Founders Brewing Company's latest growth plans include a "beer school" and expansive beer garden

The brisk business growth and physical expansions at Founders Brewing Co. are nearly impossible to keep up with, but the plans for this summer's revamp of the front parking area, as well as development of an educational facility, will put local fans in ringside seats.

Phase 2 of Founders' $26 million expansion (235 Grandville Ave. SW, Grand Rapids) is ready to kick in with the development of a "beer school" educational facility and a beer garden that co-owner Mike Stevens calls with a chuckle, "a drinkin' man's Disneyland."

The 3,000-square-foot beer garden will replace the current front parking lot with outdoor fire pits, stonework and brick, a full-functioning bar with a rooftop structure, plenty of comfortable seating, and "a lot of landscaping, to make it a true beer garden," Stevens says. Founders' expansive 1,400-square-foot front porch will remain, and will be just a couple of steps above the beer garden to make it feel like it's all one space.

Radiant heating in the beer garden's floor, and above-floor heat, will make it a functioning space even in cooler weather.

Indoors, plans to add an educational space for teaching/learning about beer move forward. Those plans coincide with the construction of a two-story office space connected to the brewery.

"Our position on this whole craft beer industry is that we need to educate people as to what's representative of really good quality beer," Stevens says. "Everyone's excited about craft beer, but the craft beer industry only has six percent of the drinking public, so there's a lot of opportunity out there. One of the best ways to grow that opportunity is by educating the general public on craft beer."

Stevens says Founders is "getting very serious" about creating the educational program he calls "Beer 101." The focus is to train Founders' retailers, wholesalers, individual consumers, and home brewers on brewing processes, types of beers, taste appeal, and more. The school will accommodate 100 students at a time.

This phase of the expansion follows Founders' recent addition of three 600-barrel fermenters and a fermenting cellar, a brew house expansion, and a new brew kettle and a mash lauter tun that increases beer production from 150,000 barrels to 320,000 barrels.

Work on the beer garden and educational facility begins in April.

Source: Mike Stevens, Founders Brewing
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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