: the grill’s hot enough if you can hold your hand an inch above the grill for four seconds before the heat gets too intense.
5. Cook the meat to the desired level of doneness: I’d discourage a well-done steak or burger (conventional wisdom says you’ll lose some of the coveted flavor of really good beef). But, as always, it’s up to you. CAUTION: It’s easy to overcook pasture-raised meat (there’s less insulation in terms of fat in these meats–more flavor but less fat). It’s better to err on the side of caution and under cook the meat–you can always finish the meat off in a hot oven (475 to 500 F).
6. Allow the steak or burger to “rest” before serving. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll let the meat rest for a little less time than it took to cook. This allows the meat to finish cooking, among other things. If cooking a steak, it is at this point that you might consider allowing a pat of butter to melt atop the steak as it rests.
7. If cooking a steak, just prior to serving you might consider seasoning it with sea salt–or other gourmet salt. If cooking a burger, be careful with toppings and condiments. You don’t want to cover or hide the wonderful flavor of pasture-raised meats which represent a terroir (the ability to taste the geography in the food: the earth, minerals, and herbage of the region).
Jeff Duba is one of our beloved servers at Vivant. He is also a beef aficianado, click here to find out more about his new venture, Duba & Company.
If you’re reading this you’re too close to the screen
“Thomas Mann wrote that he would rather participate in life than write a hundred stories. Giacometti was once run down by a car, and he recalled falling in to a lucid faint, a sudden exhilaration, as he realized at last, something was happening to him.
An assumption develops that you cannot understand life and live life simultaneously. I do not agree entirely, which is to say I do not exactly disagree. I would say, that life understood is life lived. But the paradoxes bug me.”
-Timothy “Speed” Levitch, Waking Life
This is the last you might hear from me. I am not sure I want to end our relationship, but it is ending. There is nothing either of us can do about it.
What part did our ribald relationship play in our longterm? How much do I know about you? How much did you enjoy dancing? How many times did you laugh at Kung Fu? How do I end? How do I go out?
A smutty diatribe on all the mad insanities that have gone down over 2 years… A recounting of my work-related dreams… A discussion about the meaningfulness of understanding social manners… A road trip diary?
No. We are NOT going to formulate the future either (the last deleted sentence in these tome-like blogs will possibly be “We WILL formulate the future together.” It was deleted because I am not sure that you can build a future. The future is not like a desk. The future is always being delivered, but never opened up. The Future is a piece of junk mail. THAT is why you have to live in the Present… the Future just got ripped apart.)
So. What? My new motto is “There is no currency but strength and knowledge!” My new, new motto is “Eat enough chocolate and the means start justifying the ends.” My future motto might be “I should have tried this before.”
If my future motto is going to be something other than above, I need to fess up. I shouldn’t be writing this. It is totally self-indulgent. Soooo… I am going to stop writing this and write this:
There has been so many moments that made up this part of my brain that I am trying to slice out and smear over this screen. As you read I wish I could really communicate to you all the joys, the annoyance, the tension, the buzz. I can’t, but I will tell you this story. We all sang “Cigarette” by Jeremy Fisher in the car that day on the way back from Greenbush and the Lake. You can make up the details yourself. The details don’t matter to man; God is in the details - Man is in the imperfect memories… the melancholy musings… the fallen beauty of imperfect communication. So final miscommunications are in order.
I will always owe Hoeks 2 high fives. I will never pay up. I will always owe Bethany for sarcastic exuberance and for happiness. I will always owe Lindsay for encouraging me to ask out Sparrow. If nothing else came out of the creation of this brewpub that would be enough. In that sense the only reality that mattered was my own. I will always owe Louis for Urban Dictionary.
Owners: I hope your sincerely realize, realize profoundly, that each time you think this is bigger than your own perspective; that this is deeper than a gameplan, you are only realizing a decimal point in the universe. That may make sense to you now and then.
Brewers: Can you really quantify all these emotions you pull out of us? You conceive alterations in our behavior - unsubtle ones! You forge reckless surging truth. The fruits of your labor become the fruits of our loins. The paths we walk have been lit up with the fiery storms behind our eyes, but you were the makers of the kindling.
Chefs: Nourishment, at the core, is really just delaying the inevitable. I think I will die in Barcelona with fried baby eels as my last meal before I step into the giant expanse of the sea and let what I love kill me. Until then I hope that everything that gives me life will also give me joy like you did. The glutton revels in consumption. The chef dances with knives and beams at the glory in one perfect bite or one flawless beet.
Patrons: Thanks for letting something happen to you here. Please continue to energize us and call us out on our bullshit. If you weren’t here we wouldn’t be here either. We’d be in another city… yuck.
One last thing, the greatest recollection: A regular once said to me, “you guys mean so much to me. I’m not sure how we would have made it through last year without you guys.” My feelings exactly. Exit stage West.
Like The Mug Says
“I'm leaving. I've assessed the situation, and I'm going.”
-Patrick Bateman, American Psycho
"I dream I'm floating on the surface of my own life, watching it unfold."
My nickname was “Dexter” because I would leave quickly at the end of my shift. I was quiet. I told people I was off to kill. I take pictures of dead things. Now my nickname is Weewad.
We all get mugs when we’ve been at Brewery Vivant for a year. I had mine engraved with “I’m Leaving.” I guess I had a hunch. Then again, I also thought about putting “close the damn doors! There’s too many people in here!” on my chalice.
A chapel is called a chapel due to a Frenching up of the word “capella”. A “capella” is a short cape. Some saint gave a beggar half his cloak and now when we sing in the manner of the chapel we sing “a cappella”.
Moral: The world is impacted by your coat size.
Zaison is to soon to be released. “Saisonniers” were medieval summer workers in Wallonia (the region of Belgium our Coq – The Coq Wallon – logo comes from) who liked to drink beer. They drank so much beer that farm and brewery owners needed a special production schedule to make enough stock that these thirsty farm workers could quench themselves. They certainly couldn’t drink the impure local water. Hops and alcohol in the beer protected them from illness and boozed them up just enough to make them happy. Now we have saison beers, which, just like their brew ancestors, are brewed in the winter and stockpiled for the summer season.
Moral: The world is changed because of thirsty co-workers.
At this point you may be starting to wonder about me. Or what this has to do with anything that you care about… or wondering what you do care about.
Do!; wonder that is. I am. I am wondering how I got here - to this point – this decision. Wondering all that “what is a man’s worth” shit. Pondering and scratching at my head and debating myself about where I would be without these two years distributing fermented treats to an eager bar.
Moral: If you don’t know what to do with your life pour a beer (or a hundred thousand.)
I just read a blog about Razor Ramon.
Moral: You never know what’s next.
I’m leaving. This isn’t my last blog.
Like the mug says, “Beer Shots!”
A server and a monk walk into a beer dinner…
After the world began to return to normal following the 2013 Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Fest (no doubt, many of you attended), Monk Club member Dan Mattson (#296 “Brother Daniel) and I hosted a Michigan Winter Beer Dinner. It was, I suppose, a way of perpetuating the enthusiasm for our state's vibrant beer culture so very palpable just the weekend before at 5th/3th Ballpark. The evening's dinner was also a way to beat back the doldrums of winter. More than anything else, though, it was an excuse to share with friends—old and new and many of them Monk Club members—our passion for “wedding” great beer with food. (Sidebar: my friendship with Dan grew out of my frequent interactions with him at the Brewery and was built—in no small part—on this mutual appreciation for food and drink.)
What made this dinner party so unique was its inspiration: the pairing of beer with food so as to enhance the enjoyment of each. I credit Brewery Vivant for breaking a commonly held preconceived notion that food best pairs with wine. As any server at Vivant who has been certified a Cicerone Beer Server can attest, it is rather beer that pairs best with food, owing in a large part to the greater diversity of beer styles (and thus flavors and characteristics) as compared to the styles and characteristics found in wine. To demonstrate the case, every dish we prepared for the beer dinner was expertly paired with a Michigan brew and--in most cases--beer was a key ingredient in each dish.
And here's what we found: the beer and food played off of each other in wonderful ways. From the French Onion Soup, made and drank with a Belgian Style Trippel Ale; to Potatoes au Gratin with Mushrooms, Gouda, and a London Style Porter; to Brewery Vivant's Solitude Panna Cotta, the flavors between food and drink danced with each other, making each more than it otherwise would have been—or could have been—on its own.
And yet, pulling off the dinner was a lot of work, the same kind of work that takes place “back of house” (i.e. “in the kitchen”) at Brewery Vivant. Once the guests had all arrived, were seated, and the courses started to roll out I was reminded (yet again) of how these events never afford the hosts much time to sit down and--with the guests--relax and enjoy the meal. There are always dishes to be cleared and prepping to be done for the next course: plating salads, caramelizing Gruyere cheese atop the French Onion Soup, making whipped cream for the dessert course. It was in the midst of all this kitchen activity that Dan and I paused, but a moment, to hear the din and laughter of the guests in the dining room just beyond the kitchen door. There is nothing more gratifying than hearing the merriment and mirth of friends and to think that you had a part to play in it, realizing all the while that something more was happening, completely independent of you, that was so much larger than you could possibly orchestrate.
Cheers, Jeff Duba
For more on the Michigan Beer Dinner, including photos, please visit www.dubasteaksblog.wordpress.com.
Hoeks Hearts You All!
So here I am. It is March of 2013, and my name is Chris Hoeksema. Otherwise known as Hoeks (pronounced as if the word captain is in front of it [I think a recent count of our current employees at Vivant totalled approximately 2 million who have some form of the name Chris, so nicknames are necessary]). The purpose of this, whatever this is, is to tell my story, and acknowledge my appreciations to everyone sharing this experience with me. For nearly two and a half years I have had an amazing relationship with this former house of the dead. I have formed friendships, met handfuls of interesting people (Ward I'm looking in your direction), and learned so much about the service industry, an industry that provides so many with a way of life. So here we go...
My quick bio is as follows. I was born in 1984 and raised in the Burton/Breton area of Grand Rapids. My pops is a nurse anesthetist, my mom is wonderful woman who keeps busy helping others and is also an amazing artist. I graduated from Grand Rapids Christian High in 2003, worked for a grocery store, worked for a tree service (Advantage Tree Service out of Hudsonville), and eventually moved to Chicago in 2005. It was in Chicago where I was introduced to the restaurant industry. I started as a bar back, grew to a bartender, and concluded my time bar tending and managing at a little pub near the Depaul area. I moved back after three years, and eventually ended up at Vivant when we opened at the end of 2010. Now enough about me (for now)...
Brewery Vivant is full of independent people filling a variety of jobs and staying busy busy busy (Vonnegut anyone?). These jobs, to mention a few, range from brewing beer (duh), cooking wonderful food, preparing that food, washing dishes, serving, busing, number crunching, pouring drinks, cleaning puke (it happens), and typing memos (thanks Joel!). And all of these tasks are important. I mean, how else would the staff know not to park in the parking lot if it wasn't for Joel's lovely memos taped in multiple places around the pub? A restaurant is like a machine, everything needs to be running properly in order for the machine to work. And right now, for the most part, everything seems to be running smoothly. And this is my public THANK YOU to each and every member of our team. I heart you all!
Now I would go through and say something I appreciate about each and everyone individually, but with forty plus people on the staff (and the fact that I'm not getting paid for this), that would take far too long, so I am just going to mention a few. I want to thank Bates (another Chris) for specifically taking me in the kitchen a month or two ago, and having me smell a number of different spices, and then smell a few different beers, as he has been trying to help me improve my ability to draw different notes and flavors out of our wonderful brews. I also want to thank Matt Stacks for changing the Pandora station on my phone to Hot Water Music while I was busy pouring drinks, it was a nice break from the norm (you sneaky bastard!). And finally I want to thank Adam, for dealing with our seemingly thousands of burger orders on a nightly basis, and always greeting me with a smile and a friendly hello. If I didn't mention you it doesn't mean you don't deserve a thank you!
