Standing on the shore of Lake Superior at night, lit only by the moon or maybe the northern lights, you get a sense of how big the lake is. Without being able to see it bleed into the horizon and understand its expanse visually, your only metric is the sound of waves crashing around you. On a windy night, it’s loud. The breeze and cacophony thrill—this is not where one goes to be lulled to sleep.

It’s an exhilarating feeling. You might feel inclined to bottle it.

Speciation Artisan Ales has done just that.

The brewery recently announced the release of its first-ever spontaneously brewed beer: “The Laurentian Series: Lake Superior.”

The sour golden ale was brewed using the risky process of spontaneous fermentation, which involves exposing the beer to wild, airborne yeast. It’s the first in a series of beers to be brewed on the shores of each Great Lake.

In early March 2017, Mitch and Whitney Ermatinger, co-founders of Speciation Artisan Ales, drove to Marquette, Michigan, with a mobile coolship in tow. They brewed the beer at Ore Dock Brewing Company, transferred the wort into the coolship’s stainless steel tanks and hauled it to the shores of Lake Superior to cool and collect yeast via lake breeze overnight.

“Then we closed it up and drove it back across the Mackinac Bridge back down to Speciation,” Whitney Ermatinger said.

After nearly a year of aging in oak barrels, the result is now bottled and slated for release.

The beer is intended to capture the unique terroir of Marquette and Lake Superior, deriving its flavor primarily from the unique cocktail of microbes collected from the air on that particular March night.

“We designed the beer to basically be a free, blank slate so that the yeast could express itself,” said Mitch Ermatinger. “But it did sit in oak barrels for a while, so there’s definitely some oak influence as well.”

The result offers aromas of hay, sweet dough and stone fruit, along with the oak character of the barrels.

Individuals from the limited run of 400 corked and caged bottles can be reserved via Eventbrite on Feb. 3 at noon. Bottles will sell for $32 each.

The Laurentian Series is a tribute to the Great Lakes. Everything from the beer to the packaging salutes the lakes’ surrounding culture and efforts for their protection.

The bottles will be adorned with a wood label made from locally sourced maple veneer, designed by Elizabeth VanStee. David McKie created the label artwork inspired by two Ojibwe myths: the Lake Superior Merman and the Lake Superior Water Panther, Misshepezhieu. A portion of the beer’s proceeds will be donated to the National Wildlife Federation in support of the organization’s work protecting the Great Lakes against the threat of the Line 5 oil pipeline.

“The lakes are important to us, and we want to pay homage to them and our heritage and our culture,” Whitney Ermatinger said.

Each beer in The Laurentian Series will be spontaneously brewed, making them unreplicable snapshots of specific moments in specific places on the lakes’ shores. It’s a cost-intensive process that depends on many uncontrollable variables.

“This is the hardest and most labor-intensive and risky way of making beer,” Mitch Ermatinger said.

While the Ermatingers intend to brew on the shores of the remaining four Great Lakes this year, the success of those batches is far from guaranteed.

speciation“There will be many barrels that we’ll have to dump, just because they didn’t collect the right microbes that night,” said Mitch Ermatinger. “It’s just part of the risk, and also part of what makes the beer really unique.”

Nevertheless, the Ermatingers will give each lake a couple of tries, as needed. And they will continue to use the spontaneous brewing method for future releases.

“This is where we see our brand heading,” said Whitney Ermatinger.

“We’ve kind of been capped at extreme beer,” said Mitch Ermatinger, referencing IPAs with high IBUs and imperial stouts with high ABVs.

“This is what we see as being the next big thing in beer,” he said.


Photos: courtesy Speciation Artisan Ales


Comstock Park, Mich. —  Michigan’s food banks are encouraging supporters to raise a glass for hunger relief this September.

hops against hunger The campaign is called Hops Against Hunger, and it unites the state’s breweries and beer geeks with food banks serving those in need. All month, Michigan breweries will be hosting fundraisers to support the work of the state’s seven Feeding America-member food banks. Forty breweries, beer bars and restaurants from metro Detroit to Marquette are taking part.

“September is Hunger Action Month,” said Sean Little, development associate for Feeding America West Michigan, a food bank based in the Grand Rapids area. “Food banks like ours are asking people to volunteer, donate, contact their elected officials and take a whole host of actions to support our cause. We loved the idea of throwing brewery fundraisers into the mix and hopefully reaching a lot of people who might be totally new to food banking and hunger relief.”

“As we’ve begun building relationships with breweries, we’ve found that it’s an easy sell. They really care about this issue,” Little said.

