GRAND RAPIDS — If you had to find a brewer at The Mitten Brewing Co., you could do it in under a minute. You can’t miss Rob “Wob” Wanhatalo. Wob has the girth, the swarthiness, and, most importantly, the cascading beard of a brewer.

(He also has hops tattoos on his wrists, if you know what hops look like.)

You might, however, miss Jason Warnes. His beard is more modest, his looks unassuming. If he weren’t wearing the boots, gloves and glasses of someone wrestling a fermenter, he might pass for just another customer.

These two, the newly formed brewing team at the Mitten, might become something of an odd couple.

Warnes studies and fidgets with his recipes. He is fastidious, rarely pleased, and, by his own description, tightly wound. His beers start with reading and research. “I look at it on paper,” he says, “and get a feel for what it tastes like.”

That’s where the recipes start. Where they end, even he doesn’t know. “I do a lot of tweaking on my recipes,” says Warnes. “I’ll tweak them 50 times before I’m satisfied. And even then I’m not satisfied.”

By his count, Warnes’s Triple Crown Brown — which won him a national award as a homebrewer — has been altered at least 50 times.

Wob, on the other hand, studies, tweaks and worries a lot less. “I just kind of go for it,” he says. “I just dive in.” He looks at his materials and intuits what he can make from them. Once it’s made, it’s made.

Wob mentions his stout as an example. He made three minor changes, and now he says simply, “I’m done.”

Their temperaments are as different as their processes. One of the Mitten waitresses told Warnes he always appears on the verge of a heart attack. “I can be tough to work with,” he confesses. “If we had two of me…” Wob finishes his sentence: “No one would be calm.”

But it seems that their differences are creating balance, not conflict. They enjoy working together, and their product is well liked, earning nods city-wide.

And as much as they differ in personality and process, Wob and Warnes share a narrative. Both worked for their fathers before becoming full-time brewers — both had to tell their fathers they wanted a change.

Wob was employed at a plastics manufacturer when he got an offer to work at The Hideout Brewery. He had to call his manager, who happened to be his father, to put in his two weeks’ notice.

Warnes was in line to run the family business, but his father approached him and asked about his plans. “Do you want the honest answer?” Warnes asked his father in return. “I told him I wanted to be a brewer.”

Their stories have the same beginning, and Warnes and Wob have the same end in mind too. Warnes nodded in agreement when Wob said, “The best achievement for the time being will be consistency.” They want to nail down their recipes and stop “tweaking.”

Though they have worked together full time for only a week, Wob and Jason seem well on their way toward that goal. They know the “numbers” on their beers intimately — ABV, IBUs, etc. — and refer to them repeatedly in the course of an hour.

The numbers must already be good, because the beer certainly is. These two probably won’t stop tweaking just yet, but even if they did, their work would prompt many a return trip.

