believe in beer

‘Believe in Beer’ Donations and applications for breweries in need accepted now through May 17 

 

Boulder, Colo. — The Brewers Association (BA)—the trade association representing small and independent American craft brewers—has partnered with Bottleshare—a fundraising nonprofit dedicated to the craft beverage community—to create the Believe in Beer Fund to support breweries and state brewers guilds impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The fund is open for breweries and guilds from across the country to apply for immediate financial assistance for operational expenses such as payroll, rent, and utilities.

According to a poll conducted by the Brewers Association earlier this month, independent craft breweries have been severely impacted by COVID-19, as evidenced by a sharp drop in craft category sales, massive furloughs or layoffs, and the high likelihood of a large number of brewery closures while under social distancing mandates. A majority of breweries do not think their business can last three months given current conditions.

“This is a very challenging time for breweries and their livelihoods are at risk. We hope creating this relief fund with Bottleshare will provide an answer to the most common question beer lovers have been asking during this unprecedented time: ‘How can I help?’” said Bob Pease, president and CEO, Brewers Association. “The craft beer community is rooted in collaboration and philanthropy, and now is our chance to come together and give back to our most vulnerable breweries.”

Beginning today through the end of American Craft Beer Week® on May 17, beer lovers can contribute to the fund by visiting charity.gofundme.com/believe-in-beer-relief-fund. Relief funds will be available to breweries and state guilds that demonstrate immediate financial need due to COVID-19 and meet the outlined criteria. Those in need can find more information at https://www.thebottleshare.org/breweries-and-guilds and apply for a grant at https://www.thebottleshare.org/grant-application. Bottleshare will review applications and select recipients based on need.

“Bottleshare was created to support industry workers and their families when they experience hardships,” said Christopher Glenn, founder of Bottleshare. “During this uncertain time, when support is needed more than ever, we’re proud to join efforts with the Brewers Association to reciprocate the love and strength that characterize the craft beer community and help the breweries that make it so special.”

For more information on the Believe in Beer Fund, please visit https://www.thebottleshare.org/breweries-and-guilds. Images available for download here.

The Brewers Association has also created a Coronavirus Resource Center to provide small and independent craft brewers with an evolving collection of resources to help weather the storm. All Brewers Association-authored resources relating to COVID-19 are available for free to both members and nonmembers.

 

About the Brewers Association

The Brewers Association (BA) is the not-for-profit trade association dedicated to small and independent American brewers, their beers and the community of brewing enthusiasts. The BA represents 5,400-plus U.S. breweries. The BA’s independent craft brewer seal is a widely adopted symbol that differentiates beers by small and independent craft brewers. The BA organizes events including the World Beer Cup®Great American Beer Festival®Craft Brewers Conference® & BrewExpo America®SAVOR™: An American Craft Beer & Food ExperienceHomebrew Con™National Homebrew Competition and American Craft Beer Week®. The BA publishes The New Brewer® magazine, and Brewers Publications® is the leading publisher of brewing literature in the U.S. Beer lovers are invited to learn more about the dynamic world of craft beer at CraftBeer.com® and about homebrewing via the BA’s American Homebrewers Association® and the free Brew Guru® mobile app. Follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

The Brewers Association is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital/familial status. The BA complies with provisions of Executive Order 11246 and the rules, regulations, and relevant orders of the Secretary of Labor.

About Bottleshare

Bottleshare is a fundraising and fund distribution nonprofit organization for the craft beverage industry. The group raises money through various collaborations and partnerships within the community, and the generous support of donors and sponsors. Bottleshare then grants emergency financial assistance to brewery, winery, and distillery workers who have experienced extreme hardships outside of the workplace preventing them from working and producing an income.

