Editor’s Note: This is the fourth part of a five-part series profiling Michigan’s brewing industry.
As the craft beer industry starts to roll, the Michigan government began to take notice and have picked up on July as being designated “Michigan Craft Beer Month.”
A senate resolution (No. 160, Senator Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor)) and a house resolution (No. 102, Rep. Peter MacGregor (R-Rockford)) were introduced in June that officially designated July as the state’s beer holiday.
“It is always an honor to be able to recognize thriving, Michigan-based businesses,” MacGregor said in a press release. “It should be the role of government to get out of their way and support them when we can. My resolution to recognize July as ‘Craft Beer Month’ was a small ‘pat on the back’ to a successful and growing industry in our state.”
And a small pat on the back it is, at least until the state begins to allow some loosening of rules and regulations that hamper the industry.
“Making a proclamation is one thing,” said Rex Halfpenny, publisher of Michigan Beer Guide. “It all started with American Beer Month. It changed to American Beer Week — here in Michigan we just changed it to Michigan Beer Month. It gives us an excuse to celebrate this stuff. If the state wanted to support it, they’d do what they do for the wine industry.”
And the beer industry is years behind the wine industry, according to Michigan Brewers Guild executive director Scott Graham.
The wine industry is subsidized by the state, and run by the Michigan Grape & Wine Council, and even has its own state-funded Wine Country magazine.
Change could be on its way
But as Graham acknowledges, the state is in the process of attempting to even the playing field. On June 29, the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs released recommendations to help streamline various regulations in government and business operations. The recommendations included 72 changes to the liquor control regulations.
But for any of them to take affect, they have to go through the rule making or legislative process. Graham said it’s unlikely all or none would take place, but a mixture of them.
“Many of them are procedural and would streamline the licensing and a few that would be pretty significant,” he said. “We don’t want to do it without regulation, but to be able to do things wineries can do; it’s more access to consumers and market. It’s logical for growth.”
It would be a welcome relief to the industry to see some of the rules that are outdated be lifted, Graham said in a release. The industry already contributes more than $24 million in wages and an overall $133 million to the economy.
“Many of the current rules were put in place when our segment of the industry was not even a concept,” the release stated. “Michigan’s craft brewers are doing well and these changes will support continued and accelerated growth to within our industry, which will also strengthen job growth, economic development, tourism and agriculture.”
Still a nice gesture
With those recommendations in the works, the most the legislature could have done was give July the distinction of Michigan’s beer holiday. And the guild is happy with that.
“It’s great, it’s fun for them too, it’s not that way in every single state,” said Graham, noting that most states don’t recognize the brewing industry. “It does feel good for them to recognize that there’s an industry growing. It’s fun, it’s good business and good people, so it’s nice to see them recognize that.”
Other Michigan businesses are receptive to “Michigan Craft Beer Month” as well. Crunchy’s in East Lansing is having its own Michigan Month, where all foods and drinks are Michigan driven. All 27 taps are turned over to Michigan brews — generally 15-20 are. And bars across the state have turned a majority of taps to the Michigan-made beers.
“We’re a big supporter of Michigan beers in general,” Crunchy’s general manager Mike Kruger said. “I love doing it, it’s a chance to pull off all the domestics and just do Michigan beers and blow it out.”
Even in a college town, Kruger pulls his weekly specials of domestic light beers with Short’s Local Light and Atwater D-Light.
The proclamation helps further the goal of promotion the Michigan Brewers Guild is based on.
“With the summer upon us and Grand Rapids claiming the title of ‘BeerCity USA,'” it is the perfect time to celebrate Craft Beer Month in Michigan,” Warren said in a release. “We are excited about the opportunity to tout the benefits to our statewide tourism efforts and the investment in our local economy that craft beer represents.”