railtown brewing

Gim Lee and Justin Buiter, co-founders and fellow brewers of Railtown Brewing Company, opened their doors in December of 2014. Initially, Lee and Buiter would brew during the week  and open for business on the weekends. However, after two weekends of positive feedback and satisfied beer-drinkers, they decided to quit their day jobs and fully commit to the brewery.

Since then, seating capacity has become Railtown’s biggest problem as the young brewery has grown much quicker than expected. Now with eight full-time employees, 414 barrels sold in 2016, and a goal of 1000 barrels by 2018, Dutton’s watering hole is ready for expansion.

Railtown will be taking over the neighboring carwash where they will oversee a massive construction project. The layout for the new space is 6,250 sq. ft. with indoor seating for 100 patrons, 95 seats in the mezzanine, and an additional 40-70 seats on the patio.

The owners are hoping for a comfortable, industrial feel, and they have partnered with Beer City Metal Works & Construction to ensure they achieve the desired atmosphere.

According to Buiter, they are “thrilled to formalize that [they] are staying rooted in the Dutton community. Our customers have supported us for two-and-a-half years and we couldn’t be happier to stay here.”

To celebrate their success and show appreciation for the Dutton community, Railtown will be offering Lifetime Mug Club memberships to their passionate fans. The membership will cost $475, which gives patrons $2 off every beer, every day, for life.

railtown brewing

Railtown will only be offering these memberships for a limited time. The sale ends on July 15th. Also, owners Gim and Justin do not plan on selling memberships after the sale ends, so this is the only time for customers to reap the benefits.

Lee and Buiter also wanted to cultivate a more rounded experience for their customers by offering a food menu at the new location. The new space will provide a variety of street fare food options to accompany their award-winning craft beer selection.

Additionally, Railtown fans can look forward to enjoying more of their favorite Dutton-made beers on their summer adventures thanks to the brewery’s new canning machine. Coming soon, customers will be able to purchase 16-ounce cans from the taproom.

For more updates on all the changes at Railtown, check out their Facebook page.

 

 

beer church

Beer Church Brewing Co. was open barely a month when they invited us to sit down and listen to head brewer Nate Peck preach the gospel this past March. “There’s a fine line between being thematic and kitschy,” says Peck. Yeah, we get that for sure—they opened New Buffalo’s first brewery, in a church from the 1860s, and have a Pontius Pilate IPA.

beer church

Nate Peck

Understandably, a few decision makers in the city and a couple locals aren’t necessarily fans of what Beer Church is doing, but “you’re never going to get a perfect majority,” Peck says. And, let’s be honest, nobody’s going to hell over it.

Co-owners Jane Simon, a law professor at Notre Dame, and John Lustina, an advertising executive for Fortune 500 companies, who also grew up attending Catholic school, were inspired to open a brewery after having attended Lagunitas Beer Circus. When they found a church on the market, they knew they had to resurrect it.

While operational during construction, the taproom offers 6 beers on draft. One is usually a cider, and one a collaboration. Peck has already released co-branded beers with Pike 51 and Transient Artisan Ales. Expect others. The draft lines are built into the church’s original altar, dating back to 1945. The lectern is their host stand. And, you guessed it, guests will eventually be dining in pews.

Construction has been the biggest hurdle to getting 100% operational. Due to the building’s age, and the requirement to accommodate the weight of a brewery, Beer Church has had to invest in necessary structural reinforcements. When complete, which they estimate to be by the end of this summer, they’ll be brewing on a modest 7-barrel system and baking up crispy wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas in an authentic Stefano Ferrara oven from Italy. The Pope would be proud.

In the meantime, they’ve sectioned off the church to accommodate 33 guests seated in the taproom. Ultimately, approximately 200 will be able to attend “service,” with dining space planned into the rest of the church, outside at the entrance and on the porch, as well as a beer garden adjacent to the side of the building.

When running at full steam, Peck will have 12 beers on tap. One of their focuses will be to “ride the trend” of east coast style IPAs, he says. It’s important to him to also offer approachable ales for those who may come for the pizza first. Their mainstay Crooked Cross Cream Ale (in honor of the lightning-struck cross at the top of the church’s steeple) is hopped with Cascade hops, and brewed with their house yeast strain from The Alchemist Brewery.

For anyone still confused about what a beer church is and accidentally shows up on a Sunday, they open at 11:00 a.m. Everyone’s welcomed. Blasphemy Be Damned.

