Any and every time my Dearly Beloved and I are in Grand Rapids, I visit my “Happy Place.”

I have a few “Happy Places.” 

I love wandering the aisles of Grunst Brothers in Big Rapids. There are a couple of exceptional beer buying locations up in Traverse City as well.

In Grand Rapids … it’s Rishi’s.

I’ve written about Rishi’s before, and a good number of readers have asked me to expand and expound on the shop.

Rishi’s used to be International Beverage on East Paris just north of 28th Street. The “shop” recently moved out onto the main drag (28th Street) just around the corner from the former location Paris (next door to the Olive Garden).

Rishi’s is an incredible place. If you love beer and/or wine, this is the place to visit. Even if you only LIKE beer and wine, you really should stop in Rishi’s for a tour of the new establishment.

It is HUGE, and Rishi Makkar – the wildly popular and ever-so accommodating host – knows every nook, cranny, bottle, and cork in the place.

Rishi comes by his knowledge of beer and wine honestly, and through a lot of hard work. It is a joy to talk to this friendly and welcoming maven about anything from Bell’s Porter, to Château Lafite-Rothschild. And if he is not in shop (which would be rare!) his staff are just as well versed in everything they have in stock.

Rishi grew up in an academic family with parents who were on the faculty at Western Michigan University. He grew up in Kalamazoo — on campus.

In 1996, the family began a gradual relocation to Grand Rapids which included the purchase of a Ogie’s Party Store. After the retirement of his parents from academia, the family began running the party store in earnest.

“We had one of the few stores in west Michigan that handled home brewing supplies,” said Rishi. “That gave us a kick start and an introduction into the early world of craft brewing.

“At the time, import beers sold well but the new craft beers had really not taken off.”

Rishi graduated high school in Forest Hills and began studying at Michigan State University with every intention of becoming a medical doctor.

But … by his senior year at MSU he realized he simply wouldn’t be happy as a doctor. He loved working in the family store.

“I would not have been happy working in medicine,” he admitted with a smile.

“I am, however, a very, very happy store owner. I love my work and I love dealing with people.”

And thus … the secret.

Rishi is happy with what he is doing, and that joy of life is simply passed on to everyone who walks in the store.

Years after taking over the East Paris store, the family still struggled to make money.

Then … wine took off.

“I got my certification as a sommelier,” said Rishi. “The economy was booming. Our wine program really took off.

“People were buying cases of wine, not simply bottles.

“It wasn’t uncommon to have people buying a couple thousand dollars of wine. Companies bought huge amounts of wine to give to customers and employees.

‘We thrived.”

While Rishi’s (then International Beverage) tried to establish itself as a craft beer Mecca, the wine side of the operation paid the bills.

Then, the beer started coming out strong.

“We made a tremendous investment in the craft beer industry in the belief that people would eventually discover that good beer was not necessarily the old standard beer,” he said.

“Slowly but surely, people started recognizing there was a lot of really good beer to be had, and we began expanding our beer stocks — from all over the country.

“Every year there was more and more quality beer hitting the market, and we wanted to introduce our customers to the very best beer we could lay our hands on.”

Today, Rishi’s is a well balanced operation. The fine wines and the craft beers complement each other, and each creates about half the store’s business.

“It’s fun. It’s been fun watching the business evolve.”

When Rishi’s family first bought into the business, they sold 20 different names of beer, at the most. That included Bud, Bud Lite, Bud-this, Bud-that, and Bud-the other thing.

Today, there are over 1,200 individual names of beer on the shelves.

“And that does not include the seasonal beers or what we call ‘occasional beers,’” he pointed out.

“We actually don’t always have enough shelving for new beers coming out.”

Seventy-five percent of Rishi’s stock of brew turns over once a week — an amazing statistic for almost any business.

“The quality of beer being sold today has simply improved dramatically,” said Rishi. “There are dedicated brewers turning out incredible beers. They are fine people turning out wonderful beers, and the people enjoying these beers are so appreciative of developments in the brewing world.”

Rishi’s is a store that has thrived not only on great product, but wonderful service.

“I don’t force or pretend to give good service,” said the young proprietor. “I believe that if you are passionate about something — as I am about what we are doing – you want to have people feel at home.

“Our clients are our family.

“The 10 or 20 minutes people spend in my store is not only their time, it is my time. I want people to be happy in my store on my time — to leave and return with a feeling of ‘home.’

“Every person who walks in the front door is just that important to me.”

Going to Grand Rapids?

Stop in at Rishi’s.

“We will be so glad to see new friends stop by for a visit,” Rishi concluded with a smile.

And now, try a couple of exceptional brews.

LABRADOR LAGER THIRSTY DOG BREWING CO. AKRON, OHIO

Labrador offers a rich, deep amber pour with a pleasant head forming well but disappearing quickly leaving a hint of cream on the surface.

This is an elegant whiskey colored brew — clear and inviting. Definitely inviting.

There is a rich but not overpowering scent of hops and malts with a slight advantage to the hops.

In the background lurks something hinting of sweet corn. There’s a mild, open field smell of a hot summer morning just after the first cutting of hay.

Really a nice sensual visit.

I found it hard to identify any fruitiness, but I wouldn’t be surprised if others could pick out some tones of light fruits.

Definitely hoppy at first sip. This is a deliciously dry lager.

Don’t hunt around for sweet tones in the first wash — or any wash for that matter.

Labrador is a business-like lager in the best German-tradition.

There is an almost woodsy, out-in-the-field quality.

This lager is abrupt. You get smacked with dry somewhat bready hops right off. The flavor rolls around a bit, and it’s done and gone leaving an underlying earthiness.

This is a good and expressive beer. A great example of European-style dry lagers that have been cold stored.

Don’t leave this brew for the end of the meal. It really contradicts sweet foods and might be best served complementing a bolder meat dish – venison or lamb – but also more spicy foods. Chili? Hmmmmmm …

SIR WILLIAM’S ESB ENGLISH STYLE ALE DRAGONMEAD MICROBREWERY 

This is a medium brown (even light copper) colored brew that offers little head. What there is quickly disappears. (This is typical of brews that are low in carbonation.) No substantial foam, but a light ring of flat tan color.

The Special is dull, almost opaque.

There is a sharp whiff of first malt — certainly pronounced grains and much less demonstrative hops.

There is something hiding in this English-style ale — mildly acidic, even a bit coppery. There is a slightly astringent scent.

The first sip of Sir William’s explains why this style brew is called a “bitter.” It isn’t a “bad” bitter. It’s just … odd … for drinkers of browns expecting something a bit more smooth and earthy.

There is a well defined tartness to this ale. Not a fruity tartness and little of the floral hints that sometimes can be found in English bitters.

The taste is complex. Don’t give up too early.

Sir William’s a bit intense and the mildly acidic taste develops fast and with authority.

It is hard to find gentler background tastes or tones — and certainly difficult to find anything caramely tucked away in the background.

This brew is an interesting junket into something new.

If you’re surprised, don’t bale. Stick it out. Every day is an education.

I don’t know that I’ll invest in more Sir William’s right away, but I may well come back for another visit in the future.

This is a tough one, but I think I’d match it with a pork dish. It is sharp enough to counter and contrast the more neutral, subtle taste of pork roast or chops.