In 2007, Jason Spaulding was learning to brew craft beer in the Belgian countryside. While he was perfecting a delicate balance of barley and hops, Spaulding enjoyed the village hospitality, where the menus depended on locally grown and sourced food. You ate what was in season, what was freshly picked and grown or raised nearby, an attitude Spaulding found to be common overseas, yet missing at home, so he was determined to bring it back with him to Michigan.
Back in Grand Rapids, Spaulding and his business partner and wife, Kris, set about planning their new venture. They had a strong advantage going for them – Kris was a 13-year employee of Herman Miller, in their renowned sustainability business unit.
While attending some craft beer events, the Spauldings found ideological allies in some new friends at New Belgium and Sierra Nevada breweries. “They understood exactly what we were going for, and were so supportive and helpful,” Jason said. “We got so many great ideas from them.”
While searching for the perfect location, the Spauldings found it in a former funeral home in the East Hills neighborhood. They needed a two-building location, one for the pub and one for the brewery. The Spauldings enlisted Catalyst, a local company well-known nationally for their sustainable projects, to help them retrofit the property.
The project took one year to plan, and four months to execute, Spaulding explained. The result is exposed beams in the pub and a bar that showcases the stained glass window and the feel of a Belgian monastery. The brewery building is bright and clean. The Spauldings didn’t want a building in an office park, and East Hills had many attributes that appealed to them, not the least of which a popular locally sourced restaurant, Greenwell, right across the street. East Hills is an up-and-coming neighborhood in Grand Rapids, and more than half of the brewery’s employees live within one mile.
Brewery Vivant opened in December 2010 as Michigan was still struggling to recover from the recession, but the brewery has thrived. Sustainable principles combined with a local emphasis has proven to be a popular blend. In February 2012, Brewery Vivant was honored with the first Silver LEED certification awarded to a microbrewery in the U.S. and also published their first sustainability report. The brewery offsets 100 percent of its energy usage through purchasing RECs.
The pub menu changes seasonally. The brewery makes a conscious effort to source food from local farmers and feature specials that showcase what’s in season. “We have specials twice a week that center just around what we get from the farmers’ market – it’s a surprise,” Spaulding said.
Craft beer in a can? Absolutely, affirms Spaulding. The enemies of great beer are light and oxygen, so cans are the best choice to preserve taste. The brewery also chose to use cans made of recycled aluminum because it has a much lower environmental impact during creation than virgin aluminum or glass, and Brewery Vivant cans typically contain more than 68 percent recycled content.
Although the brewery is expanding its distribution area to include Chicago in the summer, the mission remains to keep it local. Jason said, “We set out to be a neighborhood brewery and that’s what we want to stick with. By limiting our distribution area, it helps attract more people into Michigan and Grand Rapids.”
It must be working. At one time, Fast Company named Grand Rapids America’s greenest city. In 2012, the magazine profiled Grand Rapids as a great place to start a business. Brewery Vivant also hosted participants from the most recent BALLE conference held in Grand Rapids in May 2012.
image credits: Brewery Vivant