For going on eight years, Sherwood Brewing Company has been making obnoxiously unpretentious beers on the corner of Hayes and Hall Road in Shelby Township.
Obnoxiously unpretentious beers. What might that mean, you ask? Owner Ray Sherwood explains.
“We’re not trying to elevate ourselves to that elitist status,” he said. “We make beer and we try to make the best beer. We’re almost obnoxious about not being pretentious.”
Sherwood has roots in home brewing from back in the ’90s while helping out a friend brew in college.
Eventually Sherwood purchased his own equipment and began making his own batches.
“For me, I had a kind of do-it-yourself mentality. It was easy enough to do and I really enjoyed the process and the creative aspect,” he said.
After working in his field a short time, Sherwood decided brewing was something he wanted to pursue and moved back to Metro Detroit after taking residence in Lansing for several years.
While back in the Detroit area, Sherwood began brewing at Kuhnhenn and received some background on what it’s like to work in a family business. He stayed there until opening Sherwood Brewing Company in 2006.
“I kind of had the idea that I rather have my own place than to work and grow somebody else’s,” he said.
Fast forward to 2014. Sherwood Brewing Company is now doing over 550 barrels-worth of beer on an annual basis.
“Our first full year, I would say we did about 250 barrels,” Sherwood said. “Over the last three years we’ve been stuck right around 560 just because that’s as fast as we can get the beer to go through.”
The brewery operates on a seven-barrel brewing system from a former chain of restaurants. It’s a turnkey brew system design to be compact and small.
“We’ve done a lot of different beers on this system that it wasn’t necessarily designed for,” Sherwood said. “The benefit of the system for us is that it is very compact. I think we’ll be able to squeeze three more very large tanks into a room that’s relatively small.”
The vibe of the brewpub is dark and laid back. TVs all around and bottles lining the top of the walls.
“We really let it happen organically over time,” Sherwood said. “Our mindset was, you have to live in it a little bit to make it what it’s going to be. That was achieved more through developing relationships through customers and making it more of a home.”
Corey Paul, Brewer and Manager, said patrons bring in items of contribution to the pub.
“We kind of have a found and scavenged theme,” he said. “Somebody brings this in and they put it up and it’s their bar. Now, they have that personal connection to it.”
Customers have been consistent over the years. With craft beer’s popularity and growth, the customer flow was steady from the start.
“I did expect to have a learning curve for the customer base. But surprisingly in this area, the demographic is pretty positive for it,” Sherwood said.
“There were people who were genuinely looking for something like this in the market. But what we found is, sometimes those guys come and go and they’re always looking for the new brewpub. A lot of them have become our core group of regulars.”
Education of customers is something the brewery has prided itself on. But they’ve also found that education and explanation is something they’ve had to do less of.
“It’s not like it was eight years ago when we opened up,” Sherwood said. “If you didn’t know about it, you had to explain the wheel to people…this beer is made of wholesome ingredients. It’s grain, it’s not rice. It’s malt. It’s supposed to be bitter, it’s supposed to be hoppy. It’s not supposed to look like water.
“My goal is not to achieve Miller Lite. My goal is to achieve flavorful beers. I feel like less and less I have to explain that.”
Paul explained that one of the reasons the brewery has open windows and open doors is to keep an open dialogue with the customers.
“We always brew when we’re open. I don’t come in at six in the morning to brew,” he said. “We keep the doors open so there’s that positive communication between us and the customers. They can come in and ask questions. Education is the biggest thing in our industry.”
The most popular beers you’ll see regulars and mug club members ordering up are the Buxom BlonDDe Ale and the Mistress Jade’s Hemp Ale.
“We try to have those on all the time. They appeal to a wide-range of customers,” Sherwood said. “We’re aware that we constantly have new customers coming in and that they might not have an educated or very sophisticated palate.”
Since the regulars at the brewpub are always voicing their opinions, customer feedback is always taken into consideration. That feedback not only applies to beers, but to the newly revised food menu.
“We work hard to make sure our beer selection is unique and different,” Sherwood said. “We try not to have the same beer selection for more than a week or two at a time. We also feel like the food menu has to evolve.”
To accommodate their highly-acclaimed pizza, they’ve added other items like dips and sandwiches like the BLFGT (Bacon, Lettuce and Fried Green Tomato) sandwich.
“There’s a place for a microwave and that’s with day-old pizza,” Paul said. “But that’s at home or somewhere else. We don’t want to do that here.”
Even though Sherwood has seen tremendous growth over the past eight years, there are always future goals in mind.
“We know with the new tanks we’re not ready to go state-wide, but we do want to help take care of some of the better beer bars that specialize in Michigan beers,” Sherwood said. “We would love to support those guys and give them something different.”
The communal aspect of beer is what continues to drive Sherwood and the brewery into the future.
“It’s better than wine, it’s better than liquor and it’s something that people can enjoy together,” he said. “It brings people together.”