Photos by Steph Harding
Belgian tradition. Local mission. Brewery Vivant’s philosophy is clear the moment you walk up to its doors. Located in an old funeral home in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the pub gives off a monastic vibe: diffused light, lots of wood, stained-glass windows, beer-hall tables for shared seating. This sense of community, coupled the brewery’s use of Michigan-grown products, serves as the perfect portrait of “Pure Michigan.”
The beers at Vivant feature the characteristic phenol aroma and fruity esters prevalent in traditional Belgian yeast strains. Each brew twists, tweaks, and showcases the artistry of the talented brewing staff while embracing the spirit of non-conformity typical not only of our Belgian brethren, but also Michigan natives.
“It’s about that artful approach,” says Kate Avery, Vivant’s Abbess of Beer. “We can make a saison, get some funky flavors out of it, but we always want to ratchet it up and try something new.”
Vivant dedicates between eight and 12 of the brewery’s taps to pub-only brews. The lines boast a wide variety of beers, ranging in style from seasonals to otherwise-inspired offerings. This ever-changing assortment not only appeals to out of town visitors, but also keeps regulars on their toes and makes each visit unique.
First up on this visit is Fly2theCOQ, a collaborative beer made annually with Rockford Brewing in honor of a 14.7-mile group bike ride along the White Pine Trail between the two breweries. Each sip of this hoppy 5.4% ABV saison, made with Vivant’s Bière de Garde yeast and Michigan-grown chinook hops, imparts a soft, floral citrus flavor.
Vivant loves wood-aged beers, so much so that there is a yearly event dedicated to them, and some sort of wood-aged beer is always available. The barrel-aged Undertaker with coffee is a twist on one of their staples. It’s a Belgian style dark ale with a roasty aroma and clear, defined coffee finish.
The brewery also offers limited cask-conditioned beers, only available in the taproom. On this trip, the firkin on hand is PlowHorse, a high ABV imperial stout aged on bourbon hickory chips that add just the right amount of smoke. Full-bodied, rich, aromatic, and just boozy enough, the sample size proves to be just the right amount of this flavor-packed beast.
Some seasonal and one-off beers end up in cans, but are first tested on the brewery’s taproom patrons. One beer appearing in cans this summer is Vivant Tropical Saison, which features natural mango and pineapple juice that imparts the effervescent beer with a slightly sweet and refreshing flavor.
Sometimes, retired favorites make their way back to the taproom in slightly different forms. Such is the case with Vivant’s Tripel, a 8.25% AVB Belgian style ale. Crisp and slightly sweet, the ale is fermented at a higher initial temperature then cooled, creating stronger notes of banana, anise, and subtle mango esters in the glass.
Brewery Vivant combines the right amounts of tradition, artistry, approachability, and welcoming environment for the bon vivants among us. Many beers are only available on tap or in cans at the brewery, so the best way to enjoy the beer and atmosphere is Straight from the Source.
Grain: Pilsen malt, turbinado sugar
Hops: French Strisselspalt
Yeast: Belgian Ardennes