Greg “Gonzo” Haner has been a stalwart member of the Kalamazoo craft beer scene for more than 20 years, acting as brewmaster for Kalamazoo’s first brewpub and assisting several new breweries get up and running. Now his namesake brewery will be celebrating its third anniversary with numerous barrel-aged and one-off beers while eyeing the future.
Gonzo’s Biggdogg Brewing’s official third birthday is Nov. 13, but the brewery will start the party a day early with a celebratory toast and cake at 7 p.m. and some high octane brews starting when it opens at 11 a.m. including a barrel-aged version of it’s flagship Vanilla Porter, an ale named Qyburn’s Turn made by combining a 12 percent ABV Scotch Ale with an Imperial Stout, and a few other surprises.
“We’ve got a barleywine that’s been sitting in a brandy barrel for two-and-a-half years,” Haner said.
Haner began homebrewing in 1991. A few years later he earned a degree in microbrewing from the Seibel Institute of Technology and helped open Olde Peninsula Brewpub as its brewmaster in 1996. Beyond that, he’s also helped other brewers in town get their recipes perfected.
“Gonzo gave me some good insight into my beer,” said Kevin Tibbs, brewmaster at Tibbs Brewing Company. “He improved my beer a lot, just talking to him. When I was brewing at home I felt like there was a little something missing. He told me it was good, but it was thin and that always stuck with me.”
“Really we all help each other,” Haner said. “I think it’s a thing where everybody works together to help everybody else.”
Gonzo’s Biggdogg was among the initial wave of breweries that opened in the Kalamazoo craft beer boom of 2013, and has maintained a high profile through a combination of Haner’s name recognition, a constantly rotating lineup of tap offerings at the brewery, a full-slate of canned beers available on store shelves, and distribution to various bars and restaurants.
In the coming year the brewery is planning to add ciders to the mix as well.
“I think the business is doing very good,” Haner said. “We’ve got a lot of key people here that are doing a great job.”
Gonzo’s currently cans five beers for distribution, with help from Michigan Mobile Canning. The most recent addition to the lineup is Yummy Hoppy, a double IPA made with local hops from Hop Head Farms. It joined Vanilla Porter, Burning Sun Redd, Magic Trick Hefeweizen, and Geyser Brown as the brewery’s canned options in late September.
“A lot of customers really liked Yummy Hoppy, so going off our customers’ excitement we decided to go ahead and can that and it’s done very well so far,” Haner said. “It’s a nice beer in a can, definitely.”
Looking forward to the brewery’s future, Haner said he intends to keep rotating new and different beers into the lineup along side some favorite standbys to keep people coming back.
“We rotate all of the time to keep things fresh,” he said. “It’s good to switch it up. People don’t like to come in here every week or every month and have the same beers on. The reason I go to places is because they have something new on or to get one I really like and then try one or two new beers they have on that I’ve never had before.
“I think that’s the thing the thing about the craft scene right now. People want to try something new every time.”