To learn more about Bottleshare visit www.thebottleshare.org and follow on social media @bottleshareofficial.

hand sanitizer

Grand Rapids distillery has converted from producing craft spirits to Michigan-made hand sanitizer

 

Grand Rapids, Michigan – Over the course of the last month, Long Road Distillers has shifted from producing Michigan-made craft spirits to Michigan-made hand sanitizer in order to help meet the tremendous needs of the community during the current outbreak. To help speed up the process, the Grand Rapids distillery has partnered with several Michigan breweries to provide beer that can be distilled and converted into ethyl alcohol, the primary ingredient in hand sanitizer.

“We have all of the equipment on site to produce hand sanitizer from scratch,” said Jon O’Connor, co-owner of Long Road Distillers. “Our two large stills allow us to take fermented grain or fruit and turn it into 190 proof neutral spirit, much like we do in the process of producing our vodka.”

For Long Road, the pinch point in speeding up production is fermentation capacity. To overcome that roadblock, they are now working with several Michigan breweries who are providing beer that can be run through the still. To date, Long Road has partnered with The Mitten Brewing Company, Founders Brewing Company, Perrin Brewing Company and Shorts Brewing Company. Some of the beer had been kegged for restaurant use, while some was brewed by the companies specifically for the purpose of distilling into sanitizer.

hand sanitizer

“The craft beverage world has always been about creativity, excellence and service,” said Chris Andrus, co-owner of The Mitten Brewing Company. “This effort is just a natural extension of that; quickly working together to solve problems and meet a need in our community.”

So far, Long Road Distillers has worked with nearly 300 health care providers, nursing homes, grocers, social service agencies and other essential businesses to provide sanitizer to keep patients, residents, employees and customers safe. Their ability to offer this is due in large part to those who have come to the support of the distillery at this time.

“We’re fortunate to have such a collaborative beverage community in Michigan!” exclaimed Kyle VanStrien, co-owner of Long Road Distillers. “The willingness of our friends to step up and help us in this effort has certainly been one of the brightest silver linings during these difficult days.”

Long Road Hand Sanitizer is available for purchase in individual spray bottles and in bulk refill jugs, with primary focus given to front-line providers and essential businesses and their employees at this time. Interested organizations may submit inquiries about procuring sanitizer through Long Road’s website: www.LongRoadDistillers.com/handsanitizer/

A limited number of individual spray bottles are being sold to the public through the distillery’s weekly take-out service, and orders must be placed in advance through the takeout link on their website. Pick-up of sanitizer, as well as cocktail kits and bottles-to-go are offered Thursdays (12-5p) and Fridays (12-6p) in Grand Rapids, and Saturdays (10a-2p) from their Grand Haven location. Long Road Hand Sanitizer can also be found at several local retailers.

About Long Road Distillers:

Long Road Distillers was born from the belief that making world-class spirits means never taking shortcuts along the way. After becoming the first craft distillery in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Long Road Distillers formed relationships with local farmers to bring that mission to Grand Rapids’ West Side neighborhood. Each spirit produced at Long Road Distillers is milled from locally sourced ingredients, fermented, and distilled on-site. The result is an uncompromised lineup of spirits including Vodka, Gin, Whisky and more. Their spirits, along with a handcrafted collection of cocktails and a wide variety of food can be enjoyed at their Grand Rapids and Grand Haven Tasting Rooms, and visitors can enjoy samples of their spirits and purchase merchandise and bottles to-go at their Boyne City Tasting Room.  For more information, visit www.LongRoadDistillers.com or find Long Road Distillers on Facebook or Instagram @longroadgr.

 

founders

Founders Brewing Co. has launched #CraftedinMI, a new online campaign to support the local arts community in Michigan. Founders has pledged to use their social media platforms to help promote artists that are deeply affected by Covid-19 Michigan, including makers, musicians, culinary artists, small business owners and more. Throughout the stay-at-home order, the team will be sharing some of their favorite Michigan-based craftspeople with the goal of bringing awareness to their talent and driving support during this time of need.

“Michiganders are known for their persevering spirit and relentless creativity, especially in the face of adversity,” said Co-Founder and President, Dave Engbers. “We want to celebrate and support our local makers by promoting the amazing work they continue to create, and we hope it will inspire others to do the same.”

