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

 

Cider Week GR

The cumulation of Grand Rapids first ever Cider Week ended with a Festival held at a location just as iconic as the Michigan apples our (many, many) ciders are made of—the Grand Rapids Blue Bridge.

The Cider Week GR Blue Bridge Festival was held on Saturday, April 22nd from 2:00 p.m.- 7:00 p.m., complete with live music, over 15 different Michigan cider makers, and a steady stream of sunshine and laughter.

The Michigan Cider Association, formed in December of 2014, exists to “provide short- and long-term significance and value to all members through the promotion and support of Michigan cider.” Michigan boasts the second highest number of US cider producers in the US, and the industry as a whole is expected to continue to grow.

With a venue just as unique as the cider companies representing Michigan Cider, the Blue Bridge was a perfect spot to mingle and enjoy the beautiful weather. Attendance was most likely higher than initially anticipated, and for good reason. For $25, attendees got to take home a commemorative glass and try ten 8oz pours of a wide variety of ciders from across our state.

Cider Week GR

There seems to be a strong trend towards actually tasting the sweetness of the apples itself, without artificially (and overly) enhancing the natural sugars present. I was pleased to be able to try a variety of dry and semi-dry ciders from companies like Acme Cider. David Winick & Lori Tauer started Acme for a simple reason—they couldn’t find any mass produced ciders they actually liked. “People who drank our ciders said they loved it, so we decided to impart on the business part of it. We recently got our license, and we will be building out production, and this is the first event we’ve distributed out of,” shared Tauer

“Our ciders are full of love,” laughed Winick, “We spent a lot of time creating a dry cider with a good balance, and some depth to it. You know, if it pleases us, we feel it’s going to please other people, and that’s the bottom line. That’s why we do it.”

Farmhaus Cider co-owner, John Behrens, made it a point to treat attendees to one-offs and unique, summer-centric beverages. “We brought a bunch of different ciders we don’t usually distribute, like our Hop Crop, (a dry hopped cider with a big, bold mouthfeel) and our Too Cuc, a cucumber rosemary cider, perfect for sitting out on a patio—or a bridge.”

The style of ciders ran the gamut, from the Tequila Sunset Cider, a tequila barrel aged w/ blood orange offering from Acme to Cellarman’s Coffee Cider, made with Ethiopian Limu Coffee and Star Thistle Honey.

As a first year event, it seemed to be a success for both the attendees and the cideries offering their beverages. If you didn’t get a chance to attend, make sure you seek out some of the Michigan made ciders distributed throughout the state.

 
Sietsema Orchards & Cider Mill, The Peoples Cider Co., Vander Mill, Pux Cider, Farmhaus Cider Co., Tandem Ciders, Blake’s Hard Cider Co.,Northville Winery and Brewing Company, St. Julian Winery, 45 North Vineyard & Winery, Starcut Ciders, Virtue Cider, Uncle John’s Cider Mill (Official Page), Suttons Bay Ciders, Corey Lake Orchards, Robinette’s, Cherry Creek Winery , Acme Cider

 

In sharp contrast to a city built on politics—a force with the power to polarize millions, beer just proved to have the strength to do the exact opposite. Nearly 15,000 professionals just converged for a week in Washington, D.C. for Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo America®, the industry’s largest annual convention, hosted by the Brewers Association.

We attended because… well, beer, of course. And so did an honorable contingency from Michigan. When I travel to a new city or an international destination, the last thing I want to consume is something I can get back at home. You’ll never catch me eating a Big Mac in Europe (or domestically, for that matter, but you get the point). However, when you see people from all over the U.S. waiting excitedly in line for MI beer, and then bummed when the keg of Two Hearted kicks, it makes you feel proud to be an American, reppin’ The Mitten State.

On Wed, Apr. 12, Michigan Brewers Guild threw a party, Michigan Hoppy Hour, at Capital Lounge, and picked up a generous bar tab that I can only imagine had a few zeros on it. For a couple hours, we hung out with our arms around our friends from back home, and got to watch D.C. locals gush about the beer we have at our fingertips on any given day. It makes you pause, and realize we’re a part of something special—regardless of whether you voted for Trump.

 

To all those from MI we bumped into, saw in passing, or shared a few pints with throughout the week, here’s to you—a shout-out!

