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steve siciliano

For Steve Siciliano, proprietor of Siciliano’s Market (perhaps West Michigan’s most well-respected bottle shop and homebrewing supply store), admitting failure acknowledges how seriously close he was to giving up—and how thankful he is that he didn’t. Siciliano, who many would consider partly responsible for laying the foundation of what would become known as Beer City USA, endured five years of dark days before craft beer saved his store, and maybe his life.

 

MittenBrew: Your blog tells a brief story about your store’s history, but why pivot into the realm of convenience stores in the first place?

Steve Siciliano: I was the regional manager for a marketing company in the late ‘70s. I hated the work, the travel, and had young sons at home, so I took on franchise ownership of a 7-Eleven. It ended up not being an easy business to run, but it taught me about the business of retail and, more significantly, the importance of being a part of a community.

 

MB: How so?

SS: Back then, 7-Eleven was different than the way we think about them today. They operated more like a mom and pop store. They really stressed the value of community, and backed it up with charitable giving. Everything started by making customer service the priority. I found that I really liked the interaction with the customers, but I was kind of a quiet fella, believe it or not. I’m really quite reticent for the most part.

 

MB: That doesn’t sound like someone who’d end up having an affinity for providing exemplary customer service.

SS: It sounds weird, but I developed somewhat of a stage persona, so to speak.

 

MB: Something you turned on and off?

SS: I’m not a loquacious type of guy, so it was a way for me to connect with the customers and have some fun with them at the same time. [With a quick, soft chuckle under his breath seemingly surprised by the popularity of his accidental alter ego…] And, they liked it! If they came in and I didn’t throw an innocent, verbal jab at them or literally throw a donut at them playfully on their way out of the store, they thought something was wrong with me.

 

MB: After you got good at throwing donuts, you left 7-Eleven to buy a different store in Creston Heights. What were you hoping to achieve differently?

SS: In the eight years I owned the second store, I felt like I was able to really engage with and impact the community in a positive way, especially with the Scholar Dollars program. Unfortunately, the neighborhood’s socioeconomic status at that time didn’t lend itself well to the direction I was interested in going. We did okay with the working crowd in the morning and around lunchtime, but business would go quiet after dark. I was getting into wine around then, and knew that I’d have to consider a different location if I was going to be able to give that a shot on the shelves. Then I bought this store.

 

MB: What was this place like when you bought it?

SS: As soon as you walked in, you were hit with porn magazines. I mean, the guy had a shit ton of pornography. And that’s pretty much all he was selling—porn and cheap booze…and maybe a bag of stale chips. It was bad. But when I walked in, I’m thinking, “I know how to run a store, I know what I’m doing. I’ll come in here, remodel it, stock it up, and have plenty of space for wine, too.” I envisioned a really nice convenience store—and guest experience. So, I put in soda fountains, coffee, everything I thought I needed. But nothing—I was up against the reputation of the previous management. It was crickets for five years. It was tough, really tough. People just did not come in here. Nothing worked.

 

MB: I read in another interview that you said you “pretty much died here” during that time. Is that true? Did you ever want to throw in the towel?

SS: It was probably the worst time of my life, really. Just five years of me sitting around an empty store. It was tough. I mean, I slipped into a depression. I never failed at anything in my life, and I was failing. To be honest with you, there were times when I’d go in the back room and cry. I was exhausted—mentally, physically.

 

MB: Did it stress family life at home?

SS: Yes, yeah… There’d be nights where I’d just go home, sit in the dark, and stare at the wall.

 

MB: What turned it around?

SS: Around the time I bought this building in ‘93, craft beer was just starting to gain interest. I started hearing whispers about it from random customers in the late ‘90s, and I listened to them. I remember this very distinctly: I brought in a case of Bell’s, was working out the price for a six-pack, and thinking to myself, “There is no way this is ever going to sell.” I mean, I couldn’t see people buying it—paying that much for a six-pack?! So, I thought, “What if I just price them out and sold the bottles as singles?”

 

MB: So, wait. You’ve been pricing beer as singles since the late ‘90s?

SS: Yep. Everything that came in, I priced out as singles. And it worked.

steve siciliano

 

MB: Simple, but genius.

SS: It just snowballed from there. As customers would recommend that I try to get this beer, that beer, those imports, I did. If anyone ever asked if I could get my hands on a certain beer for them, I would. At that time, I would do anything to earn a customer.

 

MB: Is that what led you to expand into to homebrewing supplies?