“I’m so appreciative of the visibility that Founders provided by sharing my artwork through their social platforms,” said Dayna Walton, owner of Solstice Handmade. “Last week was tough and it’s so hard to sit back and watch everything I had been looking forward to financially and otherwise cancel, postpone, or disappear. With the help directing eyes to my artwork and online shop, I was able to recoup income lost from workshop cancelations in March and continue to move forward with projects that employ other local makers in collaboration! I hope that I can pass on joy and relief I felt with others. It’s during times like these that we realize how essential the non-essentials of life are. Art gives life to our minds, homes, and communities, even when everything else in our world is at a standstill.”

How can you get involved? Visit our site and follow us on social media (@foundersbrewing) to read #CraftedinMI stories and to find out more about lending direct support. Please consider purchasing an item, downloading an album, grabbing a coffee and other meaningful way to keep Michigan’s vibrant artistic and crafts businesses open. For MI-based makers who’d like to be considered for a feature, please reach out to social@foundersbrewing.com.

 

speciation

The natural brewery and winery will open a new tasting room on Wealthy Street in 2020

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH.– Speciation Artisan Ales and Native Species Winery will have a new home at 928 Wealthy Street in Grand Rapids.

The new tasting room for the nature-inspired brewery and winery will open later in 2020 pending licensing and approvals.

Co-owners Mitch and Whitney Ermatinger say the move from Comstock Park will bring their products closer to their customers.

“It’s time to get more of our product directly into people’s hands,” said Mitch Ermatinger. “We have always looked at Wealthy Street for a potential taproom location because of the area’s strong sense of community and identity. We are excited to play a part in the growth of one of the best and most exciting business corridors in the city!”

Speciation Artisan Ales is a “mixed culture” brewery, which specializes in wild ales and ciders inspired by the variations that can be found in nature. Native Species Winery extends those concepts to wine, using foot-crushed grapes and natural fermentation techniques. Both businesses source Michigan-grown ingredients for their products.

Moving the businesses to the new location near the intersection of Wealthy and Diamond will enable them to stay on top of industry trends, Ermatinger said.

“The craft beer movement is shifting significantly—away from distribution and toward tasting room and direct sales,” Ermatinger said. “We would like to stay ahead of the changes in the industry and position ourselves for long-term stability with a wide range of house-made small batch beverages, including beer, natural wine, wine spritzers, seltzers and cider.”

The Comstock Park taproom will close when the new taproom opens, after which the Comstock Park location will be used for production only.

“Our current location in Comstock Park served its purpose to get us started, but it’s time to get more of our product directly into people’s hands. We believe the best way to do that is to move to a more central location,” Ermatinger said. “The many excellent businesses on Wealthy and Cherry Street complement each other so well, and we think that we will be a strong asset to that community.”

safe haven

The producers will sell specially crafted drinks and merch to benefit Safe Haven Ministries

A group of Grand Rapids craft beverage producers has come together to support Safe Haven Ministries’ mission of solving the problem of domestic abuse in the community.

The 22 businesses have rallied around the proclamation that “Love Shouldn’t Hurt.” 

safe haven

Participating breweries, wineries and distilleries have each created a new beverage named “Love.” The unique brews, ciders and cocktails will be sold at each business with a portion of the proceeds benefiting Safe Haven Ministries.

The project kicks off on November 25 and will run through the remainder of the year.

The Mitten State, an apparel company based in Grand Rapids, will also donate a portion of sales of its Michigan “Love” apparel series. A few participating locations will sell limited edition “Love” pint glasses to benefit the nonprofit.

“First and foremost, the goal of this project is to support Safe Haven in their mission to solve the problem of domestic abuse in our community,” said Dana Mate Dones, operations manager of The Mitten Brewing Company. “But a secondary goal is to prove that when responsibly enjoyed, alcohol can be a force for good and actually be a part of breaking the cycle of domestic abuse, despite its long negative association with the issue.”

Safe Haven Ministries provides emergency shelter, case management, support groups and more to women and children suffering from domestic abuse. The organization also provides education and prevention programs for businesses, schools, healthcare providers and other members of the community.

