When cruising down Jefferson Avenue heading toward downtown Detroit, you’ll come across many businesses that line the Detroit River. Less than two miles from the main downtown hub, hang a left on Joseph Campau and there you will find the inconspicuous Atwater Brewery.

Located in Detroit’s Rivertown district, Atwater lies on the corner of Joseph Campau and Wight Street. The unsuspecting production facility and tap room have called it home since 1997. During that time, it has also grown into the largest brewery in Detroit and southeast Michigan.

Detroit Roots

Atwater’s original mission was to rekindle the spirit of Detroit brewing and the Bohemian style lager Stroh’s Brewery once created within city limits. Call it fitting, or maybe even fate, that landed Atwater across the street from the old Stroh’s headquarters.

During the early years, Atwater’s brewing efforts were accompanied by a restaurant. It wasn’t until 2005 when current owner Mark Rieth decided to change it all by shutting the restaurant down.

“I invested in 2002 and took it over in 2005 and really wanted to branch out,” he said. “We were trying to run a restaurant and not a brewery. We just wanted to concentrate on production.”

Concentrate is what they did, elevating production levels from 1,200 barrels in 2005 to 28,000 barrels in 2013. The brewery is poised to produce around 50,000 barrels in 2014.

With the restaurant closing, Rieth and company moved the taproom into the brewing production area. Comprised of just a few tables and a bar surrounded by large steel fermenters and brewing equipment, it’s an atmosphere fitting for Detroit and one that works for Atwater. Down and dirty. Bare essentials.

“We just do things a little differently, which has been awesome and set us apart a little bit,” Rieth said.

The city that gave birth to Stroh’s and inspiration to Atwater has a clear and direct influence on the brewery. Atwater reciprocates the motivation by paying homage to Detroit everywhere they go.

“We’re very proud of our heritage,” Rieth said. “We design all of our packaging with one of our mottos as we expand, which is, ‘We’re bringing Detroit everywhere.’ Yes we’re a Michigan brewery. But we’re a Detroit, Michigan brewery, which we’re really proud of.”

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Local Expansion

With the brewery expanding rapidly and the main location on Joseph Campau at full capacity, Atwater will look to build on a 15,000-square-foot lot directly behind it over the next year.

The expanded facility will house the majority of their keg filling in addition to their new venture in the spirits business.

“Our first mission is a Dirty Blonde vodka,” Rieth said. The first test batch was made in collaboration with Red Cedar Spirits located in East Lansing. The equipment used is owned by Michigan State University, which seemed to inspire another idea for Rieth and a local Detroit university.

“One of the things we’re working on with Wayne State, we’re trying to do a brewing and distilling curriculum,” he said. “We feel that it’s part of our responsibility of being here that if we can get people more educated earlier on in the brewing and distilling world, if we had some internships set up, then we can actually hire people right out of college who have already been working and have some hands-on experience. That’s great for everybody involved.”

Another recent venture has already proved to be fruitful for the brewery. Atwater in the Park made its debut in June.

Located in Grosse Pointe Park, the new biergarten was converted from an old church with a dwindling congregation. Rieth was approached by a local group attempting to revamp the area.

“They came to me and the first thing I said was, ‘No way,’” he recalled. “Then I took a look at the facility and what they were trying to do around there. And I saw the actual space, and more importantly, the beer garden and the actual church part of it was spectacular.”

Rieth said the reception to the new location has been “unbelievable.”

“Last Saturday we had over 1,000 people there,” he said. “We’ve had to double the size of the kitchen in the first three weeks.”

The menu is German-esque while also boasting brewpub favorites like burgers, pizzas and salads.

“With our German heritage, I go to Munich a lot,” Rieth said. “I love the Bavarian feel, the community aspect of sitting down at a table with people that you haven’t met before and you strike up a conversation. All of a sudden, you’re having a great time.”

While serving as a new location, Atwater in the Park also benefits the overall operations of the brewery.

“We now have our ‘test kitchen’ there,” Rieth said. “It’s a four barrel German system. It’s going to enable us to make a bunch of different varieties, sample them out with customers, see what else sticks and bring it back down to the production facility.”

Beyond Detroit

Even though Detroit is home for Atwater, the brewery has its eye on expanding distribution far beyond the Motor City and the current market.

According to Rieth, the brewery just closed on land in Austin, Texas in order to get a facility up and running and distribute to the west coast. In 2016, they will be looking to build a plant in Wilmington, N.C. to take care of the east coast and southeast.