SS: Tom Buchanan, head brewer at Ludington Bay Brewery, used to live in the neighborhood. He was a customer, and really good homebrewer. He said I should consider selling homebrewing supplies, but I knew nothing about it. I did a little research, found a local distributor, GW Kent, asked for a catalog, and ordered a bunch of stuff I didn’t know anything about. I was scared shitless because I didn’t have the money to spend on it, but it drew people in. It probably took another three to four years before we started making money, but I was getting new and returning faces through the door, and it was fun again.

 

MB: How much lighter was the weight on your shoulders?

SS: Making money is a great antidepressant. For so long, the store was this big, heavy airplane slowly… taking… off… It took a long time to gain altitude, but we finally did.

 

MB: How close were you to running out of runway? Why didn’t you quit?

SS: [Lights his pipe, takes an intentional, steady drag, exhales calmly, and introduces us to his wife, Barb, who has just joined us to listen in…] It’s interesting that you ask that. Barb and I met in ‘98, at the tail end of those dark first five years here at the store. From the very beginning of our relationship, she’s been very supportive, very involved, and with me every step of the way. But before we met, I actually tried to sell the store.

I called a good friend of mine—the same commercial real estate guy who helped me get the Creston store, who helped me buy this store, and I said to him, “Listen, I can’t do this anymore. It’s killing me. You gotta help me sell this place.” So we listed it. We had some lookers, but it didn’t sell. He couldn’t figure out why. And you know what? It was the fucking universe telling me, “You stick this out.” I really think it was something metaphysical, something bigger than me telling  me, “No. You stick this out.” Now, I say to myself, “Thank God I didn’t sell.”

 

MB: You couldn’t ditch the store. The only thing you had left was the hope that customers would eventually walk through the door. Once they did and continued to return, how did you apply your philosophy of what you learned about community and customer service to keep the store above water?

SS: I had the idea to throw a party for homebrewers. We held it at St. Ladislaus Aid Society, an old Polish hall. They could bring their beer, we’d feed ‘em (Barb and her friend Connie made ribs in Connie’s kitchen) and we were going to play trivia. I found this old silver cup at an antique store, and we called it The Siciliano’s Cup, and we’d award it to the homebrewing team with the highest trivia score—not the best BJCP-judged beer, like it is now. Now, in its 15th year, it’s revered like the Stanley Cup. Since, we’ve parlayed that into throwing our own Big Brew Day at Trailpoint Brewing Company to celebrate National Homebrew Day, which happens annually on the first Saturday in May.

steve siciliano

 

MB: I get the sense that your customers are more important to you than just a cash transaction.

SS: I’ve met SO many wonderful people over the years, especially here. Like-minded people who love good things—good beer, spirits, wine, cigars. I’ve developed a lot of really close friendships. It’s one of the many cool things about running a store like this. We’ve always considered ourselves to be a mom and pop place, and I like that. My wife, Barb, is a face of Siciliano’s, too, and our employees are an extension of us—they’re so appreciated. We’ve just tried to create an atmosphere with a tangible personal touch.

 

MB: Do you consider Siciliano’s a contributing factor to Grand Rapids being known as Beer City USA?

SS: I know so many professional brewers now because they started out being homebrewers. I feel pretty proud of the fact that many of them got their start in our store. We’re like a farm team of local brewers. [He affectionately starts name-dropping…] Jacob Derylo, from Vivant, used to work here. Matt Blodgett from Founders. Gary Evans and Mark Lacopelli from Trail Point. The guys from Mitten Brewing. Seth Rivard from Rockford Brewing. The guys from Pigeon Hill and Unruly in Muskegon. The guys from Odd Side and Grand Armory in Grand Haven. Elk Brewing. Tom Payne, who just opened Two Guys [and was shopping for supplies during this interview]. I mean, I can keep going…

 

MB: The Siciliano’s jumbo jet has been in the air, turbulence-free, for a while. You’ve got a successful annual homebrewing competition, a complementary, impressively-attended National Homebrew Day party, a résumé of helping influence a who’s who in the local brewing scene, and you just recently announced your “semi-retirement”. Why now?

SS: My age. My wife. [Laughing…] I’ve been slowing down for a couple years now. Don’t get me wrong, if they need help behind the counter, I’ll jump behind there. I’ll help carry a customer’s order out to their car, but I’ve been concentrating more on the marketing end of the business. Writing’s always been in my blood—I’ve got a degree in journalism. I’ve self-published a novel. It’s my creative outlet, so I love writing our blog. But Barb’s like, “What are you gonna do, keep working for the rest of your life?! I want to go travel.” So, me being a smart man, I started listening to her.

steve siciliano

 

MB: Are you going out kicking and screaming?