 

Photography: Steph Harding

north pier

Jay Fettig, founder and owner of North Pier Brewing Co., is not “from” the beer industry. He’ll even tell you he’s only a mediocre-at-best homebrewer. But, that doesn’t disqualify him from running a successful brewery. While in business school at Indiana University, he drafted a business plan for what would eventually become a Benton Harbor, MI destination.

north pier

Jay Fettig

North Pier came out swinging when they opened in May 2016, during the same weekend the Senior PGA Championship was being played across the street at Harbor Shores Golf Club. Fettig says it was “definitely trial by fire, but we sold a lot of beer.” And, they still do. It must’ve been a good weekend for them to open because it’s not uncommon for golfers to pull up in their carts between holes 13 and 14 to grab a howler to go. They have continued to sell more beer than originally estimated.

Initially, North Pier planned to roll out 800 barrels annually. After the trend Fettig noticed during their inaugural summer in a tourist-heavy Lake Michigan town, and feeling the pinch of struggling to keep up with draft demand in their taproom, he activated a growth strategy. Now, they have the capacity to produce 4,000. They know well enough that they don’t have to max it out all at once just because they can, but have set themselves up to grow into it at their pace. Baked into their existing property is an additional 13,500 sq ft, on which they can build, that would allow them a total of 20,000 sq ft for production. They’re also sitting on a 7,500 sq ft warehouse that will be used as a cold room and a buffer for the miscellaneous.

Fettig’s right hand man and head brewer is Steve Distasio. Distasio, who joined North Pier nine months before they opened, attended brewing school in the UK, and had a tenure at Rogue studying under John Maier. “Hiring Steve was the best move we could’ve made,” says Fettig. Distasio runs a tight and impeccably clean ship. His approach, he says, is to “operate a very small brewery like a very big brewery.” Fettig adds that they’re also conscious about not chasing trends. Out of the 12 beers on draft in their taproom, most are Belgian-inspired.

north pier

Steve Distasio & Jay Fettig

From the beginning, Fettig and Distasio had distribution and ultimately canning on their radar. “If we wanted to grow and do what we had intended, we had to do it sooner than later,” Fettig says of striking while the iron was hot. They partnered with a distributor in November, and are releasing their first two 16oz cans out of their taproom during their one-year anniversary party on May 27—a perfect way to relax this Memorial Day weekend. Two of their mainstays, Buckrider, a Belgian IPA, and The Conjurer, a Belgian Golden Strong, will be the first available off the line. They’ll also release a limited number of 750ml bottles of a saison aged in French oak wine barrels with two different types of Brett. The event is free to attend, but ticket packages that include an all-you-can-eat crawfish boil and po’boys, along with a beer token and commemorative glass, can be purchased via Eventbrite.

North Pier is family-friendly, and welcomes outside food. Although they don’t have any intention to build a kitchen, they have a close relationship with their cash-only neighbors across the street at North Shore Inn who’ll deliver the best burger in town to soak up Drake’s Drum, North Pier’s 12.6% English Barleywine. When the weather’s nice, a garage door in the taproom retracts to create a seamless ebb and flow with their communal deck outside, which is available for private rental during the off-season. However, at the rate North Pier is going, they may not have an off season for a while.

 

Photography: Steph Harding

 

transient artisan ales

Chris Betts quietly goes where the wind blows. Transient Artisan Ales’ founder/owner is soft-spoken and unassuming, which is respectable considering the stirring buzz his beers conjure.

He has kind, yet seasoned eyes, his hair is a little messy, and his beard is longer than his girlfriend would prefer. His clothes are relaxed and mismatched—a cross between Sunday-lounging on the couch, and a neighborhood pickup basketball game. However, I’m not sure he has much time for either. Trying to keep up with Transient’s demand since opening his Bridgman, MI brewery and taproom just over one year ago as a one-man show seems like enough to provoke perpetual exhaustion. His rubber, waterproof boots, however, are a dead giveaway that here is where he’s comfortable, and belongs.

Chris Betts

Betts brewed his first batch of beer at 19, as a sophomore at Truman State University, in Kirksville, MO. “You weren’t old enough to legally drink, but for whatever reason there was some loophole [in the law] where you could actually buy the ingredients to make beer at 18. And, we made some really terrible beer.” After graduating in 2008, and a handful of failed attempts to get his foot in the industry, Betts moved to Costa Rica to teach math. He lived there a year-and-a-half before deciding he’d wanted to give [brewing] another shot.

