Friday, June 29, 2012

Hop Cats Brewery, Grand Rapids, MI

Reviewer: Dan

The Location:
While in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on June 29, 2012, I had the pleasure of touring a couple of local breweries. Hop Cats Brewery is located in the heart of downtown in the same block as the Van Andel Arena. This area is very nice. Everything is within easy walking distance and is a very safe and updated part of town. 

The Ambiance: 
 The outdoor patio area is small, but nice. The main focus is definitely on the inside, with a feel very much congruent to the type of the establishment. Long and narrow is the main area, as you would expect to find downtown.  Lots of knickknacks adorn the walls and look like they were purchased from our American Picker friends on the History Channel. In addition, there is some nice local artwork displayed (Grand Rapids has a great art/music cultural aspect to the personality of the town). Once you get into the bathrooms (I speak only for the men’s room), you are greeted with fantastic posters/photos of celebrity greats like Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and Richard Pryor, as well as some old-school seductive, but not nude, artwork above the urinals.
The artwork on the walls barely competes with the artwork you will find on your servers’ and bartenders’ skin, with some badass tattoos to spice up the service. Pretty sure I didn’t see a single employee without skin ink, so it must be a prerequisite for employment…
This is a pretty loud joint, which is great for the group gatherings, but don’t plan to bring a sophisticated date here in hopes of a focused get-to-know-you session. The music was a great selection of sing-along bar tunes for all ages (those that are now 21 and up, anyways).

The Food:
I had the “Bad Ass Fish Sandwich” for my meal there, with a side of “Crack Fries.” Both stood true to their descriptions. The fish sandwich was unlike anything I’ve ever had before with a very unique breading. The only downside was that you need to check your teeth afterwards to avoid the embarrassing peppercorn-in-your-smile look. Trust me. I share this because of my intimate experience with said peppercorn. I’ve had a lot of really good fries in my day, and the crack fries most certainly rank up there with the very best. *** For users of Foursquare, a check-in at the Hop Cats Brewery will net you a complimentary ½ order of the crack fries. *** And, yes, I did have another order of the crack fries with my dinner and was not tired of them by the end. My local contacts report that they’ve never heard any bad reviews of any food on the menu.

The Beer: 
With an international selection of 48 beers on tap and many more bottles, this place is definitely of the Brew Pub category. The menu is extensive and includes bottled options as well, for those who prefer bottle to tap (although I will never understand this approach). All of the Michigan brews are highlighted appropriately on the menu to help guide the folks there for local-only beer. That’s a huge plus in my book for their menu design.
My choice from the Hop Cats Brewery for the evening was the Hoppopotamus IPA (6.4%). Good beer with a smooth finish, but not as hoppy as some of its competitors. Still worth a try if you like IPA.
Against my better judgment, I was lured into trying some other local beers that weren’t brewed in-house. This is the advantage of the brew pub… This is where I tried my first Centennial IPA from Founders Brewery in Grand Rapids (see the Founders post), which was worth writing home about. I also tried a pint of the Conniption Fit Double IPA (8%) brewed at the Atwater Block Brewery in Detroit. While the Hoppopotamus was a good beer, the Conniption Fit definitely excelled in taste with an obvious advantage in the ABV category too.

The Summary: 
Fun place with lots of good, old fashioned, brew-pub class. Emily was a great bartender with a friendly attitude and good knowledge of the beer. Don’t forget to check-in on Foursquare when you’re there, because you definitely want to visit this cool joint. Despite the recent addition of a Buffalo Wild Wings (local fought hard, in vain, to keep them out) just one block away, Hop Cats shines as a fantastic [and local, keep in mind] hangout that blows the competition out of the water.

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