So I am Chris Hoeksema. I am an assistant manager/bartender/server/studentoffoodandbeer at this very passionate, community focused chapel called Brewery Vivant. I consider myself very lucky to be a part of it, and I think most of the staff feels the same way. So please come in, drink some beer, eat some cheese, and say hello. And I will always be open for a high five...
Brave Heartburn with a Scotch Chili
Brave Heartburn with a Scotch Chili
Last week, a Scotch Highland Chili I've been working on tied for first place in a chili cook off at the Brewery Vivant Staff Christmas Party, a Sunday afternoon where the beer flowed from the taps like wine; a masseuse worked out the kinks in our backs; and prizes ranging from a week's paid vacation to a 24 pack of PBR were lavished on the gathered throng. Impressive though a top-placing of that chili may sound, there were really only four other chilies in the running. On the other hand, the jury (comprised mostly of the staff) does know a thing or two about appreciating good food (and good beer). Here is the story of a chili that begins with a wager some fifteen years ago now in "a land of timeless beauty," (it's hard to think of Scotland without also hearing the trailer to Braveheart in my mind). The year: 1998. The bet: to eat an entire serving of haggis (exactly why that's a bet should become abundantly clear as you read on). And hanging in the balance: a bottle of Irish liquor. It was Scott, one of my 14 flatmates in London, who threw down the gauntlet just prior to our leaving on a week-long furlough. He was off for the Emerald Isle (where Irish liquor could be procured) and I, for the enchanting city of Edinburgh and the Highlands (where haggis appears on the menus of local pubs).
Images from that trip inevitably present themselves to the mind, all of which went into the forging of this chili recipe: a tribute to the land, the people, and the local fare of a distant country which have left an indelible mark on the imagination. There's the royal city of Edinburgh into which we rolled with the light of dawn, having spent the night traveling via a Double Decker Bus. The old city of Edinburgh: seemingly built of black and gray bricks, laden with cobblestone streets, and resting on an abandoned (but haunted) underground city. High on some bluff and looking out, were we able to catch a glimpse of the city of St. Andrews on the sea, the place where golf was invented? It was, nevertheless, on Edinburgh's Royal Mile (I think) that we ate at a tavern which served up the haggis: a traditional dish prepared with ground liver, heart, and tongue of sheep--mixed with oats, herbs, and spices--and cooked in a sheep's stomach (mine was served sans the stomach: it's easier to stomach, you see). This I consumed: Triomphe! Mine was the Irish liquor.
The mind travels now north of Edinburgh into the reaches of Inverness and Loch Ness: cooler, grayer, a land of rolling mountains--more desolate but full of a pristine and rustic grandeur. This was my first trip to Scotland. To the west coast of Scotland I would return on a Bank Holiday weekend to spend a couple of nights on the Island of Aran, biking among the rolling hills and fields of heather.
What, then, would a Scotch Highland chili look like? It certainly would be a nod in the direction of haggis, thus my use of coriander, nutmeg, and toasted Bob's Red Mill steel cut oats (the winner of Scotland's Golden Spurtle World Porridge Making Contest). It would also include a certain smokiness reminiscent of the peat in particular Scotch whiskeys, reminiscent of the smoke rising from stone houses dotting the Highland countryside. The smokiness in the chili was achieved through the use of Applewood Smoked Sea Salt. That peaty effect would be further achieved through use of chipotle chili powder and Brewery Vivant's Ancho Rauchbier, a smoky Bavarian-style ale (delicious). The beans are soaked overnight in the ale, the toasted steel cut oats are cooked in it to al dente, and it is substituted for the use of any beef broth, though a combination of broth and beer may be used. At the heart of the dish: ground beef from the iconic Highland cattle. The use of this heritage meat was, for me, the hardest part of the recipe: it is, on its own, so full of flavor--and can be so sweet, dark, and savory--that you just hate combining it with all the seasonings that a chili recipe calls for. But, you know what? It's the ground of Highland beef that gave this chili much of its soul.
How does one enhance the enjoyment of this rich, beefy, mahogany chili? A few thoughts. On a cold winter (or chilly autumn) night, perfectly paired with the Ancho Rauchbeir (my fear, though, is that the tap may soon run dry of this Bavarian addition to Vivant's French and Belgian fleet of ales, so you ought to get it while the getting is good). Follow up with a single malt Scotch and cigar, the cigar being the natural progression from the smokiness of the chili. Or, as Oscar season is nearly upon us, cradle a bowl of it while taking in the movie Braveheart, winner of five academy awards at the 68th Academy Awards (including Best Picture and Best Director). But, above all else, prepare this dish with Scottish folk music playing in the background. The recipe now follows, and—as it is a work in progress—we'd love your feedback—especially if you find ways to improve upon the dish. Cheers! Or, as it's put in the Scottish/Gaelic tongue, Slàinte!
Scotch Highland Chili
Serves 4 - 6
1 pound ground of Scottish Highland beef (soon available from Duba & Company: Merchants of Heritage Meats)
3 strips of bacon, cooked crisp and chopped
1/4 C. dry nine bean mix (see below for special instructions)
1 C. + 3/4 C. + 3/4 C. Ancho Rauchbier (available from Brewery Vivant, while supplies last)(Note: beef broth may be substituted for some of the rauchbier)
10 oz. tomato sauce; or 1 and 1/4 C. chopped fresh tomatoes
1 T. olive oil
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
3 shallots, minced; or 1/4 onion, chopped
1/4 C. toasted steel-cut oats (see below for special instructions)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 T. brown sugar
2 - 3 t. chipotle chili powder (it all depends on how spicy you want your chili)
nutmeg, two dashes
1 t. fresh thyme, minced; or 1/2 t. dried thyme
Applewood Smoked Sea Salt to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Let the nine bean mix soak overnight in approximately 3/4 C. of the Ancho Rauchbier.
2. Brown the ground of Scottish Highland beef in a large pot. Remove the browned ground and rinse the grease off with water in a colander. Add a splash or two of the Ancho Rauchbier to the pot, add heat, and scrape up any brown bits that remain.
3. In a separate skillet, saute the green pepper in the olive oil until they just begin to soften.
4. Add the shallots/onion to the green peppers and saute together until tender.
5. In the large pot in which the ground of Scottish Highland beef was browned: combine together the browned beef, green pepper, onion/shallot, bacon, beans (go ahead and throw in the Ancho Rauchbier in which the beans were soaking), 1 C. of Ancho Rauchbier, tomato sauce/chopped tomatoes, garlic, brown sugar, chipotle chili powder, nutmeg, and thyme.
6. Add the Applewood Smoked Sea Salt to achieve the desired level of smokiness (the chipotle chili will also lend a smokiness to the dish).
7. Allow the chili to simmer, top covered, for at least an hour, adding more water if needed (you may also add more Ancho Rauchbier or beef broth instead). Note: Instead of simmering the chili in the large pot, it may be transferred to a crock pot--with the dial set to low--and cooked for up to a day.
8. Toast the steel-cut oats in saute pan over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they turn golden brown and begin to smell "nutty".
9. Using the remaining 3/4 C. of Ancho Rauchbier, prepare the steel-cut oats according to package directions, substituting the rauchbier for water/milk.
10. Add the steel-cut oatmeal to the chili up to an hour prior to serving.
11. Garnish, if desired, with a spring of fresh thyme.
Our wonderful server Jeff Duba writes for the weekly weblog Duba's Steaks Blog, a 'recipe storybook and seasonal journal'.
The end may not be nigh, but let’s drink like it is.
"Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
The first act is over. All good things come to an end. All great things evolve. Upon the close of this, my second year behind the bar at Vivant, I thought I would do a little summation of the year that was, a wrap up of the Customer Awards, and throw in a few quotes from the good folks who have been pulling your pints and plating your food in 2012.
"I was kind of having a conversation with myself, accidentally." - Bethany
Yes, B, well said, introspection was a common theme this year. After all, sometimes you have to stumble into self-assessment. When you start growing and getting accolades and collaborating and days turn to months in what seems like seconds... a pause... a heartbeat's worth of internal messages... a look in the mirror is often exactly what you need. 2012 brought a lot of positive change to Vivant. New leaders and new ideas and new territories conquered. At the end of this year we all took a collective glance inward at what got us this far. The answers were not just biere et beurre, but also a commitment to leading and not following. A passion to do something different and do it with bombast and spirit and without compromise.
"Ward, you smell like 8th grade." - Lindsay
Well, Lindsay, we sure do miss you and not only for quips like that. I don't remember smelling like hormones and Polo cologne at any point this year, but I could be wrong. Looking through the bar quote book this one always makes me smile and reminds me of all the great people who we miss every day. You know who you are.
"It felt like someone pulled my scalp!" - Ward "It must be the solar energy." - Bethany
This year had its fair share of panicked moments. Calendars ending, global temps rising, Red Coq running out. If you're reading this you made it through. Well done. To my co-workers: thanks for understanding my dirty looks and swearing. To my regulars: cheers for helping everyone behind the bar appreciate how great we've got it. To the brewers: thank you for not breaking down and pulling out all your beard hairs... we know it was a wild ride getting us across the lake. To the chefs: merci for being rock solid and rock stars and only yelling at us about half as often as we deserve. To the owners: Thanks for putting up with all of our varied personas, underappreciative moments and last year's Christmas party and still loving and taking care of us. You guys mean so much to all of our lives.
"Who's 'happy Ward?'" - Mitus
Yes, it's true, he does exist. As proof here are some certainly wonderous moments from the past year:
- All the applause at the "bones at the brewery" event.
- The time I dropped the firkin on the floor at the end of the night. We laughed and laughed.
- When we found out Bethany was having a baby.
- Sam dressed up as a Ninja Turtle
- Clif in a clown suit
- Getting a girl's number... love you Katy! (Shut it Hoeks! and the rest of you making fun of emotive me)
"My feet are spreading apart. Are you laughing at me?! This is real life! You are dumb Ward!" - Bethany, pregnant
Chill out Prometheus. This IS real life. This was a year in the lives of us all. These were times that will never be again. Our wingspan grew a bit. We made Love Shadow. As the year drops its last sands into the hourglass it marks the end of the first sweeping symphonic movement. New players have arrived and things are about to get really good. If you liked the first lines in this tome of Vivant then I implore you, my fellow drinkers, eaters, chatters, laughers and singers, read on!!! Credits roll, the Millenium Falcon flies into the distance, but the saga continues.
Finally a summation of our recent Vivant Customer Awards...
Most Regular Regular: Rob Perez -- come to the bar and you'll see a smiling fellow shaking hands and talking about his family and soccer and whatever else you want to discuss. That'd be Rob. Introduce yourself... you'll be glad you did.
Honorable Mention: Patrick -- dude drove overnight from Phoenix to get a Farmhand!
Favorite Bar Couple: Paul and Angela -- With a million things to talk about and an eagerness to help out in any situation Paul and Angela are always welcomed with open arms. Then you realize that you will never be as cool, generous and popular as they are and you get a little jealous. Then you realize they like you and you feel very hip and wonder if you can get away with wearing a cool hoodie every day. Love you guys.
Honorable Mention: Jake and Goldie - the duo you all wish you were. Musical, cool, funny and happy together.
Coolest Guy at the Bar: Tom -- In fairness, being Lindsay's BF gives you a leg up on in this category, but Tom earned his cool stripes for the second year in row by being witty, conversational, sporting nice hats and scarves and for having a wicked awesome gingerbeard.
Honorable Mention: Greg -- He won for being wry, but anybody who knows "Brother Born" knows that he is equal parts playful, inquiring, deep and kind... and 100% cool.
Most Hilariously Funny: Greg -- He's just a crack up and he'll make you smile as much as he does.
Honorable Mention: Luke -- get a few (or more than a few) Zaisons in him and see what happens.
Most Mischievous Smile: EZ-E -- Such a friendly lad. He owns SpeakEZ-E. Kind as all get out. Now break out the Barenjager and see what we're referring to.
Honorable Mention: Erin Derylo -- she campaigned pretty hard for this one and deserves some recognition.
