Clawson, MI – Black Lotus Brewing Company will celebrate its 10th anniversary this year in quietly cool Clawson. The neighborhood brew pub has recently doubled tap capacity as its brewing program, as well its customer base, continues to grow.
The brewery is home to an eclectic mix of brews, scratch-made food, and funky decor. Free live music is provided each week by Zap Toro, a Latin infused Jazz band featuring Aretha Franklin’s drummer, percussion from the Pistons drumline, and the occasional Tango lesson.
The brewery recently expanded to connect with the owners’ neighboring business, The Drive In. The virtual golf simulator hall has now been outfitted with 10 taps and equipped for live music.
Owners Mark Harper and Mike Allen stepped away from Brewing Operations last year to focus on the business. Enter Nick “The Brewer” Joseph, whose big personality and passion for beer make for an irresistible combination.
His claim to fame?
“I was voted best male bartender in Chicago in 2006,” Nick says.
These days he spends less time pouring beer and more time brewing it.
“The owners brought me in to do a job. Once they trusted me to keep the standard brews on draft, they let me go wild.”
Wild—such as a pumpkin-less pumpkin beer randalled through toffee brittle and ghost peppers, which was on tap this year at the Detroit Beer Festival. Or, like a farmhouse saison aged in Valentine gin barrels and named after a Bond film.
His Skyfarm 00Saison took silver in the Belgian specialty category at the World Beer Tasting Championships, second place behind a Unibroue beer.
Beer experiments aside, Black Lotus specializes in clean, balanced beers with no additives or filtering. The mainstay beers include a sessionable IPA, a Brown Ale, a Stout, and a Pilsner style beer.
They keep it local, using all Michigan hops, Barley from 44th parallel, and, of course, Detroit city water.
“There is a group of younger Michigan brewers elevating the game here in Metro-Detroit,” Nick said. “Quality improves with better technical training and boots-on-the-ground experience.”
Nick started his career in beer at Kuhnhenn’s Brewery in Warren, where he spent a year as a production brewer. He spent 5 years in California homebrewing and playing music before returning to Michigan last year.
At that time, Black Lotus owner Mark Harper was looking for a brewer to take the program to the next level.
“I came here one year ago and started getting to know the beer program. Now I feel like I have infused myself into it and I am comfortable growing the brand,” Nick said.
Nick is responsible for the entire brewing process, from cleaning and maintaining equipment, to coming up with recipes, to hand bottling and labeling.
“The whole program is on me. Some days I’m a brewer, but most days it feels like I’m a janitor. When your career and your passion align, and you have confidence in your system, good things happen,” he said.
Nick aims to start a monthly podcast featuring brewers from around metro-Detroit, which will be hosted at Black Lotus with a live audience.
He also plans to invite other breweries to compete in a local beer challenge.
“We’re ready to put our beer alongside anyone else’s, and have a lot of fun doing so. A lot of the breweries around here have great relationships, which makes it more fun to collaborate.”
One such collaboration will be a cider/beer collaboration done with Cellarmen’s Meadery this month; a Belgian Quad mixed with a 28 varietal Cider from a farm in Michigan, potentially barrel aged in gin barrels.
“Beer should be an experience, and it should take you on a journey,” Nick says. “All I do is move the beer, clean the tank, move the beer, clean the tank, but I love it, and I love sharing this craft.”
Photography: Steven Pham