With a name that is coastal in nature, Stormcloud Brewing Company has found a way to bring three Northern Michigan elements together: Lake Michigan, a small humble village and award-winning craft beer.
Brian Confer, head brewer and co-owner, was once a photographer for Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. He turned his darkroom into a homebrewing space and started experimenting. He later partnered with Rick Schmitt to open Stormcloud Brewing in downtown Frankfort.
Stormcloud opened in Frankfort in 2013 and has made a big impact in its small community and across the state. It has already won awards and competitions, including a 2014 Great American Beer Festival Bronze Medal and the Michigan Civil Beer Wars. All of Stormcloud’s beers are Belgian-inspired, which allows it to stand out from other breweries who have a wider focus.
“Between Right Brain and Short’s, there’s plenty of good IPAs and pale ales in Traverse. This gives people a reason to come up [to Frankfort],” said Confer.
It certainly has. Stormcloud has caught the eye of people looking for a different style of brew, giving them a reason to take a day trip to a nearby town. Frankfort has seen a resurgence in business and sense of community, with great partnerships among downtown businesses. The taproom is frequently filled with people who are not from the area.
“I think Stormcloud has had a significant impact. We’ve created jobs and now have 45 employees. We’ve made an investment in downtown,” said Schmitt.
By investing in downtown and partnering with others in the community, Confer and Schmitt have been able to contribute to the revitalization of Frankfort. Previously known primarily for its Lake Michigan shoreline, this small village now boasts multiple flourishing businesses.
Those visiting Stormcloud might stop in for a brew, hop across the street to get dinner at Fusion then roam the rest of downtown. Schmitt also owns the Garden Theatre next door to the brewery, which has allowed them to coordinate fun events, such as the Dark and Stormcloudy Film Series.
Stormcloud has not only done well at bringing new people to Frankfort; it has also given locals a another place to experience their close-knit community. Holding regular hours throughout the blustery winter and encouraging community events has allowed Stormcloud to create an atmosphere in which people are able to come and just be. Schmitt said he would like to see Stormcloud become a “third place.”
“It’s where you want to be when you’re not at place one or two,” Schmitt stated.
Place one being home and place two being work. As a “third place,” Stormcloud has held trivia nights, “Pub Fiction” and has hosted the League of Women’s Voters, among other events. And much like other small community breweries, people are welcomed into the pub no matter their reason for visiting. Both Schmitt and Confer want people to come to Stormcloud for the experience and atmosphere, not to simply pay for a beer.
“Really breweries were the coffee shop before the coffee shop,” added Schmitt.
With its great success and strong sense of community, what could be next for Stormcloud?
To put it simply, staying reflective and grounded. Stormcloud has grown in ways Schmitt and Confer did not expect.
“We’re giving more thought to the future,” said Schmitt.