KDaLe Brewing Program taps into local beer culture

Grand Rapids is no stranger to beer. With internationally-known, recognizable brewery brands and local infamous watering holes on nearly every corner, the city has created an entire community and identity around the frothy beverage. You can tap into the 21+ fun at  Kent District Library (KDL) too, with their KDaLe program. The Library offers a chance for local residents to learn the ins and outs of home brewing, enter their delicious book-themed beverage in the competition and enjoy a local tap takeover event as part of the programming.

While many only think of the Library as a place for kids and early literacy, KDL has plenty of offerings, resources, classes and off-site events that cater to the adult crowd. Josh Bernstein, regional manager at KDL, says the Library’s programming even taps into the Best Beer City recognition by USA Today readers. The Beer City Ale Trail includes over 80 breweries, more craft beer per square mile than just about any other place, according to Experience GR. 

“The very first year we did it, in 2013, we jokingly said ‘we’re putting the pub in public library.’ Starting the next year is when NPR started having their phrase, ‘we put the pub in public radio,’ in their ads. I think we did it first, not sure, but I think we did,” Bernstein laughs. 

“We jumped in at the time when the scene was growing so much. 2013 was the year Grand Rapids won its Beer City, USA destination from the online vote. The beer industry was promoting that pretty heavily at the time and we jumped in as well.”

Josh Bernstein

Bernstein says the KDaLe program is traditionally a winter series. He says the initial goal was to add more adult programming. “We’ve kind of got the market covered on fun stuff for kids between story times and all of [the] summer programs, but we wanted to provide more for adults that don’t have kids, or ones that just want to get out without them,” he says. “We always look at how to bring kids or teens into the Library for things and the answer is to provide food — they’ll show up. So, for adults, if you find a place where they can eat or drink, it’s attractive.”

In looking to collaborate with more local businesses, KDL came up with KDaLe, which partners with local home brew shops and neighborhood breweries. The Program includes in-branch home-brewing classes, beer and food pairing events, beer-related book author visits and off-site events too. “A lot of our external [programming] was specific to brewery tours,” Bernstein says. “A lot of breweries that we worked with, we would host a little Library table there. People could come and get a tour of the brewery, learn about what they do and what makes their brewery special.”

In 2016, one of the partnering breweries, Gravel Bottom, worked with KDL to add a home-brewing contest to the mix. “At that time, they had a home-brewing store in addition to the brewery and taught some of our home-brewing classes,” he says. “We worked with them and began a KDaLe book-themed beer home-brewing contest, where people could brew a beer inspired by a book or a piece of literature. They’d submit the beer with the story or their inspiration.”

Registration for the Homebrew Competition typically opens in December and ends late January/early February, according to Bernstein. Homebrew bottles are due back by early March and are judged on flavor, aroma, mouth feel, appearance and, in relation to the book theme. The winners receive a version of their homebrew beer on tap at participating partner breweries, including Gravel Bottom Brewery (Ada), Railtown Brewing Company (Caledonia), Pike 51 Brewing Company (Hudsonville) and Broad Leaf Brewery and Spirits (Kentwood). Entries are judged by both Library and brewery staff as well as beer professionals. 

“We mix it up and make sure we have two or three teams judging the beers,” Bernstein says. “We make sure each team has one or two knowledgeable beer professionals as well as one librarian to kind of join forces with them, especially in some of the point values surrounding the book theme portion.”

Last year’s competition winners debuted at the Library’s tap takeover event at a local market. “We started modeling after the book-themed beer event five or six years ago and we started doing a tap takeover with as many breweries as we’ve partnered with at Horrock’s,” Bernstein says. “They do their own book-themed beer and we do a partner tap takeover with 8-12 local breweries.” Bernstein says they also hosted the event this year, with the four partnering breweries bringing their winning library home-brew entries on tap. After their debut, they are then sold at the breweries.

“We used to offer home-brewing classes with regularity,” he says. “We haven’t done that in the last couple years because we kind of felt that we had tapped that market and we were getting less and less draw to them. It’s been a few years though, so I can see us trying it again in a year or two.” 

Moving forward, KDL plans to use the tap takeover as a launching point to debut the winning beers from the home-brew competition, so the competition will then take place in the fall. Bernstein estimates the event will likely take place in September, showcasing the four winners from back in March, partnered with four breweries, to debut their unique flavors. 

Although the program has evolved over the years, given COVID-19 safety measures and other factors, Bernstein is proud of the unique adult programming KDL offers. Given that this city has a huge identity based around frothy beverages, it only makes sense to tap into the Beer City, U.S.A. theme. “It’s something that enough people here are passionate about and interested in,” he says.

For those interested in registering for next season’s competition, KDL also offers a number of resources to help with home-brewing recipes and recommended reading material. Bernstein also recommends checking out local home-brewing stores for advice and expertise. 

Photos courtesy Kent District Library

Literacy Matters is a series focused on the importance of knowledge, community resources seeking to remove barriers to access, and the value of our library systems to society. Literacy Matters is supported by Kent District Library. 

Sarah briefly lived in Grand Rapids years ago, before moving back to Lansing, but that West Michigan love never really left her heart. Through her coverage on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, and anything mitten-made, she’s committed to convincing any and everyone -- just how great the Great Lakes state is. Sarah received her degrees in Journalism and Professional Communications. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at [email protected]
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