CHELSEA — More than three years in the making, the Chelsea Alehouse Brewery is finally a reality. Its opening last Thursday marks the advent of the first brewery in this small town 18 miles west of Ann Arbor since the Real Ale Company shut its doors 30 years ago.
“We’re excited to be open,” says Chris Martinson, owner and head brewer. “Our goal is to build a really strong, community-focused pub, to give people something a little different that adds to the scene here.”
So far, so good. In its first three days (the Alehouse is currently open only Thursday through Saturday), the place has been full of people partaking of the limited (for now) tap list and food menu and soaking up the ambiance of the high-ceilinged, open-layout pub area.
“It’s great so many people are excited about what breweries offer communities,” says Martinson. “When people recognize a well made product and can enjoy themselves while supporting a local business, that’s a good thing.”
The seven-barrel brewhouse — sourced through GW Kent in Ypsilanti with the tanks fabricated by Marks Design and Metalworks in Washington state — is clearly visible through a paned glass window behind the bar, where Martinson and associate brewer Eric Schneider work to produce beers to appeal to a variety of tastes. At the time of my visit, four beers were on tap: 402 E. Porter, Broad Reach IPA, Silo White Ale and Bog Trail Brown Ale.
The porter, a 6.2% ABV brew that might fit in the “robust” category, and the white, a 4.5% easy-drinking witbier, were my favorites of the four. The IPA was strong at 8% and tasted a bit “young” to me, while the brown, a 5.9% American, was muddy with low carbonation.
Martinson, a homebrewer for nine years, readily acknowledges there are some kinks to be worked out, including adjusting from small-scale brewing to a large commercial system.
“We’re learning the rig,” he says. “The IPA, for example, fermented out a little farther than we would have liked, so we countered the higher alcohol by dry-hopping it a bit longer. It’s almost a double IPA really, but it turned out to be a pretty good beer overall.”
This week Martinson expects to add a black IPA and an oatmeal stout to the taps, with a rye IPA and an Irish red ale to follow in the near future. By the end of February, he expects the pub to be open six days a week (Tuesday through Sunday), and regularly pouring 8-10 beers at a time. Growler fills are unavailable until he and Schroeder have enough beer in the pipeline to meet the demand. (“If we filled growlers now we might run out of beer,” he laughs.)
The food menu includes house-made salsa and hummus appetizer plates and three choices of sandwich: Turkey and bacon, ham and swiss and grilled cheese. Again the plan is to increase offerings over time, according to Martinson.
“We’ll be adding menu items and increasing the variety of things we offer as we grow, adding soups and wraps and that sort of thing,” he says. “We really want to make sure we’re making food that pairs well with our beers.”
More than 800 people signed up for the Alehouse’s Founding Member program, which includes handmade mugs, discounts on beer and other perks. Presently the program is closed, but Martinson expects to re-open it next year.
Other plans for the future include showcasing live music, releasing small hand-bottled batches, serving ales on cask and, if demand warrants, building an expansion brewery to potentially handle distribution.
“Our biggest challenge will be just making sure we always have a good rotation of beers,” says Martinson. “So far everything’s going well. It’s been a positive experience, and I feel like I’m doing the right thing.”
The Chelsea Alehouse Brewery, 520 N. Main St., Suite 100 (in the Clocktower Complex), Downtown Chelsea. Hours: Thursday, 3-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 3-11 p.m. Web: www.chelseaalehouse.com. Phone: 734-433-5500.