Rieth said Austin has welcomed them with open arms.

“There are a lot of Detroiters who live there. So our motto there is, ‘Born in Detroit, Brewed in Austin,’” he said. “We keep the Detroit heritage while doing some unique things for that local market. We’re going to bring most of our people from Detroit to operate it.”

By having additional production facilities in different states, Atwater will be able to expand on its current distribution while cutting on shipping costs and continuing to grow.

“That’s kind of our goal. To do 100,000 barrels out of Detroit, 100,000 out of Austin and 100,000 out of North Carolina,” Rieth said. “And keep building Detroit. Detroit could balloon up to many more than that as we continue to grow.”

With all of the upcoming expansions and big plans for the future, Rieth knows it’s all about promoting craft beer and getting Atwater beers to a new crowd.

“We want to bring everyone into the fold. If you’re a Bud or Miller or Labatt drinker, we want you to try our lager. Try our Dirty Blonde and kind of ease into the scene,” he said. “Once you get into the craft beer portfolio, you’re not going back.”

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For the month of August, Atwater Brewery is offering $1 off all pints while mentioning this article.

There was an eye-catching addition to this year’s Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival in Ypsilanti this weekend.

Marshall’s Dark Horse Brewing Company brought a giant wooden set up to this year’s festival which stood out and above the rest of the state’s 88 breweries in attendance. The brewery often drops some jaws with the amount of beer they bring to the festival, but this year’s included t-shirt guns and a giant ice slide for beer.

Above the wooden structure sat their “DHN” sign, for Dark Horse Nation, the brewery’s new TV show that begins airing tonight at 10 p.m. on the History Channel.

The rest of the festival was highlighted by the fantastic weather on Friday and Saturday, as some sweltering heat was subdued by light rain, brief cloud cover and a slight breeze.

The state’s breweries proved to be at the top of their game as the nation’s brewing industry continues to grow at a double-digit pace. Perhaps it was the choice in beer samples, but only one I couldn’t finish, with many being excellent.

Pepper beers were all the rage this year, or so it seemed. Some seemed too hot, while others mixed in the perfect amount of spice with the pepper’s flavor.

Arbor’s Flambouyant Wild Sour Red was an amazing lip-puckering experience. As were many of the beers Brewery Vivant brought to their table.

As usual, bigget breweries often had the longest lines, including Founders Brewing Co., which saw a noticeably long line begin to wrap around a tent for its KBS release at least 15 minutes before the scheduled tapping.

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Kuhnhenn took some Michigan pride to the festival with its Pure Michigan series, including beers featuring Michigan cherries, blueberries, peach and more Michigan ingredients. The brewery also brought a few of its spectacular signatures including DRIPA, The Fluffer Session IPA and Raspberry Eisbock.

Several breweries completely ran out of beer fairly early into Saturday. Right Brain was the first I heard go, so I felt lucky that I was able to try the brewery’s Cucumber Saison it brought, which was mighty refreshing during the summer festival.

I didn’t get to try the Rockford Brewing Company / New Holland Brewing Company collaboration, Solar Coaster, but was told it was a fantastic beer.

Saturday was capped off by a rousing performance by the Detroit band Sponge.

MILFORD — You have to hand it to brewpubs — they mean what they say. The Arbor Microbrewery (formerly Corner Brewery) is in fact on a corner. The late, great Leopold Brothers was indeed owned by brothers named Leopold. And River’s Edge? Yep, it’s on a river.

Located in downtown Milford, the brewpub is bordered by Main Street, railroad tracks and the Huron River. Canoers or kayakers can pull over on the banks of the river and find themselves in front of a beautiful brick and steel building with a deck and plenty of windows.

Inside, the pub is spacious and bright. Patrons can sit at a table or at the long, shiny wood bar. There are games to play, but no televisions. The owners — longtime friends Tom and Mary Kaye Ouvry, Michael and Gill Last and Ryan and Carrie Wiltse — wanted a space where people could enjoy conversation and gather with their friends, rather than stare at a screen.

The brewery, which has been opened since Tuesday, has been packed. On Friday, people were lined up in advance of the 3:00 p.m. opening. By 4:00 on Friday, it was standing room only for a time and the business remained steady.

There is a great reason for the crowds — the beer is solid and has more than a few standouts.

