Locally-brewed beer with innovative and unique flavors is now available at the Grand Resort & Casino through its new in-house brewery — Grand House Brewing.
J.C. Aponte, the Grand’s beverage manager, said developing a new product line was intimidating, but it was a challenge the entire staff enjoyed.
“We’ve been playing with recipes since the end of last year,” Aponte said.
The new offerings include Chupacabra, a Mexican-style beer with bold flavors; Third Coast, a West-Coast citrusy IPA; and Highway 102, a light lager with a smooth finish.
Chupacabra, Third Coast and Highway 102 are being sold at the Grand Resort & Casino’s bars and restaurants. The Grand House Brewing hopes their products will soon be available at other locations, including the all-new FireLake Casino that is currently under construction at Tribal headquarters near Shawnee, Oklahoma.
Whether customers are ordering Chupacabra at the bar, trying Third Coast as they attend a concert, or sipping Highway 102 during happy hour, they have embraced the new beverages.
“Chupacabra is now our number one seller,” Aponte said. “It’s doing really, really well.”
The Grand’s newest beverages are half price during happy hour, which takes place from noon to 2 p.m. and again from 5-7 p.m., Monday through Friday.
“That’s so we can encourage people to try it. Then when they try it, now we have tons of people who come out now just to drink those beers. It’s really awesome to see,” Aponte said.
He has been working closely with Grand House Brewer Jacob Kitsmiller on developing the flavors of each product. Kitsmiller has a culinary background and “makes magic,” Aponte said.
“He really takes so much pride in it. I can’t speak highly enough of him, because he’s been amazing throughout this whole process,” Aponte said.
People usually associate a chef with creating unique food dishes, but Kitsmiller’s culinary skills helped Grand House Brewery find the right combination of tastes.
“It’s an art, it really is,” Aponte said. “There are so many flavors that you have to play with. And two things that you may never think go together come in and makes this amazing flavor.”
He compares it to having a meal expertly prepared by a favorite family member.
“You can tell the difference when somebody really is taking their time to make what they make,” he said. “I remember my grandma spending two and a half hours in the kitchen. But I promise you that when you tried it, you could taste every single minute of that.”
Full of flavor
Aponte described the flavor profiles customers can expect.
Chupacabra: “It’s low bitterness with a caramel flavor. It’s really good, really refreshing. Wakes up the tastebuds when you first try it.”
Highway 102: “A very pale, highly-carbonated, light bodied, well-attenuated lager with a very neutral flavor profile and low bitterness. Served very cold, it can be a very refreshing and thirst quenching drink.”
Third Coast: “This is a refreshing West Coast IPA with bold, citrusy, hop flavors and a crisp finish. It’s great for beer lovers who enjoy a classic IPA flavor.”
The local beer market can be challenging to break into because many customers tend to stick with products they have consumed for years. However, staff have noticed that more people are requesting locally brewed products.
Aponte said he and the Grand staff were a bit intimidated by the challenge of brewing totally new products.
“You’re like, ‘What am I diving into? What’s going to happen?’ But we have a really good team all around food and beverage that just make it work,” he said. “And when you have people that want something to work, it just kind of comes together.”
One major advantage to an in-house brewery was the cost savings to the Grand, savings that can be passed along to the customer without compromising on the product’s quality.
“There is a big savings in it for us to do it ourselves. All of the beer that we make in the house is cheaper than what we sell all of our draft beers,” he said. “The customer (can save) 50 cents to a dollar on each. If we have a quality product out there that’s affordable for everybody, that’s really where it’s at for us.”
Aponte said the three flagship products are expected to stay on tap all year. However, the brewery is also planning to introduce seasonal flavors that will be available for a limited time.
“We wanted people to say, ‘Hey, let’s go to the Grand and see what kind of different things they have out now.’ If we have a blend of beers that change throughout the season, maybe you and your friends might want to see what we have on tap. And we are starting to play with the recipes to be able to do that,” he said.
Cucumber-lime, pineapple-mango or pumpkin spice are just a few of the unique flavors they plan to experiment with and potentially add to the rotation as the seasons change.
Small, sample-size batches allow the staff to experiment with flavors and find the right balance that will appeal to customers.
“It really comes down to flavor profile and your palate. People might try a beer and say, ‘Oh, that’s not for me.’ But then somebody will walk up right after and say, ‘Give me another one,’” Aponte said. “That’s the fun part for us is, ‘Let’s try this,’ or ‘Hey, I have an idea to do this.’”
The Grand House Brewery staff is passionate about consistently delivering flavors that will appeal to a broad customer base.
“If it takes off, then you put it on the menu, but it’s a really fun and rewarding experience” to see customers gravitate toward something the team created, he said.
Aponte expects that Grand House Brewery will look for opportunities for further expansion as well.
“That’s the goal. I’m excited to see us put it out there, what kind of feedback we’ll be getting and then going from there,” he said.
If there is sustained demand, Aponte and the team wouldn’t turn down the chance to see the product on the shelves in FireLake Discount Foods. But for now, they are focused on introducing the beers to as many new customers as possible.
“That’s a fun part of it, making the beer, it’s amazing and it’s great. And then you get to see the rewards when people taste it,” he said. “It’s not a bad thing when you’re selling out. It’s just indicative of how good something is.”
He said some of the Grand’s regular customers have even told him that they only drink the new products. If it is sold out at one bar, they will try other bars until they find it.
The brewing team is enjoying the feedback. They are proud to contribute to the high-quality entertainment and service the Grand provides each day, Aponte said.
“It was just like perfect timing because we have a bunch of people asking for (local beers). There’s a big demand for craft and local beer, so it’s awesome that we have it now,” he said.
For more information about dining and beverage options at the Grand, visit the Grand Casino Hotel & Resort or call 405-964-7777.