SS: When you’ve spent half your life building something, it’s hard to walk away from it. You know, I got in this morning at nine o’clock, and said, “I like this.” We’ve been traveling a lot more lately. And, you know what, I’ve kinda liked that, too. I’ve been grooming the management team for about a year, and I trust them. So am I going kicking and screaming? Yeah, maybe I was at first, but they’ve got the program dialed in now. So much, in fact, that most of the time they don’t even put me on the schedule. [He shows the schedule as proof.] It’s a coup! [Laughing.]

 

MB: So when you finally clock out for the last time…

SS: [He cuts me off…] I don’t think I’ll clock out. [Barb adds, “I don’t think he will either.”] I’ll clock out when I’m dead.

 

MB: Fair enough. [We all pause in silence…]

 

MB: Do you have a vision for how you’d like to see the store once you are gone? Is there an heir to the throne?

SS: Not yet, but I hope it stays. Once I’m dead and gone, I hope that… I hope they find a way to keep this thing going, and under the same name. That’d mean a lot to me.

 

MB: If this store with your name on it is your legacy, what does your headstone stay?

SS: Let’s put it this way. At my funeral service, which won’t be open casket because I’ll be ashes, I want the book I wrote, the black belt I earned, my fly fishing rod, and a picture of Siciliano’s Market there. And I want Tom Petty’s “Room At The Top” playing on a loop.

 

MB: When you’re looking down from the top of the world, what drink will be in your hand?

SS: Maybe a Manhattan (with a good bourbon, good sweet vermouth, and a Luxardo cherry). Maybe a nice glass of wine, or an authentic Belgian beer. And a good cigar. Or my pipe.

steve siciliano

 

MB: Well, Steve. We hope you don’t see that day for a long time, but when you do we think that sounds like a good way to go out.

 

Photography: Steph Harding

charlie papazian

PHOTO © BREWERS ASSOCIATION

Boulder, CO —The Brewers Association (BA)—the not-for-profit trade group dedicated to promoting and protecting America’s small and independent craft brewers—today announced that founder and past president Charlie Papazian will exit the Brewers Association on January 23, 2019, marking his 70th birthday and 40 years building the craft brewing community and inspiring brewers and beer lovers around the world.

“We are all here today because of Charlie Papazian,” said Bob Pease, president and CEO, Brewers Association. “His influence on the homebrewing and craft brewing community is immeasurable. Who could have predicted that a simple wooden spoon, ingenuity and passion would spawn a community of more than one million homebrewers and 6,000 small and independent U.S. craft breweries.”

Charlie Papazian, founder of the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) and the Association of Brewers, set the stage for homebrewing back in the 1970s. His expertise and friendly tone assured people that making good beer was possible at home. He stressed his catchphrase of “Relax. Don’t worry. Have a homebrew” in his first book, The Complete Joy of Homebrewing and inspired millions to pick up the hobby of homebrewing.

In 1978, Papazian, along with Charlie Matzen, formed the AHA in Boulder, CO. They published the first issue of Zymurgy magazine, announcing the new organization, publicizing the federal legalization of homebrewing and calling for entries in the first AHA National Homebrew Competition. Today, the AHA is more than 46,000 members strong.

In 1982, Papazian debuted the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in Boulder, CO. Now in its 37th year, GABF is the largest ticketed beer festival in North America with more than 60,000 attendees annually and its accompanying competition is one of the most coveted awards in the brewing industry.

The following year, the Association of Brewers was organized to include the AHA and the Institute for Brewing and Fermentation Studies to assist the emerging microbrewery movement in US. By 2005, the Association of Brewers and the Brewers’ Association of America merged to form the Brewers Association.

When asked, “Charlie, did you ever imagine that beer would become this?” His answer is always yes.

“I had a playful vision that there would be a homebrewer in every neighborhood and a brewery in every town. But what I did not imagine, couldn’t imagine, never considered, was the impact that craft brewing would have on our culture, economy and American life,” mused Papazian.

Papazian will spend his final year at the BA completing many projects, including a craft brewing history archive project. The archive will house 40 years of craft beer history in the form of more than 100,000 publications, photographs, audiotapes, films, videos, and documents—including 140 video interviews of the pioneers of American craft brewing—and will be accessible to researchers via the BA. He will also deliver the keynote address at the AHA’s 40th annual National Homebrew Conference, “Hombrew Con,” in Portland, OR on Thursday, June 28.