With seven beers on tap, there are several brews to choose from. Here are my top picks, in no particular order:

Kolsch (5.25% ABV): I judge Kolsch beers harshly, because I think they are often overlooked and underappreciated. These are the gateway beers for many people, especially for people like my dad, who has spent decades drinking only macro beers. If a Kolsch tastes bad, then you may have lost that potential craft beer drinker. I am pleased to say that the Kolsch was spot on — slightly sweet and malty, but also with a light hop kick to it (but not enough for my dad to wrinkle his nose and say, “smells like a damn flower”).

Leonard Style Pale Ale (6.5% ABV): Pale ales sometimes wander too closely into the IPA arena for my tastes; however, I am pleased to say that this pale was solid. It had a nice, bready taste up front and a creamy mouth feel. I later read that this was a result of adding flaked oats…very good call as it added a nice complexity to the beer. The American hops still gave a floral and fruity taste, but were not overwhelming and provided a lovely finish.

River’s Edge IPA (7% ABV): I’m not a hop head and so I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy this IPA as much as I did. A variety of malts were used in this beer and I think that is what made me a fan; too, the floral and herbal hops (Centennial, Cluster, Cascade) did not overpower my nose or my palate. The beer was nicely balanced, but still let me know it was an IPA.

Dirty Frank Stout (5.7% ABV): This was my favorite beer of the flight — a full bodied stout that managed to not taste like charred coffee. Rather, it tasted of delicious smoked malts, molasses, a hint of spice and chocolate undertones. This definitely ranks in my top five stouts (and I am a huge fan of stouts!). Extra points for the “Shaft” reference included in the description in the menu.

With some brewpubs forgoing food offerings (and I understand why, no judgments), I was happy to discover a menu of sandwiches and snacks. My friend got the bread and pimento cheese and I’m not ashamed to tell you that we wolfed that down like we hadn’t been fed in weeks. I ordered the hot pretzel and mustard; it went well with the mustard, but even better with the pimento cheese. Next time, I plan to try the sandwich called Ryan’s Gift to Earth, which contains Sriracha mayonnaise and chopped peanuts — it’s gotta be a winner!

River’s Edge a lovely space and it has a great lineup of beers and food and I highly recommend taking a trip to experience it. However you get there — car, canoe, kayak, helicopter or hover board — head out to Milford and enjoy a relaxing atmosphere, scenic view and good brews!

GROSSE POINTE PARK — The long-awaited Atwater in the Park Biergarten and Tap House opened this past Saturday at the corner of Lakepointe St. and Kercheval Ave. to a crowd of about 100 friends, family members, media and just plain thirsty folks.

The taproom, located in the former non-denominational Grace United Church, includes a bar with 40 taps and seating room for about 80 people, and a private party room that holds another 40. The biergarten, in the former church’s courtyard, includes a 10-tap bar and European-style community seating for 100.

Partners Mark Rieth, CEO of Atwater Brewery, and Eric Djordjevic, president of the Epicurean Restaurant Group, worked hard to capture a German aesthetic for the new facility, which they hope will serve as a model for a future Detroit version.

The four-barrel brewhouse, situated in the former sanctuary beneath three beautiful stained glass windows, was imported from Bavaria. The food menu includes German-inspired dishes such as house-made bratwurst, knockwurst and kielbasa with sauerkraut; pretzel flatbread; wiener schnitzel; and fried pickle chips. And beers on tap include some of Atwater’s German styles, such as Hefeweizen, Maibock, Dunkel, D Light Kolsch and Teufel Weizenbock.

Not that either the food or the beer menus are exclusively German. Other dishes include burgers, salads, pizzas, pork belly corndogs, fish and chips and Hungarian goulash. Atwater’s varied beer styles also range from the new Hop-A-Peel IPA to VJ Black Imperial Stout to Shaman’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Porter.

Brewer Brad Etheridge, formerly of Dragonmead Microbrewery in Warren, also produces pub-only beers — up to 15 drafts — for the Biergarten and Tap House. For the grand opening, he was most pleased with Scherthing Cream Ale, though at 5.5% ABV he acknowledged it was a little higher strength than intended “I still need to get used to my brewhouse,” he said.

Others on tap included GP IPA, Cottonwood Golden Ale, HG Brown Ale, a Belgian Tripel and an Imperial IPA. Etheridge also has plans to brew German-style lagers on premise, including a Vienna.

The brewery’s hours are 2 p.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday; 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday; noon to 2 a.m. Saturday; and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit atwaterbeer.com and atwaterinthepark.com.