According to the latest data from Feeding America, 1.49 million people are food insecure in Michigan, meaning they struggle to get enough food to lead a healthy life. That’s 15.1 percent of the population.

Since the Hops Against Hunger initiative kicked off in 2016, it’s raised more than $20,000 to support the food banks serving those people. A dozen establishments took part last year, and that number has risen to 40, showing a growing commitment to hunger relief in the state’s brewing community.

hops against hunger

Carrie Veldman, sustainability coordinator for BarFly Ventures, the company behind Grand Rapids Brewing Company and HopCat, says the motivation is simple. “By partnering with local nonprofits such as Feeding America, breweries and bars have the opportunity to invest in the community that has spent time and money investing in them.”

Grand Rapids Brewing Company and all six HopCat locations in Michigan are participating in Hops Against Hunger, each in support of the food bank serving their community.

Veldman says the partnership makes sense, because the food bank model of rescuing good surplus food and putting it to use is closely aligned with BarFly’s own waste-reduction practices. “Food recovery is one of our central values,” she said.

“Here in the U.S., our food waste is estimated at about 40 percent and we’re working to change this within our walls,” Veldman continued. “We’ve started a program at all of our locations where we donate any extra food we’ve acquired from beer dinners or monthly features to our local Feeding America food banks. All food that cannot be donated, like fruit and vegetable scraps and leftovers, is composted, so instead of rotting in a landfill, our food scraps can become nutrient-rich soil!”

Like many Hops Against Hunger participants, each BarFly location will be donating proceeds from one beer throughout the month. HopCat’s brand-new Royal Oak location, for example, will donate $1 from every pint of All Day IPA from Founders Brewing Company to Gleaners Community Food Bank.

hops against hungerOthers, like Greenbush Brewing Company in Sawyer, are organizing one-day events. On Friday, Sept. 22, Greenbush will host their second-annual Harvest Party, featuring live music, a bratwurst-grilling competition and the release of a beer brewed in collaboration with food bank staff.

“We wanted to give breweries the freedom to put their own stamp on it. We’ve seen some breweries come to us with really cool ideas and we love that their events are highlighting the diversity of the craft beer scene in Michigan,” Little said.

The Food Bank of South Central Michigan, for example, is working with the Kalamazoo Brew Bus to organize a pub crawl with several area breweries and beer bars on Sept. 28.

Ore Dock Brewing Company of Marquette, the campaign’s northernmost participant, has been raising money for hunger relief in the Upper Peninsula for years. They will be hosting a Pack the Pub Night on Sept. 21, when $1 from every pint of True North will be donated.

“We pride ourselves on being a community-minded business and that means lending a hand wherever we can,” said Adam Robarge, production and branding manager for Ore Dock. “Quite simply, having access to healthy food is a basic necessity that absolutely no one should have to go without.”

Information about participating breweries, events and Michigan’s food banks can be found at

hops against hunger

Hops Against Hunger Participants

Feeding America West Michigan Beards Brewery Burnt Marshmallow Brewing Creston Brewery Grand Armory Brewing Grand Rapids Brewing Company Greenbush Brewing Company Harmony Hall HopCat Grand Rapids New Holland Brewing Company North Pier Brewing Company Ore Dock Brewing Company Pigeon Hill Brewing Company Silver Harbor Brewing Company Terra GR Restaurant The Livery Microbrewery The Mitten Brewing Company The Sovengard Tripelroot Watermark Brewing Company

Food Gatherers HopCat Ann Arbor

Food Bank of South Central Michigan Arcadia Ales Kalamazoo Brite Eyes Brewing Company The Distant Whistle Grand River Brewery HopCat Kalamazoo Kalamazoo Brew Bus Territorial Brewing Company

Food Bank of Eastern Michigan Loggers Brewing Company Michigan on Main Bar and Grill Table and Tap Tenacity Brewing Tri-City Brewing Company

Forgotten Harvest HopCat Detroit

Gleaners Community Food Bank Farmington Brewing Company HopCat Royal Oak

Greater Lansing Food Bank EagleMonk Pub and Brewery Ellison Brewery and Spirits HopCat East Lansing Lansing Brewing Company Ozone’s Brewhouse


About Feeding America West Michigan. The Hops Against Hunger campaign was created by Feeding America West Michigan in 2016. Serving local families in need since 1981, Feeding America West Michigan reclaims safe surplus food from farmers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers. That food is distributed through a network of more than 900 food pantries, youth programs, and other hunger-relief agencies in 40 counties from the Indiana border through the Upper Peninsula. Each year, an estimated 492,100 people receive food from Feeding America West Michigan. For more information, visit