  •      Shannon from Michigan Brewers Guild
  •      Jeff from Harmony Brewing
  •      Mitch from Speciation Artisan Ales
  •      Chris and Brendan from Transient Artisan Ales
  •      Rings and Matt from Cedar Springs Brewing Company
  •      Jeff from Rockford Brewing Company
  •      Dave, Francesca, Lauren, and Jason from Founders Brewing Co
  •      Jason, Kate, Jacob, Brooks, and Josh from Brewery Vivant
  •      Chris and Max from The Mitten Brewing Co.
  •      Mike from Cheboygan Brewing Company
  •      Fred, JP, Adam, Mark, and Isaac from New Holland
  •      Tim from Territorial Brewing
  •      Dave from City Built Brewing Company
  •      Stephen from Batch Brewing Company
  •      Brian from StormCloud Brewing
  •      Brad and Matt from Atwater Brewery
  •      Erik, John, and Michael from Pilot Malt House
  •      OpenRoad Brewery
  •      Jay and Steve from North Pier Brewing Company
  •      Matt and Rene from Arbor Brewing
  •      Boyd and Chris from Coldbreak Brewing Equipment
  •      Steve from Hunter’s Handmade Brewery
  •      Brew Detroit
  •      Laura & crew from Bell’s Brewery
  •      Steve from Henry A. Fox
  •      Justin & crew from Hop Head Farms
  •      Brown Iron Brewhouse
  •      North Channel Brewing
  •      Alliance Beverage Distributing
  •      Imperial Beverage


Photography: Steph Harding

b nektar

In its eight years of existence, B. Nektar Meadery has grown steadily, upgrading from fermenting in carboys and 55-gallon food-grade drums to producing up to 150 barrels of liquid a week.

“We just keep getting bigger,” said William McCune, production manager at B. Nektar.

Now, the meadery’s annual festivals draw crowds of over 1200 people to its quiet neighborhood in Ferndale, Michigan.

“The amazing thing is that’s all just people for us,” McCune said. People who want B. Nektar’s unique brand of mead, cider, and beer.

Stop and think how mead, a traditionally heavy, syrupy drink sipped by the likes of Beowulf, could possibly draw crowds that huge in the warmest months of the year.

The answer is in B. Nektar’s one-of-a-kind approach—one informed in various ways by wine making, the craft brewing industry, and traditional mead making. Its effect has been to vastly widen mead’s audience, paving the way for meaderies everywhere.

“Ever since we’ve started, we’ve kind of been seen as the ‘big guy,’” McCune said. “After our success, that’s where you’re seeing all these meaderies popping up across the country.”

Drawing more people to mead called for a little beverage re-branding and finding the right audience.

“We wanted to make something that was drinkable and enjoyable and not too high of an ABV,” said Miranda Johnson, B. Nektar’s marketing director. “Taking Beowulf and Vikings away from it, but also throwing in session meads for easy drinkability.”

Though B. Nektar’s mead making process and tools share a lot in common with wine making, the connections with that industry stop there. The meadery is more interested in engaging the curious palates of craft beer drinkers.

“We want to continue pushing pretty hard to set the precedent for stepping outside of the box in mead, and really introducing it into the craft beer realm of people,” Johnson said.

The meadery is achieving this not only by making sessionable meads and ciders, but also by brewing a few beers. Those selections are only available at B. Nektar’s taproom in Ferndale. With varieties such as a Jasmine Green Tea Belgian IPA and a Sage Lime Witbier, they bear the same experimental style of B. Nektar’s meads.

But simply being experimental and still drinkable doesn’t get you extra points in the Michigan craft industry. B. Nektar surpasses that by making nuanced flavor combinations that are well suited to the beverages. Lime zest and juice complement agave nectar and orange blossom honey in Tuco-Style Freak Out. Michigan grapes sing with wildflower honey in Grapes Gone Wild.

Those successful recipes meant taking risks and being smart about them. B. Nektar’s company culture fosters the creativity showcased in their concoctions.

“Everything in our social media says ‘we let our imagination guide us,’” Johnson said. “It’s not a joke. Sometimes the imagination’s a little crazy, but thankfully we have enough people that are like ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait, let’s talk about this.’”

“It’s a really fun environment and creativity is welcomed and there is no lack of it, that’s for sure,” Johnson said.

B.Nektar’s 2016 Summer Mead Fest is set for August 6. Learn more here.