Brewers and homebrewers are invited to share their well wishes and Charlie Papazian stories on the AHA and BA Facebook pages.

 

homebrew

Ben Darcie at Gravel Bottom Brewery and Homebrew Supply in Ada, Michigan, believes that all of us should have the opportunity to brew a 100% Michigan made beer. Even the homebrewers.

As the locavore movement continues to gain popularity in our area, it only makes sense our craft beer follow suit.

But what makes a Michigan beer a Michigan beer? Is it local brewers, utilizing Michigan’s agricultural bounty? Or is it using only locally grown hops and collaborating with Michigan Maltsters? Perhaps it’s a combination of all these things, and more.

“For the first time in Michigan homebrewing history, people can actually make a 100% Michigan beer at home,” Darcie states with a touch of excitement in his voice—and why not? This is huge.

homebrew

 

Think, for a moment, what goes into a beer. Water, hops, malt and yeast. Michigan water is wonderful and plentiful, easily sourced for all. Michigan hop farms have exploded over the last ten years or so, with a wide range of varietals to meet most of your brewing needs. The focus on malt has been huge in the last three to four years, with four start up malt houses opening between 2015-2016 alone. But yeast? Yeast is a new one, and finally we have a Michigan company, Craft Cultures, located in the UP, that completes the Michigan ingredient circle.

While Craft Cultures has offered its product to many of our local breweries (for example, 57 Brew Pub and New Holland’s Pub Only offerings), Gravel Bottom is one of the first homebrew store to approach them to create packaging specifically for smaller batch brews. “We are the only [store] in West Michigan, possibly the lower peninsula, that has 5 gallon pitches of Michigan propagated yeast,” Darcie shares.

homebrew

One of the goals Darcie had when coming aboard at Gravel Bottom was for home brewers to have the opportunity to make Michigan beer, and he took it upon himself to contact Craft Cultures and request specialized packaging for carrying their product within the shop. All the yeast from Craft Cultures is captured and propagated in state, and they even carry two indigenous strains of yeast as well—Keweenaw Ale I and Eagle River Ale II, with more available soon.

“For the first time we can make a beer  at home that is 100 percent reflective of our state. Which is really really awesome… It’s all about our air, it’s all about our soil, it’s all about our sun. it’s all about our elevation and our water. It is all us, 100 percent our state and I think that’s what makes it so cool.” Darcie’s commitment to this concept is palpable.

So visit Gravel Bottom Homebrewing Supply and see their extensive selection of Michigan grown product for yourself. “The biggest thing that separates us is our extensive hop selection. We carry between 60-75 different options. With the addition of Michigan malts and Michigan yeast, it definitely sets us apart in the entirety of West Michigan. We are very, very excited to offer this.”

From the very beginning, embracing the homebrewing community was a part of Gravel Bottom’s existence, and meeting homebrewers where they are, from novice to expert, is part of the experience of the shop. Darcie and crew are there to help.

In addition to the knowledgeable staff and a plethora of Michigan grown product, a free homebrewing class is offered the first Saturday of every month, and a hands-on brewing class is offered every 3rd Saturday, alternating between extract and all grain brewing. Classes are $20 or $40, and include the class session, a pint of beer and $20 off at the homebrewing shop if you spend $100 or more.

Darcie was kind enough to offer some recipes for your experimentation. Check them out following this article.

MITTENBREW MICHIGAN WHEAT IPA

OG: 1.060
FG: 1.015
ABV: 6.1%
IBUs: 66
SRM: 5.3

All Grain Recipe
Target Batch Size: 5.5g
Target Boil Size: 6.75g
Efficiency: 70%
Boil time: 60m

Mash Time: 60m @ 152*f
Fly Sparge @ 170*f

8.5lbs Pilot 2-row Brewer’s Malt
4.5lbs Pilot White Wheat
1.0lbs Pilot Munich Malt

1oz MHA Centennial (12.1%aa) @ 60min
1oz MHA Cascade (9%aa)          @ 15m
1oz MHA Centennial (12.1%aa) @ 10m
1oz MHA Chinook (12.1%aa)     @ 5m

Yeast: Craft Cultures Yeast Lab CCYL110 California Ale Yeast
Temperature: 60-65*f

