Thursday, May 30, 2013

West Michigan Beer Rallies Behind Independent Beer Tasting Class

Written by  Ben Darcie
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West Michigan Beer Rallies Behind Independent Beer Tasting Class

When it comes to Beer Class season, people often ask me how it got started, and who is putting it on.
West Michigan Beer Rallies Behind Independent Beer Tasting ClassI'll start with the latter first: A class of this magnitude is commonly thought to only be possible through a big business or organization, but that is not the case. This class is completely grassroots, started by myself in 2011 with the help of many local businesses and establishments. It is a class put on by the community, for the community.

As to the beginnings of the class, I had noted many small tasting classes popping up around the state, but all of them were occasional and usually ended within the hour and a half range. This wasn't enough for me, personally, and I wanted to design my own class – the type of beer tasting class that I would want to take.

Beer is a massive topic – you could spend a lifetime studying any of its facets and never learn it all. So I decided to split the class into weekly meetings designed to focus on beer tasting relative to world styles. After sitting down and outlining the styles to focus on, I ended up with a 10 week class, covering everything from the basics of beer ingredients, through the beer styles, and finishing with infection and off-flavors.

After some trimming and the inclusion of a week dedicated to Michigan Cider, the class ended up at a wonderful 9 weeks, and is the only extensive beer tasting class in the state.

The 2012 GRBTC brought about an angle of the class that I hadn't been able to accomplish the first year, and this year has truly let this aspect shine: the panel.

As I said, this class wouldn't be possible without the community surrounding it, and there is no greater example of that than the panel-style classes. Brewers and homebrewers from all over West Michigan give up their time to be involved in this unique experience, offering their voices, opinions, and experience to the weekly discussion and tasting, also giving the participants a unique opportunity to have face time with the faces and hands behind the beer they love.

The panel consists of myself, one to two professional brewers, and two to three homebrewers weekly. This style is very immersive and allows the class to be taught by multiple persons as we follow the night's discussion outline.

Each week's class is split into two sections: the talk and the tasting.

The talk examines the style's origins – where it came from, how it was brewed, how it rose to popularity – to how it's brewed today. The tasting portion is a class-wide tasting of two world-class examples of the style and comparing it to the BJCP (Beer Judges Certification Program) guidelines.

One of the most important rules that I teach over and over is that you are never wrong.

No two noses are the same, no two palates are the same. What I taste may be different from what you taste, and your nose may detect something that mine does not. This is the core idea of the class.

The GRBTC is designed to expose you to the ingredients and process that makes beer, but more importantly, how to talk about it. How to describe beer and put words to your flavor experience, while learning world styles and tasting along the way.

The atmosphere of the class is very relaxed. It's a comfortable environment for everyone – if you want to ask a question, ask it! If something didn't make sense to you, bring it up! The class is designed to embrace brewers and non-brewers, people who have been tasting beer for years, and those who just discovered it. It's welcoming, it's understanding, and made to be a relaxed, informative experience for everyone.

Every week is designed to focus on not only a world beer style, but also an aspect of brewing that goes along with that style (IPA – brewing with hops; Browns, Porters, Stouts – designing a malt bill, etc.). Brewing is an important aspect of the class, as you have to understand where these flavors come from before you really get into tasting them.

Here is the class schedule for the 2013 Grand Rapids Beer Tasting Class:

WEEK 1: June 2nd

Introduction - Getting to know Beer Ingredients – Water, Malt, Hops, Yeast

Featuring: Jackson Vandyke, Owner/Brewer, Harmony Brewing Company

WEEK 2: June 9th

Introduction – The Brewing Process

Featuring: Adam Mills, Headbrewer, Cranker's Brewery / Aaron Stryker, Brewer, Cranker's Brewery

WEEK 3: June 16th

LAGER/PALE ALE – The Art of Lagering / The American Standard

Featuring: Chas Thompson, Beer Engineer, Schmohz Brewing Co.

WEEK 4: June 23

IPA/DIPA – Hops and Brewing With Them

Feauturing: Robert “Wob” Wanhatalo, Brewer, The Mitten Brewing Co. / Adam Mills, headbrewer, Cranker's Brewery

WEEK 5: June 30th

*FIELD TRIP* Belgian Ales @ Brewery Vivant

Featuring: Jacob Derylo, Headbrewer, Brewery Vivant / Alex Atkin, Brewer, Brewery Vivant


WEEK 6: July 7th

BROWN, PORTER, STOUT – Designing a Malt Bill

Featuring: Amanda Geiger, Brewer, Hideout Brewing Co.


WEEK 7: MICHIGAN CIDER w/ Vandermill, The People's Cider Co., and Robinette's

Featuring: Paul Vander Heide, Vandermill / Jason Lummen, The People's Cider / Jim Robinette, Robinette's

WEEK 8: July 21st

EXTREME BEERS – High Gravity Brewing, Barrel Aging, Bottle Aging

Featuring: Nick Lavelle, Brewer, Hideout Brewing Co.


WEEK 9: July 28th


Featuring: TBA

To bring it back to the sense of community surrounding this class, it wouldn't be possible without the support of local businesses and establishments. Harmony Brewing Company is hosting the class for the second year, and I'm proud to announce the return of Siciliano's Market and O'Conner's Homebrew supply as sponsors, as well as I'm a Beer Hound.

I'm truly honored to be supported by the West Michigan brewing community, without them all, the class may never have happened. I thank everyone involved infinitely for their involvement and support, this year's class is going to be quite the experience for one and all.

The cost per class is 10$ and includes your first pint of Harmony beer, the class, and the group tasting pours. This is not a money-making endeavor, it's about keeping the class going, taking care of our gracious host, and keeping the class accessible to everyone.

The class is open, so anyone can come – but the class has grown tremendously over the last three years, and this year's class is limited to only 40 seats. If you want to reserve a seat, you can sign up for free by emailing This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with what weeks you want a seat for.

For those of you not in Grand Rapids, worry not! In 2014, I am planning on bringing the GRBTC to Grand Haven and Kalamazoo. I can't wait to raise a glass with those cities, too!

Join the group on facebook for updates on the class! Search “The Grand Rapids Beer Tasting Class”.

The Grand Rapids Beer Tasting Class

June 2nd – July 28th, Sunday Evenings, 4-6:30pm, 21+

$10 at the door includes your first Harmony brew, the class, and the group tasting pours.

Email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to reserve your seats!

Ben Darcie

Ben Darcie

Ben Darcie has been homebrewing since 2006 and is currently the Brewery Representative for Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids, MI. He also provides public and private Beer Education and is a Beer Writer for BeerAdvocate, I'm a Beer Hound and three other Michigan publications. He is also the founder of Experience Beer WM and the 9wk Grand Rapids Beer Tasting Class (est. 2010).