Most likely to close the bar down: Dan -- We just can't kick him out. He plays the trombone for our amusement, he makes us cakes, he tips well... and he's a friend. Thanks for staying up late with us pal.
Honorable Mention: The Vivant staff... please go home!!
Until next year. Thanks to you all for the memories... and for letting us get to know and love you.
My Wife Has Hives!
We went on a field trip last Monday (my wife and I) to a farm on the shores of Lake Michigan where are raised a whole variety of creatures: deer, chickens, cows, pigs, championship racehorses, and bees. We had come for the bees. Now, my wife had been talking for a couple of years about becoming a beekeeper, and this summer everything came together for her. Her apprenticeship under a master beekeeper formally commenced this July. Here, in mid-September, it was now time to harvest the honey. For me to be invited to join her for this stage in the honey-making process was, indeed, a delicious treat. It was everything I've ever loved about grade school field trips (whether apple picking in the Fall or observing maple sugaring in the Spring): a connection with the simple life and with a living past. This excursion was even reminiscent of that time in grammar school when the rigors of our normal class schedule were cut short and our class was ushered into the library to enjoy stories (told by master storytellers) of the ancient Native American way of life, something to which I've been drawn ever since. Yes, something of the boy in me came back to life last Monday as I stood in the center of what felt like a lost civilization animated by the humming of 80,000 flying insects--for a bee hive is a civilization, replete with its highly sophisticated divisions of labor. What follows, now, is a series of reflections that can only come from that quality so characteristic of boyhood: a sense of wonder at the natural world. This sense, I am convinced, is one of the greatest joys in life...
Upon arrival at the farm, we donned our bee suits looking for our part like Marty McFly in his plutonium suit from Back to the Future. To stand among the throngs of bees in the bee suit is really the above-water, in-land version of a shark cage; it's easy to become a little unnerved. On the other hand, it's just as easy to become a little thrilled by it all, too.
Safe within our protective gear we went about the business of harvesting the honey: the process of removing the frames of honeycomb from the bee hives for off-site processing. This involved multiple trips from the hive to the pickup truck (safely removed from the hives), with one frame of honeycomb at a time being placed in empty boxes in the bed of the truck. Though the bees view us as stealing their honey (and, I suppose, we are) in fact they've produced far more honey than they can possibly use. Nevertheless, to allow for a fairly peaceful retrieval of the racks of honeycomb, the bees are given several puffs of smoke (from smoldering cedar chips) which drives them into a deeper level of the hive. There they gorge themselves on the sweet nectar and become quite docile. It's the equivalent of giving a guard dog a juicy steak. Even still, there are always a few stragglers which need to be brushed away. Throughout the rhythm of our work I was able to carry on a casual conversation with our beekeeper whence I learned...
-that the pheromones of the queen bee place an indelible mark on all the bees of the hive; it's how an imposter bee is recognized when it comes to steal honey since it bears the scent of a different hive. And in this society, thievery is a capital offense to which the lifeless body of a honeybee-turned-thief outside of one hive attested.
-that our instinctive (or, rather, learned) association of the black and yellow color scheme with danger comes from the natural color of these black and yellow stinging insects. It's how the color scheme of a school bus was chosen: for its ability to trigger our attention as something primal in us says, "Warning!" Because of the bee, we will forever associate this combination of colors with danger. Then again, the graduating classes of St. Alphonsus grade school may well associate those colors with the need to pay attention not because of the honey bee but rather because of Miss Wysocki, our grammar instructor who was known to wear an outfit consisting of black and yellow stripes. (I would be remiss if I didn't also add that this woman was one of the finest teachers I've ever known and who, almost twenty years later, was coaching me in the art of teaching grammar to Eighth Graders when I became an English teacher myself.)
-that man's impulse to dominate nature with technology in the fiefdom of bees--not that there's anything wrong with technology, per se--really is the stuff of Hollywood film. There were scientists who wanted to engineer a "super bee", crossing conventional breeds with aggressive African breeds. Instead of getting a bee that was a fierce producer of honey, what we got was a bee that became a sort of rabid Pit Bull in defense of its hive, making harvesting honey virtually impossible. I couldn't help but think of Dr. Curt Conners from this past summer's The Amazing Spiderman who injects himself with lizard DNA in attempt to regenerate a missing arm. Violent aggression is the side effect, he becomes a monster, and the plot gets its villain.
The most privileged lesson of all was to be instructed in how to create a queen bee (the foundation on which the whole hive is based). This is, in the truest sense of the term, a lost art. There was a time when beekeepers knew how to create their own queen bees. But when, in the 1980s, queen bees easily could be bought for around $2 to $3 dollars (well worth the money), bee keepers jumped on the opportunity and stopped producing their own. As knowledge of how to create a queen bee subsequently diminished and was ostensibly lost, the price has gradually increased upwards to between $25 and $30. Our beekeeper was fortunate to find an old beekeeper, well in his 80s, who imparted this knowledge to him.
Prior to finishing our work of harvesting, the inadvertent slip of my wife's chisel as she worked with her hive broke the honeycomb, and I was able to dip my finger into the golden brown goo. The flavor was so fresh, so unctuous. Once ingested, it gave the body a palpable burst of life. What a beautiful reminder and confirmation of why it is that we love to consume food produced in close proximity to its source: for the potent life it seems to impart. To visit Brewery Vivant, with its mission and focus to buy its food from within a 250 mile radius, is to enter a space where one is moved that much closer to the epicenter of that vitality. On your next visit, try the artisanal cheese board: a selection of three world-class cheeses, served with Michigan honeycomb. And, on your way out, don't hesitate to pick up a four-pack of Contemplation Ale (brewed with amber honey from our great state) as a way of savoring the experience.
Our wonderful server Jeff Duba writes for the weekly weblog Duba's Steaks Blog, a 'recipe storybook and seasonal journal'.
NBB is our BFF
Dear New Belgium Brewing,
In response to your letter: click here
Thank you for the nice letter. We like you a lot too. We noticed you and the wonderful beers you make long ago. In fact we have admired you and your company for a long time. You inspire us in both the quality of your beer and the great culture of cool people that that work there. Everyone seems to be happy and excited to show up at work everyday. You guys rock out some kick ass beers, walk the talk of sustainability, and live the lifestyle that you project with your biking culture. Everyone we met was so gracious and kind to us that it left us feeling like we really clicked with you.
We would love to get together with you again. Maybe we could take a leisurely ride on one of your sweet fat tire cruiser bikes and head into downtown for a beer....or play some rolly ball in your cool beer garden...or hang out in your three story high malt room and throw some grain into the hopper...or stand in your brew house area looking over the mountains again, drink a beer and know life is good. Is that too much, too fast? Sorry we just like you a lot too.
Maybe we have said too much. We just dig your vibe so much that it is hard to put into words. So we made you a mixed tape instead. Here is what is on it. Hope you like it.
- Mountain Song (live version): Janes Addiction: we miss Colorado already
- On Your Side: Pete Yorn: Because we just are
- Skinny Love: Bon Iver: Just cause we like this song
- Cold Beverage: G Love: He is just so cool
- We are the same: Matthew Sweet: We are so connected
- Waited Up: The Samples: We waited up for Bo that first night but he never showed:(
- I want you to want me: Cheap Trick: everyone loves this song right?
- Sea Legs: The Shins: ‘cause we like that song too
- Take Me Home Tonight: Eddie Money: Because this song debuted in the late 80’s, just like you did.
- Loving Cup: Phish: Mountains & beer make us want to hear a Phish song
- Don’t Change: INXS: just don’t!
Happy 100th Julia Child
At a sleepover in middle school, Dan Aykroyd introduced me to Julia Child, who would have turned 100 on Wednesday. Aykroyd, of course, wasn't at the sleepover but was parodying her on The Best of Saturday Night Live. I'll admit we were far more entertained by Eddie Murphy's rendition of Buckwheat, but what stays with me from the skit is my horror when "Julia" gets her hand stuck in a high-powered blender, making mincemeat out of the appendage. Truth be told, I've never really watched Julia on television (that was before my time), on YouTube, or even seen Julie and Julia (though the movie's on my wife's and my short list of Movies We'd Be Willing To Watch Together). But on the way to the Farmer's Market Wednesday morning, here was Diane Rehms on NPR interviewing Bob Spitz on his new biography of Child, and I was riveted by the woman.
Julia, you see, was one of those rare individuals who finds his or her true calling: that life work which a person is simply born to do. It's a part of one's DNA, but--as a philosopher once said--man is the only creature that can fail to live up to his nature: a rock cannot but be "rocky" and hard; a dog, left to its own devices, cannot but eat all of the homemade caramels off the kitchen table when we've gone to bed for the night (damn you, Buffy); but a human can fail to be human: they can be cruel and inhumane (i.e. "not human"). Developing that idea further, a man or woman may not find or live up to his or her potential, even though it's programed into his or her DNA: they may not become all they can be or find that work which is theirs alone to do. It's the very drama of human life. And here's Julia: the woman who, perhaps floundering for a while (she considered becoming a hat maker), finds her life's passion in cooking, a passion she discovered at the French Cordon Bleu School where she learns to cook and where she is something of an unwelcome misfit. I think, as well, of the chef I met in the mountains of Colorado, a woman-accountant-turned-chef who's culinary art taught me just what a steak dinner can be. Is it any wonder, by the way, that someone who is living out of their true calling is able to draw out the potential in others and even food itself?
The interview which aired Wednesday also confirmed my conviction that anyone can learn to be a good cook. Author Bob Spritz shares how his own mother was transformed from a mediocre cook by tuning into Julia Child's show on Monday night and then preparing the same dish for Tuesday night's dinner. I met up with a friend over beers this Sunday afternoon whom had just come from lunch at his grandmother's, a woman whose ethnic heritage's solitary culinary boast is Fish n' Chips. The weekly family ritual over the years has been an act of love on behalf of a doting grandmother; eating her cooking, an act of charity. Like Spritz's mother, this dear old lady--late in life--has really learned to cook, and she has cable television vis a vis the Food Network to thank, itself something--by the way--that owes its existence to Julia Child: the woman who paved the way.
Encouraging as well was Child's philosophy of eating which coincides with my own: eat whatever you want, but do so in moderation. Butter, cream, fat, alcohol: all good in the proper proportion. Contrary to popular belief, moderation doesn't decrease one's enjoyment of a thing, but rather enhances one's enjoyment of a thing. It is only in moderation that we are free to enjoy it as it is and for what it is. Only in moderation do we exercise dominion over the exquisite goods of this world instead of their exercising dominion over us.
And finally, as a new school year draws near, teachers would find in Julia the quintessential teacher. In fact, she herself understood herself precisely in these terms: as cooking teacher. She did what the best always do: she cared for people; she didn't dumb things down but elevated one's understanding of a subject; she inspired by sharing her enthusiasm for a subject matter; she encouraged. I'll conclude, then, by sharing here the audio link to the Diane Rehms Show. You'll enjoy, I'm sure, story after story of how Child did precisely these, and did them par excellence.
P.S. Jeff originally wrote this for his own blog, The Duba Steaks Blog, which is something of a recipe storybook and journal. It tells the stories that inspire the recipes on the site, and it celebrates eating and living in continuity with nature.
Notes from behind the bar: A few words about our little community.
"My brother and I used to say that drownin' in beer was like heaven, eh? Now he's not here, and I've got two soakers... this isn't heaven. This sucks!"
-Bob McKenzie, Strange Brew
I think I'm proud of what I do. Or, better said, I think I'm lucky to be able to do it. ....I don't know where I'm going with this (this parentheses is, in fact, a break for a beer. Truly. A Kolsch 45 from Short's.)
Ah, that loosened up the finger chords. Where was I? Of course, community. Okay. Perks of my job are: Discounted beer, an incredible work environment, freedom to have a mohawk, as well as many other bonuses. However, the best perk, is the community of regulars and sometime frequenters of our bar.
