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After weeks of rumblings among industry insiders, and days of speculation on social media, the news concerning potential changes at Arbor Brewing Company has been officially confirmed. Ownership is shifting, but the company’s roots will stay in Michigan.

arbor brewingArbor Brewing Company, one of Michigan’s oldest craft beer brands, has joined the Farm + Ferment family of Michigan-based hospitality businesses, that includes Michigan Hop Alliance, Northport Farms, Baia Estate Vineyard, Bigalora Wood Fired Cucina, Bacco Ristorante and Cloverleaf Fine Wine, through an acquisition by ABC Brew Holding, LLC and ABC Brew Production, LLC.

“It’s such an amazing opportunity to be able to join this group!” René Greff, a founding co-owner of ABC said. “We’ve heard nothing but good things” regarding Farm + Ferment, she added.

Farm + Ferment’s ABC Brew Holding, LLC and ABC Brew Production, LLC have acquired the membership interests of Arbor Brewing Company founders Matt and René Greff, and the other investors, in both Arbor Brewing Company, LLC and Corner Brewery, LLC, respectively, and engaged the Greffs in a 10-year agreement. Along with the business assets, ABC Brew Holding, LLC will have exclusive brand rights throughout North America. Greff Brewing Services, LLC will retain exclusive rights to Arbor Brewing Company throughout India, and the two entities will share the brand rights throughout the rest of the world.

“In an era of craft breweries being gobbled up by multi-nationals, we couldn’t be more pleased to be joining a consortium of local, independent Michigan operators representing the best of our industries,” René Greff said. “This strategic partnership will allow both the Arbor Brewing Company Brewpub and Microbrewery to continue to grow and thrive in an evolving craft beer marketplace, and it will free Matt and I up to do what we love best – promote and grow the brand here and abroad.”

According to René, the couple is planning to extend their annual stay in India next Spring to attend to the needs of the company there but will remain active and involved in Michigan as well.

“Acquiring a brewery fit perfectly with our long-term strategy,” said Mike Collins, managing principal, Farm + Ferment. “We’ve been very successful with our wine and hop businesses, and are continuing to expand the Bigalora Wood Fired Cucina brand. We were in the initial planning stages of a new brewery when we started discussions with the Greffs. We all knew right away that this was an ideal situation for everyone.”

Collins goes on to say that all current employees will remain, and ABC Brew Production, LLC has plans to expand the Ypsilanti location and eventually open additional brewpubs around the state.

Brian Tennis of Michigan Hop Alliance told MittenBrew.com “Farm and Ferment is a new entity that will focus on our hopyards, vineyards, and orchards as well as the new brewery and the winery being built in Northport.”

Tennis’ role will continues to be focusing “on our hop operations, including running the day to day Michigan Hop Alliance business. As well as overseeing our hopyards, brokering hops both foreign and domestically, and to work closely with our network of over 600 breweries around North America and Europe. I’m obviously very excited about working with everyone at ABC and will be providing the brewery with the best hops available with a stronger focus on Michigan grown ingredients.”

 

Michigan Hop Alliance

What differs in taste and aroma depending on where it is grown, and is squeezed to determine if it’s ready to be harvested? Hops, of course!

Hops are a key ingredient in the brewing of beer, and the United States has become the largest hop producer in the world. Traditionally, brewers might have ordered hops from large Pacific Northwest operations. However, Michigan hop production has boomed and our state now ranks fourth in the country for hop production.

Michigan Hop Alliance

Brian Tennis

Among the many hop farms in Michigan, the Michigan Hop Alliance was one of the first. Roughly ten years ago, Brian Tennis and his wife, Amy, bought a plot of land hidden away in the little town of Omena. Originally intended as a camping property, they soon realized its potential as farm land. Cherry trees were already present on the property, so that’s where they started.

However, they soon discovered cherries could be difficult to maintain. Cherries can be highly sensitive to unfavorable weather patterns: late Spring frosts, high winds, hail, etc.

“Cherries only bloom once, so if something happens, they’re done. Hops can bloom again, so if something does happen, they have a second chance,” said Tennis.

It is along the 45th parallel that ideal growing conditions for hops can be found. The 45th parallel, upon which Tennis’ farm rests, serves as the halfway point between the Equator and North Pole. The 45th provides the right amount of daylight and water for hops to thrive.