“It’s an important consideration for our industry to think about how what we produce affects individuals in our community,” said Edwin Collazo, co-owner of City Built Brewing. “We have taken great care to practice responsibility as it pertains to our environment, our service and training, as well as how those things affect the most vulnerable. Better drinking culture is a real thing!”

safe haven

Participants include Founders Brewing Company, The Mitten Brewing Company, Speciation Artisan Ales, Long Road Distillers, City Built Brewing, The People’s Cider Co., Vander Mill Grand Rapids, Gray Skies Distillery, Cedar Springs Brewing Company, Broad Leaf Local Beer, Harmony Brewing, Harmony Hall, Trail Point Brewing, Rockford Brewing, Thornapple Brewing, Railtown Brewing, TwoGuys Brewing, Wise Men Distillery, Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery, Brewery Vivant, Atwater Brewing, Coldbreak and Better Drinking Culture.

“We are honored to be a part of the ‘Love Shouldn’t Hurt’ project, along with many of our friends in the Grand Rapids brewing community to support survivors of domestic abuse,” said Mitch Ermatinger, owner of Speciation Artisan Ales.

bells brewery

Bell’s Brewery makes a lot of beer. During a tour of their sprawling facility in Comstock, Michigan, Austin Giles, our guide and the biggest bear hug of a person, spouts trivia at a mile a minute to drive that point home. Here are a few facts that stuck. Every second, two pints of Two Hearted are sold in Michigan. Every ninety minutes, during three different shifts a day, the team starts a new batch, and to get through one four-hundred barrel fermenter, of which they have sixty-six, it would take a person sixty years while drinking a six-pack a day. Giles smiles as though he’s up for the challenge. 

So yeah, Bell’s makes a lot of beer, but that doesn’t mean they’ve lost touch with their roots. At the beginning of a timeline tracking the brewery’s milestones, there hangs a soup pot—Larry’s first brewing vessel—that could double as a sacred idol. “You look back at the pot and it’s like, oh my gosh, we were the original nanobrewery,” Bell said. It’s true and frankly insane to see how much has changed. When Bell opened up shop his competition included twenty-five other American breweries—only nine of which remain—and by 2020 we’re on track for upwards of eight thousand. Looking at the soup pot, these numbers leave an impression. This humble cauldron ushered in one of the nation’s largest and most successful breweries.

Despite his stature as a beer titan, Bell comes off disarmingly

down-to-earth and easy to get along with.

 

While moseying among the steel tanks, stories high and warehouses long, it’s hard not to feel awestruck by this empire Bell has built. Now distributed in 40 states, the Bell’s footprint goes toe-to-toe with many big box brandsand on its own terms no less. As AB-InBev continues to gobble up craft breweries, and craft breweries merge into conglomerate fortresses, Bell’s remains one-hundred percent independent and family owned. “Big brewers can say all they want that people don’t care who makes their beer, where it comes from, whether it’s independent,” Bell said. “I happen to know that they do.”  

 

I believe we’d all agree. Still, for as much as they care about their consumer, when I think about Bell’s I think about a pair of leather bootsworn in, trusty, but tucked away in a closet and taken for granted. At times, Bell feels forgotten too, “The number one question we get on tours is, is he still with us?”

He most certainly is, and to share a conversation with him now is to get lost in an aura of enigmatic energy. Despite his stature as a beer titan, Bell comes off disarmingly down-to-earth. We ricochet between his dreams of Bollrathian aliens, admiration for Walt Whitman, and musings on baseball. “When my brain has nothing to do, the place it goes is Cubs,” Bell said. Admittedly, his folkish veneer dissolves when he takes a call regarding his new Aston Martin. The sportscar will accompany his collection of eight Jaguars. Hippy turned tycoon, I can’t name another auteur in the industry quite like Larry Bell. I like to imagine he keeps a copy of Leaves of Grass stashed in every glove box. 