 

Photography: Steven Michael Holmes

vander mill

Just a couple miles east of the infamous Michigan Ave hill, Vander Mill Cider has created a new home away from home. It is safe to say they have upgraded, just a tad — growing from 3,000 square feet to 43,000 square feet. Walking into Vander Mill Grand Rapids, you feel instantly connected to their home location in Spring Lake.  

You’ll notice the same vibrant deep red color they are known for, a wall constructed of boards from apple crates from their grower, and some of the familiar ciders so many people have grown to love. What sets this location apart is the huge glass windows in the taproom and restaurant overlooking the production facility below. And the best feature, I must say, is an added on mezzanine that overlooks the production facility — that wasn’t in the original plan.

The new location, the big brother to the Spring Lake location, opened April 18 and it wasn’t an overnight decision. They certainly could have achieved their space needs in a cheaper market, but they held customers as their largest priority in choosing the right location.

As Paul Vander Heide, co-owner, stated, “If we are going to build out what is going to be our long term production facility, it makes sense to put it in a space where people can see it. Grand Rapids is an area very welcoming to craft beverage and good food. The market here is smart — it just made a lot of sense.”

vander mill

In gaining 40,000 feet more of square footage, Vander Mill Cider has decided to shift their main production to Grand Rapids. The facility at 505 Ball Ave NE allows a lot of flexibility in making new products, being more efficient, experimenting, and expanding their barrel aging program. To say the very least, the production staff is very happy to not be crawling on top of one another.

The Spring Lake location will continue to press cider and host the fall activities they have been known for in the past. With its large outdoor area, they will still host their festival out in Spring Lake, as that seems the most fitting. As they develop the property and realize each locations capabilities, they expect the specific usage of each to naturally come to fruition.

If you aren’t intrigued yet, Vander Mill Grand Rapids intends on becoming a foodie destination. Justin Large, the new executive chef of the Vander Mill family, is sure to be an attraction on his own.

“He was the culinary director for One Off Hospitality Group, who started Blackbird. Justin was the first Sous Chef under Paul Kahan at Blackbird. He was seeing over 400 people at eight restaurants. He really has a pedigree that is pretty impressive for anyone in the Midwest,” says Vander Heide.

People are going to be surprised by the level of quality of the food. French Country inspired, they are presenting unique, high end food in a casual environment and striving for the best service. Simple, minimal ingredients executed at a really high level with a lot of precision and technique.

Like when making their cider — they strive to find the best ingredients possible.

“There is a reality of growing seasons and that local may not always be the best option. So we certainly are invested in local agriculture with cider being the greatest examples of those. We source locally when we can, but we are ultimately looking for the best,” stated Vander Heide.

When Vander Mill originally opened its doors in 2006, there were only a few people making cider and most of the places were wineries. Cider just makes sense in Michigan. Apples are the number one agricultural product in Michigan. Cider begins with a seed, to a tree growing from the earth, to beautiful apples picked and smashed, into your glass and then finally what is left of the apple goes back to the earth. Talk about sustainability. With this strong, natural cycle, Vander Mill has been able to create strong presences in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.

“Our approach has always been to go deep in the market instead of wide. Our (Spring Lake) facility limited us and we were growing fast. We have seen that is very important to support the markets we are in. We have feet on the ground that can tell the story about the brand and portray how we want the people to see the brand. That is harder to achieve when you start sending cider all over the country. We want to build the midwest strength first and want to be the number one craft cider in that market. We want to use Grand Rapids, Chicago, and the Midwest as an epicenter of our brand growth,” stated Vander Heide.

Vander Mill proudly announced on April 19 that they have opened into the Wisconsin market, with their first product shipped out to them already.

As of right now you can check out Vander Mill Grand Rapids, Sunday through Thursday 2 p.m. – 11 p.m. and Friday through Saturday 2 p.m. – midnight with dinner starting at 5pm every day. In the near future, a lunch service will be available beginning at 11am. Currently their libation list is filled with the usual suspects, as well as a few exclusive beers from Pigeon Hill Brewing Company and Odd Side Ales, Cysers collaborated with Greenbush Brewing and New Holland Brewing, Barrel Fermented Ciders and Nitro Cider. Yes — Nitro Cider, my personal favorite.

 

Photography: Bri Luginbill

taproot

Tap·root (ˈtapˌro͞ot,-ˌro͝ot/) noun: a straight tapering root growing vertically downward and forming the center from which subsidiary rootlets spring.

