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Behind the Tap Handles - West Michigan Beer Tours

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West Michigan Beer Tours | KzooConnect

Great ideas may be born in a classroom. But brilliance is reserved for the breweries.

John Liberty discovered this firsthand in 2012 when he and his friend (now business partner) Aric Faber began observing independent breweries on the rise in Kalamazoo. They found the trend fascinating, and brainstormed a local tourism concept marrying education, storytelling, and - of course - beer.

Not long after that, West Michigan Beer Tours was born.

The concept is simple. Sign up for a walking tour any Saturday of the year in downtown Kalamazoo, or organize a completely customizable bus tour with a private party. Each 3-hour tour includes a detailed history of the Michigan craft beer industry outlined by a knowledgeable tour guide, as well as three brewery stops, samples of craft beer selections, and a stainless steel pint. Not a bad deal for $29.

"In general, our groups are fairly adventurous people who want to try new flavor combinations and learn along the way," Liberty said. "For the private guests - birthday parties or teambuilding events - quality beer and the generosity of those in the local beer industry create a unique way to relax, learn and interact."

While bus tours expand on the larger West Michigan beerscape, walking tours strive to celebrate the rich diversity of craft beer in Kalamazoo for beer veterans and newbies alike. Liberty expanded on the vibrancy of the city's beer scene.

"This is an exciting time in the city's beer culture. There are more unique tap handles, styles and approaches here as any time in recent history. I've never counted them, but I suspect there are more than 500 different craft beer handles on tap at the various locations in downtown Kalamazoo when you take into account the craft beer bars, such as Kalamazoo Beer Exchange, Shakespeare's Pub, HopCat, Old Burdick's and Central City Tap House, among others."

West Michigan Beer Tours group | KzooConnect

And big things are on the horizon for West Michigan Beer Tours. While Liberty still plans to maintain a major presence in Kalamazoo, he hopes to branch out into other major Michigan beer cities as well.

His hopes for this great city? A "unifying entity - something like a guild - that would allow breweries to more easily collaborate, communicate and help keep the momentum moving."

Out of respect for the industry, Liberty declined to identify a favorite brewery. However, he wasn't hesitant to list off a few of his favorite brews. His thorough (yet not exhaustive) list included many Kalamazoo selections.

"It's exciting to discover new one-offs during frequent visits to local breweries, such as the Pomegranate Oarsman from Bell's or the Passion Fruit Cream Ale on nitro at Latitude 42. I snagged a Red October at Bell's recently - that worked out well for me. There's almost always a Two Hearted in my fridge. I require a weekly taste of Tibbs Brewing Co. and the Love Monger at Brite Eyes jumps into my hand before too long. Thirsty Trout from Dark Horse is yummy. Party at Moon Tower from Latitude 42 is great. And One Well continues to kill it across the board."

Through West Michigan Beer Tours, Liberty adds yet another dimension to the sophisticated craft beer industry in Kalamazoo. Outside of the weekly walking tours, the entity also focuses on breweries in Grand Rapids, Holland, Muskegon, the Lake Michigan shoreline, and all communities in between. The mission is simple, the time is right, and the beer is flowing.

So join the movement and take a walking tour of your favorite brewery, schedule a private bus tour, or visit their website for more information. Who knows - it may just be the start of your next brilliant idea.

Quick Connect with John Liberty

Favorite season? Fall

Favorite food? Homemade soup

Books or movies? Hunter S. Thompson's "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72"; "The Big Lebowski"; Disney's "Robin Hood"; all things Jason Bourne

What's your ideal vacation? At a campfire on a lake in Northern Michigan

Favorite Stress-Relief Activity? Whiffle ball; hiking with my family

Favorite Things about Kalamazoo? Its rich music history and talented slate of musicians; philanthropic nature; big but not too big; inherently quirky mentality; its people.

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