The other day Wes (a local firefighter) and his wife Teri (owner of Serendipite Organiques on Cherry St.) were relaxing at the bar with Scott (Hockey and Star Wars fanatic) and Mehgan (nicest person in the Universe.) Now there's nothing particularly odd or exciting about this, in fact this scenario takes place between 2-3 times a week, but it hit me how important this bar community has become to me and my co-workers. Having worked in retail settings in the past where the customers were nothing more that the other half of a transaction I am so grateful every day (okay the regulars will tell you I'm a sarcastic and whiny jackass most of the time) to have a real community of people to serve.
Why is that I wonder? I suspect it has to do with the temperament of Vivant. Which is mostly a reflection of the owners and the 'hood we're in. It's also because so many of our regulars are fantastic people who come in looking for a place to have a great beer and meet some new drinking buddies. At the core though I think it has much to do with the beer. I don't feel this sort of camaraderie in wine bars (too posh) or testosterone-riddled vodka shot altars. I see it often at breweries.
There is an openness, a curiosity and an intelligence that feeds on world experience in these places. We have a chapel to civilization. A certain accelerated acceptance of others. A hops and duck fat fueled engine that churns out friendships and dates; babies and musical collaborations. That's it! That's the point! That's why I am so juiced to be behind Vivant's bar! It's the nucleus of a cell. It's the fireplace in the cave spilling light on the walls allowing art to bloom. It's the electric zap that hot-wired the Earth! Okay, so that's a bit of exaggeration. The beer's pretty damn good though! Even better when you drink it with a friend.
I remember listening to an announcer at a London concert of the other-worldly blues artist Taj Mahal introduce him by saying, "If you didn't come here with a friend, you have one now." We strive for that to be true for our patrons and ourselves.
Anyhow, here's a glass raised to the bar regulars (and the soon-to-be regulars). The patrons that make us (make us!!) continue doing what we're doing. Dan, Katy, Scott, Star, Luke, Rudy, Eric, Paul, Angela, Bob, Keith, Greg, Greg, Chris, Lacey, Allison, Lindsay, Chris, Jim, and all the rest of you Monks and lovely people. We do it for you guys. Without you what's the point? Without you we might as well be selling appliances.
Cheers to you all,
PS- Oz Clarke explains what I'm hinting at much more eloquently here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=digx5HIuhlM
Beer Collecting: Baseball Cards for Grownups AKA- the collection you can piss away
“We are here to drink beer...and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.” - Charles Bukowski
"I've got Rollie Fingers!" has been shouted more than once by young lads and moustache fans around the world in the throes of baseball card euphoria. But now that we're all grown up (If you're reading this I am assuming you're of drinking age) what makes us that happy? Why, beer collecting of course. I am not referring to collecting old cans or beer themed neon signs, but to the wonderful act of searching out and drinking all the great bounty of beers available today.
This activity combines all the enjoyment of any good collecting hobby: the hunt, the adrenaline rush of locating the holy grail items, and the feverish power of bragging rights. However, unlike the mere enjoyment of piling up more and more cardboard gold onto your shelves and into boxes in your basement, the collecting of beers involves a more mature attitude that is of the understanding that one should not strive to accumulate material things, but that the true rewards lie in investing time, money and energy into seeking out experiences that will stay with you until the last neuron in your brain jiggles with electric impulse. Here at Vivant I like to think we have the perfect place to partake in and discuss beer collecting. Our ever-expanding line of beers and their barrel-aged counterparts allow for some great additions to your beer journal and our communal tables aid in the ability to converse with others about all the fine beer hunting to do just a few short minutes from our doors.
That's why the current climate of craft beer in Mighigan, the US and various strongholds the world over is so damn exciting. You get the best of all things. Pilgrimages to unknown places, the seeking out of hidden treasures, the throat-lump inducing joy when you find a beer you've heard wonderful things about... or better still when you find a beer you never even knew existed! (Hello Earlene! She was our poblano pepper beer that was luckily and magically birthed like some odd Lepriunicorn with a spicy scent.) I get that feeling of discovery mixed with hedonistic pleasure every time Jacob comes out to the bar with a sample of some new treasure that the rest of us didn't even know he was brewing. It's like finding a Ryne Sandburg rookie card except that Ryno is an unknown stud of a SS that will lead the Cubbies to a World Series! ..and you can drink him!!! Bacchus would be so happy to live in these times!
I once attempted to cover the entirety of the interior walls of a house I was renting with baseball, football, basketball and YO! MTV raps cards. It didn't turn out well. Alex English and EMPD sagged and fell off the wall first, they had become suicidal after seeing the subhuman state that college sophomores can exist in. Currently my collecting is more concerned with fermentation and I think it's working out quite a bit better.
I don't think people will ever stop collecting pointless things, but for my money it's a helluva lot more interesting to tick a new beer off of my to drink list that it ever was to rip into a pack of Topps and hope to find a Gregg Jefferies. Plus, beer doesn't spend time collecting dust under your steps... unless you're aging stuff... in which case call me!
Beer, Tokyo, and never being Lost in Translation
"I hope that you've had enough to drink. It's going to take courage." - Bob Harris, Lost in Translation
It's difficult for me to explain how I felt sitting in a small shack of a restaurant in Enoshima, Japan. It's difficult to describe when you're living dreams.
I had trekked up the snow-cone shaped island south of Tokyo and was equal parts confused, amused and repulsed by the fact that they charge people to ride escalators up it's steep slopes. Sweaty and verging on sunstroke after avoiding the ridiculousness of said escalators (to my chagrin) I rambled across the upper tiers of a tourist-riddled landscape. Finding shade and nourishment seemed a must after such endeavors and seeing how my aging body seems to be over-assertive in it's cooling processes... I was sweating like an aardvark at a rave.
I stepped into the shaded wooden hut and was greeted by Tokyo's version of "hello".. a phrase something like, and I am sure I am slaughtering this, "arigato gozai maaassss!" I ordered a bottle of Kamakura brewing company's "Enoshima", named after the isle I found myself on. Then I sat. Then I drank. What a drink I did drink. Have you ever had the pleasure, I am quite certain you have, of having the perfect quaff? A beer that defies categories of hoppiness, malt overtones, and any sort of internet-age grading scale that some nerds would staple to it. A beer that just feels good in your soul. A brew that nourishes, inspires, causes reflection, and sends you to a Donnie Darko-esque wormhole that leads straight back to your nucleus and in your core you see the waves of universes and the sweetness of kisses and the true nature of enlightened man! Rushes of blood, peaking choirs, blaring trumpets! This was that beer. It is a feeling that is at the core of civilization. It is why we stopped wandering the forests and deserts of the past and sat in the shade and brewed. It was, simply put, a Renaissance in liquid form.
Four days later and I was ten beers deep at Popeye craft beer bar on the outskirts of Tokyo. I was a newly crowned member of the bar. It's at this point, whilst attempting to converse with my bartender about the possibility of having Vivant beers on tap at Popeye (I think the conversation went something like: Me- "No, bro, you like 3 Floyds? I know those guys! Bell's is my neighbors. You should totally do the Big Red Coq." Him- "Yes. Oh, how do you like a water?" -- but seriously...Vivant beers in Tokyo. How sweet would that be!?) that I realize something. After all the snafus I had had during my time in Japan (my saluting of those folks whom I cannot begin to understand, my playing "noodle lottery" (that's when you punch a completely random button on the self serve ticket machines at the ramen restaurants), my echoing of "arigato gozai maaassss" upon entering and leaving every store i stumbled into) while I was cuddled up to the bar at Popeye, I realized that certain truths defy ineptitude at the verbal level. They are: Love, Hate, Pain, good food and Beer. At least that's how I was seeing things while seated on my stool with a bubbling cauldron of Japanese craft beer in my gut. Then, and I think still now, the truth of the matter is that good beer, wonderful food and a comfy place to sit are never lost in translation.
Please check out Popeye if you're ever on that side of the world... and ask them to put Vivant on tap. http://www.40beersontap.com/
A Day in the Life
So what does it mean to be an artisanal kitchen? Well, I will tell you for sure!
8:00 a.m. – Prep crew arrives at Vivant and this is what they see:
make escargot sauce
mis en place pate
make potato salad lyonnaise
make beer wort chutney
make spice mix for peanuts
make flatbread dough, rest, and grill
pull pretzel sticks
pull prepared duck, make cracklin, reserve bones for stock
tomato concassé, 1 case
charred lemon vin
purple potato hash
cut and blanch frites
butcher clod, grind, and make burgers
house A1 sauce
check grits and make new, if need
blanch peas and gus
french onion soup
figure out soup of the day and make it, chef will be checking it when he comes in…….
roast beets, set aside to be peeled tomorrow
crème fraiche vin
leek gravy, too thick last time so un-f__k it and make it right
check remoulade, too much Oregon Bay spice last time!!!!
make pesto, less garlic
burger mis en place
roast bones and get stock pots aready to drop and boil overnight
· Before you leave, check with the sous chef for a cleaning project and make sure you organize the walk-in and dry storage before you do that; that task does NOT count as your daily project. Keep it clean guys!!!!!
So two to three people have until roughly 3 pm to get this done. The chef, me, is in the building but can not usually assist as there is a mountain of computer work, meetings, sales persons, chats with ownership, etc to deal with. Also, and to be honest, I have spent my time in the trenches and I hire prep cooks to handle it; no excuses, just get it done. If you are cut and need less than a few stiches, bandage it up and you are fine. If you are burned and it only comes out to a blister, you are fine. If you are tired, hung over, or have a mild case of the flu; I do not care, make it happen. The food comes first and all of us, including me, are a distant second to the task at hand.
Over the course of the day two line cooks will show up; one by 11 am and the other at 3 pm. They fill in the gaps and oversee the duties of the prep cooks and they report to the sous chef. If something is wrong I hold the sous accountable no matter whose fault it really is. In return if the kitchen is out of order or something is out of line, the ownership holds me accountable, as they should, so it all rolls downhill.
In short we work hard and we care about what we do. We are NOT perfect and since my name is on the menu, I am profoundly sorry if any of you have had something from Vivant that you did not like. That said, there is someone in the building from 8 am until past midnight everyday working hard to make sure that we keep true to our word and remain a from-scratch kitchen. It would be easier and more cost effective for Jason and Kris to simply open cans and heat stuff up, but we all refuse and everyone at Vivant has made the commitment to work hard to ensure the integrity of our product.
Wow, even after all of this chatter, I have not even mentioned line service, of which I personally work more shifts than any of my guys… The heat, the burns, the cuts, the unrelenting pressure, the “controlled” train wreck that is known amongst cooks as the sh_t”. The adrenaline, the sweat, and more importantly the pride we all feel during this time as all of our collective labors, from the dishwasher to the head chef, come to fruition and we watch our food be presented to you, the public. It is an amazing thing and we thank all of you so much for the opportunity to give to you something we all care so much about; our food.
The guy in the camo hat that cooks stuff
Let me start by saying that there is a reason I haven’t written a blog yet. It has everything to do with the fact that I would prefer writing a research paper…seriously, I enjoy writing them. I like to think that in Jason and my marriage and business partnership, he represents the creative right brain and I represent the analytical left brain. Opposites can have a very successful and symbiotic relationship and we are lucky that it works for us.
Now I’ll get to the purpose of my blog. There is a somewhat heated debate in the craft beer world right now about the environmental impacts of cans versus bottles. We made our decision to can in part because of our assessment of the environmental impact so I wanted to expound on that.
The true best environmental choice outside of drinking draft beer from your local brewery is to purchase your beer in growlers. You would be amazed at how many growlers we fill – it’s fantastic! The next best option is probably for the brewery to distribute reusable bottles to retailers. We thought about doing this but we knew we weren't prepared for the logistical commitment they require, the expense of the machine, nor the space to put one of these behemoth washers in our small neighborhood brewery. These options aside, we now come to choosing bottles or cans.