“We really have a microclimate here: with the Grand Traverse Bay, Lake Michigan, and our rainfall,” said Tennis.

One variety currently flourishing on the farm is Summit hops. This dwarf variety grows on shorter ropes, and the hops grow in compact clusters. Summit is typically grown in the Pacific Northwest; Tennis is experimenting with how well it’ll do in Northern Michigan. He’s also experimenting with a variety of non-commercial hops that are typically grown in France, Japan, and Kazakhstan.

“We have over twenty different hops, and the Hop Alliance has really become a trial land for myself and other farmers,” said Tennis.

Michigan Hop Alliance often works with other farmers throughout the process to grow, pick, dry, and/or pelletize the hops. In many cases, Michigan Hop Alliance will also market the hop, aiding the farmers along the entire process.

The growing process starts with cleanly propagated plants, consistent maintenance, and an organic approach. Tennis even has sheep on hand to help maintain the bottom of the hop bine; by eating growth at the bottom, the sheep naturally provide the bines with proper air flow, decreasing mildew and promoting further growth.

Michigan Hop Alliance

And, as we sneak into September, the hops are nearly ready for harvest.

“If you squeeze them, and they bounce back, they’re not quite ready. You also want to make sure the lupulin is schoolbus yellow,” Tennis explained.

The hops Tennis tends to are found in some of your favorite beers. The Michigan Hop Alliance works closely with breweries throughout the state, including Grand Rapids Brewing Company, Brewery Vivant, Short’s, and Stormcloud.

craft brewers conference

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.

craft brewers conference

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.”

Motor City Growlers

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.

Motor City Growlers

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.

craft brewers conference

“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

michigan hop

OMENA — Streetcar Partners Management, LLC has purchased a controlling interest in New Mission Organics and Michigan Hop Alliance. The entities will be merged and retain the name Michigan Hop Alliance under the Streetcar umbrella of companies.

Brian and Amy Tennis founded New Mission Organics in 2005 and were among the first hop farmers in Michigan, planting their first acre on the Leelanau Peninsula in 2008. They have since grown to become a leader in innovative hop production in the Midwest with more than 20 hop varieties in production, including several being grown for the first time on a commercial scale in North America.

The Tennis’s formed the Michigan Hop Alliance in 2010 to process their own hops, as well as hops from farms across northern Michigan. They have assisted dozens of hop farm startups as the Michigan hop industry has grown—sharing knowledge, equipment, and facilities. Both ventures will continue and expand operations under the new Michigan Hop Alliance tag at the Omena farm location. Brian Tennis will assume the role of President and Director of Marketing for Michigan Hop Alliance (MHA) going forward.

“Amy and I could not be happier to announce this new venture with Streetcar and begin a new chapter in our lives,” said Brian Tennis. “With our new partners we will be able to grow and innovate much more rapidly and reach brewers and farmers not only all over Michigan but across North America and service our International clients more effectively.”

The new partnership will allow for an increase in hop production—featuring even more varieties, expanded hop processing capabilities, and an expanded greenhouse operation that will supply clean hop plants for MHA and fellow hop farmers. In addition to the new partnership with Streetcar, MHA has agreed to become the exclusive distributor for the hop farming and processing group Old Mission Hop Exchange of nearby Grand Traverse County.

“We are excited to partner with Michigan Hop Alliance, one of the premier hop operations in the Midwest,” said Mike Collins of Streetcar. “We believe there is tremendous room for growth in Michigan’s hop industry. Michigan craft beer is booming and it’s only natural in a state as agriculturally-diverse as Michigan that a local hop industry should develop to help support it.”

Streetcar’s other holdings include the Commerce Twp based American Expedition Vehicles, real estate development projects in Northport and the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit, and Baia Estate, a Northport based vineyard and winery located just a few miles from the farm of New Mission Organics.

Streetcar plans to establish synergy between the hop operation and its Northport agricultural development. Established in 2015 on 80 acres in the heart of the Leelanau, Baia Estate will grow to include a vineyard, hard cider apple orchards, additional hopyards, brewing and cider-making facilities, and a tasting room featuring estate wines, beer, and cider. In 2015 Baia began bottling Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, and Merlot from sourced grapes

 

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