GRAND RAPIDS — If you had to find a brewer at The Mitten Brewing Co., you could do it in under a minute. You can’t miss Rob “Wob” Wanhatalo. Wob has the girth, the swarthiness, and, most importantly, the cascading beard of a brewer.
(He also has hops tattoos on his wrists, if you know what hops look like.)
You might, however, miss Jason Warnes. His beard is more modest, his looks unassuming. If he weren’t wearing the boots, gloves and glasses of someone wrestling a fermenter, he might pass for just another customer.
These two, the newly formed brewing team at the Mitten, might become something of an odd couple.
Warnes studies and fidgets with his recipes. He is fastidious, rarely pleased, and, by his own description, tightly wound. His beers start with reading and research. “I look at it on paper,” he says, “and get a feel for what it tastes like.”
That’s where the recipes start. Where they end, even he doesn’t know. “I do a lot of tweaking on my recipes,” says Warnes. “I’ll tweak them 50 times before I’m satisfied. And even then I’m not satisfied.”
By his count, Warnes’s Triple Crown Brown — which won him a national award as a homebrewer — has been altered at least 50 times.
Wob, on the other hand, studies, tweaks and worries a lot less. “I just kind of go for it,” he says. “I just dive in.” He looks at his materials and intuits what he can make from them. Once it’s made, it’s made.
Wob mentions his stout as an example. He made three minor changes, and now he says simply, “I’m done.”
Their temperaments are as different as their processes. One of the Mitten waitresses told Warnes he always appears on the verge of a heart attack. “I can be tough to work with,” he confesses. “If we had two of me…” Wob finishes his sentence: “No one would be calm.”
But it seems that their differences are creating balance, not conflict. They enjoy working together, and their product is well liked, earning nods city-wide.
And as much as they differ in personality and process, Wob and Warnes share a narrative. Both worked for their fathers before becoming full-time brewers — both had to tell their fathers they wanted a change.
Wob was employed at a plastics manufacturer when he got an offer to work at The Hideout Brewery. He had to call his manager, who happened to be his father, to put in his two weeks’ notice.
Warnes was in line to run the family business, but his father approached him and asked about his plans. “Do you want the honest answer?” Warnes asked his father in return. “I told him I wanted to be a brewer.”
Their stories have the same beginning, and Warnes and Wob have the same end in mind too. Warnes nodded in agreement when Wob said, “The best achievement for the time being will be consistency.” They want to nail down their recipes and stop “tweaking.”
Though they have worked together full time for only a week, Wob and Jason seem well on their way toward that goal. They know the “numbers” on their beers intimately — ABV, IBUs, etc. — and refer to them repeatedly in the course of an hour.
The numbers must already be good, because the beer certainly is. These two probably won’t stop tweaking just yet, but even if they did, their work would prompt many a return trip.

When Trevor Doublestein talks about creating a brewery that promotes community, he backs up his words with action.

During a busy Friday evening happy hour for GR Beer Week, Doublestein, co-owner of the new Our Brewing Company in downtown Holland, isn’t tucked away in some office joking with staff or surfing the Internet.

Instead, sporting a black Grand Rapids Beer Week T-shirt, dark designer glasses and a tan beanie, he is relaxing at a table with patrons enjoying their beers in a deep, open space complete with tall ceilings and flanked by exposed brick.

For Doublestein, it’s the way a brewery should be — crazy, communal and fun to be at — with a strong foundation of positive service.

“We wanted it to be like a living room,” he said. “It’s a cool thing to see that communal thing happening.”

The best part is Our Brewing Company, located just a few doors down from New Holland Brewery, has not even reached its full potential, according to Doublestein. Since a soft opening in early November, the brewery has only been open for two or three days a week at a time.

The problem was too much demand for beers ranging from The Belgian Exchange Student to the Glazed Donut Cream Ale. Our Brewing Company went through 15 kegs in 14 hours on its opening weekend, which caused Doublestein to close down for two weekends to build inventory and order a larger brewing system.

“We were upgrading the second day we were open,” he said.

Doublestein said they reopened on Fridays and Saturdays only, added Sunday in January and will add Thursdays beginning this week. They hope to have the new brewing equipment by the end of February and be open seven days a week as soon as possible.

Building on the communal theme, he also plans to reach out to home brewers, giving Our Brewing Company patrons a chance to vote on the best homebrews each month. The winner can then watch their brew being made at the brewery and host their own release party when the beer is complete.

Before running the day-to-day operations of Our Brewing Company, Doublestein was in a family construction business in Petoskey. It was never a love of his, however, despite having skills in that area.

When the economy turned and the construction business became even more stressful, he turned to homebrewing as an outlet. He said it was nice people didn’t critique his work for once. People just enjoyed his beer.

Doublestein was an avid mountain biker and after a hard ride with friends he would share his latest homebrew creations with them. The comparisons started flowing and he got ideas.

“(My friends would say) that’s so much better than such and such,” Doublestein recalls.

He and wife decided to “just go for it,” relocating to the Holland area and opening Our Brewing Company with a co-owner and head brewer.

Our Brewing Company is intentionally smaller so it can adapt to the needs of the customers and the owners, Doublestein said. As a result, they have featured more than 50 different beers since early November, many of which have been requested again and again by customers.

