GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – While Founders Brewing has proven in a very short time to be the king of West Michigan beer, there’s a piece of their business seldom seen by outside eyes.
About 85 feet below the streets of Grand Rapids, sits a treasure trove beer enthusiasts can only dream about. In an old gypsum mine owned and operated by Michigan Natural Storage, Founders has stowed about 8,000 bourbon barrels, each one filled to the brim with fan favorites such as KBS and Backwoods Bastard. There, the beer ages for months at a time until it’s ready to be sold.
“I think we’ve made some killer beers out of storing them down there,” said Jason Heystek, a longtime Founders employee and one of the only people who has access to the mine. “About eight or nine years ago we just ran out of space. Ever since then we’ve been increasing our output and how many barrels that we fill and empty, and we’ve filled it up pretty good down there.”
The mines are the perfect storage space for the beer, naturally hovering at an ideal temperature between 38 and 43 degrees. But only a few have ever seen the boozy catacombs in person.
“As long as we’ve been storing stuff down there, every single person that’s gone down there has gone with me,” said Heystek. “It’s been limited to our own employees…business partners, and that’s it.”
This week, Founders announced a competition that could make an exception for five lucky fans. The competition is only open to members of their Cadre Club, a free-to-join organization for the Founders faithful. All members have to do is join or log in, submit a unique brand of beer they’d like to see Founders make complete with ingredients, labeling and a back story. Founders will pick their five favorite, and the grand prize is entry to the mines.
“We’re opening this up to try to get some regular folks from the street, big fans,” said Heystek. “We want to show them some of the kooky things we do down there.”
They won’t just get to see, either. The five lucky winners will get a tour of the mines along with a chance to taste the bourbon beer creations stored there. They’ll also dine with the Founders team, get a tour of the brewery, gain automatic entry to the annual Black Party celebration, and receive a $500 travel and expenses voucher.
“It’d be a really interesting thing for someone to get a chance to try because there’s only a handful of people that have ever done this,” said Heystek. “I’ve taken people down there that have worked with the brewery for years and years and their heads just explode. They just can’t believe it. It’s amazing.”
To enter, visit the Cadre Club’s website. Deadline to enter is February 24th and the tours will take place between April 21st – 23rd.