Beer, burgers and B-Dubs were on the menu at the Royal Oak Farmers Market on Saturday during the fourth annual BRU Fest, a benefit for the Children’s Leukemia Foundation (CLF) of Michigan.

Bell’s Brewery, the exclusive beer sponsor of the event, had more than 20 craft beers on tap for attendees to enjoy while they noshed on burgers and wings from Bagger Dave’s Legendary Burger Tavern and Buffalo Wild Wings.

“Bell’s has been a partner in the event, along with Buffalo Wild Wings and Bagger Dave’s Burger Tavern, since the very beginning,” said Jackie McIntosh, director of development for the CLF. “We are so grateful that these fantastic organizations continue to provide their time and product to support our events. Everyone is so professional and amazing to work with. When it comes to event time, we all just click. It’s a really fun event to put together.”

Admission to BRU Fest included 10 tokens for beer samples and four tickets for food. Visitors were encouraged to try beer and food pairings, with suggestions listed on large color-coded menus on display at the venue. A few recommendations: The Chillin’ Cherry Burger — a turkey burger with smoked Gouda, peppers, onions and a cherry stout chili sauce — paired with an Oberon or Two Hearted Ale, and the Ravin’ Radish Burger — a prime rib burger patty with sautéed mushrooms, green pepper and a Kalamazoo Stout horseradish sauce — paired with an Amber Ale or Third Coast Beer.

Other Bell’s beer on tap for BRU Fest included Oarsman Ale, Quinannan Falls Special Lager, Midwestern Pale Ale, Double Cream Stout, Expedition Stout, Bourbon Barrel Aged Kalamazoo Stout, Berry Ale, Sweet Potato Stout, Cherry Stout, Mercurial Belgian Style Ale and Wheat Love Ale.

In addition, guests enjoyed live entertainment by The Hype Syndicate and even had a chance to test their skills at the first-ever BRU Pong tournament. For an additional $5, teams of two could enter the tournament and represent a CLF patient family, with proceeds benefiting The Walk, an upcoming fundraiser for the foundation.

“An event doesn’t have to be black-tie to make an impact,” said Bill Seklar, president and CEO of the Foundation. “Royal Oak has been a perfect home for this event that raises awareness and funds for our patients and families based in Michigan affected by leukemia, lymphoma and other blood-related diseases.”

McIntosh added that she’s thrilled with the outcome of this year’s BRU Fest.

“While the final numbers are still being tallied, we thought it was a great turnout and a fun atmosphere, and the feedback we are getting indicates that both attendees and volunteers really enjoyed being a part of the event,” she said.

The CLF also held a BRU Grand Rapids in 2013 in conjunction with the opening of its new regional office in the Grand Rapids area. According to McIntosh, a date for BRU Grand Rapids has not been set for this year, but the organization is interested in doing it again.

DETROIT — For the first time since 1985, beer will be canned in Detroit. Atwater Brewery, the city’s largest brewer, is leading the charge and canning Dirty Blonde Ale, Grand Circus Session IPA and Atwater Lager.

The brews will be immediately available in 12-ounce cans. The brewery will be canning in 16- and 19-ounce sizes in the future as well.

“We’ve said all along we want to bring the art of brewing back to the Motor City and help to revive Detroit’s role as a leading producer of great beers,” said Atwater Brewery owner Mark Rieth. “In the past few years, we’ve grown to be Detroit’s biggest brewer. Canning is an important next step in our mission to bring Detroit everywhere.”

Atwater brews ‘Distinctly Detroit’ styles of beer in the German tradition. According to Rieth, “It’s all about brewing clean, palatable beers with layers of flavors.  We’re thrilled that our beers, led by our Vanilla Java Porter and Dirty Blonde, have met such an enthusiastic response from the market.”

Bolstered by recent production expansion, Atwater is on pace for its tenth consecutive record sales year.

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A sold-out crowd of 3,000 flocked to the Detroit Zoo on Thursday to enjoy an evening of lions, tigers and beers.

Now in its fourth year, Zoo Brew gave guests the opportunity to explore the zoo after-hours while sampling beer from Michigan craft breweries. The event also included complimentary tram tours and live entertainment, as well as zookeeper talks at the otter, polar bear, wolverine and reticulated python exhibits.

“Our inaugural Zoo Brew in the fall of 2011 sold out, and the event has done so every year since. We added a spring event this year — another sell-out — and its popularity hasn’t waned,” said Detroit Zoo Communications Director Patricia Janeway.

