The Brewers Association held their annual Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo in Philadelphia earlier this month. The 2016 edition of CBC drew a record 13,600 attendees and 835 exhibitors from all around the globe to the Pennsylvania Convention Center for the largest brewing industry trade show and educational series in North America.
Many representatives from Michigan participated, demonstrating our state’s value in the business. Ambassadors from several facets our state’s brewing industry exhibited their wares, offered education, or attended the tradeshow to network.
From ingredients, to brewing systems and serving systems, to some of the best brewed products; Michigan companies provide nearly everything beer-related.
Motor City Growlers displayed a product called “The Craft Station”, manufactured at their plant in Sterling Heights. Steve Lemieux, President, describes it as a “self-contained growler filling machine, that also can be used to expand capacity for any bar or restaurant. It comes complete, everything you need to start up and run and have eight extra taps,” he said. Many of Motor City Growler’s employees are former autoworkers who have found second careers in the beer industry through this innovation.
Boyd Culver, founder and co-owner of Coldbreak Brewing in Cedar Springs, wanted to get their jockey boxes “in front of as many brewers as we could, and there’s no better opportunity than the CBC,” he said. “Most of the components are made in Michigan, and we assemble them right there in Cedar Springs. Everything we make is USA made, high quality, we put a lot of effort into it,” Culver added. “We’re very proud of what we do.”
Psycho Brew of Greenville attended as exhibitors for the first time. “Last year we went to the one in Portland and kind of checked it out as spectators to see if it was worth coming here,” said co-owner Chris Breimayer. “We thought we would try it this year because there’s really nobody in our size bracket. Everybody’s got big equipment,” Breimayer said. Two barrels to 5 barrels are their most commonly produced sizes. On display at CBC was a 10 barrel system that was being delivered to Farmington on their way home from Philadelphia.
“Everything is made in Michigan, all local, we buy all the steel local as much as we can,” Breimayer said, minus a few fittings they aren’t able to get locally. “We’ve had a really good response,” he added.
Psycho Brew has established themselves as a trusted name across the United States and internationally. “Most of our equipment goes out of state,” he said. “We’ve sent some stuff over to Poland, and Panama.” Breimayer said. They’ve placed three systems in Poland at three different breweries.
West Michigan breweries have utilized their systems as well. They ventured into bigger tank territory when they created Cedar Springs‘ 15 barrel equipment last year, and Elk Brewing hired them to outfit their new facility.
Craftwerks Brewing Systems, a producer of larger brewing systems, held down a prominent corner of the showroom floor. Barry Johnson, Account Manager, estimated it took 12 hours to set up their impressively sizable display of equipment. “This is the biggest show on the planet, as far as in our industry, and so virtually every brewer is going to pass through this hall.” he said.
Craftwerks products are made in Michigan from American steel. “Every dollar made stays in Michigan. When I go through the shop, I see the guys whose families are being supported by the stuff that we’re making,” he added as he motioned toward the display.
According to Johnson, the company scored several solid leads for sales and will share the wealth with smaller companies when it’s a better fit to do so. “When we quote out a system, if a beginning brewery gets sticker shock or just doesn’t have the funding to do it, I give them Psycho Brews’ number and say ‘call Chris at Psycho Brew. It’s going to be an incredible system to get into and I’ll talk to you when you’re ready to make the next step’,” he said.
Brian Tennis, owner of New Mission Organics and Founder of Michigan Hop Alliance, answered inquiries about sustainable and organic farming and small industry hop farms at the exhibit for Hop Growers of America, USA Hops. “We’re representing all the (hop) growers in the United States, not just Michigan, but Michigan obviously grows the best hops in the country,” asserted Tennis.
“To be part of this is a real honor. They asked us specifically; they wanted someone outside the traditional growing regions of Yakima Valley and Willamette Valley. Michigan is now the fourth largest hop growing region in the country and it’s top ten in the world,” he said.
Also taking place within the conference was the competitive World Beer Cup, highly regarded as the Olympics of beer. More records were broken with nearly 7,000 beers entered by over 1,900 breweries from 55 countries that were judged by an elite panel of accredited judges from 31 countries. Two hundred eighty seven medals were awarded overall, with 5 Michigan breweries among the winners.
A Gold medal, the highest honor in each category, was awarded to Black Lotus Brewing Company of Clawson in the category of Old Ale or Strong Ale for “Ninja Pirate”.
Silver was brought home by Mitten Brewing Company of Grand Rapids for “Triple Crown Brown” in the category of English-Style Mild Ale.
Three breweries earned Bronze medals. Wolverine State Brewing Company of Ann Arbor in the Smoke Beer category for “Raucher”, New Holland Brewing Company of Holland in the Belgian-Style Flanders Oud Bruin or Oud Red Ale category for “2014 Vintage Blue Sunday”, and River’s Edge Brewing Company of Milford for “Dirty Frank Stout” in the Export Stout category.
Many Michigan beers could be found on tap at various bars across the city. Pilot Malt House hosted a special tap feature at Fox and Hound, sponsored by the Craft Maltsters Guild. Three beers using their malt and other ingredients produced in Michigan were served. One was brewed in Ashburn, Va. at Lost Rhino Brewing Company for their fifth anniversary. They chose to brew a lager exclusively with Michigan ingredients for their celebratory beer. The two brewed in Michigan were Crystal Falls Pale Ale at New Holland Brewing Company’s Pub on 8th with Steve “Bert” Berthel, and Besto Pils from Pigeon Hill Brewing Company in Muskegon.
Ryan Hamilton, Maltster, explained that the focus of the feature was to “showcase the terroir of locally produced malt, the sense of place manifested in agricultural products. The three beers that were there are one hundred percent pure Michigan beers, all Michigan ingredients. Bert’s [New Holland] actually including the yeast, that’s from Craft Cultures Labs.”
Worldwide, the craft beer industry continues to grow at a rapid pace, and Michigan is poised to be a large part of the conversation for the foreseeable future.
Photography: Steph Harding