DOUGLAS — When Scott Farney describes the success of Saugatuck Brewing Company, he breaks down its evolution into three main phases.
First things first — brew. Second, have a pub with good grub. Last, have a banquet room (and name it after a nearby ghost town).
Of course, there’s sales and ever-growing distribution. But Farney, the company’s sales manager, knows it really comes down to the beers and the perfect place to consume said libations.
The eyes of most folks walking through the doors of the West Michigan brewery focus on the flowing tap handles around the L-shaped bar — incidentally about 16 people can belly up on a stool.
Named the Lucky Stone Pub, the bar is surrounded by both tall top and traditional tables along with booths, most often filled with smiling patrons being served outstanding pub grub.
“We have an Irish or English style feel to the place, which is what we’re really going for — a warm, friendly atmosphere where you can taste great craft beer learn about great craft beer,” Farney said. “That’s another part of what we want people to experience right when they walk in.”
One part of the learning experience comes with a brew-on-premise system adjacent to the bar — Saugatuck is the only brewery in the Mitten that has a system where customers can brew their own beer and bottle it to take home.
The other part of learning is the knowledge of the brewpub staff. Bartenders and waitresses are trained to answer questions about each brew just as well as the brewer could (or at least as close as you can get).
”Every single person on our staff knowledgeable on craft beer and all the great food we sell,” Farney said, adding that Saugatuck was recently named in the Top 5 brewpubs for food by Revue Magazine. “If there’s not a brewer here readily available to answer questions, the front line is our servers, our bartenders. When folks come to a brewery like this, they expect — and rightfully so — to be able to have their questions about our brews answered.”
The emphasis on knowledge of its brews shows in that, while Saugatuck boasts an acclaimed food menu, the center remains the first phase in its original plan — the beer.
“There’s great craft beer available throughout the entire state of Michigan,” Farney said. “There is great beer within 20 minutes of any direction of us. I think that good food service and really good tasting food enhances the entire atmosphere and the entire experience of great beer.”
And it doesn’t get any fresher than going to the pub for a pour — the brews come straight to the tap handles from the 10 tanks in the back.
“You are getting the freshest beer possible when you come here,” Farney said. “Saugatuck Brewing Company is all about being a balanced brewery from start to finish. We do lean more toward a balance and drinkability in all our styles.”
One way Saugatuck keeps its true-to-style beers unique is by using a variety of yeasts in the brewing process. Still, the company is never afraid to dabble in the extreme and unique. Its Neapolitan Milk Stout, for example, is unmatched by any other brew.
“We don’t use a house-style yeast strain,” Farney said. “A big part that creates that balance in our beer is managing different yeast strains and styles and — in part— those traditional characteristics and pronounced styles in those beers.”
As far as extreme styles, Saugatuck is known for its frequent limited releases in small quantities. It also has a small barrel-aged program.
“We are also unique in that we are not a one trick pony,” Farney said. “We’re able to go the other way and make the extreme beers just as well as other breweries that are doing the extreme styles.”
Bringing all three phases together has spelled much growth and growing pains for the brewery. When it opened in 2005, Saugatuck started in a smaller building across the street from its current operations at 2948 Blue Star Highway. In 2008, the brewery and pub moved to its larger location inside a building that housed a former manufacturing plant.
And, sure enough, it’s a building with plenty of room for growth.
“We are pretty blessed with an expansion of space to move into,” Farney said. “Right now, our limit is just shy of 10,000 barrels if we were running on maximum capacity.”
Farney said Saugatuck is always working to stay ahead by having a long-term and short-term plan each in place at all times.
“Because of [the] amount of growth we are experiencing, we have to stay ahead of the curve, he said. “So we do have a lot more planning going on, we don’t want the demand to dictate the supply. We want to stay ahead of that in a way that is logistically sound for our company.”
BREWERY OF THE MONTH DEAL: Saugatuck Brewing Company will be happy to give anyone visiting the brewery during the month of May who shows this article a 10% discount off an item purchased in the pub.