Originally from McHenry, IL, Betts found his way back home, and caught a break. He spent the next couple years moving up the ranks. After serving and bartending at Two Brothers Artisan Brewing, then commuting from the Chicagoland area to brew at Witch’s Hat Brewing Company and Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, he finally reestablished his roots in IL. As a precursor to the Transient we know today, Betts started gaining traction and a following for the beers he brewed under a licensing agreement as a tenant brewer at One Trick Pony, Aquanaut Brewing, and Hailstorm Brewing Co. For the OGs who’ve followed him the longest, Betts still has beer aging in barrels from over a year ago at Hailstorm. You’ll taste it, eventually. Although unsure of to what degree he’ll be able to continue to guest brew at his old stomping grounds, “I still enjoy doing it for the people who supported me from the very beginning,” he says. However, if he’s being realistic about continuing to supply his fans in IL with new Transient releases, he’s fairly certain that he’ll have to eventually succumb to a distributor.

In order to fully execute on his long-term vision for Transient, Betts chose Berrien County for his brewery’s permanent home for a very specific geographical reason: yeast and bacteria. His proximity to vineyards and their adjacent fruit farms, which lace the air with these naturally-occurring, evolutionary diverse microorganisms “was a perfect fit for what I wanted to do.” Betts’ focus has always been on fruited sours, barrel-aged saisons, and spontaneously-inoculated beer, despite the unexpected popularity of two of his most popular beers. Buckley, Transient’s’ 14% imperial breakfast stout, gnawed its teeth into DRAFT Magazine’s Top 25 Beers of 2015, and The Juice Is Loose, a hazy 8% Double IPA, had traders gushing for it across beer forums.

Modeled after Lambic pioneers in Belgium, Betts has a coolship outside behind the brewhouse where he tries to capture Mother Nature floating through the air, working her unpredictable magic. “We try to do it as traditional as possible,” he says, while not shy about experimenting when nature or resources allow. Betts just packaged a portion of the first 10 batches (i.e. 40 barrels) yielded from his coolship, brewed in 2016. The first bottles will be plain, unfruited, unblended. That doesn’t mean they’ll be average. This summer, he intends to transfer a couple barrels onto cherries, raspberries, and maybe blueberries. The remaining barrels, he expects, will age for two to three more years before he blends them into a Gueuze.

Shortly after opening in April 2016, Betts knew he needed reinforcements. He employed his girlfriend to manage the 49-person capacity taproom, and recently hired Brendan Williamson as assistant brewer. “He’s definitely on the same wavelength with what we do. He’s really talented,” Betts says of Williamson. Having only just passed their one-year anniversary, Betts isn’t blind to what it’s going to take to maintain Transient’s early momentum with stouts and IPAs, which now account for about half of his annual production, due largely in part to Buckley and Juice’s unexpected popularity. Initially, he thought, “Shit, now what? Now we have to brew a lot of it.” He could release Buckley once a month, “but it wouldn’t be as special.” He’s embraced the reputation, but affirms, “You can’t change everything you do based on demand. At least, we don’t want to.” His first love, his wild ale program, demands equal, if not more attention. So, he’s expanding operations to better accommodate both.

With the goal of being operational by this summer, Betts will be moving all of his clean beer production to a new facility directly behind Transient’s current brewhouse, which will remain exclusively for sours and saisons. The expansion will also allow for better quality control, helping prevent cross-contamination between the two methods, and make way for more storage of bottles conditioning. And, if Betts is lucky, enough space to navigate his forklift a full 360° without risk of toppling any of the hundreds of barrels aging patiently in their oak room.

Over the past year, Betts has crafted an impressive, ever-rotating lineup of eight beers on draft in the taproom. The catch is that they don’t last very long, so don’t assume what’s posted on Transient’s website is accurate. This spring, Betts will be adding three new options to the taproom lineup: a coffee on nitro, a homemade soda, and a revolving test batch of beer. Proudly, Betts doesn’t subscribe to mainstays. Rather, he’d prefer to offer a variety of styles. “We don’t ever plan to have that beer that we always have on. That’s not what I like about brewing. It’s a little boring. This keeps people on their toes.” Betts acknowledges, “Our menu changes really fast. It’s a constant that nothing is, that we’re always putting on something new. That’s the best part for me. I don’t want to be a shift brewer who comes in and has to brew an IPA for eight hours.” Betts did hint though, that he may have a dozen or so IPAs envisioned on his docket that could drop at any time.

transient artisan ales

If you you’re looking for their bottles and cans on store shelves, don’t hold your breath either. You’ll burn a tank of gas chasing them. Their current retail distribution footprint includes only six accounts in the Lower Peninsula: HopCat Grand Rapids, The S∅vengård, Craft Draft 2 Go, Cultivate, 8 Degrees Plato, and for those disappointing hours when Transient is closed, Sawyer Garden Center as a relatively close second chance. There’s also a single location in the U.P., Jack’s Fresh Market, in Menominee, as a nod to Williamson’s hometown, delivered by him personally whenever he makes the trek up north.