In other words, the central root of the system. Taproot Cider House opened its doors on January 28 with the intention to be the one that supports other roots within the community,

“In naming Taproot, I thought of the root system. The taproot is the strongest root in the system, providing support to the remaining roots, or our local farmers and businesses. The trunk becomes our staff, at the center of our business, and the branches become the customers that come in to support everything we’re doing,” explained owner Jennifer Mackey.

taproot

Mackey has long been a supporter of local organic agriculture and the earth-to-table concept. She has worked on organic farms, aided in the distribution of produce to local markets, and has helped conventional farms convert to organic operations. She joined Northern Natural Cider House and Winery in 2009 and began partnering with Dennis Mackey — who is also an organic farmer and CEO of Northern Natural.

In 2015, she branched out to open her own cider house.

“We know so many good people and businesses, this is a great way to support our community,” said Mackey.

The passion for local and organic products is evident throughout every element of Taproot. Both the food and drink menus were intentionally crafted to be as local, organic, free range, and GMO free as possible. Even the atmosphere reflects the earth-to-table element; taproots hang from the ceiling, wood beams can be found throughout, and local artists and agriculture are clearly supported.

“We wanted to create something that reflects our community. We have something for everyone, and aim to be family friendly,” said Mackey. Mackey cited the work she’s done with local farmers, as well as her own family, as inspiration for creating such an environment.

And in just under three months, Taproot has already begun to establish itself as such a place. Throughout the day, regulars make their way in as Mackey stops to greet them. Friends gather and families come in for a meal. The menu and environment are welcoming for everyone.

The drink menu not only features a wide array of ciders, but also craft beer, wine, spirits, soda, and cocktails. Currently Taproot is featuring ciders from Northern Natural, Vandermill, Blake’s Hard Cider, Tandem Ciders, and Starcut Ciders. Craft cocktails are prepared with fresh pressed juice, house-made syrups, and infused liquors. Sodas are made in-house as well, featuring the house-made syrups.

The food menu is equally as diverse, featuring a number of small plates, salads, pizzas, and main entrees. There truly is something for everyone.

When asked about a favorite on the menu, Mackey stated, “I don’t know if I could pick out a customer favorite. It really depends on their range of preferences. Once we know those preferences, we can guide our customers to finding something they’ll enjoy. That’s what is great about our menu.”

Taproot will have its official Grand Opening on April 23. Blake’s Hard Cider will be on-site, with a special tapping of El Chapo.

For a more detailed look at Taproot’s menu and events, visit http://www.taproottc.com.

 

Cellarmen's

HAZEL PARK, MI – If you hear loud music coming from 24310 John R, you can be sure the four bearded men inside the building are hard at work brewing up something deliciousand none of the neighbors are complaining.  

The 12,000-square-foot former lumberyard is now home to Cellarmen’s, Hazel Park’s first brewery, cidery, and meadery. The meadery opened this October, just in time for the Fall Beer Fest in Detroit.

Cellarmen’s tasting room is decked out in wood paneling and second hand furniture sets. The space gets its personality from homemade tables (made from wood from the lumberyard), local art for sale, and a soundtrack that skews toward heavy metal.

Cellarmen's

“It looks a little bit like your grandpa’s basement,” said Ian Radogost-Givens, one of the four cofounders of Cellarmen’s.

Radogost-Givens cut his teeth at B. Nektar meadery in Ferndale, along with Cellarmen’s cofounders Jason Petrocik, Dominic Calzetta, and Andrew Zalewski. With five years experience under their belt, the men are ready to produce anything they can think of.

Current offerings in the taproom usually include 9-12 meads, ciders, and beers. Most are made with Michigan-sourced ingredients when possible, and they never use fruit concentrates—only fresh fruit and juice.

“The French Oak Wildflower is what a mead-head will drink. Then we have our Trasher beer, a Lager style Ale that we made for people in the town to relate to,” Radogost-Givens said. The Trasher is their best seller.

Not much has changed since the space served as a lumberyard, including the free popcorn that is kept ready for customers.

“For customers who came in and bought lumber here their whole lives, now if they came in for a beer, the space would still feel familiar,” Radogost-Givens said. “The place only needed a spit shine,” he added.

The guys feel right at home in Hazel Park, where, along with James Rigato’s new spot, Mabel Grey, they have helped the neighborhood earn its reputation as an up-and-comer.

