SPARTA — The thought of a cellar typically conjures thoughts of a dingy, chilly and dark basement.
And, if you’re a Michigander, likely a dirt floor. In other words, it’s the ideal location for storing beer, not for enjoying one. Unless you walk into Michigan Beer Cellar.
Located in downtown Sparta, the brewpub and microbrewery — yes, it’s also a winery and distillery — opened under the vision of owner Dan Humphrey, a longtime and noted home brewer.
“I won a lot of awards home brewing,” says Humphrey, who began brewing in 1989. “One day I just decided it was time to open my own brewery.”
Walking inside this particular cellar is not like many others. For starters, it’s a lot warmer. There’s also lots of life, staged well by its pool table, jukebox, arcades and long wooden bar against the front wall (the bar seats about a dozen patrons).
But then other parts fit the cellar moniker, such as the dark bluish green painted walls, low lighting and overall stark decor. Three lantern-style lights add glow along the mirror that lines the entire back wall behind the bar, accompanied by three TVs. Another large flat screen is situated in the main seating area, which is two steps higher on a stage-like area away from the bar.
“We like to have a laid back atmosphere,” says Humphrey, whose pub hosts live music, trivia night and karaoke, amongst other forms of entertainment. “It’s a place you can come relax, bring some friends and drink some beer.”
ONE DOOR OPENS
Timing was everything for Humphrey when he concocted the idea for his brewery — he was laid off from his engineering job after a downsizing in 2009. That summer, the Rockford resident “kicked around” the idea of opening a brewery and began filing paperwork in September. On May 28, 2010, Michigan Beer Cellar opened its doors in a former banquet hall at 500 E. Division St. in Sparta, just five miles from Humphrey’s home.
Less than two years later, the long-time member of West Michigan’s Prime Time Brewers is distributing his brews to five counties while pumping out pints on location.
“My distribution here can’t keep up with my production,” says Humphrey, who plans to expand placement to Kalamazoo and south by early spring, followed eventually by Lansing and Traverse City. Currently, MBC beer is available in more than 25 retail stores with 15-20 handles on tap at restaurants/bars, such as The Green Well and HopCat in Grand Rapids.
Besides the beer, Humphrey ferments wine and spends some time distilling. The pub also serves deli-style food with emphasis on “food quality” with “good,local ingredients.” Items include appetizers, gourmet hotdogs, sandwiches, paninis and wraps.
ALL ABOUT THE BREWS
The brewery has 14 taps, mostly mainstays with two rotating seasonals and a hard cider.
“I like to brew hoppy and big ales,” Humphrey says. “I’ve always brewed a big IPA and English IPA — you kind of brew what you like to drink.”
One of the most-celebrated brews is MBC’s Black Magic RyPA. Others on tap include:
- American IPA
- Blonde Ale
- English IPA
- Summer Sunrise
- Irish Stout
- Oatmeal Stout
- Irish Red
- Cellar Lite
- Vanilla Porter
- Mocha Java Stout
- Double IPA
- Head Knocker (seasonal)
- Peach Passion (seasonal)
For Humphrey, he approaches his business with humility.
“We’re just a small brewery — or a large home brewery,” he says.