For most of the twentieth century, Grand Rapids, Michigan, was known as Furniture City. Yet even after much of the furniture industry left Grand Rapids, that spirit of honest manufacturing work remained. Today, the nickname has changed—Grand Rapids became known as “Beer City USA” after winning an online poll in 2012 in a head-to-head matchup against Asheville, North Carolina—and the voting and nickname are a prime example of the the love that Grand Rapidians and Michiganders have for their local beer scene. Craft beer is big just about everywhere these days, but this corner of southwestern Michigan takes particular pride in what’s now their area’s top export.
Before Prohibition, brewing in Grand Rapids was a thriving enterprise. When Michigan’s state-level prohibition took effect in 1917 (two and a half years before federal prohibition became law), its breweries closed en masse. While Michigan was the first state to ratify the 21st Amendment ending prohibition, that did little to help the city’s brewers. In 1951, Fox Deluxe Brewing Co. (the only remaining brewery in Grand Rapids) moved to Chicago, leaving behind a city without a brewery.
That drought persisted for decades, until Larry Bell (down in sister city Kalamazoo, roughly 45 minutes from Grand Rapids) launched a homebrew store in 1983 and sold his first commercial craft beer in 1985. In Grand Rapids proper, Canal Street Brewing Co. opened its doors for business in 1997.