Rishi Makkar [RISH-e mʌ-CAR – rhymes with “fishy”], a native of India, is easily recognized by the iconic turban and beard of his Sikh religion, but more importantly is known and respected for his authentic kindness and sincere appreciation of his guests’ patronage. Guests are regularly greeted by Rishi’s signature hook: “Welcome home, it’s so good to see you.” And, he means it. Most meaningful to Rishi is that his stores provide the best combination of selection, price and service. He’s enthusiastic about providing a unique shopping experience for everyone, offering customized recommendations per each guest’s palette. Also, as a certified sommelier, he has the professional credentials to satisfy even the most sophisticated wine connoisseur. It’s this level of service that has propelled the opening of his newest (and largest) location.
Located in a former Hooters restaurant, Rishi has completely renovated the 7,000 sq ft property, now unidentifiable from its previous tenant, to create an inviting space capable of comfortably accommodating one of west Michigan’s most expansive selections of adult beverages. Rishi estimates that he carries approximately 1,300 beers, many of which are craft and of limited release, 1,400 international wines and 1,200 premium spirits. And, in the event that what a customer is looking for is not on the shelf, yet available in Michigan, Rishi always has a notepad next to the register where he will take requests for special orders – sometimes calling his distributors right on the spot.
Rishi’s new location also boasts an impressive 1,300 sq ft walk-in beer cooler, the Beer Cave. Unlike most typical beverage retailers’ walk-in coolers, Rishi’s has four doors, an advanced, nearly silent air conditioning system and speakers to create a refreshing environment in which guests will enjoy browsing.
The Beer Cave is also stocked with a variety of take-out ready kegs from high demand major national and local breweries, including Founders, Bell’s and Short’s; Rishi will also happily special order more niche craft beer kegs – if a brewery distributes it in the state of Michigan, he will find it for you.
Rishi modestly opened the new store’s doors with a soft opening on April 14. Forthcoming are two significant dates of which to make note. Tuesday, April 29 will be the media daypreview with an open invitation to news and media outlets to visit, meet Rishi and shake hands with his family, distributors and those loyal customers who engage with @ribgr across social media. The official grand opening will take place Thursday, May 1. Should there be consideration for any media coverage, Rishi is eager to and will happily make himself available for interviews, appearances and conversations about his business and expertise in the retail beverage industry.
Most unique and exciting, and very likely one-of-a-kind in its practice ever in the craft beer community, Right Brain Brewery, of Traverse City, MI, has crafted a top secret and extremely limited barleywine in Rishi’s honor, appropriately named Benevolent Friend. During a trip to Grand Rapids to visit some of their strongest off-premise accounts, Right Brain’s owner, Russell Springsteen met with Rishi. A personal fan of barleywines, Rishi approached Springsteen about whether Right Brain had a high-end barleywine in their portfolio available for distribution to his store, something that would age well and appeal to the most discerning beer geeks. Springsteen left his meeting with Rishi, moved by his impression of him, and the idea was born.
Leif Kolt, Right Brain’s Marketing Coordinator, shares insight into Benevolent Friend, explaining that “‘benevolent friend’ is a term pulled from an Indian proverb that states: ‘Evil will befall him who regards not the advice of a benevolent friend.’” Kolt dissects that Right Brain’s design team started with a photo of Rishi, vectorized his face and then added it to a body enhanced with eight arms (each holding a beer) and background images that are representative of and an ode to a blend of Middle Eastern religions, in order to give the 22 oz. bottle a very exotic and festive looking label while honoring Rishi’s culture and iconic likeness. Kolt describes the profile of this English style barleywine as appearing “hazy amber in color, with a mildly fruity aroma and strong notes of malt and toast. And, since it has a higher ABV at 9.5%, it is ideal for cellaring or aging at home.”
Benevolent Friend, Kolt confirms, “was produced only for Rishi.” Aside from the rare occasion when Right Brain has it in their taproom, “Rishi’s International Beverage is the only place for people to get their hands on a bottle.” Rishi will officially release Benevolent Friend for sale publicly the first time during media day April 29 and then again during the grand opening May 1. Right Brain will be releasing a special whiskey barrel aged batch of Benevolent Friend in their Traverse City taproom as part of their 15-month Barrel Aged Party, April 25. Ryan Engemann, Right Brain’s Resident Beer Geek and Certified Cicerone, plans to visit Rishi’s during Media Day, April 29 to talk about Benevolent Friend.
As another surprise, Rishi has been quietly setting aside a portion of his allocation of some of west Michigan’s ultra popular, limited release beers to be sold coinciding with his grand opening May 1: Founders Brewing KBS, Founders Brewing Backstage Series 2012’s Bolt Cutter, 2013’s Sweet Repute and 2014’s Smoked Porter, and the recently highly sought after Bell’s Black Note Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout.
In an effort to promote Rishi’s recently rebranded social media presence, the only way to get a chance to purchase any of these limited beers is for loyal customers in the know to first follow Rishi’s International Beverage on Facebook, and @ribgr on Twitter and/or Instagram. Participants over 21-years-old entering the contest must snap a photo of themselves enjoying their favorite Michigan craft beer and post the photo between now and April 29 with a direct mention to Rishi’s International Beverage on Facebook or @ribgr if posted on Twitter and Instagram, with the following two hashtags: #GrandOpeningMay1 #CheersRishi. Rishi will pick his favorites and notify the winners on April 30, which allows each winner the opportunity to purchase up to two bottles in any combination of the beers mentioned above on a first come/first served basis between May 1-4 at the new location on 28th Street. The contest and complete rules are posted on Rishi’s International Beverage Facebook page.
For existing customers loyal to Rishi’s East Paris location (2675 East Paris Grand Rapids, MI 49546), it is now closed permanently, lovingly replaced with the new 28th Street location. Still open for business, unaffected, is Rishi’s other location at 6859 Cascade Rd SE Grand Rapids, MI 49546.
BeerAdvocate, with a World-class rating of 98/100: http://tinyurl.com/beeradvocate-ribgr