That said, when discussing the company, Bell is lucid. “I feel really good and excited about where we are right now,” Bell said. “We have a lot of energy behind innovation and new brands.” Take Flamingo Fruit Fight, Sparkleberry, and Pooltime for example. There’s a noticeable uptick of fun seeping into the portfolio. The Leaves of Grass series embodies the brewery’s free spirit too, breathing life into one of our country’s most nourishing poems. To borrow from verse, “the human race is filled with passion. So medicine, law, business, engineering… these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love… these are what we stay alive for.” Whether the beer takes off or not, it’s touching that Bell would risk sales to indulge a deeply personal project. 

 

Bell’s charters an intriguing way forward during a time when the future of craft beer isn’t entirely clear. Some argue there’s plenty of pie left for newcomers. Others worry how small the slivers are getting. “Let’s face it, we’re seeing the plateau,” Bell said. “Those heady days of 20% growth are gone. A third of the top 50 breweries had negative numbers this year.” 

From the sidelines, it seems like a good time for Bell’s to dig in their heels and pump out Oberon year-round, pile on surplus and see how things shake out, but they refuse to rest on their laurels. In fact, they’ve done the opposite. They’ve invested in a new pilot system to nurture creative recipes on a larger scale, revamped their beer garden to welcome nationally touring acts, and tinkered with their flagships to better reflect a drinker’s taste in 2019. It seems to be working. 

Unfortunately, a lot of press has focused on Bell’s trademark disputes and shifting leadership, but there’s an untold story in how they’re quietly adapting to a changing landscape. As consumer behavior shifts constantly, careful planning has gone into striking a balance between innovation and tradition, and hopefully what this amounts to is Bell’s meaning a little something important to everyone.

Let’s start with the enthusiast, perhaps the hardest to please, because no sooner does Oberon get tapped than it gets maligned on untappd as “worse than last year’s,” or for those who really want to flex their troll cred, “better when it was Solsun.” This vocal minority views Oberon as a scapegoat representing all that’s wrong with mainstream taste. It feels unfair to levy all this anger on one beer. While Oberon does taste mild, even compared to some of its seasonal competition, that’s its intentionto enhance experiences, not distract from them. Ultimately, if it bores, don’t drink it, there’s a wealth of choices to satisfy. Bell’s recently caged and corked The Wild One with raspberries, an open-fermented fruited sour that directly appeals to a beer nerd’s palate. But even these experimental offerings are beside the point. 

“Beer geeks get in their own echo chambers, whether it’s on Beer Advocate or other related groups. From where I sit, the world of beer is quite different,” Bell said. “I look at how much Two Hearted we sell.” As I’m sure you could guess, it’s a lot. “If Two Hearted were its own craft brewery it’d be the 13th largest brewery in the country.” No buts about it, Two Hearted mints cash, but maybe we’re lucky to enjoy this elephant in the brewhouse.  

For the third consecutive year, Zymurgy magazine, the homebrewer’s holy text, voted Two Hearted as the best beer, full stop, ousting the likes of Pliny the Elder and Heady Topper. Bell’s placing could derive from how cozy they are with homebrewers—what other major brewery packages their house yeast for commercial use?—but Matt Moberly, VP of sales and marketing, sees it differently. “Two Hearted’s beauty is in its simplicity,” Moberly said. “I think that sometimes the complexity of trying to innovative and utilize cool-kid hops can overpower the beauty of a balanced beer.” Single-hopped, aromatic, endlessly drinkable, it’s absolutely the six-pack I reach for after getting burned by another New-England murkbomb.

 

This brings us to Official, Bell’s foray into the hazy IPA market, which on a surface level looks like analytics pandering to what’s hot. I’ve caught myself accusing Bell’s of bandwagoning on the hazy train, but Bell anticipated these criticisms from the jump, “Look, we’ve been brewing unfiltered beer for decades,” he said. “If there’s something that’s trendy, how do we do it the Bell’s way, within our ethos and standards.” That means no flour and no shortcuts. While light on haze, the bouquet on Official is huge, and the tasting notes hit requisite citrus flavors without overwhelming the senses.  

