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Grand Rapids, Mich. — Coldbreak Brewing Equipment started modestly: Boyd Culver, a home brewer working in the tool and die industry at the time, needed an immersion chiller. So he made one himself. He made another out of leftover materials and sold it on Ebay. That was the beginning of his small business.

coldbreak brewing

Chris Musil & Boyd Culver at City Built Brewing Company

Over the course of a decade, and with the help of Culver’s middle school friend Chris Musil, the company has evolved into much more. Coldbreak Brewing Equipment’s innovative jockey boxes have put them on the map for breweries large and small across the United States.

“We’ve branched out nationally, but we’ve really developed a stronghold on the industry in Michigan,” Culver said.

At the 2018 Michigan Brewer’s Guild Winter Beer Festival, 62 of the more than 140 Michigan breweries in attendance poured from Coldbreak Brewing Equipment jockey boxes. Coldbreak’s Michigan clients include such breweries as Founders Brewing Company, Bell’s Brewery and New Holland Brewing Company.

Around the country, Coldbreak jockey boxes are used by the likes of Alaskan Brewing Company, Deschutes Brewery and Russian River Brewing Company, among others.

“It’s pretty cool that the two beers that battle back and forth every year for the best beer in America, Bell’s Two Hearted and Russian River’s Pliny the Elder, are both being poured through our boxes,” Culver said.

Culver and Musil started making jockey boxes when their friend Matt Michiels, owner of Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery, requested one.

“We purchased an example to follow and thought, ‘We can make this better,’” Musil said. “That’s kind of our philosophy whenever we make something.”

Culver and Musil started selling their jockey boxes to other breweries, and now the product accounts for over 70 percent of Coldbreak’s business, Musil said.

Coldbreak’s jockey box performs because it was designed with breweries in mind. It serves everyone from the brewer to the consumer.

“We use only stainless steel equipment, so a brewer doesn’t have to worry about corroded chrome fixtures affecting the taste of their beer,” Culver said. “We put our inlets and outlets on the same side, so when a festival bartender’s keg blows, they get to see that it’s blown before they get covered in beer.”

Coldbreak is the only company that offers custom wrapped jockey boxes, enabling breweries to showcase their brand. The design also supports heavy custom tap handles, so even a brewery’s marketing director can feel good about pouring from a Coldbreak jockey box.

Culver and Musil’s dedication to creating the best product for their customers comes from their relationships within the craft beer industry.

“We’re equipment guys, but we find ourselves in the mix a lot with brewers,” Culver said. Those friendships motivate Culver and Musil to constantly seek quality.

“People in the craft beer community take a lot of pride in their products, but they also have an incredible amount of humility,” Culver said. “Everybody is so willing to help each other, and that’s so fun to be around.”

Catch Coldbreak Brewing Equipment at the 2018 Craft Brewers Conference, booth 3224, hosted by the Brewer’s Association in Nashville, April 30-May 3.

home brew league

If you heard the name “Home Brew League” you might think it was some kind of summer softball showdown or a group of guys playing fantasy football. But for Boyd Culver and Chris Musil, owners of Coldbreak Brewing Equipment in Cedar Springs, the Home Brew League is a revolutionary idea to test the skills and bring together some of the best home beer brewers in Michigan. The inaugural competition they’ve created is a one-of-a-kind brewing challenge that stretches the skill of the participants and has them producing beer that rivals your local microbrew favorites.­

“The way we do it, it’s the only one like this in the country,” proclaims Musil. “There’s 32 teams and each division has 8 teams. Each team has 4-6 homebrewers.” Unlike other brewing competitions, all 32 teams submit the same style of beer for each round of the tournament. Culver adds, “There’s homebrew competitions all over the place all the time, but there’s definitely not one like this. There’s 32 teams all brewing the same beer.”

The league’s “season” stretches from the beginning of May through the end of October. Throughout the season, there are seven different events where teams compete with a new variety. The teams who rack up the most wins during the season then move into the “playoffs,” where one set of talented brewers will be crowned the first ever Home Brew League Champion.

