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B.O.B.'s Brewery steps into spotlight with expanded brewpub

B.O.B.'s Brewery has generally been downplayed in the basement of the B.O.B. With a newly expanded brewpub and a plan to host brewing-related events and entertainment, the brewery is becoming the building's focal point.

/Marie Orttenburger

Did you know?

During the week, restaurants in the B.O.B. will waive the parking fee for using their lot.

/Marie Orttenburger

/Marie Orttenburger

You may be familiar with the brewery in the B.O.B. It's been around since 1997, a small brewpub tucked in a corner of the bottom floor of the building. Head brewer John Svoboda says the location has never been at the forefront of what the B.O.B. had to offer, but that's changing now. As interest in craft beer continues to grow, B.O.B.'s Brewery has responded with a new look, a new website and a much larger pub.

"We're sick of being the best kept secret," says Svoboda.

Svoboda has been with B.O.B.'s Brewery for the past six years, and he's been home brewing for over 30 years. He's seen the interest in craft beer change drastically during his time there, and he says sales have tripled since he started. He adapts the styles of beer he brews to the tastes of his audience.

"The typical person who came to the B.O.B. three or four years ago wasn't really interested in craft beer," says Svoboda. "Now they are, and they're drinking IPAs and they're interested in the different styles of beers that are out there."

He's noticed people's interest in experimental styles augment as well. The interest in his Peanut Butter Stout has exploded.

"Three years ago I made that and nobody touched it. Now I can't make enough," he says.

But Svoboda is happy to continue making what his audience likes, regardless of his own taste.

"I'm not the kind of brewer that has an attitude about the beers I like. My attitude is, if you like it, I'm really happy that you like it," he says.

The increase in interest in B.O.B.'s Brewery has resulted in the brewery becoming a sort of focal point of the Gilmore Collection. The brewpub now extends to the whole basement, with room for plenty of seating, including white pine tables from the Upper Peninsula and an entertainment area.

Svoboda, along with the managers at the Gilmore Collection, hope to host beer- and brewing-related events to encourage the interest in the craft brew community.

"One of the things that we're really trying to do is bring in another brewery and share with our guests the brewer, their beer, maybe their food, their philosophy and how they are enhancing the beer experience in Grand Rapids," says Svoboda.

"Fred Bueltmann at New Holland Brewing Company is a noted beer authority in the Midwest if not the country, and his philosophy is what we're trying to adapt here: letting people understand what beer and food really means in a way that isn't really complicated, esoteric or heaven forbid aristocratic," says Svoboda. "It's easy to do beer and food and it's fun. That's what we want to try to project."

Ultimately, the Gilmore Collection and B.O.B.'s Brewery want the Grand Rapids public to know that the B.O.B. has a place for the craft-beer enthusiast.

"I think that people have the perception that because we are a presence with multiple restaurants, we are a corporate culture, and therefore our food and our beer is probably a replication of that supposed culture," says Svoboda.

"But [employees of the B.O.B.] wouldn't have jobs [at the B.O.B.] if we weren't autonomous," he says. "We can't say, 'what do you want us to do now?' [Greg Gilmore] will say, 'No, that's the question I'm asking you. What are you going to do now?'"

Svoboda's philosophy on brewing is simple and adaptive. He says working with raw materials means the science of brewing can never be exact, but rather requires adjustment depending on what is available.

"It's a flavor based product," Svoboda says. "It's not the result of strict adherence to a formula or process."

Svoboda keeps three mainstays on tap at a time: Blondie, Crimson Kin Amber and Hopson Wit in the summer and Spaceboy Stout in the winter. The other nine taps are reserved for popular varieties and experiments.

"I don't have an established schedule of what I'll brew next," says Svoboda.

If he has room to brew something other than a mainstay or one of the popular brews, he says, he'll try to come up with a new recipe.

"I like to focus on the established beer styles and do the unusual things from that," he says.

As for what Svoboda likes to drink, he sticks to local brews.

"I don't buy anything that's not made in Michigan, and that's not because it's a badge of honor or because I feel duty-bound to do that," he says.

He says he prefers to try what the people he knows are creating.

"I'm interested in tasting beers people are making close to me, or in my state. To me, you know, all politics is local, well, all breweries should be local."

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