About Hops Against Hunger. Hops Against Hunger is a campaign uniting Michigan’s craft beer community with food banks serving those in need. Forty breweries, beer bars and restaurants are raising money for Michigan’s seven Feeding America-affiliated food banks during Hunger Action Month this September. Together, these food banks provide food to a network of thousands of local food pantries, soup kitchens, senior centers, and schools in every one of Michigan’s 83 counties. To learn more about Hops Against Hunger and to find a participating brewery near you, visit

The story behind the foundation of Ore Dock Brewing Company in Marquette is one of travel, collaboration and reclamation. Founders Andrea and Wes Pernsteiner were inspired to start the brewery in the Upper Peninsula town after traveling all over the country and stopping at breweries.

“Whenever we would go to a new city, we’d always find a brewery there because we felt like it was a place where a lot of people would sort of meet and congregate and chat. We’d always meet really interesting people, we’d find out great places to hike, great places to eat, whatever, and you could always find that at the local brewery,” said Andrea Persteiner.

After the two committed to the idea of starting the brewery, they took a long road trip to plan everything. Within three years, the couple had come up with a business plan and achieved financing. But while the Pernsteiners dabbled in homebrewing, they agreed that they weren’t good enough to brew for the business. Enter brewing veteran Nick VanCourt.

VanCourt began as a homebrewer around 2005, and when he considered making a career change, he found himself interning at The Great Dane brewery in Madison, Wis. Afterwards, he enrolled in and graduated from the World Brewing Academy. Before moving back to Marquette, he worked as an assistant brewer at Milwaukee Brewing Company and Tyranena Brewing Company in Lake Mills, Wis. With this abundance of experience, VanCourt posted his application to Ore Dock.

“We knew we needed to find someone who had training and was passionate about beer,” said Andrea Pernsteiner. “In the process of talking to [VanCourt], we got to know him and realized we were going to work well together.”

The Pernsteiners and VanCourt would become a part of what would eventually become a team of six owners. Together, they worked to turn the brewery into a destination that would do for Marquette what the breweries accomplished in the towns the Pernsteiners visited on their road trips. They sought to capture the personality and history of Marquette in their decor, and they continue to make themselves a part of the community through the entertainment and programming they host.

Ore Dock Brewing Company is located in what used to be a car garage. In fact, the second floor stored 30 cars, so no one needed to worry whether or not the building was structurally sound. The owners had to make some renovations to the building to make it suitable for the brewery, but they made sure to preserve what materials they could for use in the furniture and decor.

“We didn’t throw anything away,” said VanCourt.

Among the reclaimed artifacts featured in the building are the tables on the second floor, which are made from the wooden ramp used to park the cars on the second floor of the garage. A fireplace in the corner is made from brownstone that was blown out of the wall to make room for a doorway, the flooring is original (you can still see the burn marks from what Andrea Pernsteiner postulates was metal welding), and the barstools are made of two-by-fours that were present in the building. And the reclamation didn’t stop at materials the building had at the ready: the Pernsteiners reupholstered booths from a old restaurant doomed for the burn pile, used old barn wood for the beams and as decoration on the bar, and crafted chandeliers from empty beer bottles. Reclamation became the central theme of Ore Dock Brewing Company, and the theme is the namesake of their staple IPA.

Part of Ore Dock’s motivation behind their persistent reusing of old materials is that it’s become a way to preserve pieces of Marquette’s history.

“Part of what makes Marquette great is that history, and people have that sense of community that they want to preserve the community that has existed here, whether it be the industry that has existed, or the environment, and the outdoor aspects we all have grown to love here,” said Andrea Pernsteiner. “People realize that has been built over many years and in order to pass that forward you need to understand the past and appreciate it.”

While preservation of history is certainly factors into Ore Dock Brewing Company’s goals, another is contributing to the culture of the contemporary community.

“When we wrote our business plan we really had two sort of main ideas in mind: making quality craft beer, and being a value to our community,” said Andrea Pernsteiner.

Beyond hosting community events, the brewery also seeks to engage other businesses in the area through collaboration. The brewery helped increase the capacity of a nearby cattle farm by donating the brewery’s speck grain as feed, as well as increased the demand for a hops farm in Rock, Mich., enabling it to expand its services.

“Those are two businesses locally that, just because of our brewery, have been able to grow their businesses,” said Andrea Pernsteiner.

The brewery continues to expand its repertoire of beer styles, including new wine-barrel-aged and cask-conditioned brews. Fans of Ore Dock Brewing Company’s beer can look forward to seeing some of their staple brews in bottles later this year.