This unique setup quickly captured the interests of local brewers who are anxious to see how their beer measures up. “Having these monthly competitions is really helping me refine my palate when I’m drinking a beer and what to look for when I’m creating my recipes. Plus, I’ve been brewing like crazy. It’s keeping me on my toes,” says John Wesorick, a member of a team known as “The Brew-Tang Clan.”

The idea for the Home Brew League came to Boyd and Chris as they were looking to create a fun promotion for their store, Coldbreak Brewing Equipment. They convinced three other local brewing suppliers, Siciliano’s Market, O’Connors Homebrew Supply, and Gravel Bottom Brewery and Supply, to sign on as sponsors. They were overwhelmed when it was time for brewers to sign up. “We didn’t think we were going to fill it up at all, and then it sold out in 24 hours,” said Culver. “The Siciliano’s division sold out in just 8 minutes.”

Although the event has already proven to be a winner for the stores business-wise, Musil explains that it’s not just about creating revenue. “It’s not all about us. It’s about getting everybody together. It’s about the community.” Culver adds, “That’s the cool thing, there’s four stores that are essentially competitors, all joining together for this great event.”

The way the league is organized isn’t the only unique aspect. The Home Brew League is also putting its competitors’ brewing knowledge to the test with some uncommon beer varieties. The first event in May required each team to brew a British Golden Ale. If you’re not sure what that is, you’re not alone. Brewer Rick VandeKopple says he had never even heard of it before. “There’s a lot of reading done online to find out, O.K., what’s this style like? It was all a new experience to try and build this recipe. It’s kind of a cool way to be forced to branch out,” said VandeKopple.

home brew league

Even the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) judges for the event were entering new territory. “This was a new style for me,” said Jim Halliberger, a judge who volunteered to offer his expertise. “I’ve been judging beers 20 years, and I’ve never seen a competition like this. To do a single style every month for several months…it’s just a really different idea.” The other beer varieties for this season include Scottish Heavy, Dunkles Weissbier, Pre-Prohibition Porter, Marzen, White IPA, and Foreign Extra Stout. “The styles are all something that people usually wouldn’t brew,” Culver explains. “And every month we have one mandatory ingredient, and most of them are Michigan ingredients.”

There are prizes for the winning teams after each event, but the last team standing in December will get to brew 15 barrels of their championship beer at Cedar Springs Brewing Company and have it served on tap. That’s an enviable prize, but some competitors say they’re only doing it for fun and for the expert feedback to help them become better brewers. “We thought it’d be kind of a fun way to take our beer making to the next level,” said Rick VandeKopple. “The judges let me know about a little bit of an off flavor they found, so that helps me get my brewing level up so that I can brew a better beer.” One of those judges, Mark Thomson, believes their feedback and these competitions are doing exactly that. “I expect there to be a lot of good beer. I think overall, the quality has gone way up in the ten years I’ve been tasting home brews,” said Thomson.

Culver and Musil agree that the entire homebrew community is on the rise, both in terms of sheer numbers and in terms of quality. And with the public’s appetite for craft brew rising right along with it, any one of these competitors could become another successful brewing entrepreneur. “The majority of brewers at one point were homebrewers,” claims Culver. “Brewers are like guitar players. We don’t know who the greatest guitar player is to ever hit the big stage, and it’s the same concept with homebrewers. I know a guy who won’t leave his basement who makes the best beer I’ve ever had.”

To learn more about the Home Brew League or Coldbreak Brewing Equipment log on:

www.coldbreakbrewing.com

www.homebrewleague.us

 

coldbreak brewing

I had the pleasure of chatting with Boyd Culver and Chris Musil of Coldbreak Brewing Equipment recently. They’re new to the home brew store community, and with their educational classes and their Homebrew League involvement, we at MittenBrew thought it was about time to chat about their new venture out in Cedar Springs, Michigan.

coldbreak brewing

Steil: You’ve been selling your products online before the physical store opened, correct? What inspired you to start selling product online in the first place and how did that morph into a physical location?