For any old school loyalists or recent admirers, don’t get too comfortable. Betts is flipping the script on his Reserve society to further reinforce more value for walking through his door regularly rather than visiting once a year to collect an entitled bottled allotment. Expect the program to evolve, soon. Even though Transient is expanding their brewhouse operations with a second on-site facility, that won’t necessarily translate into more beer. He started the subscription membership program long before the current taproom was open. At that time, he was only able to release one barrel of beer at a time, which meant there was an easily calculable, yet exclusive finite yield. That made capping the number who had access to it a shortlist of only 250 people. “We wanted those dedicated fans to have the opportunity to get it without having to wait in line, have to trade for it, or buy it online. I’m not a fan of people reselling beer.” The last time he checked, Betts says there’s “close to 1,000” on the waiting list to join. Dear, those people: You could be waiting a while.

Moral of the story: Visit the taproom.

 

Photography: Steph Harding

 

founders detroit

Founders Brewing Co. announced today that, for the first time in their 20-year history, they will open a second taproom. The new facility will feature a fully-operational brewery and retail taproom located in the lower Cass Corridor neighborhood in Midtown Detroit, Michigan, a burgeoning cultural hub adjacent to sports arenas, music venues and more.

founders detroit“Having been born and raised in the metro area, Detroit has long held a special place in my heart,” said Mark Dorich, Founders’ Vice President of Retail Operations. “It’s a hard working, no-nonsense, culturally diverse and musically-inspired town, which happens to have the best sports teams in the country. Some of our strongest support has come from the east side of Michigan, and we could not think of a better place to expand our taproom experience. We anticipate creating a taproom that is inspired by what we do in Grand Rapids, but unique in its own Motown way. We’re excited to be a larger part of ‘the D’!”

Based in Grand Rapids since 1997, Founders’ decision to open a second taproom in Detroit reaffirms their longstanding commitment and pride in their home state of Michigan. The new location will include a full-service taproom serving unique menu items and locally-made Founders beers from the on-site brewery, in addition to the classic Founders lineup. Founders plans to staff the facility primarily with Detroit-area employees in an effort to contribute to local job growth and economic revitalization. Hiring will begin in summer 2017.

The 14,000 square foot building is located at 456 Charlotte St. and will undergo construction beginning in summer 2017. The grand opening is targeted for winter of 2017. Founders has partnered with Midtown Detroit Inc. and Invest Detroit on the development of the property.

“The introduction of a brand like Founders Brewing Co. to the South Cass neighborhood will have a catalytic impact and attract others to invest,” said Sue Mosey, executive director, Midtown Detroit, Inc.

Midtown Detroit Inc. has partnered with Invest Detroit to bring the development to life.  

“We are again pleased to partner and co-invest with Midtown Detroit, Inc. to facilitate the redevelopment of a building in this emerging district,” said Dave Blaszkiewicz, President and Chief Executive Officer of Invest Detroit. “Sue Mosey and her team have done an amazing job of attracting new businesses to the community. This location for the highly recognized Founders Brewing Co. will be a critical asset to encourage additional investment to revitalize the surrounding area.”

 

founders detroit

 

Founders explains further, and answers a few more questions before they’re asked:

Why are we opening a taproom in Detroit?

Our commitment to our home state of Michigan was established long ago and we intend to continue fulfilling it, even as our reach elsewhere increases. We have toyed with the idea of opening another taproom for years now and, when finally moving forward, it was a no-brainer choosing Detroit as the city to host it.  Not only do we have tons of fans on the east side of the state, we also have a personal history and love for Detroit. Both our Culinary Director and Vice President of Retail Operations hail from metro Detroit and have long been petitioning that we deepen our roots there.

While our Grand Rapids taproom is and always will be home to us, we feel it is important to spread the Founders love and allow even more of our fans the opportunity to experience drinking from the source themselves.

What will the taproom experience be like?
We are in the initial planning stages so there is not much information to share at this point, but we will keep you all updated as the project progresses.

Will the taproom be modeled after the Grand Rapids taproom?
The Detroit taproom will certainly take inspiration from the Grand Rapids location, but it isn’t intended to feel like a duplicate of it. We recognize and appreciate that Detroit and Grand Rapids, despite being in the same state, have a number of distinctions and our intention is to celebrate and embrace those. Every effort will be taken to ensure that the Founders culture represented in the Grand Rapids taproom comes through just as passionately in our Detroit location.

Will we brew at this location?
Yes, we plan on brewing at this location and will create beers unique only to it. In addition to those, we will also offer our year-round, seasonal and specialty beers on tap as well. Our Barrel-Aged Series beers will be on tap depending on availability.