Through my years of experience doing life cycle assessments, I know that virgin aluminum is more toxic and requires more energy to produce than glass. Luckily recycled aluminum has a much lower impact than virgin and our cans typically contain 68% recycled content. For this and all of the other reasons that we have in the sustainability section on this website (aluminum is more often recycled, the economic value of recycling aluminum subsidizes the recycling costs of all other materials, cans have more recycled content in them than glass bottles, cans protect beer from light, etc.), plus the fact that Michigan is a high recreation state where unbreakable is desirable, and the fact that the canning line we purchased requires less manpower to operate than a bottling line, we chose cans over bottles and it was the right choice for our brewery and one I am satisfied with.
Another brewery may come to a different conclusion and I would not fault them for it - it's like statistics where you can make anything the best choice depending on how you look at things and what is important to you. The debate will likely continue for years as the aluminum and glass associations independently fund research proving why their material is the best choice. Unless you look at each situation uniquely, it will be tough to have an ultimate “winner”.
One big challenge of life cycle assessments revolves around normalizing the factors that go into them. (Beware, this is where your attention span may run out…) For example, just looking at the point of extraction of raw materials to the point of initial product manufacture you’d need to consider the following (among many other factors): What is the condition of the mining/extraction site? How energy efficient is the equipment used to mine/extract the raw materials? How far are the raw materials traveling once mined/extracted? What type of transportation is used to get them from point A to point B? How energy efficient is the equipment used to turn the raw material into its final form? How much waste is produced in that process?
The list of contributing factors goes on and on as hopefully this has demonstrated. So, like many decisions in life, the best choice isn’t obvious. Each brewery has to make the one that feels best to them given the information they have. And for us that meant cans. If you have any questions about our choice, let me know by emailing me at sustainability@ breweryvivant.com.
Owner and Sustainability Director
P.S. Here are a couple of articles that sparked this blog:
P.P.S Do I get an A on this assignment?
Belgie - Belgique
The world of Belgian beers can be a delicious, but confusing place sometimes. Does a Tripel mean beer to the third power? What, exactly, are those hooded guys up to while stowed away in the depths of their monastery? Do they speak French, Dutch, or German? Some acceptable answers are:
-No. Wait. Maybe?
-Making beer and/or chanting
- Yes, all three
I had some general notions on these things before I came to Vivant, but because of the passion of our owners and brewers, my eyes have been forever opened to the glory that is Belgian beer. Even though I work here, I’ll go on record right now saying it’s my favorite beer making region in the world. I’m ravenous for their brews, am continually amazed with what they do, and if given no other receptacle would probably drink a Trappist Dubbel out of an old shoe. With our recent release of Zasion - Imperial Saison, I decided to dig a little on this elusive style of of beer.
Like the Belgians themselves, the definition is somewhat loose. Its roots stem from the hard tack, green thumbed, French speaking part of the country called Wallonia. Their provincial mascot, which we honor in our logo, is the big red rooster. These farmers from the South eventually became responsible for some of the world’s greatest beers, and saison shares these humble origins. It was originally brewed in the colder months of autumn and winter (so as not to spoil) and then enjoyed by workers and farmers in the spring and summer. Although flavor and appearance could vary greatly by locality, it would generally have been low in alcohol (around 3-4%), moderately hopped, and described as tart, crisp, and refreshing. The addition of alternative ingredients like honey and spices was also widely practiced. Beer was also important to hydration and often part of a farm hand’s pay, and they would be rationed up to 5 liters per day! If they had been guzzling our 9% Imperial version, they would have been dropping like flies or leaving for the local pub before you could say “dirt”.
Perhaps this is what the Germans really needed to stop Blitzkrieging their way through the Ardennes Forest. All that was required to halt the war and shake hands was a smile inducing saison ale. Either way, our particular version tap dances on the tongue with the addition of Tellicherry black peppercorn and orange peel, nicely accentuating the spicy and citrus notes of the style. This is all piled on top of one of our classic Belgian yeast stains, and is called Imperial to denote it’s untraditionally high strength. I highly recommend trying our Zaison with barbecue, thai food, or a funky washed- rind cheese.
Abbot of Vivant
You’re a what?
What is a sous chef? It is the follow up question that I so often get asked when telling people what I do. Simply put, I am second in command in the kitchen. But I like to talk, and since I have finally been given the platform to, I will.
My job at Vivant is layered much like one of the hundreds of onions we cut every week, the same ones that force me to shower before I go out with friends or before my wife will get near me. I like to think of myself as a cook’s chef, if you will. Drew is the brains and the pretty face to the restaurant and I am the muscle. He will probably beat me up for that but I have to get my shots in where I can. On any given day you might find me calculating food costs, keeping the kitchen guys focused and on task (not to say they don’t do the same for me), working the line for the weekend dinner service, placing orders, sitting in meetings, heck, you will even find me grinding and forming those burgers you all love so much. I am barraged with questions daily. How do you make this? How does this taste? Can I get my schedule changed? What is next? Can I go home now? For many the incessant questions would be tiring, but it gives me energy and drive. I started this career later in life than most but I have worked hard to get to where I am now. These questions all give me a chance to pass on knowledge, techniques, and confidence to those that I work with. All things that were passed on to me at one point as well. I have had many great teachers through my culinary career and it is my goal to be the same for others just starting out.
The staff here is small, but I couldn’t ask for much better. Drew said it perfectly in his blog not too long ago so I will keep this short and sweet. They are hard working and committed and it helps to make me not only a better chef, but a better person.
And there you have it, an over explained and entirely too long explanation of what exactly a sous chef is.
Told you I could talk,
The blirgin speaks about experience
Hello everyone and welcome to my ?rst blog EVER. Not just my ?rst Vivant blog, but I am now no longer a blirgin. (Yep, just made that up. At least it?s a new word in my vocabulary as of writing this.) I want to discuss the guest experience and what that means to us. It?s a term that is all encompassing and includes, but is not limited to: the quality of service and food you receive, the ambience, the smile on the host?s face when you walk in the door, and of course the company you bring with you. All these variables and more factor into your overall experience while dining (and drinking) out.
Whether it?s your ?rst or fortieth time here, our goal is to facilitate an amazing night out for everyone who crosses the Vivant threshold. By walking in the building, you are putting your trust in us to create a fantastic evening. We honor that trust through the hard work and preparation our staff executes and with the quality of the food and beer that we offer. As a long time server/ bartender/line cook/restaurant manager I take it very personally that you chose us to share your evening with. The same attention and love should be present in your experience here as would if you were a guest at an intimate friend's soiree. Think of us as your personal concierge(s). After all, you are in our house when you are here.
That being said, allow me to empower you, the guest, to help us deliver this level of service. If something isn?t right with your experience, please let your server know. Let?s keep comments about the color of paint, the lighting, and how we need a pissing cherub fountain to ourselves. These are things beyond our immediate control. (A pissing rooster beer fountain, however.....I could be on board with. I?ll let you ?nd the pun.) If something isn?t right, let us make it right. By utilizing this tool, you open up opportunity for us. It?s a win/ win.
To understand what our goal is, you need only look as far as our name. Vivant, present participle of vivre, to live. As in bon vivant: A person with refined taste, especially one who enjoys superb food and drink. So.....essentially living the good life. Good food, drink, conversation, and time spent with the ones you love. A universal concept that is as simple as it is sacred. (We’ve been breaking bread together as a species for a long time.)
Thank you for sharing your evenings with us!
Aaron (Ass Man) Beard
What LEED means to us
We recently received our LEED Silver (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification at Brewery Vivant and found out at the end of the process that we are the first commercial microbrewery in the United States to do so (or as Mayor Heartwell put it, the first in the galaxy). That is pretty cool. However, we did not go through this process just to have a marketing tool to talk about. We see this plaque that hangs on our wall as a symbol of the way we want to run our business.
LEED design takes more into account than just using high efficiency appliances. It looks at the project as a whole including diverting demolition waste, using earth friendly materials, proximity to public transportation, and creating enjoyable work environments for employees. We see it as a holistic approach to business that weighs how businesses fit into a community. Our intent from the beginning was to build a neighborhood brewery and it all started with the site selection.
It would have been much cheaper and easier to build a pub from the ground up on a new site outside the city limits. But what fun would that be? The atmosphere we have created by utilizing the existing historic architecture is priceless. As far as our brewing facility, it would have been far cheaper to rent some warehouse space for $2 a sq ft in some industrial park. But then we would not be able to give the personal tours of our process to the people that visit our pub. The way we did things creates a whole and unique experience.
The LEED principles also coincide with “triple bottom line” thinking. In this business model, for each decision a company makes there are three areas considered. While the traditional model looks at just the financial profitability, we also consider the environmental impact, and the impact on our neighborhood. For example, if we need to make a widget the traditional business model would say find the cheapest source for the components to make that widget, period. While we do look at lowering the cost of materials when we can, we additionally consider with equal weight if there are environmentally friendly options and if there are local suppliers we can purchase from. If we can make an equal quality product and spend our dollars in the local economy that is a win-win that we may be willing to spend a bit more for. The overall impact may outweigh the short term gain of getting ingredients from overseas. We are not perfect. Sometimes we make decisions we regret or find that we have to get certain ingredients from outside the area to get the results we need. However we do consider such things and we will report on our progress annually in our sustainability report "Beer the change" which we just published.
We believe a brewery can have a positive impact on a neighborhood. Not only are we a significant employer, but we hire people from right in the neighborhood. We recently figured out that over half of our staff live within walking distance (less than a mile), and three-fourths live within biking distance of the brewery (less than 3 miles). In 2011 we donated over 10% of our net profits to local charities. We focus our energies on supporting charities and groups that have impact in our immediate neighborhood. While there are so many good causes out there, we have found that we can make a larger impact if we narrow our focus and support ones that coincide closely with our principles.
My wife Kris and I took a lot of time to plan this brewery. While taking that time was frustrating at moments, it really helped us focus our business to be exactly what we wanted it to be. We started with the end in mind first. We asked ourselves questions like “once we are successful, what do we want people to say about our business?”, “what do we want to be known for?” ,“what do we want to be best in the world at?”. We knew that we wanted this to be our lifetime work. We wanted to be able to look back after being open for 20 years and be proud of what wewere able to achieve. Proud of what we have given back to the community. Proud that we had as low a negative impact on our environment as we could manage. And do this all while having fun and making fantastic beer that makes people happy.
We are grateful for everyone that has supported us in this journey so far. We look forward to that 20 year mark of being your neighbor.
There is something about walking into the brewery around 7:00 a.m., all the lights are off, nothing but the steady hum of the boiler, the darkness of the mornings promise, and the sweet smell of yesterdays brew hanging in the air. I'll get in, turn off the alarm, and before even turning on the lights I'll just stand there for a minute or two, just taking in the aromas of the brewery, then I go to work. This is how I start my day, and after all these years I still love it. I consider myself one of the lucky few who look forward going into work every day, a bad day in the brewery is still better than a good day anywhere else in my opinion. In this little morning meditation I also think of the responsibility people place in me to deliver something cool, something to enjoy when they go out and get away from the daily grind. That's a pretty big motivator. So I'm going to go to work tomorrow, I'm going to open the door and leave the lights off for a few minutes. I'm going to think about what I do and why I do it. I'm going to turn on the lights and make some beer.
Cooks aren’t a dime a dozen
"Cooks are a dime a dozen", some people say and sometimes that is true. I have climbed the ranks to become a chef through various mediums but at the end of the day I am a simple cook at heart and always will be. I have been called everything from a kitchen rat, which I am, to a non-hacker, to an idiot for wanting to take on kitchen life for the duration of my career. I suppose there is some truth to all of that, but I freaking love it!!!!!
This is not about me though, this is about my incredible crew - the Vivant kitchen rats. Working here has many intangible bonuses but one my my favorites, besides the seemingly omnipresent Kludde hangover, is watching my guys in action. We have made somewhat of a reputation for food at the brewery and for that I am grateful and the credit for that should be spread accross our kitchen. Our success does not revolve around Chef Drew, as I am just a name and face. It belongs to the crew and their tireless dedication to something bigger than themselves; I am humbled to work side by side with all of them.
