Global warming/climate change isn’t a thing, so the fact that it was 60 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny on a Saturday in February was totally normal. My best friend Josh and I have had plans to take a day trip to Kalamazoo (about 45 minutes south of Grand Rapids) for awhile now so he could check out Bell’s Brewery’s taproom, but they never were set in stone. It was always one of those “we’ll go when we have a nice day ” sort of things. The news that our local Alamo Drafthouse would be closing down in April was enough to make our plans definite. Josh had never seen a movie there and I anted to make sure he was able to before it was too late. A few weeks ago when we made our plans, we had no idea what the weather would be like. We had serendipity working in our favor.
Due to being sick and just plain forgetting, I hadn’t eaten the day prior so once we arrived at Bell’s and when we were told that it’d be a 90 minute wait, we put our name in for a table and started walking. The cool thing about the area around Bell’s is that there are a bunch of other breweries nearby. Or, just neat beer bars. Like Grand Rapids-based franchise Hopcat across the street, or, a little further down the road, the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange.
Every time I’ve been to Kalamazoo for something, the latter is always closed for one reason or another. But Saturday I finally got to go inside. It’s housed in a repurposed industrial building, so exposed brick, huge windows and visible HVAC ducting was the name of the game. The main seating area is upstairs and an arcade room resides on the lower level.
How the Beer Exchange works is like this: after 6pm, all of the available beers (roughly 20) and their respective prices go on the big-screen above the bar. Every 15 minutes, the prices change based on demand — like a stock exchange. Was the IPA you just ordered super popular? Expect the price for a pint to jump. Maybe you were the only one who liked the sour you just had. As such, the price will go down. This doesn’t go into effect until 6pm, though, so when Josh and I arrived everything was at menu prices.
Both of us opted for the Fallout from Latitude 42 and orders of Wings Three Ways. The Fallout was a black IPA bearing the name of a favorite video game of ours, so of course we were going to order it. It was light, slightly malty and went down way too easy. Thanks to being lactose intolerant, I wasn’t exactly itching to order butter garlic flavored wings, nor did I want plain ones, so I went for the sesame ginger. Figured the ginger would help me feel better too. The wings were absolutely killer: crispy, had just enough sauce on them but not too much and, as you can tell from the picture above, gigantic. Oh, best of all? They were only $6.
Just as soon as we’d cleaned our hands, I got a text message from Bell’s that our table was ready. Now for the main course.
Aside from an obligatory pint of my favorite seasonal beer, a rye pale dubbed Smitten, I snagged an order of deviled eggs as a second appetizer and a Jam Burger for the entree. I love deviled eggs. These were a little on the salty side (I’m guessing because of the smoked sea salt garnish) but overall were really solid. The price wasn’t too bad either, at $4 for four of them.
Now, I can be kind of stubborn; once I make a decision, I try to stick with it. This time, it worked against me. When our waitress asked how I wanted my burger cooked, my brain defaulted to my typical steak order: medium rare. Given that Bell’s burger came with bacon-onion relish like Brewery Vivant’s does, and also has tomato jam on it, I figured they’d be pretty similar. I’ve ordered medium rare burgers there without an issue. Immediately after I placed my order I wished I hadn’t. But Bell’s was super busy and we didn’t see our waitress much. By the time she came back to check on us, it would’ve been too late to ask for my burger to be cooked medium or medium well.
Shortly after that, the Jam Burger arrived. The top half was cooked but the bottom was still very bleedy. Again, this was my fault entirely, not the cook’s. After a day of drinking and eating though, by that point I had all I could to do to finish half of it. This had nothing to do with the way it was cooked; the entire burger was nice and warm in addition to tasting killer. So I boxed it up and took it home. Letting it (and the bottom bun) cook for about five minutes on my stove later that night was all it needed.
As for the movie, we saw the latest M. Night Shyamalan flick Split. Before we headed into the auditorium, though, we stopped at the lobby bar and had one more beer. This time I opted for a beer I’d been eyeing since we were at the Exchange: Frootwood from Founders. I’d seen it bottled in stores, but I really have a hard time taking a $12 risk for a four-pack of beer I might not like. It’s a cherry sour aged in oak barrels that have held maple syrup and bourbon, but I had no idea what to expect. At face value, it sounded like a sweet, dark, thick beer. The truth couldn’t have been any different, though. It was light, crisp, tart and refreshing.
As for the movie? Go check it out. Like Star Wars and Resident Evil (the games, not the movies) it’s nice to say that Shyamalan is doing cool stuff again. When I asked the bartender how work was going considering that the theater was shutting down so soon, he made a gun with his left hand and put it up to his temple. After working there for four years, he said it was really disappointing to see the place close, for no reason other than that a new theater chain was potentially offering more money to the property owner. So it goes.