How are we staffing this location?
We will open up a select number of positions internally to our current staff however the vast majority of jobs will be new hires and filled locally – we anticipate over 100 new jobs total. This process will extend from summer 2017 through winter 2017.

How will this impact the local economy?
Not only will the presence of this taproom create jobs in Detroit, we anticipate it will drive in more traffic to the lower Cass Corridor neighborhood. Located adjacent to arenas and music venues, the location is already seeing the beginnings of revitalization and we strive to be at the forefront of it. Our Grand Rapids location helped to spur the revitalization of the downtown neighborhood it is located in and we anticipate the same will happen in the lower Cass Corridor.

 

prolonged enjoyment shorts

prolonged enjoyment shorts

It’s certainly not the clearest looking IPA I’ve encountered, but great lacing with a medium-sized frothy head begs me closer. The beer is almost a muddied amber color, and looks great in the glass. I am being invited to take another slug from this “Prolonged Enjoyment” Session India Pale Ale from Short’s Brewing.

It’s a staple nowadays, these session IPA’s, as we leap into the freshness of the spring season and allow ourselves more of the quaffable beers out there to combat the newfound warmth and sweat that comes with preparing everything for the hot days ahead.

In Prolonged Enjoyment, a mildly fruity smell, almost grape and strawberry-like, wafts up and balances alongside the sesame seed and cracker notes of the malt. It’s a bit bready as well, with a deep, danker, greener note mixed in coming from those hops. The aroma entangles itself with these characteristics and leave you presented with a mild but pleasant smell. It reminds me of the scent I get when walking past a brewery in production.

prolonged enjoyment shortsThe beer is unpretentious and certainly quaffable. The flavor dissolves into a plethora of green character with a touch of spiciness from the hops. It’s the kind of flavor that, when exhaling, you feel like your mouth smells like hops are being ripped open inside of it. The mild breadiness of the malt and the casual overall spiciness breezes by the in background, and the brew leaves you feeling a dry finish and a snappy bitter bite. All I can do is say, “Ahhhhhhhhhh” and reach back for another pull from the glass.

Drink up responsibly and enjoy these relaxing days ahead with this beer in hand for those moments when you just want to refresh yourself in an unhurried manner. Prolonged Enjoyment will then be able to live up to its name for you.

 

Cheers!

 

creston brewery

Opened in August 2016, Creston Brewery is planting an impression on their neighborhood. Rooted in a commitment to their community and all things local, Creston has transformed an old furniture showroom and warehouse into a welcomed destination for the northeast side of Grand Rapids.

Co-owned by Scott Schultz, Brewmaster, his wife Molly Bouwsma-Schultz, Vince Lambert, CFO, and his wife Cailin Kelly, and bonded by their friendship, Creston has already established itself as an inclusive taproom, inviting both dedicated locals and the craft curious.

I sat down with Jarrod Napierkowski, General Manager, and Andrea Bumstead, Sales and Events Manager, who kept generously feeding me beers, to talk about what it means to be a new brewery growing up in front of their neighbors.

creston brewery

Andrea Bumstead & Jarrod Napierkowski

Editor’s note: After this interview was conducted, Schultz tipped us off that they’re getting ready to release a brand new beer, and their first lager ever—Creston Lager, on Sat, April 22 in celebration of Earth Day—made exclusively with all Michigan ingredients. Since we kinda dig our planet (and The Mitten State) too, we asked him to tell us more about this day of firsts.

Scott Schultz: Creston Lager, at 4.7%, is brewed with water from Lake Michigan, malts from Pilot Malt House, and hops from West Michigan Hopyards and Michigan Hop Alliance. It’s my idea of a perfect beer: easy to drink, hugely flavorful, and supports the growers of damn fine ingredients in our great state. Earth Day is the perfect day to celebrate that. Basically, it’s the lager that AB-InBev could never brew.  

 

Mittenbrew : Thanks for keepin’ it real, Scott. Can you break down the profile a little more?

SS: It’s a loose hybrid of a pils and a marzen. The menu description could read: Pale yellow with medium body, low bitterness. Bready, toasty, and with a citrus-dominated flavor and aroma from Nugget, Cascade, Chinook, and Crystal hops. Clean, crisp, and complex.

 

Ok, I’m sold. So, Creston’s first lager?

SS: Yeah. It’s our first time brewing it, too. We always have a house yeast strain for mainstays, but switch specialty yeast strains with the season. Spring is lager season. The ingredients perfectly showcase how good we have it in MI—as far as quality, availability, and affordability. I designed the brew system to easily handle lagers, and this beer gets an extra-long conditioning process to be as clean and crisp as possible.