I have watched Brooks rise from a dishwasher to a line cook and become a pivotal part of the team. He went from scrubbing pots to putting out the food that we all care about so much and even handling inventory and portions of our food ordering. I watched Derek start as an overnight porter, who washed walls and cleaned bathrooms, rise to a dishwasher and then onto a prep cook. Tim, definitely our most made fun of guy in the kitchen, did not even make the cut when he first
applied but eventually he was persistent enough to get his foot in the door as a dishwasher. From there, he kept his head down and was elevated to a prep cook and eventually made his way to the line, where he really wanted to be. I have a sous chef, Curtis, who has answered the called and gotten our pricing and numbers in line while still managing to get his hands dirty and cook. I have a head line cook, Chris, who I absolutely admire and appreciate and would have no one
else in that role. By the way congrats on your new baby boy brother... There are so many others that I should mention but the intent is not to write a novel here. To them I say thank you for everything and you mean as much to me as the guys who's names I mentioned and then some.
I think it is amazing that most of our food is prepped out and produced by guys who have barely held a knife prior to Vivant. Our food is hard to produce as we are a from scratch kitchen but they have looked, listened, learned, and eventually executed it in a manner that I gladly attach my name to. I just wanted to take a minute and publicly thank the guys who do so much for me and Brewery Viavnt. You are appreciated and I hope you all stick around for a long time.
They say that smell is the one human sense that is closest linked to memory, and I believe it to be true. One waft of something familiar, and our bodies are transported back to a time and place long since past. We close our eyes over a lingering perfume, favorite dish, or winter wind and are ?ooded with thoughts and images.
When I was a young boy my great aunt died of cancer. I wouldn’t say she was particularly closer than any of my other relatives, but before she passed she was able to leave a curious imprint on my life. My father speaks fondly of her, and I always picture her as a wild gypsy-Italian woman in her younger years, part hippy and part disciplinarian. Walking into her home my head would spin with a heady mix of exotic spices and dusty wood, handmade baskets hanging from the ceiling and unknown delicacies bubbling on the stove. Her perpetual dark olive skin and thick black hair, perfume clinging to my face after being enveloped in an embrace.
In her house on a cabinet ?lled with dusty nicknacks, sat a needlepoint sachet with a scene of a Native American in a sun-?ltered forest. Filled with crushed pine needles, the smell of ancient generations of ancestors seemed to be distilled into this mundane object. Perhaps it’s more apparent this time of year, but now, whenever I catch the scent of evergreens, a kaleidoscope of images spin across my brain. Color, and shape, and sound, all pressed together in the burning sparkler of childhood reminiscence. The strange heirloom now resides somewhere in my father’s home, a piece of americana that still captures my imagination. It’s no wonder, then, why scent is such an incredibly primal instinct. It alerts us of danger, enhances our enjoyment of food and drink, and at the very best gives us a brief glimpse into the fabric of memory.
One Year Later
Hard to remember that this was all just a dream about a year ago. I remember walking into the old funeral home Chapel (now pub) for the first time. I saw the whole vision the instant I walked in. I knew it was going to be the perfect home for Brewery Vivant and pretty much threw all my chips in from that moment forward. This scene from Ghostbusters pretty much sums it up.
This coming Tuesday December 20 we are going to celebrate our 1 year anniversary. To keep with our commitment to our community we are conducting a raffle to benefit the Kids Food Basket. Bring a jar of peanut butter and you will receive one raffle ticket. No limit here folks. Load up the wheel barrel at the local store and come on down. You can win some cool prizes: four packs, hats, shirts, growlers, or get your tab for the night 100% comped. We are announcing winners and having a celebratory toast at 8:00. You don’t have to be present to win most things but it would be much cooler if you were there.
The boys in the Brewery brewed up a fantastic Belgian style quadrupel for the anniversary that we have named Hubris. It clocks in at about 13% abv so be careful with this one. We will tap it at 3:00 when we open and at 5:00 we tap a barrel aged Triomphe cask for the occasion. This is our IPA aged in Jack Daniels barrels then primed and carbonated in a cask.
We want to thank all the people that have supported us, the neighborhood for embracing us, and all the people that have been buying our beer both at the pub and across the State. This was a pretty big vision with a lot of unknowns. There were a lot of doubters that did not think a focus on French/ Belgian beer would work. Or that craft beer in a can would be accepted. I think we are proving them wrong. Come on down Tuesday and help us usher in an exciting year two.
Eat. Drink. Be Belgian for the day.
Why I do what I do
Why I do what I do:
- Food: I love food. I love the comforting smell of bacon being rendered that drifts through the brew pub and up to my office as I count the cash drawers in the morning. The fact that the kitchen crew is constantly trying new ingredients, new recipes, new dishes here at Vivant excites me and my palate. I am not a cook. I rarely even try to pretend to be able to dice vegetables or even brown meat on a stove. I’m intimidated by cook books, but I love to read them. The only exception is that I’m a natural with a grill or an open fire. I guess things just make more sense to me when I’m outside the confines of a kitchen and I don’t have to set down my beer to cook
- Beer: I love beer. My dad has always had a kegarator in the garage. I learned to pour a perfect pint for him and his guests when I was six years old. I was also taught to respect beer. I know how and when to enjoy an aromatic oatmeal stout (which we released last week) and I also know when a pitcher of PBR is the only appropriate decision. I also love wine and spent last year working with a winemaker in Southern Michigan. I wedged my way into the wine business by spending endless hours on a greasy tractor mowing up and down the endless rows of grape vines. As the sweaty summer months went on I graduated to leaf pulling, positioning the shoots, and hedging the vines. It helps to appreciate what you are consuming when you see it from the ground up – literally!
- People: Ah, the people. No offense, but you all can get exhausting! Hahaha. No really, I love people. I can embrace the challenges of an occasional angry customer because of the joy I feel when you, our guests, truly appreciate what we are doing. We wouldn’t be here without our customers, and seeing you enjoy your food and beer makes our work worthwhile.
All in all, my job is not the most glamorous position but it’s real and I love it and it is what I do. I get to work with a staff who is dedicated to Vivant despite their class schedules, their upcoming weddings, their newborn children and their volunteer projects. I get to educate people about the style of beer and food that we are so passionate about. Eating is one of the necessities of life, and I love that my job is to create a memorable experience out of a mundane action.
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” -- Virginia Woolf
Well here we are, the leaves are on the sidewalks now instead of the trees, my knit hat has replaced my bandana, and the turkeys are running around looking pretty nervous. I love this time of year. Besides all the old Charlie Brown holiday specials on the T.V., it's a month long last gasp before the snow and the cold take over and we all hunker down and start counting the days till the spring thaw, and despite all the stampeding shoppers and mall santas it's also a time of reflection. Maybe it's the short days, maybe it's the time spent together with family and friends, maybe it's the new year just a snowballs throw away, whatever it might be, we take a look back and raise a pint to those good days we have locked in our past. This is what these next few weeks are for, this is our real gift, this is the gift we often times forget to open. It is very easy to get bogged down in all the chaos of the season, those 12:00 a.m. sales, camping out in front of cookie cutter mega-stores fighting for that next in thing. Let's not forget this holiday season to all take a collective sigh and be thankful for those things which are really important.
Chef Drew gives his thanks for our veterans
How many times does one say thank you not because it is socially mandated, but actually really appreciates the subject of their congenial remark? I am a betting man and if I were to place a wager, I would put my money on "not that often".
That said, I want to give my true and heartfelt gratitude to our veterans on Veteran's Day. I have personally put in a lot of time overseas in support of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom and to all of you out there who have been to "the box", all I can say is thanks, good luck, and the Vivant family is here for you.
Rick is thankful for more than his amazing hair
The following is a list, in no particular order, of the top ten things I’m thankful for at Vivant.
1.) Our customers. You’re always right, some of the time. Without all of you, there wouldn’t be a need to make delicious beer and food. That is, of course, unless we decided to just have it all to ourselves. Fortunately, sharing is a good thing.
2.) Chef Drew’s liberal use of pork products. God bless that man.
3.) The beer! Heavens to Betsy we have some great beer. I’m thankful every day that I have the choice not to drink crappy domestic swill.
4.) Our awesome co-workers and staff. Life would be very dull without their constant stream of antics and entertainment, even if they make fun of my hair once in a while.
5.) I’m so appreciative of the great neighborhood we reside in. So many of us live and work in the area, and everyone has seemed to embrace what we try to do. Within 200 feet of our front door I could have a delicious lunch, buy my wife a new dress and flowers, get my hair cut, pick up some righteous new sunglasses, take yoga, and get a pair of travel underwear I can use days on end!
6.) Not just having a job, but working for owners that actually have vision and aren’t only here to make a cheap buck. They’re in for the long haul folks.
7.) The smell of the brewery from down the street. I live less than a block away, and I love stepping out and knowing our brewers have some magic going on. It’s like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. I can neither confirm nor deny the presence of Oompa Loompas.
8.) We’re microbrew canning pioneers. First, it’s totally rock and roll. Second, I can bring it to the beach. Third, Luke Skywalker would absolutely drink our beer from a can had he been able to access it. Heck, he probably would have even endorsed its deliciousness (not while driving the X-Wing).
9.) Communal seating. When I first saw the pub almost a year ago, this was one of the things that I liked most. It removes people from their comfort zone and gets them talking again. I mean, how often is it that you can simultaneously wrestle a juicy burger and make a new friend?
10.) Brewery Vivant is someplace I can feel good about working at. I know everyone has a job to do, but we’re certainly not in the business of dumping toxic sludge into the river or enslaving children to make knock off Gucci purses. In fact, we have the opposite mentality. Not because it is easy, but because it is the right thing to do.
Rick, Brewery Vivant Abbott of Beer
Why We Like Wood
Coming off our first Wood Aged Beer Festival, we are pretty stoked about our wood aged beers. We were not sure if the public would be ready for some of our creations but the day was filled with happy faces drinking bourbon aged and Belgian style sour beers alike. These beers are the pride of our brewers. They have been nurturing these beers along for the last 9 months while they slowly develop in their casks. I think the night before our festival I even saw our brewer Brian caressing and whispering softly to the barrel named “Angelina”. I think it paid off.
Using wood barrels to age and store beers is nothing new. Back even just 50 years ago before stainless steel was so prevalent, most brewers aged their beer in wood. However they did it for different reasons as that was pretty much their only option. Most did not have the intention of imparting any flavors of the wood into the beer, in fact, for most brewers the goal was the opposite as they were looking to move their beer through as neutral as possible. The challenge with using wood for beer is that the wood is porous and can hide bacteria & yeasts that can alter the flavor of your beer. This can be harmful if you are trying to make a clean tasting lager.
What we are doing with wood is trying to tease out all of the flavor that we can. The complexity you can get from wood barrels can add a whole new profile to a beer. The oak barrels give off a natural flavor called “vanillin” which as it suggests gives off the soft essence of vanilla. Toast levels of barrels can increase the intensity of this flavor as well. A lot of the barrels we use are from Jack Daniels Distillery. In making bourbon, by law they can only use the barrel once. When they are done with them they try to find homes for them. If they cannot, they are destroyed or burned. We are happy to oblige in providing these poor little abandoned barrels a nice home. Bourbon barrels give off smoky, charcoal, and all around bourbon-esque flavors to the beer. Mostly we have been brewing a dark beer to match up with these flavors which turns out truly wonderful. However we have been experimenting with aging our hop forward Triomphe in these barrels as well and have been loving the results. Keep an eye out for more of this to start flowing out of our taps and a few select bars around the state later this year.