Some of the notable beers on tap were the Careless Whisper — an IPA with a medium body, citrusy tones and smooth finish — the Ron Burgundy — a darker beer described as a “hoppy Scottish red” — and the Daybreak American Amber Ale — which at 7% ABV is “a little big” for an amber ale.

“We like making our beers big,” Doublestein said with a smile. “It’s the American way.”

Doublestein said Our Brewing Company is especially interested in stouts, Belgians, porters and beers made with candies and chocolate. Later this year they plan to introduce teas into their beers as well as brew big Belgians and big IPAs.

“(The big IPA) will be way too hoppy for most people,” he said.

Looking into the future, Doublestein said Our Brewing Company will strive to strike a balance between the interests of customers and the expertise of staff.

“We like to make what the people want and what we want,” he said.

A move away from bustling Downtown Traverse City might have been a brave and bold move for Right Brain Brewery, but customers and its new neighborhood have embraced the change.
Its original location — in the now popular Warehouse District — became known for its eclectic collection of furniture, its low-key, non-bar-esque atmosphere, and, of course, a unique selection of microbrews.
Why would a business move away from the area in which it had become prosperous? To expand the brewhouse, of course.
Right Brain originally brewed in just 900 square feet, and as its success grew, ample brewing space dwindled. The brewery now has a vast 12,000 square feet for brewing. This allows it to keep up with demand — distribution is soon expanding to Ann Arbor and Lansing — and also plan for the future.
The new, larger location can be found in the recently formed “SoFo district.” It still has the same Right Brain atmosphere, complete with barber’s chairs, couches and picnic tables made with scrap wood.
The new location has also allowed Right Brain to transcend beyond being just a brewery. “The SoFo neighborhood has been grateful to have us. We really have become an advocate for creativity,” said Leif Kolt, Events and Marketing Coordinator.
With more space, Right Brain has been able expand its operations to include more community events. In the months since they have reopened, they have hosted a variety of events: From a balloon bouncing competition on New Year’s Eve to a Tweetup on Michigan’s birthday to benefit Goodwill Industries.
On Feb. 4, Right Brain is hosting an exclusive beer dinner along with Roaming Harvest (a local food truck which can often be found outside the pub). The dinner will feature five courses paired with Right Brain brews.
While Right Brain has become a “cultural hub,” it hasn’t lost touch with the great beer we have come to love. Using local products and culinary inspiration, new creative brews are fully researched before being brewed on a full-scale operation. This process has brought to life craft beers featuring flavors of mint, chipotle, Thai peanut and even pork/bacon.
With the success of their creativity, Right Brain recently started bottling its beer and, throughout January, has released a different brew each week. Bottled beers include CEO Stout, Looping Owl and Mangalitsa Pig Porter.
The bottle releases will conclude with an Imperial Release Party on February 8. The release party will feature a Pink Floyd laser light show and the exclusive Imperial Series 4-Pack (only 300 will be made).
Despite its move from the eclectic warehouse district, Right Brain remains the place where you can find someone working on their laptop in the afternoon and return in the evening to meet friends for the best Traverse City has to offer: Creativity, foodie inspiration and quality craft beer.

A move away from bustling Downtown Traverse City might have been a brave and bold move for Right Brain Brewery, but customers and its new neighborhood have embraced the change.

Its original location — in the now popular Warehouse District — became known for its eclectic collection of furniture, its low-key, non-bar-esque atmosphere, and, of course, a unique selection of microbrews.

Why would a business move away from the area in which it had become prosperous? To expand the brewhouse, of course.

Right Brain originally brewed in just 900 square feet, and as its success grew, ample brewing space dwindled. The brewery now has a vast 12,000 square feet for brewing. This allows it to keep up with demand — distribution is soon expanding to Ann Arbor and Lansing — and also plan for the future.

The new, larger location can be found in the recently formed “SoFo district.” It still has the same Right Brain atmosphere, complete with barber’s chairs, couches and picnic tables made with scrap wood.

The new location has also allowed Right Brain to transcend beyond being just a brewery. “The SoFo neighborhood has been grateful to have us. We really have become an advocate for creativity,” said Leif Kolt, Events and Marketing Coordinator.