Culver: “Because we have our own brand of equipment, it was our way of having it nationally. We have around a hundred stores in the US that carry our brands. Not everybody has access to it, so that was why we sold strictly our brand online. We had no intentions of having a homebrew store…but then Dave (Ringler) got ahold of us and it fit”

 

Steil: How long has Coldbreak Brewing Equipment had its physical location?

Musil: “It was about a week before the brewery (Cedar Springs Brewing Company) opened.”

 

Steil: Why Cedar Springs?

Boyd: “We’ve got customers like Siciliano’s, O’Conner’s, Gravel Bottom, Pauly’s… they’re all customers of our brand of equipment, so we’re essentially competitors of theirs, but we went to them to make sure they were ok with us putting a homebrew store in. They were totally fine with it and they said there’s nobody north of Grand Rapids and there’s a lot of homebrewers north of Grand Rapids, but there’s nobody to facilitate them.”

Musil: “And it was far enough away that we felt that, ok, we’re not competing with them in the same way.”

 

Steil: What relationships do you have with other homebrew shops? Is there a sense of camaraderie like in other portions of the beer world such as with breweries?

Both: “Yes!”

Culver: “You can even see it with the Homebrew League, since we’re all involved with the Homebrew League.”

Musil: “That and even ordering our yeast is with Gravel Bottom because of the shipping costs and all that. It’s such a fragile product that we all put our orders together and split the shipping costs.”

Culver: “But we’re all friends, Steve (Siciliano) was my first customer with Coldbreak. He started selling the chillers on consignment, and basically if he would have said no, I don’t know that any of this would have existed.”

“Well and then with Big Brew day on Calder, it was obviously started by Siciliano’s, but then Gravel Bottom and Cold Break co-hosted it starting this year, so moving forward it’ll get more teamwork out of that.”

 

Steil: You’re known for producing and selling jockey boxes nationally. How did that get started?

Culver: “I mean, there wasn’t a lot of competition for the products and all of the products compared to ours were inferior. We just looked at it, and it looks like a cheap item and then you’re serving something that you put your heart and soul into a poorly put together jockey box. And I think that with better quality products like our jockey boxes, people tend to take care of it better because of that higher value.”

Musil: “And actually the price is comparable to what you can buy elsewhere for lesser quality jockey boxes.”

coldbreak brewing

 

Steil: Do you see seasonality with your products? Changes during the seasons?

Culver: “In the home brewing industry, summertime is awful for sales. They plummet, because no one wants to homebrew because everybody’s on their boat, while it’s the exact opposite for jockey boxes because festival season is right there where it’s the slow time for homebrewing, and so it kind of evens out the year for us.”

 

Steil: What makes your homebrew shop different than the other homebrew shops we have?

Musil: “Our grain is kind of our specialty I think. We got a bigger grain selection than the other stores.”

Culver: “There’s not many in this country that have as many grain options as we do.”

 

Steil: Tell me about the education program you have for Coldbreak.

Culver: “Going back to what makes us different, I think the classes, and we know the other stores offer classes, but Chris does a really good job and he has a nice powerpoint setup, it’s comfortable, and that’s the focus, and any question we have, if we don’t know the answer, we’re very resourceful. The classes are really thorough and in depth, but still down at a level that someone who’s never brewed before can understand it. But then we’re also doing kombucha, wine, and mead classes which are coming up.”

Musil: “Each class is about once a month. The Intro To Homebrewing we had running every couple of weeks, but at the moment it’s summer so we’re having trouble filling them, but it’s not surprising. In fall they’ll pick back up. I’m teaching the Intro class but then we have other guys coming in to teach the other ones if they know more than I do about, say, the wine for the wine class. It’s other homebrewers who come in to teach.”