“Hazel Park has gone beyond what most cities do to get small businesses off the ground. We’ve gotten so much support from city officials to open our doors, and now quite a few of them come here to drink,” Radagost-Givens said.

Mead has taken off in Michigan, and Radogost-Givens would like to put Hazel Park and Cellarmen’s on the mead drinker’s map.

“My goal is to bridge the space between Warren, where Dragonmead and Kuhnhenn are, and Ferndale, where Schramm’s and B. Nektar are,” said Radogost-Givens.

The brewery’s current production capacity is 8.5 barrels of cider and mead, and 1 barrel of beer at a time. They hope to bump cider and mead production to 10 barrels soon.

“Now that we have wrapped our heads around filling the taproom, we have been able to supply a few local bars with kegs,” Radogost-Givens said.

The men aim to start canning mead in the spring or summer of 2016.

Over the holidays, Cellarmen’s plans to release the second run of Cranpus, a cranberry orange zest mead made with allspice and two kinds of honey. For New Year’s Eve, they will host a party featuring a champagne mead that climbs to 14% ABV.

“If you’re looking for a nice friendly atmosphere, good drinks and good music, come by. We’re just four hard working sons of bitches making a dream happen,” Radogost-Givens said.

Cellarmen’s is open Thursday 5pm-Midnight, Friday 3pm-Midnight, Saturday 12pm-Midnight and Sunday 12pm-8pm. You can find more info on their Facebook page.

WEST OLIVE – As he relaxed in an adirondack chair, sipping a cold Michigan beer, taking in the aroma of the nearby Lake Michigan and the crackling campfire in front of him, Bill Rogers made an important decision about next fall: he was returning to the Lakeshore Brew Fest at Camp Blodgett.

“I like the environment. I am thrilled. I will be back next year,” the Marysville resident said, noting he’d never been to a West Michigan beer festival before. “You’re out in the open. Fresh air. It’s comfortable. Very comfortable.”

His friend, Chris Graw, said he hadn’t poured out a beer yet, something he couldn’t say about every festival he’s attended.

“This is sweet,” he said, holding up a half-filled pint glass, listening to a live opening band playing chill music that echoed off the tall pines and historic buildings at the 94-year-old camp located in West Olive. “This is sweet.”

Hundreds flooded the camp, which features stunning views of Lake Michigan, on a sunny Saturday afternoon for the third annual event. The Lakeshore Brew Fest featured beers and ciders from well-known locals such as New Holland Brewing and Vander Mill Ciders in addition to notable newcomers such as Dutch Girl Brewery in Spring Lake, Trail Point Brewing Company in Allendale, and Farmhaus Cider Co. in Hudsonville.

Event organizers focused on keeping the event lakeshore-specific to make it more unique, said Tim Duflo, a Camp Blodgett board member serving Odd Side Ales beer.

The Lakeshore Brew Fest is an important fundraiser for the camp, which serves disadvantaged youth in Ottawa and Kent counties with summer camps and year-round, after-school programming.

Josh Beard of Holland, an avid Michigan beer festival fan, said he thought the vibe and fundraising component of the festival were appealing.

“It’s good. It’s chill,” he said. “And you’re supporting a good cause.”

As acoustic alternative and Americana band Leonum took the stage, festival attendees continued to enjoy the backyard cookout feel, playing with a huge wooden Jenga set and competing in cornhole, with beers in hand of course.

One cider on tap was Brunch (6.9% ABV) from Farmhaus Cider Co. The smooth, dry cider had a distinct maple syrup aftertaste that would make it ideal for drinking earlier in the day.

On the beer side, Henry Lee (8.9% ABV) from Trail Point Brewing Company received such positive reviews that some craft beer fans were recommending it to people passing by. The dark, old Strong Ale  features highlights of caramel, toffee, and dried fruit.

Self-proclaimed beer snobs, Diane Covault and Sharon Brown of Allegan, brought Brittany Covault along to the event. Brittany Covault said Totally Roasted (6.9% ABV) of Vander Mill Ciders was her favorite drink, while Diane Covault and Brown were pleased to try Trail Point Brewing Company for the first time.

The women said the Lakeshore Brew Fest glass they received with admission made the experience much more enjoyable than festivals with just a plastic cup.

“We really do appreciate having a glass,” Diane Covault said. “Beer is better out of a glass.”


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