A recurring motif from my conversations is the brewery’s insistence on quality. Bell’s gets first pick of centennial hops out west, their foeders are some of the finest in the biz, their brewing and packaging equipment is state of the art and environmentally friendly. They take pride in being a jack of all trades. “We define our brewery based on the breadth of our portfolio, not any single area,” Moberly said. “We strive to be a brewers brewery: let’s be really really good at everything we try.” The Bell’s logo has become synonymous with integrity.

bells brewery

Matt Moberly

So why have some brands like Roundhouse and Quinanan Falls disappeared into the ether? While beer speaks for itself, Moberly has noticed that to capture a younger audience, good liquid on its own doesn’t always cut it. “It’s so crowded now you have to have the total package when you put something out,” he said. “You have to not only have good beer but good branding and imagery for a chance to be successful.” Visually refreshing classics like Porter and Kalamazoo stout shows a willingness to bend even when it hurts. The new typography doesn’t quite match the original’s charm, but the consistent look should block well on store shelves. 

Ultimately, it’s about getting great beer into the hands of those who have overlooked it. For a majority of their brands, this isn’t a problem. Their portfolio has become iconic, slipping into the unexpected cracks of our lives. “I don’t know who climbs a mountain with a can of Coke,” Moberly said. “But they love to carry an Expedition Stout or a Two Hearted, take us along to their favorite places, and share their experiences with us. That’s pretty awesome.” 

Questions of succession remain as Bell reckons with his mortality, “I know I won’t live forever,” he said. I wouldn’t expect a funeral any time soon. His faculties remain acute, and his vision clear as day as a member of the old guard, Bell doesn’t see the craft beer tide reversing any time soon. “The revolution has already won,” he said. “We cracked the cosmic egg.” Whatever the future holds, all signs point to the cosmic scramble turning out in Bell’s favor. 

 

broad leaf beer

Opinion

Can Brewery Vivant’s “Weird Cousin” Grow on Their Own?

 

Brewery Vivant has earned their reputation and respect from the industry and consumers for good reason. Their commitment to community, sustainability, and inclusive company culture are impressive and admirable. In 2010, they introduced West Michigan to Belgian and French-inspired farmhouse ales and have kept us hooked. They prove that a brewery’s food can—and should be—just as good as their beer. C’mon, by now, if you haven’t had their duck nachos, burger cooked medium-rare, or a dessert by their house pastry chef… Sorry, where were we?

When Vivant announced the recent grand opening of Broad Leaf Local Beer., they gave it a seemingly endearing and harmless nickname that created two things: interest and expectations. Other media outlets latched onto these low-hanging buzzwords, too. Before the doors had a chance to open, Broad Leaf came off as if it was already in the shadows of their otherwise presumed more mature relative. In some variation, headlines baited: Broad Leaf Local Beer, Brewery Vivant’s “Weird Cousin,” Opens.

broad leaf beer

Playful? Perhaps. Accurate? Eh… Time will tell. The hangup now, for me though, is that I’m struggling to unsee them.

When I visited Broad Leaf on the first day they were open to the public, I wanted to be weirded out. A weird version of something related to Vivant? Yes, please! Instead, I found myself trying to figure out where Vivant left off and Broad Leaf began.

And, yes—to be fair, I realize this was their first day. But, if you’re going to self-proclaim your own nickname, even in jest, you gotta come out swinging. Give us something strange, mysterious, unusual.

Broad Leaf’s location in Kentwood is a well-needed reprieve from big-box retailers and fast food chains on a crowded 28th Street. It definitely looks different than Vivant. Where it deviates from Vivant’s intimacy and distinct, inherited architecture, it makes up for in hip, industrial open-format simplicity. Bonus points for their clever use of shipping containers. It feels like you’re in the heart of a city on the come-up rather than a stark strip mall of sorts. I like where the place seems to be headed.