We have also been playing around with making sour beers. We intentionally inoculate the barrels with some bacteria and wild yeast which make a happy home in the pores of the wood. Ones these bugs are in there, you can never get them out. That is alright because we love it. Depending on the mix of cultures we put in, it sours the beer to different degrees. Each barrel is given a woman’s name so we can track each barrel’s characteristics as the beer matures over weeks and months. We monitor the barrel (by frequently tasting) to see how it is maturing. If our brewers like the way it tastes straight out of the barrel then we keg it up. If they are looking for something else out of the beer they may do some blending of beer from a few different casks. This is the brewer’s prerogative and I find it best to just let them do their thing. So far I would say it has worked really well because these guys are making some killer beers. Cheers to Head Brewer Jacob Derylo and his assistant brewer Brian “the Bomber” Kuszynski for all their hard work. Now that we have built up a bit of inventory we plan to always have at least one of these sour or bourbon aged beers on tap at our pub. So stop on down and try some. You won’t regret it. If you want to see more of what we do, then stop down for one of our Saturday tours. We do them at noon and 2:00 every Saturday. No need for reservations, just stop in. You can meet Angelina, Cassandra, Hiromi, or Grandma-ma while you are here.
We want to give you wood
"We want to give you wood." If you haven't seen them yet, that is what our posters and post cards say advertising our upcoming barrel aged celebration. Similar to the Big Red Coq, this could be misconstrued by some less than saintly monks. So just to clarify... it's a rooster, and it's about beer. I have been asked to write a blog about wood. (Sadly, I tend to have as dirty a mind as some of the dudes who work here, but I blame it on the fact that I work with so many dudes with dirty minds...) I won't go there though because there is a lot of appropriate things to write about wood.
I happen to love wood; wood burning stoves, hiking in the woods, and smoking duck breasts over wood chips. My favorite class in middle school was wood shop where I made a baseball bat and a clock that still ticks on the mantle at my parents' house. Did you know that there is archaeological proof that the Neanderthals used toothpicks?
In my line of work as a restaurant manager, with long hours and always being around people, I really need to escape in to the woods sometimes. I need to go for long, quiet bike rides, or go hunting or fishing. My favorite thing to do, rain, shine or even snow is to go camping. All kinds of camping; I have camped in remote parts of the Peruvian Andes where running water and the nearest towns were a day's hike away, and I have also set up my tent in RV jungles with screaming children and swimming pools. No matter what the situation, the smell of a campfire and the flickering of flames on burning wood is what I look forward to.
A friend recently equated campfires as "the warm hug at the end of the day." Throughout human history the smell of burning wood has been the comforting experience at the end of a long, arduous day. Generation upon generation shares this tradition that is unique to humans. After the sun has set, wood gives us light, warmth and a sense of security as we break bread and share stories with our tribe.
So, is it coincidence that we love the taste of smoked ham hocks, charred steak, or the smokiness of an aged wine, whiskey, cognac or scotch?
This weekend, we at Brewery Vivant will celebrate the art of aged beer. We are going to give you wood-aged beers and grilled sausages on Saturday, October 22 from 1-9pm in the beer garden!
We hope to see you there,
The Bearded Man Behind the Beer
Hey all this is Jacob. For those of you who don't know me I am the Head Brewer here at Vivant. Usually they keep me chained to the brewhouse, nothing but spent grain to sustain me, a pillow of hops for my head and grain sacks for my bed. Yes I know there are times when I gnaw through my chains and escape to the pub for a few beers and some human contact but I am quickly corralled and put back in my proper place. I am not looking for sympathy, nor do I feel this is unwarranted, the simple fact is craft brewers tend to be a pretty motley bunch. After eleven years in the industry I have seen quite a lot. The mineral content of your water changes without warning; you go into a four day rage. The glycol chiller breaks down over night and your fermentation temps are four degrees higher than they should be; hide the women and children. Someone asks you why you don't make something like a Bud Light; well trust me, just don't ask that. But you can also trust me on this, we all love what we do, and we do have fun, actually we have a lot of fun. There is no greater satisfaction than nurturing a beer from grain to the pint glass. It's pretty cool. This is probably why craft brewers are a tight knit community. We all get that same feeling when we see someone out drinking our beer, that all the headaches and heartaches, the stuck fermentations and stuck mashes, it's all worth it. We are in the business of giving you, the craft beer drinker, something a little more. We take this trust in us very seriously. Every beer we make is a reflection of who we are and what we believe. The belief that the local, little guy can carve out their niche in an industry mainly dominated by just a handful of large breweries and make a difference. There's a reason I do what I do. I love making beer, it's almost as much fun as drinking it.
Grand Rapids Incorporated
Local, it’s a word that’s often tossed around like money and seems to be a synonym for fad and hip. It’s a marketing term, a cash cow, a Babe Ruth home run. I’ve spent the last 5 years of my young adult life in metropolises far away from anything that resembles that word, yet seemingly always holding forth the golden promise of some semblance of community, if only I could meet the right people, have a cool job, go to the dog park on the yuppie side of town more often.
However, it is those exact reasons that have led me back here, to good old Grand Rapids. When the word local is used here, we mean it. Here, by definition, it’s someone who is busting their butt every day making something artisanal. And man, have you got to try it. As a state, we are fifth (and growing) in the nation for number of breweries, and second in the nation for agricultural diversity. Combined with the bloom of art and culture as of late, we are a city poised to lead this great state out of the doom and gloom of the automobile and manufacturing industry that we have all clung to for far too long. What if we peer into this bright future on the horizon and see a local economy that is design-centric? A view to a culture where the artist and craftsperson is revered on the same level as the CEO and lawyer. But, we need each other to accomplish this. To put our fast food buying, mega store shopping habits to rest, and instead invest our hard earned dollars into the local economy which can sustain us. Imagine you were a real share holder in the business of Grand Rapids Incorporated, where would you put your money?
Assistant Manager and Abbot of Beer
Food is Life
I was at the farmer's market recently, one of the days that I went and did not send one of my monkeys from the kitchen, and it really got me thinking. It got me thinking about Bordeaux, as I used to live there, and it brought back some memories that really hit home. When I was in France I was cooking for a chateau and I was fresh out of culinary school so a lot of my skills were untested and raw. At the outside markets in France they sell everything based on "implied" knowledge. For example, when you purchase a duck, it comes whole and you are expected to know the following: how to break it down, how to render and save the fat and how to actually cook the meat once these two things have been done. To me this is cooking at its finest - going into a place, seeing what is available and creating a meal based on your surroundings.
There are vast differences in the French markets and ours here in GR, the main one being you can drink openly in the French markets... but the idea is the same. Sometimes being a chef is a real grind as there is far more to it than just cooking. We answer to 'foodies" who cook a couple of great meals a year and think that they have the right to rip you apart online. We have to deal with coolers breaking down, cooks injuring themselves, food cost, labor cost, the constant questions that come from the entire staff at every hour of every day; to the point I can barely stand the sound of my own name. We deal with ice machine faliures, stoves going out, orders not being correct, employee theft, mass media in the form of doing interviews on that radio, magazine articles, and TV appearances; we do most of this hungover too, by the way. We are constantly bombarded by sales people to the point that one must run and hide somtimes. We have to make sure the linens are in and clean and the chemical company has sprayed for bugs.
We have constant turnover and often times find ourselves taking money out of our pocket to cover cooks because they can not handle thier money. This list goes on and on but, in short, you get the idea.
All of that said going to the market is pure, revivtalizing, and leaves me feeling free; it is my drug of choice I guess. I can escape the kitchen and be amongst the farmers who are, in my eyes, the real heros. I love and respect the local farmer and am so happy that Viavant can support them every time that market is open. Running our market menu has been a real chance to get to know these guys and see thier struggles and have a chance to relate to them on a personal level. Their product is exceptional and I find them to all be very kind and in some ways brave people. Life is not easy fo them but yet they wake up and pour their soul into what they do - I am impressed!
At Vivant, my task is to take thier wares and turn them into something beautiful and I take that seriously - I want them to be proud of their food when it hits the plate and I take being the medium for that very seriously. So before the fall comes in get out there and see what I mean - there is no better way to spend a Saturday morning and you will be doing something healthy for yourself and your family. I run by one simple motto: food is life, and it it is my job to make it beautiful.
So I am sitting here having a late night beer at home (...OK so it was three beers) and am feeling pretty loose. I am pondering the state of the beer industry. It is definitely a good time to be a brewer! Ten years ago I remember having the hardest time trying to sell craft beer to people. Most wanted nothing to do with it. I would explain the tastes that come from crafting beer in small batches, with only wholesome ingredients, special yeasts and given the time to mature but would get nothing back but blank stares. People where just unaware of the joys of a good beer. These were the days when you had to explain what Pale Ale was. (Yes kids, I even remember days before cell phones too. Darn you young whipper snappers!)
Now times have changed. People have tuned into supporting their local businesses. Whether that be the brewer, the baker, the farmer, or the candle stick maker. This is awesome time to be an artisan business. Buying local makes sense. The biggest influence people have is to vote with where and what they spend their dollars on. That is what moves things along. Retailers that would at one time, never think about taking in a craft beer are now finding success with it. This is all because this is what the consumer is asking for and they are reacting to that. “What do you have that is made local?” That phrase is the driving force that makes the retailers respond. I hate to think this is a fad or a trend. It just makes sense. Support the businesses in your community and your community thrives. That does not seem like something that will get old to me. That is just smart.
We all are busy. Trying something new can be such a risk. It is comfortable to stick with something you know, something neutral, something inexpensive...something bland. That is also boring! Push your self a bit. Take a risk on that $5 loaf of local bread vs the $3 generic. That $10 block of cheese vs the $6 yellow shiny one in shrink wrap. That $12 four pack of craft beer vs the $12 twelve pack of bland fizzy lager. Live a little, it may just surprise you that these small affordable luxuries make a big enough difference to improve the outlook of your day. Enjoying a tasteful beer, cheese or bread (three things I could happily live on) can be the difference in turning an otherwise bad day into a pretty darn good one. Also, who knows, you (or your kids) may end up working at one of these local companies someday. Nobody knows where our economy is going, but supporting your local businesses definitely can not hurt things.
I invite you to come on in for a tour of our brewery. We do these twice every Saturday at noon and 2:00. Get to know us. See what and how we do what we do. No need to call ahead. Just come on down. $5 gets you a great experience, a great time, and four beer samples of your choice at the end. Got relatives in town? Perfect. Show them a taste of what Grand Rapids Michigan has to offer.
The cans are rolling
There was some initial hesitation from a few accounts on whether or not people would be willing to buy a craft beer in a can. I think it is safe to say that people can handle it. They have gone over really well actually. There is just that initial bias that "good beer does not come in cans." Once people try the beer and understand the environmental advantages, it is not a far trip to recognize this is a good package for craft beer. (Also does not hurt that the beer is pretty tasty if i do say so myself). I have gotten quite a few e-mails from kayakers, campers, boaters and golfers that have all been pretty fired up to take our beer with them on their activities.
I also have gotten quite a few e-mails from people wondering when we are going to get our beer to other parts of the State and Chicago area. Trust me, our guys have been brewing their asses off trying to make more beer. Sales locally have been so strong that, until the recent addition of our new fermenter, we where not able to send any beer outside the greater Grand Rapids area. Thank you GR for embracing our rustic Belgo-Franco inspired beers. We are now setting our sites on the next area we will start shipping to. I will keep you posted on how and where that all rolls out to.
I know, I know. My blogging has been pretty spotty. As far as excuses go I have a long list. New baby, just moved into a new place, and we are busy making beer! I will try to be better.
One of the things we have been most excited about here at Vivant is our barrel aging program for specialty beers. On Monday we will release on tap our first sour beer. This is a style famous in Belgium which uses wild yeast and bacteria not normally welcome in a brewery. However under the right conditions it creates a unique beer with hints of acidity, tart cherries, & oak all wrapped up in tasty dark liquid. Jacob and Brian in the brewery have been nurturing this beer along, tasting it every week (I know, rough job right?) and have declared it ready. Come on down and try some this Monday June 6 while it lasts. Our staff is so excited about you may see a bunch of us thirstily awaiting the first tapping.
It’s spring at Brewery Vivant
We welcomed our Spring menu Monday as we also welcomed some more snow. My wife Kris summed it up the best when came downstairs. She just looked out the window, said nothing, gave the proverbial bird, and went on with her business. What else can you do? That is why we Michiganders pursue our Spring/ Summer so passionately. After our winters we are ready to burn the candle at both ends.