MHA = Michigan Hop Alliance


MITTENBREW MICHIGAN ENGLISH RYE PALE ALE

OG: 1.055
FG: 1.014
ABV: 5.5%
IBUs: 42
SRM: 6.7

All Grain Recipe
Target Batch Size: 5.5g
Target Boil Size: 6.75g
Efficiency: 70%
Boil time: 60m

Mash Time: 60m @ 152*f
Fly Sparge @ 170*f

8.0lbs Pilot 2-row Brewer’s Malt
3.0lbs Pilot Munich Malt
2.0lbs Pilot Rye Malt
0.5lbs Pilot PB Toast

1oz MHA Chinook (12.1%aa) @ 60min
1oz BCH Crystal (3.2%aa)      @ 10m
1oz BCH Crystal (3.2%aa)      @ 5m

Yeast: Craft Cultures Yeast Lab CCY123 Dry English Yeast
Temperature: 60-65*f

MHA = Michigan Hop Alliance
BCH = Black Creek Hops


MITTENBREW MICHIGAN HONEY BROWN

OG: 1.058
FG: 1.015
ABV: 5.9%
IBUs: 23
SRM: 18

All Grain Recipe
Target Batch Size: 5.5g
Target Boil Size: 6.75g
Efficiency: 70%
Boil time: 60m

Mash Time: 60m @ 156*f
Fly Sparge @ 170*f

6.0lbs Pilot 2-row Brewer’s Malt
5.0lbs Pilot Munich Malt
2.5lbs Pilot Toasted Brown Malt
1.0lbs Pilot PB Toast
1.0lbs Michigan Honey (Added with 5m remaining in boil)

1.5oz BCH Hallertau (4.5%aa)      @ 60min
1oz    BCH Fuggle (4.5%aa)          @ 5m
0.5oz BCH Hallertau (4.5%aa)      @ 0m

Yeast: Craft Cultures Yeast Lab CCY123 Dry English Yeast
Temperature: 60-65*f

BCH = Black Creek Hops

 

For more information about Gravel Bottom and specific classes offered, follow them on Facebook or check out their website.

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

 

rat festYpsilanti, MI – Long before Arbor Brewing Company was born in 1995, owners Matt and Rene Graff earned their stripes as homebrewers. In celebration of their roots in the homebrewing community, ABC will host the sixth annual Rat Fest homebrew competition in February.

Rat Fest started as a competition between the brewery staff and members of the Ann Arbor Brewers Guild to brew 24 beers in 24 hours on just two systems. Over the course of the first two years, the event grew and the brewery opened the competition to homebrew clubs in Southeast Michigan.

This year the microbrewery has invited eight home brewing clubs to demonstrate their brewing creativity on a 10­ gallon brewing system, affectionately known as The Rat Pad. The AABG Hopheads, AABG Yeasters, Burns Park Brewing, Brighton Home Brew Club, The Brew Divas, Motor City Mashers, The Sons of Liberty and Hyperion Brew Club are each brewing four beers for the public competition.

As an added bonus, the ABC Microbrewery brew staff has come up with a challenge for the homebrewers; one of their four beers must be a sour. The result is a wide array of fantastically tart, puckering brews.

This year’s Rat Fest will be held from 1 to 5 p.m. on February 20th at Arbor Brewing CompanyMicrobrewery in Ypsilanti. Tickets are $30 in advance, or $40 at the door, and include a commemorative tasting glass, beer samples and appetizers. Tickets can be purchased in person at the microbrewery or by phone.

For more information visit their website at Arborbrewing.com

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KENT COUNTY – Calling all book-loving home brewers: Kent District Library (KDL) has a contest that seeks to combine the passions of reading and brewing.

As part of the KDaLe beer series, KDL and Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery and Supply are teaming up to host the “Book-Inspired Brewing” home brewing contest.

The contest asks brewers to craft a beverage inspired by their favorite book or author. In a press release, KDL offered some examples:

Gone Girl Coffee Stout – Dark and caffeinated, this stout, like the book, will keep you up all night. Just like Amy, this beer is smooth, controlled and will leave you wishing for a little bit more.

Catcher in the Rye Beer – It takes a special beer to match the dryness of Holden Caulfield. Bitter and crisp on the tongue, this brew mimes the acerbic style of the teenage protagonist. Not for phonies!

Alice’s Adventures in Weizenbier – Golden as the shiny-haired troublemaker, this beer has a malty sweetness and an unsuspecting hint of banana. Curiousier and curiousier, this beer throws flavors at you faster than the White Rabbit runs. Don’t be late trying this brew!

Poe Stout – A dark and bitter brew guaranteed to put you on edge.