With more space, Right Brain has been able expand its operations to include more community events. In the months since they have reopened, they have hosted a variety of events: From a balloon bouncing competition on New Year’s Eve to a Tweetup on Michigan’s birthday to benefit Goodwill Industries.

On Feb. 4, Right Brain is hosting an exclusive beer dinner along with Roaming Harvest (a local food truck which can often be found outside the pub). The dinner will feature five courses paired with Right Brain brews.

While Right Brain has become a “cultural hub,” it hasn’t lost touch with the great beer we have come to love. Using local products and culinary inspiration, new creative brews are fully researched before being brewed on a full-scale operation. This process has brought to life craft beers featuring flavors of mint, chipotle, Thai peanut and even pork/bacon.

With the success of their creativity, Right Brain recently started bottling its beer and, throughout January, has released a different brew each week. Bottled beers include CEO Stout, Looping Owl and Mangalitsa Pig Porter.

The bottle releases will conclude with an Imperial Release Party on February 8. The release party will feature a Pink Floyd laser light show and the exclusive Imperial Series 4-Pack (only 300 will be made).

Despite its move from the eclectic warehouse district, Right Brain remains the place where you can find someone working on their laptop in the afternoon and return in the evening to meet friends for the best Traverse City has to offer: Creativity, foodie inspiration and quality craft beer.

LAKE ORION — It took a lot of a love and patience, but husband-and-wife Don and Mary Gindhart are proud to announce the birth of their baby, 51 North Brewing, which opens today in a building that once upon a time was home to a Depression-era gas station.

“Mary and I walked in here and thought ‘Oh my God, this has great character, this building,’” says Don. “The ceilings are dramatic; there’s a lot of space here – it just spoke to us.”

The Gindharts have put a lot of hard work into the project, including installation of a custom-made bar and extensive restoration of the old building, which still sports telltale signs of its automotive past, such as the two garage-style doors in the front. Don and Mary also had to overcome a lot of hostility from local officials unfamiliar with the kind of clientele craft breweries attract.

“The city council voted us down the first time I went before them,” says Don. “They seemed to think we’d have crowds of drunks out here all the time or something, but they got to know what we are about and now they’re solidly behind us.”

The brewhouse was designed (with room for expansion) with the help of Bret and Eric Kuhnhenn of Kuhnhenn Brewing in Warren, where Don used to make beer frequently as a customer of the Kuhnhenns’ former “brew-on-premise” business. Don procured a lightly used seven-barrel system from a California restaurant, and then the next order of business was hiring a good brewer.

Although he’s an experienced homebrewer, Don wanted someone with commercial experience to head up 51 North’s brewing operation. Adam Beratta, formerly of the Redwood Lodge in Flint and Great Baraboo in Clinton Township, jumped at the chance.

“Adam and I talked for about five minutes and it was immediately clear this was right,” says Don. “He’s very passionate — in fact, he’s already gone and gotten a 51 North tattoo. That’s how dedicated he is!”

Beratta has worked up six mainstay beers, which are currently pouring: Lake Orion Light, Spencer Island Rye Pale Ale, Paint Creek Wheat Ale, Dog Way IPA, Wind Walker Brown Ale and Velvet Moose Oatmeal Stout. (I tried all of them out of the tanks, and all of them were really clean and really tasty.) As time goes on, other seasonal and rotating offerings will be added, and Don expects to also involve local homebrewers in creating beers to put on tap. Other plans include an outdoor patio, the addition of wines and meads to the beverage menu, and, eventually, distribution throughout the state.

The food menu was designed by Mary, who has nearly a decade of experience as a personal chef. It includes meat and cheese appetizers, soups, salads, and sandwiches, along with a kids’ menu and even an assortment of dessert cookies.

“Everything’s homemade — all my salad dressings, all my soups, they’re made fresh every day,” says Mary. “Eventually we’re going to do beer dinners and wine and mead pairings and all of that.”

“Mary’s a phenomenal cook,” adds Don. “There’s nothing else like our sandwiches out there.”