The interior is pointed in a direction that could get weird. The color palette used throughout is fun, and the couple pieces of hanging tapestries are trendy enough to start giving off a vibe that’s right on. Their intent is to decorate the walls with local artwork. There’s so much space to play with—if maximized just right, it should help tie the room together. When the kitchen opens later this summer I’m hopeful that if their food is half as good as Vivant’s—and fingers crossed a little daring—it will also help them better demonstrate the experience they’re promising.

Upon closer examination, however, things got a little blurry. Namely, with the beer list. Based on what the press was recycling in advance of their opening, the beers were supposed to be, rightfully so, the lynchpin in distinguishing Broad Leaf from Vivant. In a press release from Vivant, owner Jason Spaulding explains, “With the development of new hop varieties, new beer styles, and emerging brewing techniques we wanted to push the creative line and participate in this new wave of craft.” Jon Ward, creative director, supports Spaulding’s vision, “…with the opening of Broad Leaf we have a whole new corner of the map to explore—beyond the edges of the map in some ways.” I was excited when I read this. Toss the map and carve your own path, I say!

But… out of the 13 beers available on draft, four were clearly designated “Vivant beers,” and a handful of the remaining nine have either been in rotation or were currently still on tap at Vivant.

broad leaf beer

For those Vivant loyalists paying close attention, two were most recognizable. Pugs! Pugs! Pugs! Pugs! Pugs! King of the Metal (Cowboys) is a green-colored juicy “Weird IPA” with Blue Razz slushy mix. It was listed under Broad Leaf beers while Rage the Dulcimer, a barrel-aged stout with grilled pineapple, salt, and chocolate, was listed under Vivant Beers. I drank both at Vivant three weeks prior during their second annual Weird Beer Weekend. My lips hadn’t touched a beer yet at Broad Leaf, and I couldn’t help but scratch my head.

While Broad Leaf is still putting the finishing touches on installing their own brew system on site, Vivant’s team of brewers has been pulling double duty to stock Broad Leaf’s draft lines. I can respect that. Utilize your established resources to help launch your new project. But, also be mindful to allow your protégé to shine in their own light.

While we unknowingly have already seen many of Broad Leaf’s beers piloted under Vivant’s roof (and name) in preparation for Broad Leaf’s opening, this is also precisely where the momentum behind their inauguration, for me, stalled. Although the beers I drank that were labeled “Broad Leaf” were quite good and crafted with expertise, aside from a tease of different hop varieties and the absence of Vivant’s signature use of Belgian yeast, I didn’t know whose beer I was really drinking. Was it a leftover Vivant beer repackaged as a new, different brewery, or was it an accurate representation of who Broad Leaf is to become? I hope that the latter is the one that matters to both breweries in question.

I trust Vivant, and I want to love Broad Leaf, but I believe one thing needs to happen sooner than later, even if that means a refined, shorter draft list in the interim: Broad Leaf’s identity and beers need to be distinctly independent from Vivant. Otherwise, Broad Leaf may risk being known only as Vivant’s other brewery. If Broad Leaf was instead marketed as, let’s say, Vivant Experimental—where peculiar and quality are concocted, I believe both endeavors could get away with much more. But, if Broad Leaf is going to be positioned as its own brewery, it deserves its own persona, too.

broad leaf beer

You can’t fault Vivant for pursuing a second location. For space alone, it satisfies their need for additional cold and dry storage while alleviating space restrictions within their original footprint in East Hills. To further capitalize on the move, creating a second brewery is a smart no-brainer. Another brewery in the family unlocks accessibility for a whole new audience and convenience for those who crave something Vivant, but want to save a trip downtown. After all, their success has allowed for Broad Leaf to exist

Still, the underlying question begs whether Broad Leaf will be able—and whether Vivant will allow it—to own an identity distinct and distinguished enough from their older and wiser normal cousin.