“Zoo Brew attracts an audience that might not otherwise think of coming here, that being adults with no kids, so it provides a great opportunity for this segment.”

To help kick off the event, Atwater Brewery sponsored a “beer welcome” at the zoo’s front entrance. Visitors could stop and try Atwater’s Traverse City Cherry Wheat, and then make their way toward the main sampling area at the center of the zoo.

Atwater sales rep Matt Cebula noted that the brewery, which has been a part of Zoo Brew since the beginning, tries to partner with the zoo whenever it can.

“Zoo Brew has been wildly popular,” said Cebula. “It’s a good opportunity for people to be exposed to our beer.”

In addition to Atwater, nearly 50 craft breweries participated in the event, and many featured samples of spring and summer brews. Founders’ Rubaeus, Saugatuck’s Oval Beach Blonde and Bell’s Oberon were just a few seasonal offerings that helped visitors celebrate the warmer weather.

A number of ciders — including B. Nektar’s Slice of Life, Virtue Cider’s Red Streak, Uncle John’s Cranberry Cider and Vandermill’s Totally Roasted — were also part of the evening’s lineup.

Frankenmuth Brewery Sales Director Chuck Osberger said it’s been exciting to see Zoo Brew grow over the past few years.

“We were actually one of the first breweries to join Zoo Brew three years ago,” said Osberger. “It was an all-bottle event then. This is the first year we’ve brought all draft, which is pretty cool.”

Frankenmuth served four beers at the festival — Old Detroit, Tornado, Batch 69 IPA and Twisted Helles.

“We’re very enthusiastic to be involved,” said Osberger.

Anyone who missed out on spring Zoo Brew will have another chance to enjoy the festival this fall. The next Zoo Brew is scheduled for Sept. 26, and tickets go on sale June 16. For more information, visit www.detroitzoo.org/events/zoobrew.

Nearly 1,700 people gathered at B. Nektar Meadery in Ferndale on Saturday,to celebrate what ancient civilizations once considered to be the nectar of the gods.

With its highest-ever attendance, the Spring Mead Fest proves that one of the oldest alcoholic beverages in recorded history has staying power — and B. Nektar has been instrumental in its local resurgence.

“Every day we convert somebody else, and then they convert somebody,” said  B. Nektar Co-Founder and CEO Brad Dahlhofer.

Dahlhofer, along with his wife, Kerri, and friend Paul Zimmerman, founded B. Nektar in 2006 and officially opened for business two years later. Dahlhofer said that their grand opening event, held on National Mead Day, paved the way for festivals to come.

“We weren’t a brewery, so we couldn’t participate in any of the Michigan Brewers Guild festivals,” Dahlhofer explained.

Instead, B. Nektar started holding an annual Summer Mead Fest, and then added an annual Spring Mead Fest in 2013.

This year’s Spring Mead Fest was held in the parking lot of B. Nektar’s former production facility, just down the street from its new facility and tap room. Visitors could purchase tickets to turn in for samples, including B. Nektar’s traditional still meads; popular mainstays such as Zombie Killer and Necromangocon; and some new offerings from 14 limited-batch specialty taps.

Spring Mead Fest attendees could also purchase a number of limited release bottles, including #dragonsarereal — a cherry chocolate chipotle mead aged in New Holland Brewing’s Dragon’s Milk barrels — and Anasazi, a barrel aged buckwheat mead. Festival food was provided by Detroit BBQ Company, Buffy’s Mexi-Casian Grill and Treat Dreams, while DJ Psycho of Detroit Techno Militia entertained the crowd.

And for the first time ever, B. Nektar was also able include ciders, braggots and beer in its festival lineup, thanks to a recently acquired microbrewery license. Selections included Apple Pale Ale, Baltic Porter Braggot, Berliner Braggot, Imperial Hefeweizen and Cranberry Orange Zest Cider.

Dahlhofer explained that Zombie Killer — made with apple cider, tart cherry juice and honey — was a segue into even more cider production. He noted that two new ciders on tap at Spring Mead Fest — The Dude’s Rug (chai cider) and Slice of Life (lemon and ginger cider) — are now part of B. Nektar’s regular production schedule, with distribution in Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania.

In addition, Dahlhofer and the B. Nektar team are staying busy with continued growth, including the meadery’s recent launch in Copenhagen, Denmark, as well as plans to expand distribution to another 10 states in the U.S. within the next couple of years. B. Nektar fans can also look forward to its Summer Mead Fest in August.