West Michigan Beer Tours begins shuttling beer lovers between region’s craft breweries

By Garret Ellison | moc.evilm@nosilleg 
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on June 26, 2013 at 9:30 AM, updated June 26, 2013 at 11:19 AM

KALAMAZOO, MI — You might call them captains of the West Michigan ale trail.

John Liberty, an entertainment writer for MLive, his friend Aric Faber, sales manager for SalesPage software, and Faber’s wife, Lisa, recently launched an entrepreneurial venture that aims to literally bring you closer to the exploding world of Michigan craft beer.

What started as an idea at the bar last year culminated last month with the inaugural forays for West Michigan Beer Tours, a business offering public and private tours of breweries in the Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo areas.

“Our goal is to celebrate what we have in West Michigan, promote the craft beer industry and do it all in a safe way,” said Aric Faber.

Faber and Liberty kicked off their first tour on May 25; a trip that shuttled beer lovers between Bell’s Eccentric Café and Boatyard Brewing in Kalamazoo before moving onto Dark Horse Brewing Co. in Marshall and Arcadia Ales in Battle Creek.

The typical five-hour trip includes transportation between stops in a 29-person mini-coach bus. Most tours include three stops, a meet-and-greet with the brewery owners and/or brewer, a facility tour and some samplings.

The partners also book private events for corporate groups that include a more customizable itinerary and vehicle selection. Prices for the public tours vary. Faber said a typical ticket is $40 to $50 depending on what’s involved. An upcoming June 29 tour that includes a food and beer paring dinner is $79.

An educational element is inherent to each tour, said Faber. That’s where Liberty’s knowledge comes into play as a writer who formerly covered the craft beer industry in West Michigan for the past several years.

The list of brewery partners on the company website is heavy on southwest Michigan breweries, with stops in Grand Rapids at Founders Brewing Co., which only began offering tours this year, HopCat and the Grand Rapids Brewing Co.

Both Faber and Liberty live in Kalamazoo, but “were going to be originating quite a few tours out of Grand Rapids and hitting that market hard,” said Faber.

Although Michigan is fifth in the nation in total craft beer breweries, there are relatively few companies in the state offering guided tours although demand for brewery tours is high. In the past year, Brewery Vivant saw an eightfold increase in weekend tours at their Grand Rapids microbrewery after the city was named ‘Beer CityUSA’ in an online poll.

MotorCity Brew Tours concentrates on the Detroit area and some transportation companies will organize tours around beer events like Michigan Brewers Guild festivals.

Elsewhere in the U.S., strong beer states like Oregon, North Carolina and California have multiple companies doing tours.

“Ours is the first that’s focused on West Michigan,” said Faber.

For now, West Michigan Beer Tours is booking public events on Saturdays and private events as requested. Tours leave from either Kalamazoo or Grand Rapids, but Farber said origination and destination cities could expand as the venture grows.

The company is partnering with tourism bureaus like Discover Kalamazoo and Experience Grand Rapids and hoping to become a go-to option for the increasing number of out-of-state visitors coming to the area for beer tourism.

They are engaged in some conversations with area hotels about bundling tickets with travel packages, said Faber.

The breweries have proven to be eager partners.

“Founders and Bell’s aren’t necessarily doing it to get extra traffic. They are doing it because it’s good for the industry,” said Faber. “And for a small start-up brewery, it gives them the opportunity to create a unique impression.”

For more information, visit West Michigan Beer Tours online.

Email Garret Ellison or follow him on Twitter.