 

What are your plans for its release?

SS: We tap it on Earth Day, and will have collectible Creston Lager glassware. It’ll be available to-go in crowlers and growlers as well. We’ll also be debuting our outdoor patio, unveiling all new awesome local art on the taproom walls, have brunch and dinner features, and the first-ever taproom performance from indie-soul band, Vox Vidorra. Stay tuned to Creston’s website for more details to be announced soon.

creston brewery

Scott Schultz

 

Now, back to our regularly scheduled interview…

What was the motivation for opening a brewery?

Jarrod Napierkowski: Molly and Cailin were friends first, who both knew Scott and Vince, who had never met, shared the same goal of wanting to open their own brewery. After telling them, “You guys have to meet. You’ve got to be friends,” both couples ended up sitting around a campfire over beers together. Scott, already a professional brewer, and Vince, a finance whiz, asked each other, “What do we have to do to make this happen?” Before they knew it, they were looking at our building.

 

How did Scott and Vince want to position their brewery compared to the others in Grand Rapids?

Andrea Bumstead: I feel with Scott’s experience in the industry, he seemed like he just automatically wanted to do things differently. Scott’s idea from the very beginning was that he wanted to brand everything with its own identity. He wanted to brew beers that weren’t necessarily true to style, but brewed to flavor first in such a way that their guests could identify with the beer as a whole experience.

JN: Part of it was the opportunity to bring this incredible building to life, and exposing the other side of the beer industry—the femininity and beauty behind brewing beer and operating a brewery. They were tired of seeing all these breweries that were metal and wood and raw—man caves by default. With the building and the beer, they wanted to express the natural beauty that is everything this industry can do.

 

Did either of the wives have any input on honing in on that femininity?

JN: Absolutely. They’ve been very hands-on, integral in the dialogue—exchanging advice with Scott and Vince. All four of them work in a cohesive partnership to create this thing, including building our team of employees as well. They give everyone a voice, and are very receptive when there are things we want to see happen. I really think Molly and Cailin helped build this as much as Scott and Vince did—they all came to the table with complementing skillsets.

 

There’s an gentle uniqueness to the ambiance of the building. What was it, in particular, that made them commit to this location? Was it the building or the neighborhood?

JN: I think it goes beyond both. This actually wasn’t the first place they looked at. The most important thing I sensed was the vibe and feeling of what went into the dream to do something for a community. Originally, they had planned on being across town on Wealthy Street, and that fell through, but it didn’t disrupt their vision to open a brewery that focuses on the community, that makes the people in the community feel valued. All of that intention just transferred naturally to Creston. The goal of everyone here has been to bring up this community, and to make the brewery feel like we’re a part of it.

 

Assuming all things went well when the brewery opened, it would become an anchor destination in the community, so what came first—the brewery impacting the community or vice versa?

AB: Our neighbors have been very supportive. In the very beginning, it was difficult to do as much outreach as we had intended, but that’s only because everyone was working so hard to get us up and running. Since, I’d like to think that we’ve had a very positive effect on the neighborhood. Once a month, we host community workshop events either at the brewery or on location outside to help better the community, which have been really well received.

 

Were there any concepts you tried to implement at the beginning that looked good on paper, but didn’t get the traction you had hoped?

JN: The biggest challenge so far has been coming to the realization that we can’t take our entire staff out of the brewery to clean the parks or plant trees for an entire day. Business has been so good that many of us need to hold down the fort here. So, in order to have active interactions with the community, we’ve had to scale back our efforts just a bit, or be a little more creative while still being meaningful. We donate proceeds from events to local charities, and we employ people from Grand Rapids Urban League when we need extra hands out there. If there’s something we want to do, we find a way to make it happen, even if we have to do it in incremental steps to make the larger dream come true.

 

How have you accomplished that with the Creston Crew?

AB: Similar to the concept of a “mug club,” Creston Crew goes way beyond just getting a traditional discount on a beer. Members can actually choose their own day of the week, Sunday-Thursday, to take advantage of the Crew’s benefits. And, even if you come in and it’s not your day, you still get taken care of. We send out a monthly Crews News email newsletter to keep our members informed about what’s coming up, how they can get involved at events, and even what they missed since the previous month. To a certain degree, we put some of the onus on the members, too, to participate and take some ownership of their community, too.

 

Let’s talk about the beer. Why did Scott’s vision for the beer program resist a true-to-style portfolio?

JN: He knew he wanted to get close, but more than anything else—he wanted to be ingredient-driven. When we were first conceptualizing the brewery, we all talked together about how to best represent the beers. So, rather than beers with descriptions limited exclusively to style, we developed a custom scale to quantify Scott’s vision.

