New microbreweries popping up all over

April 22, 2012
| By Pete Daly |
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At least a half-dozen new microbreweries have just opened or will soon open in West Michigan, with no sign that the craft beer market is close to saturation.

A major new microbrewery with a restaurant and beer garden has been built in an industrial area in Comstock Park and is expected to open this summer. Just a few miles to the north in Rockford, another major investment in a new microbrewery is underway. A small microbrewery with a vintage baseball theme is under construction in the historic Engine House 9 on Leonard Street in northwest Grand Rapids. Another small microbrewery opened in January in Hudsonville and a second one is said to be under construction in Hudsonville, too.

And Hudsonville was legally bone dry until 2008.

Is there really a sudden increase in craft brewing, or something that just wasn’t noticed before?

“No, you’re not imagining it. It is certainly interesting,” said Andy Deloney, chairman of the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, which licenses all new microbrewers in the state.

He said microbrewing has been on the increase in the last few years and appears to be part of new trends driven by consumer behavior, one of which is the desire to buy locally raised or made food, drink and goods. Another driver is the difference between the so-called Millennial generation and their grandfathers.

“My grandfather always drank the same beer,” said Deloney, whereas members of the younger generation are more adventurous — people who “don’t buy one thing and stick with it religiously.”

One of the newest microbreweries could be described as a product of the Great Recession. The White Flame Brewing Co. at 5234 36th Ave. in Hudsonville, owned and operated by Bill and Jenn White, opened its doors Jan. 28.

White, 38, had worked in commercial construction for about 15 years but “that kind of dried up for me by the end of 2009,” he said. He was one of many home-brewing hobbyists in America, but when he had no work, he “got better at brewing beer at home.” Finally he and Jenn — whose red hair gave her the nickname Flame, hence White Flame Brewing — decided to try microbrewing for their living.

Their facility is a former office building that the Whites gutted and remodeled, and his construction experience helped keep the cost down. “We did all the work ourselves,” he said, adding that they had help from family and friends.

After the first two and a half months of being open, White said, “It’s been great so far. It’s tough for me to keep the beer in stock, so I guess that’s a good problem.”

He and Jenn have volunteer helpers but no real employees yet, although that might change in the near future as they ramp up production from the current 24 barrels a month. All of their beers are sold on premises in the taproom.

In 2009, a new small business, Hudsonville Winery, opened on Chicago Drive. Last year, the owners proposed adding a microbrewery called Pike 51 Brewing Co. (Pike 51 being an early name for Chicago Drive), although the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs does not yet list it as having a microbrewer’s license. Its website says “construction is underway” on the brewery.

In Grand Rapids, Max Trierweiler and Chris Andrus are working on obtaining city permits for The Mitten Brewing Co., which they hope to open in Engine House 9 at 527 Leonard St. NW. Both men are 31 and from Grand Rapids. They have been friends for years — and home brewers for the past four years.

“We were making pretty good beer, so we decided: Let’s make a business out of this,” said Trierweiler.

Trierweiler describes the business plan as a “craft beer sports bar — one of the first in the state,” with a vintage baseball theme and a menu limited to pizza. They will make six types of beer and ale, with names like Peanut & Crackerjack Porter.

The Perrin Brewing Co. has been the buzz all winter in Comstock Park, an unincorporated community within Alpine Township. The new brewery is up, at 5910 Comstock Park Drive, and will apparently include a full restaurant with an exterior 1,200-square-foot covered beer garden. Sue Thomas, Alpine Township’s planning director, said the restaurant will have seating for 170 and the beer garden for 48.

Randy Perrin, one of the two partners in the project, is or was an owner of Perrin Sportswear, a major silk-screening plant nearby. It is a long-time successful business that supplies silkscreened T-shirts and other sportswear to resorts and other organizations.

Jarred Sper, Perrin’s partner, told the Business Journal in March they plan to open Perrin Brewing Co. in June, but he declined to be interviewed further. Perrin could not be reached for comment. Earlier this month, Alpine Township Supervisor Alex Arends said he had heard the microbrewery will open in August.

“We’re excited about it,” said Arends. “I think they are really going to be good partners in the community.”

In downtown Rockford, Rockford Brewing Co. is under construction. According to rockfordbrewing.com, it is owned and will be operated by Jeff Sheehan, Brien Dews and Seth Rivard, with a planned opening in “summer 2012.” Dews is a member of the Rockford City Council and mayor pro-tem.

“Part of our niche will be to work closely with West Michigan farmers and (use) local ingredients on a seasonal basis. We plan to incorporate West Michigan agricultural products into our offerings,” states the website, one of the attributes of the Buy Local movement as noted by Deloney.

Microbrewing or craft brewing is loosely defined as smaller scale, independent production of traditional brews in the European tradition. The Brewers Association says that in 2009, almost 1,600 craft brewers produced slightly less than 9.1 million barrels of beer.

Deloney said microbreweries have been active in Michigan for 20 years or more. He said one of the first in the state, Bell’s in Kalamazoo, is now one of the 10 largest breweries in the U.S. in terms of production.

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