 

railtown brewing

 

The Tale of Two Rails has closed. After duking it out privately in court since last September, Railtown Brewing Company and Byron Station LLC reached a settlement regarding the trademark infringement from the name “Railbird Taphouse and Brewery.” Today, the Byron Center brewery has unveiled its new title: “Alebird Taphouse and Brewery.” It’s hard to believe that Alebird fought tooth and nail to  a change so simple. To think this legal entanglement, the backlash from the beer community, the wasted energy that suspended their opening date, all balanced on the crux of an ‘R’ —it’s almost hilarious from an outsider’s perspective.

To Justin Buiter, co-founder of Railtown Brewing Company, I’m certain the situation’s absurdity amounted to more migraines than laughs. “In an industry where camaraderie and collaboration typically prevail, we’re disappointed that getting here had to take so long and involved attorneys,” Buiter said in their press release today.

While the craft beer market continues to welcome new members on its shelves, this story signals that friendly relationships with competition are important but brand protection comes first. If Railtown didn’t object to Railbird’s infringement, the flood gates could open for others to operate under other “Rail” names, ultimately watering down recognition for an identity they’ve worked so hard to cultivate.

Still it can prove tricky navigating that perception between bully and business owner. In this case, Railtown exits this confrontation with grace. Compromise was on the table from the jump, and Railtown had even offered to help pay for some of the rebranding fees. It’s a shame the name switch required coercion but hopefully the two breweries can avoid a lifetime grudge match. “We wish the crew over at Alebird Taphouse and Brewery well,” Buiter said. “We’re excited to see what they bring to the growing Grand Rapids beer scene and the local Byron Center community.”

For us craft beer enthusiasts, a few pints are in order to wash away the memory of this unfortunate case. I’d say a couple glasses of Peanut Butter Cocoa Time at Railtown should do the trick.

Here are the rest of the details from the press release.


 

DUTTON, Mich. — Railtown Brewing Company has reached a settlement with Byron Station, LLC, a company Railtown accused of trademark infringement. Byron Station, LLC sought to name its yet-to-be-established brewpub “Railbird Taphouse and Brewery.”

Byron Station, LLC has agreed to change its brewpub’s name to “Alebird Taphouse and Brewery,” cease using “Railbird Taphouse and Brewery” as its name, withdraw any trademarks including the word “Railbird” and refrain from seeking further trademarks including the word. The company will keep its existing logo, referred to as “the burgundy chicken.”

Railtown Brewing Company has allowed Byron Station, LLC the right to name one beer “Railbird,” which may only be sold on tap at Byron Station’s premises in Byron Center, Michigan and may not be packaged. The company may also produce merchandise relating to the “Railbird” beer, so long as the “Alebird Taphouse and Brewery” name is clearly tied to it. Railtown also agreed not to use the word “Railbird” in any manner.

Byron Station, LLC declined to agree to confidentiality or a non-disparagement clause and chose not to collaborate with Railtown Brewing Company on a joint press release regarding the lawsuit.

“All along the way, we’ve been trying to find a middle ground that would work for both of us,” said Justin Buiter, co-founder of Railtown Brewing Company.

That began when Railtown Brewing Company approached Byron Station, LLC in May 2018 to notify the company that its brewpub’s name infringed on Railtown Brewing Company’s trademark. Railtown requested that the company change its branding and offered financing to assist in covering the costs of establishing a new name and brand.

“We said, basically, ‘We just want to make sure that you guys are going to be able to open your doors, and that a name change isn’t going to be the thing that keeps you from opening,’” Buiter said.

Byron Station, LLC refused that offer and continued to use the “Railbird” name, which led Railtown Brewing Company to reluctantly pursue a lawsuit.

“We’re relieved to have reached a settlement,” Buiter said. “In an industry where camaraderie and collaboration typically prevail, we’re disappointed that getting here had to take so long and involved attorneys.”

Now that the lawsuit is in the rearview, Buiter is looking forward to re-centering on what he and co-founder Gim Lee got into the business for.

“With this behind us, we can get back to focusing on what we love: beer,” Buiter said. “We wish the crew over at Alebird Taphouse and Brewery well. We’re excited to see what they bring to the growing Grand Rapids beer scene and the local Byron Center community.”