 

creston breweryEditor: The Creston Brewery Beer Scale, designed in the shape of the letter C, expresses the following characteristics of each of their beers: color via Standard Reference Method (SRM), malt, bitterness, and hoppiness. In the middle of the C, the centerpiece of the scale, is a simple icon to indicate the beer’s “primary flavor and aroma” or to highlight a unique ingredient. Visit to see it applied on their menu. It’s clever.

 

 

 

For craft beer novices, how do you think the Creston Brewery Beer Scale has contributed to people interacting with you?

JN: It’s a way to help people visually recognize what they may (or may not) like in a particular beer, with the hope that they’ll seek out others based on their preference. We wanted to re-teach people how they learn about beer.

AB: The scale has also been a really nice way for our servers and bartenders to engage with our customers. It’s been an intriguing aspect of the guest experience so far.

JN: It’s also a great way level the playing field for people who may just want a beer. It helps eliminate the intimidation factor.

AB: Maybe half of the people who visit us don’t know much about beer. They come in for dinner with their family or friends, and with the Scale, we’re able to guide them on their discovery. We also get a ton of people who want to get their Brewsader Passport stamped, who end up hanging out a little longer to study what we do because of the Scale.

JN: People definitely seem to connect with the culture here. From the building, to the staff, to the beers, its menu, and to the food—we provide this nice little starter pack for people looking to explore what craft beer is all about.

As the sole brewer, what challenges, or successes, has Scott experienced?

JN: Having worked at Founders for 4 years, Scott witnessed them struggle if they wanted to go local for ingredients. They couldn’t do it because of the sheer volume they did. The nice thing here is that Scott can do that on a smaller scale, so he really focuses on that. If it’s not Grand Rapids local, it’s Michigan local. Whenever possible.

 

How has your draft list evolved since you opened?

JN: We started with about a dozen, and now we’re consistently at having 20 on.

 

What are your plans for distribution?

AB: On pace to do 1,000 barrels per year, it’s all self-distribution at this point. We’re currently on at 12 accounts between Grand Rapids and Lansing, and that’s all just happened within the last month.

 

Do Scott and Vince have intentional plans to increase volume or expand distribution?

AB: There’s always a plan. As long as things are growing organically and the best way possible. With all of us moving toward the same positive goal, then slowly or quickly we’ll get to where we’re supposed to be. It’s a matter of just dipping our toe in right now to gauge how we’re received. If the growth is steady and healthy, we estimate we might need to move beyond self-distributing by summer 2018.

JN: Fortunately, we’re set up in this building with the opportunity to expand our brewing operations footprint if we need to increase production. But, if you jump the gun too much, you won’t be able to fill your own shoes.

In addition to the draft list growing over the last couple months, I’ve noticed that the food menu has done the same. It’s pretty eclectic, Mexican-inspired. How come?

JN: Scott and Vince knew they definitely wanted to have a full-service kitchen, and liked the idea of tacos, burritos, empanadas… We hired our chef, Dan Cook, formerly of The Gilmore Collection, to come in and push the limits of the original menu’s vision, which he’s done. He experiments with features regularly, creating dishes that you wouldn’t expect from a brewery—often inspired by ideas Vince and Cailin bring back from their international travels. And, Dan does an amazing job bringing those cultural inspirations to life, sourcing his ingredients from a number of MI farms and farmers markets.

 

Creston seems like a welcoming community for artists. It sounds like you’ve also started to scratch the surface by hosting live music, too?

AB: Molly actually curates all the artwork that’s on the walls, refreshing it every 3-4 months, showcasing different Grand Rapids artists. And, we’ve started with hosting live music. The current plan is to feature them weekly, stripped down acoustically. And, it’ll be in the round, staged in the middle of the dining room floor.

JN: We’re also hosting live comedy nights, a rotating lineup of local DJs spinning vinyl, and guest speakers doing interactive spoken word. It’s going to be a really nice, engaging environment for anyone who enjoys our beer, our food, or the building’s ambiance.

 

Final last words?