Mug Club memberships are available at a $50 annual Enthusiast level, which includes a pint glass and growler (empty); 23 oz. beers for the price of 16 oz. one; 15% off all merchandise, tastings and special events; $1 off growler refills; and a little extra love on your birthday. For $1,200, one can join the Connoisseur lifetime club, which entitles you to all the foregoing plus a hand-blown glass mug for your personal use; a 51 North Polo-style shirt embroidered with your name; half off all tastings and special events (and preferential invitations to same); and an annual members-only party.

On weekends, live music will be part of the mix, including appearances from the two different bands Don plays in. But for people who prefer a more intimate setting, there are a few quiet cubbyholes throughout the bar.

“There are places you can sneak away from the noise if you want to,” he notes. “We have a room with no TVs as well.”

So was all the work worth it?

Absolutely, Don says. “You know the great thing about Michigan microbreweries? There’s no competitors. I’m joining a fraternity.”

51 North Brewing Co., 51 N. Broadway St., Downtown Lake Orion. Hours: Tuesday and Wednesday, 3-11 p.m.; Thursday – Saturday, 11 a.m. to Midnight; Sunday, Noon to 6 p.m. Closed Mondays. Web: www.51northbrewing.com. Phone: 248-690-7367.

CHELSEA — More than three years in the making, the Chelsea Alehouse Brewery is finally a reality. Its opening last Thursday marks the advent of the first brewery in this small town 18 miles west of Ann Arbor since the Real Ale Company shut its doors 30 years ago.

“We’re excited to be open,” says Chris Martinson, owner and head brewer. “Our goal is to build a really strong, community-focused pub, to give people something a little different that adds to the scene here.”

So far, so good. In its first three days (the Alehouse is currently open only Thursday through Saturday), the place has been full of people partaking of the limited (for now) tap list and food menu and soaking up the ambiance of the high-ceilinged, open-layout pub area.

“It’s great so many people are excited about what breweries offer communities,” says Martinson. “When people recognize a well made product and can enjoy themselves while supporting a local business, that’s a good thing.”

The seven-barrel brewhouse — sourced through GW Kent in Ypsilanti with the tanks fabricated by Marks Design and Metalworks in Washington state — is clearly visible through a paned glass window behind the bar, where Martinson and associate brewer Eric Schneider work to produce beers to appeal to a variety of tastes. At the time of my visit, four beers were on tap: 402 E. Porter, Broad Reach IPA, Silo White Ale and Bog Trail Brown Ale.

The porter, a 6.2% ABV brew that might fit in the “robust” category, and the white, a 4.5% easy-drinking witbier, were my favorites of the four. The IPA was strong at 8% and tasted a bit “young” to me, while the brown, a 5.9% American, was muddy with low carbonation.

Martinson, a homebrewer for nine years, readily acknowledges there are some kinks to be worked out, including adjusting from small-scale brewing to a large commercial system.

“We’re learning the rig,” he says. “The IPA, for example, fermented out a little farther than we would have liked, so we countered the higher alcohol by dry-hopping it a bit longer. It’s almost a double IPA really, but it turned out to be a pretty good beer overall.”

This week Martinson expects to add a black IPA and an oatmeal stout to the taps, with a rye IPA and an Irish red ale to follow in the near future. By the end of February, he expects the pub to be open six days a week (Tuesday through Sunday), and regularly pouring 8-10 beers at a time. Growler fills are unavailable until he and Schroeder have enough beer in the pipeline to meet the demand. (“If we filled growlers now we might run out of beer,” he laughs.)

The food menu includes house-made salsa and hummus appetizer plates and three choices of sandwich: Turkey and bacon, ham and swiss and grilled cheese. Again the plan is to increase offerings over time, according to Martinson.

“We’ll be adding menu items and increasing the variety of things we offer as we grow, adding soups and wraps and that sort of thing,” he says. “We really want to make sure we’re making food that pairs well with our beers.”

More than 800 people signed up for the Alehouse’s Founding Member program, which includes handmade mugs, discounts on beer and other perks. Presently the program is closed, but Martinson expects to re-open it next year.

Other plans for the future include showcasing live music, releasing small hand-bottled batches, serving ales on cask and, if demand warrants, building an expansion brewery to potentially handle distribution.

