When an unfamiliar visitor stumbles upon the north side of Kalamazoo, they may feel as though they have taken a wrong turn as the main attractions shift from restaurants and breweries to old warehouses and large factories. However, if they look closely they will notice a small 10 barrel brewery that decided to call this part of town home.
After several years of preparation, Brian C. Steele and Dan Gilligan were finally able to give Kalamazoo its newest craft brewery, Boatyard Brewing Co., in June of 2014. Their mission is to be a brewery where you get to know the staff while you’re enjoying one of their 11 beers on tap. It is also not uncommon to get a Boatyard history lesson during your visit. Their story is an intriguing adventure of two home-brewers and their attempt to bring quality beer to the north end of Kalamazoo.
Roughly 5 years ago, Steele approached Gilligan with the idea of opening up a craft brewery. Gilligan immediately accepted the proposal and partnered with Steele to begin this journey with great intentions. One particular goal of theirs was for the brewery to have a Michigan centric name. After going through tons of copyrighted names, they discovered that “Boatyard Brewing Co.” had not been used. Calling back to boating adventures that they shared with family and friends, Steele said, “We decided to aim for a culture of boating. Most of the time it’s relaxing, family oriented, and fun and so we went with Boatyard.”
To embark on their nautical brewing journey, Steele and Gilligan needed a location around Kalamazoo for their Boatyard Brewing Co.
During their search a building became available on the north end of Kalamazoo. It seemed like a great location for a temporary home. Steele and Gilligan rented out a section of the building they thought would be the perfect size for them after some renovations.
Several weeks went by during the restoration and the guys began to feel at home. They started to call their new place “a location of opportunity.” Despite many people telling them that being on the north side of Kalamazoo was a big risk, Steele and Gilligan never abandoned their ship. They eventually purchased the entire building from their landlord. This allowed Boatyard to have a permanent location with plenty of room for innovation and expansion.
As Steele and Gilligan said, this location became a place of opportunity. They were able to explore new ways of brewing by cultivating a few strains of yeasts from different areas within the brew house. This lead to the creation of the “Alice” and “Betty” series, which contain different ales using these wild yeasts.
Proud of their results, Boatyard plans to brew several different ales from the Alice and Betty series for the upcoming Kalamazoo Beer Week in January. Boatyard is also partnering with The Union to do a tap takeover with the Alice series at their location on S Kalamazoo Mall.
In another effort to support Kalamazoo commerce, Boatyard has also been partnering with the local food truck, Sloppy’s, to help feed hungry customers at the brewery. Steele and Gilligan enjoy their relationship with Sloppy’s because of the opportunities it has created for everyone. Both businesses are able to focus on their specialties with relief that the other is attending to other consumer needs.
After being open for almost 2 years, Boatyard has made partnerships that have brought other local businesses to the north side of Kalamazoo. Thanks to the help of DiscoverKalamazoo, Boatyard has become a part of the “Give a Craft Beer Trail” to help promote their brewery. The trail provides its participants the opportunity to explore 11 breweries around Kalamazoo County. This has contributed to attracting outside travelers and locals to the north side for the first time.
Through the combination of great beer, local business partnerships and a friendly staff, Boatyard has been able to make their mark on an unexpected area of Kalamazoo. As Steele explained this impact perfectly, “We’ve kind of become the ‘anchor’ on the north end.”