JN: Although we’ve already touched on it, we’re just excited at the opportunity to create something the neighborhood needs. Regardless of where our growth takes us, whether that includes expansion, it’s important to us that we continue to contribute to developing this community, making the entire area thrive as much as it deserves.

creston brewery

 

Photography: Steph Harding

winter beer fest

Before I worked in the craft industry, I was a beer festival attendee. My perspective only stretched as far as to see the glorious, seemingly never-ending flow of beer from taps. I sought out IPAs and Flanders Reds, but would absolutely try anything. My friends and I would all get different pours and trade them around, forgetting who had what, but enjoying all the different flavors and tastes anyways. People around me would start the beer battle cry and we would all join in, knocking elbows with friendly, slightly intoxicated neighbors and doing our best imitations of freed animals howling at the moon. It was always an atmosphere of (slightly reckless) happiness and friendship.

emilyA couple of years later, I speak from the other side of festival operations as a brewery employee. The air of happiness and friendship is still very much there, but for different reasons. Beer is hard work. As an employee of a Michigan brewery, I now appreciate the science, creativity, innovation, patience, and elbow grease it takes to churn out one magical recipe. I respect brewers for their meticulous natures and passion for creation. I appreciate all of the pubtenders and barbacks for being on the front lines of service. I admire sales representatives and marketing gurus who grow the brand and spread the good word of beer. And I bow down to brave individuals who put every last iota of capital and confidence into opening their own small businesses.

I started as a pubtender in a small brewery to learn the beer and study the brand. I tried out brewing, and while I enjoyed it, it wasn’t the everyday vocation I wanted to devote myself to. I am now a brewery sales representative who dabbles in marketing. I’m also the lead on festivals and events, working with new people and old friends every day. Like all workers in the craft industry, I wear a lot of hats, and gladly. I am still new to the industry, but I recognize that the best brewery team is one that not only believes in the brand, but also in all of its individual members.

And only the best craft and brewery teams are brought to the Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Fest. Not only is it hosted by the largest craft beverage organization in Michigan—this festival takes place in Grand Rapids, known by many as Beer City, USA. For Michigan breweries, this is our semester’s final exam, making all of the festival-goers our very enthusiastic and very opinionated graders.

Like a majority of fellow breweries, we plan our beer list carefully (and usually months in advance). We want to bring recognized favorites, but also new styles and maybe a few surprises. Some of those surprises, like a barrel-aged beer, take months to age, with brewers carefully tasting and testing the product until that exact moment that it’s pronounced perfect. And when we tap that beer, crossing our fingers that it wasn’t damaged in transportation or that the tap lines aren’t too cold to pour through, nothing makes us happier than handing it over to an eager attendee.

The weather for this year’s Winter Beer Fest ran the gamut of possible Michigan forecasts. Friday kicked off the festivities with heavy rains downways, sideways, and everyway, drowning everyone, yet spirits remained high. Saturday ushered in a cold snap, welcoming back some fluffy white snow following a pretty mellow winter season. Luckily, the biggest issue weather caused was a few flyaway tents, so festivities went forward.

winter beer fest

A huge attribute to the success of a festival is the volunteer staff. Sometimes, they are the close friends and family of fellow brewery staff. Sometimes they are complete strangers eager for a new experience. Whatever their motivations, they are often thrust into the thick of things with nothing but their enthusiasm to guide them.

We had a great mix of volunteers pouring with us at this beer festival, all with different experience levels. A couple had never poured beer before, while a few others were volunteer veterans, pouring with ease and fielding questions like they owned the place. This mix of strengths caters to all of the different festival goers as well. First-time attendees want more questions answered while some just want the beer options listed as efficiently as possible. Either way, it’s always good to have help.

Even with advanced planning and care, things don’t always go quite the way we want—weather, forgotten supplies, broken down vehicles, sick workers—it all happens. This is usually the nature of the beer business. Luckily, the Michigan craft industry is known for camaraderie. We all lend out a lot of spare wrenches, air tanks, and even volunteer workers at festivals to ensure that all attendees are allowed the best possible time of their lives. At this year’s Winter Beer Fest, we forgot an air tank, meaning we had no way to push beer through the taplines (sheer will does not work). I knew I could reach out to friends in the industry for assistance, and it was no surprise when someone had an extra they could lend us. Later that day, we helped jumpstart another brewery’s vehicle.

The Michigan craft industry is very much a community—a lot of give with little take. We only want to help each other excel in order to grow the industry into further success as a whole. It all comes down to our beer in a person’s hand. With our whole hearts, every fiber of our being, we want people to enjoy it. But we want honest feedback. We want questions and discussions. Most of all, we want to have a conversation with people about our beer and our brand.

With the number of Michigan breweries growing monthly, Michigan craft-drinkers are becoming more and more educated. They recognize quality, they ask questions about ingredients and brew systems, and they appreciate something new. The constant challenge of fulfilling and exceeding every attendee’s expectation keeps us all on our toes and guarantees an innovative and creative future for the industry as a whole.

Whether craft is a hobby or a career, Michigan craft is all about passion. We believe in what we drink and who pours it no matter what side of the bar we’re standing on.

 

Photography: Amee Rutan


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