“Our biggest challenge will be just making sure we always have a good rotation of beers,” says Martinson. “So far everything’s going well. It’s been a positive experience, and I feel like I’m doing the right thing.”

The Chelsea Alehouse Brewery, 520 N. Main St., Suite 100 (in the Clocktower Complex), Downtown Chelsea. Hours: Thursday, 3-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 3-11 p.m. Web: www.chelseaalehouse.com. Phone: 734-433-5500.

GRAND RAPIDS — Lines are a bit of thing at Grand Rapids Brewing Company.

Since opening its doors last week, beer lovers have waited as long as two hours to snag a table at the downtown brewery.

“We’re thrilled,” co-owner Mark Sellers said. “There was a lot of chatter online (about the brewery opening), but we did not expect this much. “

Although he was enamored with the early response to GRBC’s opening, Sellers hopes the pace continues and grows. With seating for 370, patrons lined the walls Friday evening, sipping on beers as they waited an average of an hour for a seat.

“Now that we have opened, yes, I’d like to see us keep this pace,” Sellers said. “If it doesn’t (keep pace), it means we’re not doing something right.”

During its grand opening — the first day mugs went on sale for its Mug Club — more than 200 of 500 mugs were claimed. Club members will enjoy $2 off all brews each Monday — if there’s any beer left at that point.

According to Sellers, Wednesday’s grand opening had patrons line an entire street block from the brewery on the southwest corner of Ionia and Fulton— the historic Hawkins and Gunn Company buildings, 1 and 7 Ionia Ave. SW — all the way past HopCat beer bar (also owned by Sellers) on the southeast corner of Ionia and Weston streets.

During the past year, three Grand Rapids-area breweries have opened and run out of beer not too long after — a mistake GRBC was hoping to avoid.

“I wish we would’ve had more time to brew,” co-head brewmaster Jake Brenner said Friday. “The trend right now is new breweries running out of beer — we’re on track for that. I’m fine with that.”

Although running out of beer shows demand is high, Sellers preferred to play it safe, opening GRBC one month later than it was ready in order to have an extra week’s worth of beer on opening day.

Perhaps Sellers planned ahead because GRBC had a fan base going into last week’s opening. In fact, this is the third time GRBC has opened its doors. The historic brewery originally opened six blocks north of its newest location 120 years ago on the southwest corner of Michigan and Ionia streets.

In December 1892, six Grand Rapids breweries consolidated their individual operations to form the Grand Rapids Brewing Company. The brewery closed during prohibition.  The downtown location was torn down in 1964, and the brewery eventually opened on 28th Street SE.

However, doors closed at its 28th Street location last year and Sellers bought  the rights shortly after.

“As soon as we bought the rights, bought the system, Stu was there dismantling it,” Brenner said of his co-head brewmaster, Stu Crittenden.

Crittenden, an East Lansing native, has six years of brewing experience, including stints at Michigan Brewing Co. in Webberville and, most recently, the former GRBC.

In April, the brewing duo started preparing for the opening. Brenner, a homebrewer for eight years and brewmaster at HopCat for the past two and half years, said they had to start from scratch. All of the former GRBC recipes were scrapped to focus on brewing organic beers — GRBC touts itself as the only all-organic brewery in the Midwest.

“It’s a smart business move (being all organic),” Brenner said. “As beer consuming humans, it’s going back to our roots.”

The only “original” recipe is the brewery’s flagship beer, Silver Foam, a lighter lager. However, with organic ingredients, even Silver Foam is not exactly the same.

GRBC features six of its beers on tap, mostly session pales and ales with a couple of mainstays. In addition, the taproom features eight guest brews from various Michigan breweries.

“We’re trying to keep the beers in style, more to the season,” Brenner said.

Current GRBC beers on tap are: Silver Foam, Brewer’s Heritage, Rosalynn Bliss Blonde, The John Ball Brown, Senator Lyon’s Stout and The Fish Ladder.

Eventually, at least one of those brews may be available beyond the taproom, as Brenner and Crittenden are “scheming to sell some 40s of Silver Foam.”


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