WARREN — When Dragonmead co-owner Bill Wrobel decided to start a brewery with his father-in-law Earl Scherbarth and longtime friend Larry Channell, it took the trio an entire day to brew their first 10-gallon batch.
A lot has changed since that day in 1997. After continuous tweaks and improvements to their brewing process, Dragonmead currently produces 2,500 barrels per year using a three-barrel system.
However, with a new expansion, Dragonmead’s nanobrewery status (a brewery that produces beer in four barrels or less) is about to become a thing of the past. Dragonmead recently added a new 20-barrel system, and Wrobel sees production numbers climbing to 10,000 barrels per year once test batches are completed and the brewery is running at full capacity.
The new system, purchased from Lake Orion-based Craftwerk Brewing Systems, is completely automated using Braumat software. From one central unit, brewers can control every step of the brewing process. All of the tanks are shown on a computer monitor, and the brewer can simply click on each tank to check or adjust a number of factors, such as fermentation and temperature. Dragonmead is one of only a handful of smaller breweries in Michigan to adopt the system.
“We can crank out much more beer,” said Dragonmead brewer Spencer Channell, noting that the new system is also more time efficient.
A 14-hour day in the old brew house equates to just a 6-hour day in the new brew house, he explained.
Channell added that the smaller system wasn’t conducive to variety, and the expansion will allow the brewers to produce their most in-demand beers — Final Absolution, Erik the Red and Under the Kilt Wee Heavy — in larger quantities, while simultaneously trying new recipes in the old brew house.
“That will free up our smaller system to make more experimental stuff,” he said.
While Dragonmead is already known for having a wide variety of beer, wine and mead available in its pub, Channell said the brewery aims to up the number of taps from 52 to 103 or more, and have at least one of each Beer Judge Certification Program-accepted style and sub-style available.
In addition, Dragonmead will now be able to extend its reach and better meet the demand of its distributors and customers.
“We’re going to go with a new, high-volume distributor in western Wayne, Washtenaw and Livingston counties,” said Wrobel, adding that he’d like to expand distribution even further throughout Michigan and to other states. “We see a demand there for a lot more than what we’re doing (now).”
Wrobel said that Dragonmead’s production and bottling area will see some further expansion, and the wine and mead rooms will be moved to add more pub seating. Because Dragonmead has a limited food menu, he also wants to partner with local food trucks to give customers more variety.
“The (new) system will also help us out with some seasonal brewing,” said Wrobel.
Coming up, head brewer Erik Harms will team up with his father, “Reverend Fred,” to make his annual Christmas ale, Jul Ø1, celebrating his Norwegian heritage. Jul Ø1 will be available in December and January.
Dragonmead is located at 14600 E. 11 Mile Rd. in Warren. For more information, visit www.dragonmead.com.