Our Zaison Super Saison Ale came out at the pub recently to rave reviews. It is bigger than what may be considered a traditional Saison, coming in at 8.5 to 9% abv but it is really tasty. Some may argue with me that Saisons are supposed to be light and low in alcohol. Fooey. I have talked with brewers in Belgium and France and the one take away I got is that you follow your own artistic path with beer. This is how this beer wanted to be and who was I to try and lighten it up? It is made with telicherry black peppercorns and orange peel added to the boil which give it a little extra zing. Which is pretty cool since I first developed this beer while working at Zingerman's Roadhouse in Ann Arbor. I still dream of their legendary beef brisket and pimento mac & cheese, both of which go great with this beer. The funky Belgo-Franco yeast and subtle spices bring out the flavors of all sorts of foods. I like it with grilled meats like our steak frites or burger which tend to bring out the pepper-iness of the beer. However it also goes well with softer dishes like the deviled farm eggs with capers and lemon zest where the orange-citrus character of the beer lends itself nicely. My all around favorite however is to just pair it up with the artisanal cheese board. I think I could live on Belgian beer, cheese, and good bread.
So let’s talk menu. Escargot anyone? Yes those are snails and damn they are good. Don't be a wuss, try them! Have you ever had ratatouille? No it is not just a Disney movie, it is a traditional side dish from France that chef Drew has outdone himself on. It is served on the side of the Sautéed Soft Shell Crab dish. The Smoked Salmon Rillettes are now my favorite appetizer... although the Great Lakes Caviar on Farmhand beer-cream is a tough one to beat. Drew and crew were given a challenge to create tasty traditional foods that can match our unique styles of beer. I think they have done their homework.
Yes we hear you Vegetarians. We have a couple new items for you as well. Our Sage Tagliatelle pasta with onion confit, local asparagus and Kal-Carbon goat cheese cream is awesome whether you are a vegetarian or not. Also we have a fantastically unique Watermelon Salad with olive oil, goat feta, pine nuts and mint. It is listed on the menu with speck (which is like prosciutto but even better) so just be sure to order it meatless and you will be very happy. Also our frites are always vegan as are all of our beers.
Grand Opening time
We are getting ready to celebrate our Grand Opening right after a little St. Patricks Day fun. Look for tents going up Thursday morning. Our brewer Jacob brewed up a special Belgian Black beer that we will be serving on nitrogen (pours like Guinness) that will be be tasty on its own, but will allow us to make some Black & Tans too. We also have a roaming bagpipe player that will put everyone in an Irish mood.
Friday is the official start to our Grand Opening. $10 at the door starting at 2:00 will get you a really nice Vivant Grand Opening pint glass and includes your first beer. We will be pouring a special oak aged beer at 4:00 from our 9 liter bottle for a little crowd pleaser, then welcoming the B-side Growlers for some nice Pub music starting at 7:00.
Saturday's schedule goes something like this: we open the doors at 11:00. Same deal as before, $10 at the door gets you a commemorative glass (while they last) and your first beer. We have special wood aged beers being cracked open at 2:00 and 4:00. Our roaming accordion players will be setting the mood for merriment around 3:00. At 6:00 join us for a few welcoming words from the owners followed by a "toasting wave" where we will try to get everyone to clink glasses. It will start in the balcony, go up and down the long tables, around the room, out to the tent and back up to the balcony. We will try to capture this on film and post on our site.
What is the best kind of music to drink beer to?...Polka of course! Not that it is Belgian at all but just sounded like fun. Virgil and the Just 4 Fun Band will get everyone in the beer drinking mood starting at 7:00. One great thing is that after a beer or two, everyone knows how to Polka. Should be lots of fun. Hope you all can make it.
Almost forgot to mention the ice sculpture beer mugs. The are huge, they are cool (literally), and made by our friends down the street. Pose for a picture and enjoy a cold one. See you this weekend!
Belgian style beer in a can? yep
So it looks like the cat is out of the bag. Some crafty beer detectives have found our label approvals on the government site and broke the story that we are going to be canning our beer instead of bottling. So we might as well fess up and talk about it. I wanted to hit the streets with this package in the Spring and not announce anything until we had the beer ready. Oh well...
Here is the scoop. We think this is going to be an awesome package and it really fits our sustainability mission. When we looked at the aluminum cans vs bottles there were numerous advantages and it became a no-brainer decision. Aluminum is much more easily recycled, the cans themselves contain a high percentage of already recycled material, and the aluminum from cans is able to be up-cycled into equal or other higher value products. This is in contrast to glass which is much heavier to ship, is usually down-cycled into things like concrete mix, and is very energy intense to recycle. Additional to all of these great environmental reasons, the can actually provides better protection to the beer than bottles do. No light can get in to degrade the hop character and there are lower oxygen pick ups which protect the flavor of the beer. Also, how cool will it be to drink a great Belgian style beer out of a can? (but pour in a proper glass please, we are not savages)
This package will make it easier to enjoy all the things we do on the lakeshore in the summer time. Take it places where only swill beer has dominated thus far; golf course, beaches, boats, etc. I don't golf that often (not sure if what I do can even be called golf) but when I do, I would much rather have a beer that I enjoy and I am going to guess I that I am not alone on this.
I will post a peak at our first three labels in our packaged beer section on our website.
...Yes, we can
....Can't wait to get started packaging.
...We can really make a big difference to our environment
...Can anyone stop me from making bad one liners?
...makes me proud to be an American
..hope this does not cause a scandal
...Ok I am done
Superbowl done Vivant style- human powered TV
So we have been open for just over a month. I have really enjoyed the atmosphere in our Pub, partly because we do not have a TV. I think this has helped promote conversation among our guests and allowed people to meet their neighbors and better their overall experience. The community tables also have helped contribute to this camraderie. Nothing like sitting at a 20 ft table with 18 other people, enjoying a pint of beer to help start up a conversation.
As much as we like things the way they are we have gotten quite a few requests for watching games and events at the Brewery. After much thought we have come up with a solution that will allow us to maintain our atmosphere, work within our sustainibility goals, and show some games...
Starting this Sunday for the Superbowl, we will debut our large screen LED TV...however this one will be bike powered. You want to watch something? Then someone is going to have to pedal for it. The low powered LED TV needs about 120 watts of power to operate. An average person can generate about 110 watts through normal to vigorous pedaling. We will have a bike generator that will power a battery in which the TV will be plugged into. Come check it out, we are going to have a great time. (We may also need some riders)
We are also having a special Superbowl only menu for the day.
- House cured BBQ ribs: half or full rack with frites
- Sliders & frites
- Sirracha wings
- Duck Nachos with brie cheese
- Veggie Nachos
Join us for the most unique Superbowl party in Grand Rapids!
beer and food experience
We have been open for just over a month. Just want to thank everyone who gets what we are trying to accomplish and appreciates it. As anyone who has stopped in can tell, we are taking a different approach to our beer and food than what people think typical of a brew-pub or bar. Our goal is to explore traditional and new ways that food and beer can accompany each other to elevate the enjoyment of both. People think of food and wine pairing but discount the fact that beer is an even better partner for food. The ranges of accompanying flavors we can explore for food and beer are vast.
With that, we are excited to be creating great dishes from scratch based on Belgian and French countryside fare. The preparations can be long and tedious, but the results are fantastic. I am really proud that Chef Drew and his staff have brought forward such great food to accompany Jacob’s tasty brews. We use organic and humanely raised meat products whenever possible which adds cost, but we think it is worth it since it leads to better flavor, better health, and helps to support those growers that take the extra love and care to do things the right way.
We realize that we are pushing some new territory with our beer and food approach, but in doing so we hope to create a special beer and food experience for you.
Duck butter, walnut & fig country pate, cassoulet, curried mussels, artisan cheeses...this sounding good to anyone? We plan to launch our full menu on Friday. This is going to be a pretty unique menu and we are really excited about bringing it to you. We are also creating some great food friendly beer that will start to make an appearance over the next couple weeks. Stay tuned and i will tell you more about what is coming down the pipe...
addition to the brewery staff
My writing has been a little silent, but as far as excuses go,I have a pretty good one. Just over a week ago my wife and I had our son: Oliver. Not sure I would recommend having a baby and starting a new business in the same month, but what the hell, why not? While I have been pre-occupied the staff at the brewery has been charging ahead. We have some new beers on tap and a few more coming down the pipe. Also we plan to launch our full menu starting next Friday.
Here is our new little brewer...
Chef or Superhero?
Not to brag, but that was a fine burger I had last night! Chef Drew and the kitchen crew (that kind of sounds like the name of a band) are putting out some great food right out of the gate on our limited menu. Our burger is a blend of sustainably raised Niman Ranch beef cuts of hanger steak, top sirloin, and short ribs served on a pretzel roll. It comes with a side of bacon-onion marmalade, and our kick ass pomme frites (twice cooked Belgian fries). Heard several people say that was the best burger they ever had. I am excited for what is to come on the food front. Damn that guy can cook!
We R open
So we have been open all of two days. Thanks everyone for coming in. It has been a bit of a whirlwind and not everything is as finished as I would like; but the beer taste great so that is the important part. We are operating on cash only basis for now because Comcast has left me in the lurch (no surprise) &%#$#@(& Comcast!!! Also have no phone number for the same reason, arrrrggg.
We have all of our logo clothing in as of today, stop down and check it out if you need that last minute Christmas gift. You can also pick up growlers to-go and gift cards. We are going to be open for New Years Eve with both reserved tables with a fabulous menu and open tables for those who just want snack and drinks. Chef Drew is dying to start cooking some of his tasty recipes. Anyone interested can e-mail us at email@example.com and we can get you more details.
here is the scoop
Alright, so people want to know what is going on. I have been pretty tight lipped as I hate to say one thing and have something else happen. This whole process has had more ups and downs than kangaroo in an elevator. (...just made that up).
So here is the unfiltered scoop. Everything is in place, we are ready to roll, mostly. We busted ass and got the place ready to go to open this weekend. The only thing missing was our final license from the State. The one person that processes these things in Lansing took the afternoon off to go Christmas shopping and left us in purgatory. So we will patiently wait and hope it comes through on Monday. If so we will have a quiet pre-opening through the Holiday week, opening at 3:00. Our menu is developed but we have not been able to cook anything until just now. So we are going to open with just the essentials; beer, wine, hard cider and some light snacks. So come thirsty but not too hungry. We hope to launch with our full menu later in mid January. Chef Drew is going to work on finalizing everything (the menu looks killer) and will be introducing menu items as go. So keep tuned in and we will let you know when we know. I think I aged 5 years this week.
It is shaping up around here. Almost makes it more torturous to be so close but not open yet. We got our lighting wired in this week an it looks great. We were able to salvage some of the original Chapel lights by getting them re-done at Bridgestreet Electric, thanks Jim they look awesome! The fellas at Studio Wise are kicking butt on a very cool bar. It matches the limestone Belgian-monk-style-archway overhead. The back bar is all set for some of our gold rimmed goblets for the Monk Club members. We start taking on members starting Monday at noon.
The barnwood tables should be set in place next week. We have two 19 ft long euro-style seating tables that we call community tables. The idea is to get people to meet and talk to others in the community. Some of the best times I have had in Europe have been finding a seat next to some locals, sharing a local beer and having a brief conversation to get a feel for the flavor of the town. We hope to promote this same type of community feel at our Brewery. We are not sure when we are going to actually open yet. Still have to pass some inspections and get our final permits. Stay tuned and we will let you know as soon as we do.
Here we go
Starting a brewery. I thought it would be easier the second time around. Guess not. Just different challenges for a different economic time. None-the-less; we pulled it off! Brewery Vivant is about to open its doors.
The brewery equipment is in place; the interior is almost finished; the menu is written; the kitchen is being assembled. I am also proud to say that we have begun to hire people. We expect to bring on about 35 people from the get go and see how things go from there. We hope to welcome the public sometime before the end of the year. Keep an eye on our site and we will let you know when we will start pouring.
Thanks to everyone that has helped us get this thing off the ground.