 

Steil: What do people request most often?

Musil: “Not physical items, but there’s a lot of people coming in looking for help. Like, “I want to do this style of beer, can you help me put a recipe together?” but that’s as far as it goes when it comes to getting consistent requests.”

 

Steil: Do you see a variation in trends from customers about specific products they’re looking for? Anything in particular you’re noticing now?

Musil: “No, but I think that the homebrewers that are in the know, are looking for things like the Azacca hops or the Zeus hops or something specific like that. Just certain ingredients that might be trending at the moment.”

 

With a new storefront location, specially made jockey boxes, an influx of brewing classes, and an obvious want to collaborate with others to create an education friendly environment for homebrewers, Coldbreak Brewing Equipment is no doubt a wanted addition to our Michigan beer family. I want to thank Chris and Boyd once again for taking the time to fill us in on their endeavors! Also be sure to keep up on which classes they are hosting at the store

 

Photography: Steph Harding

hopstock

Hops adorned the entrance to HopStock, the Beer City Brewers Guild’s inaugural craft beverage festival, while a 1977 Volkswagen bus-turned-photo booth captured hoppy smiles and totally groovin’ taste buds. Unlike other festivals, HopStock had a hyper-local focus, filling Calder Plaza on Saturday evening with craft beverages from brewpubs, breweries, distilleries, cideries, and wineries from Kent County and bordering counties.

hopstock

“The spirit of Grand Rapids is noncompetitive, we collaborate instead of compete,” said Kelli Williams, BCBG Events and Marketing Coordinator. “HopStock is all local with a little bit of something for everyone.”

IPA Island, unique to HopStock, truly captured the collaborative spirit. The ‘island’ dispensed 23 IPAs filling six, four tap jockey boxes from Cedar Springs based Coldbreak Brewing Equipment.

“Beers being poured side by side may bring attention to a brewery someone hasn’t heard of before, making them more inclined to try something new,” said Jackson VanDyke, President of BCBG.

hopstockIn addition to IPA Island, guild members also had their own booths with additional craft beverages ready to fill the sustainable reusable sample cans provided to attendees. BCBG wanted to do something different than the plastic cup seen at most festivals. The HopStock sample can, produced by Michigan Mobile Canning, was created for people to take home as a keepsake, instead of throwing it away at the end of the festival. Multiple attendees said they loved the sample can, with some even specifying that they came just for the can!

In fact, keeping the whole festival sustainable was a huge priority for the BCBG. Jake Brenner, Sustainability Coordinator, acquired the use of Grand Rapids Brewing Company’s clean stream system for the festival, which are bins that festival goers can put their compost and recycling in, leaving very little waste for the landfills.

Craft beverages saturated tastebuds, music graced ears, and local food trucks filled stomachs. Even though they didn’t have beverages to share, upcoming breweries like City Built Brewing, Speciation Artisan Ales and High Five Co-op Brewery were invited to be a part of the festival by sharing their future business plans.

“Jackson and the rest of the guild have a lot of passion for the whole beer scene in Grand Rapids. They know that supporting the new and unopened breweries is good for everyone! The opportunity to reach a number of people that had never heard of us, and talk with them about what we do (sour & wild beer) and when we will be opening (the end of the year) was very cool,” exclaimed Mitch Ermatinger, Co-Founder of Speciation Artisan Ales.

“It is an exciting time to be a brewer in Grand Rapids, and an exciting time to be a beer drinker,” said Kate Avery, Abbess of Beer at Brewery Vivant.

Not just being collaborative with businesses in the beer industry, the beer industry in Grand Rapids is also supportive in educating the beer drinker. Ben Darcie, Beer Education Specialist at Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery and Supply, took stage twice educating attendees on ‘Getting to Know Beer Ingredients’ and ‘Beer Tasting Basics’.

Beth Gaston, festival attendee, liked that HopStock focused on everything local – from local friends, to craft beverages, to the vendors as well.

 

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


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