Kinsella Cider – Light and bubbly, crisp and sweet, this cider is best shared with friends and over good stories.

The entries will be judged for flavor, aroma, mouthfeel and appearance as well as how well the beverage fits the theme submitted. There will be two rounds of judging, first by Gravel Bottom staff, KDL staff, local homebrewers and industry professionals, and then by professional brewers and local cicerones.

The winner will get to brew his or her beer on Gravel Bottom’s professional system and later release it at the KDaLe Wrap-Up Party. The winner’s name will be engraved on the KDaLe homebrew trophy, and the top three finalists will receive a home brewer’s prize basket.

Register for the competition before Dec. 4. Twelve-ounce beer samples must be submitted at Gravel Bottom on or before Jan. 15. The winner will be announced Jan. 19 and the Wrap-Up Party will be hosted Feb. 24.

For more information and rules, visit the KDaLe website.

ADA – Veteran homebrewers, novices, and people-who-just-want-to-drink-beer-outside alike are invited to the first Learn To Homebrew Day hosted at Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery and Supply.

The brewery and homebrew supply shop is bringing the American Homebrewer’s Association (AHA) event to Ada Nov. 7.

The free event will last from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and include at least nine industry professionals hosting discussions about their specialties. The topics are as broad as the whole process of homebrewing and as specific as yeast health.

Nine homebrewers have also been invited to bring their equipment on premise to demonstrate their personal processes. Throughout the day, the brewers will make the same recipe on their own systems as attendees look on.

“Some of these guys go far out; it’s pretty cool to see,” said Chrissy Walker, homebrew supply manager at Gravel Bottom. “Then you have other people who are just going to bring their little burner and a little pot.”

In addition to the educational parts of the event, attendees will be able to enter a raffle and the store will be hosting a one-day fall sale on homebrewing equipment.

Walker emphasized that the event isn’t just for veteran and novice homebrewers—it’s for anyone who wants to know more about beer.

“I think the more knowledge we can get out there on how to properly taste beer and what goes into brewing beer, the more you’re going to enjoy it,” said Walker.

Matt Michiels, owner of Gravel Bottom, said he felt the goals of AHA’s Learn to Homebrew event mirror Gravel Bottom’s mission statement.

“That’s really what we’re trying to do. Bring to people the experience of brewing, and a creative environment where you can learn about the sport,” said Michiels.

“That’s how it all started in my backyard—brewing beer with my friends and drinking the beer,” he said. “I’m excited to have that environment here.”

Whether they go to learn about the art (or science, or “sport,” as Michiels would have it) of homebrewing or just to enjoy the camaraderie in the brewing community, Walker has one warning for potential attendees:

“Caution: brewing does cause more friends,” she laughed. “I’m gonna throw that out there.”

Following is the first in a series of pieces spotlighting area home-brew clubs. If you have been seeking a way to engage in the home-brewing community, or would like to see how beer can be made at home without investing in equipment first, joining a club or attending a club meeting is a phenomenal way to fortify your understanding of the many ways people make beer at home.

The tale of Patriots Brew Club is one that coincides with that of the forefathers of this nation. The members of this club pride themselves not only on their ability to make beer for themselves, but also on their ability to help others understand how beer is made. Like the original patriots, these are people capable of making much more than just beer for themselves, and their pride in teaching others extends to their vast wealth of cultivated hobbies as well. This is a group of people who like to hunt, not just in the traditional sense, but for ways to fix things, solve problems, build things, and live a mighty life.

When I asked the club if there were particular styles of beer they liked to focus on making, the answers seemed to encompass all of beer. I took this to mean that they like to make any and all styles of beer as long as the process and product align with the integrity and authenticity the club so thoroughly exudes.

The club does not operate in a rigidly scheduled meeting archetype; instead they favor spontaneous gatherings that center around the making of beer, food, and merriment in kind. If you’re the type who likes to saddle up and ride on short notice, this is the crew for you.

The club gladly accommodates new brewers, experienced brewers, and those who just want to know a little more about beer. More the drinking type than the making type? No problem, just show up with a hand to lend and you’re in. Located in the Grand Haven area, the members of the club would love for you to come to their next gathering. More information can be found on their Facebook page

A showcase of the Patriots Brew Club, as well as many of the other clubs to be featured in the further articles, can be found on the Calder Plaza in Grand Rapids each year on Big Brew Day. The pictures in this article were taken at the event, hosted by Siciliano’s Market, in May 2015. More info about the Big Brew Day can be found here.


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