Seattle microbrewery enters Michigan market
Just as he suspected he would, Joel VandenBrink found his way home — just not in the way most had thought.
The owner of Seattle’s Two Beers Brewing recently began shipping beer over the heartland of the United States to Michigan, his birth state.
Road back to Michigan
The Holland native’s path to getting beer in Michigan wasn’t that easy, though.
He left the state in 2003, following a bachelor’s degree at Grand Valley State University, and ended up in Washington seeking a graduate degree in psychology and theology.
His trip west introduced his taste buds to the world of craft beer. Shortly after his grad school was finished, he opened up a brewery.
“Because that makes sense,” VadenBrink joked.
The first brewery was located in a small 170-square-foot facility, brewing 15 gallons at a time.
It was all he could afford, scraping everything together he could and not getting any help from banks, which weren’t too keen on helping breweries in 2007.
“Every bank I went to laughed at me,” he said.
In Washington, breweries are allowed to self-distribute, so VandenBrink grew the business himself, selling his beer out of a van to restaurants, bars and stores.
After just a few months, he nearly doubled his brewing facility size.
Eventually, he moved into a 2,400-square-foot spot in the SoDo industrial district south of downtown Seattle, then doubled his space to 4,800 square feet in 2011.
As his building footprint has grown, so has his output.
When Two Beers opened, he sold about $17,000 in his first year. That total projects to be up to $1.6 million in 2013 — with 6,500 barrels of beer now in line for production.
“Breweries don’t jump states”
Unfortunately for his friends, VandenBrink took his time getting beers to Michigan.
Although 75 percent of the brewery’s product stays in Washington, it ships beer to Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, British Columbia and Japan.
But Michigan gets a look at the beers well before many other states.
“Growing up in Michigan, I still have a lot of friends and family in the state,” he said. “I want them to have the beer. Plus, Michigan people enjoy and appreciate beer.”
But had he not grown up in Michigan, he wouldn’t have known about the great culture and likely wouldn’t have skipped a whole bunch of states.
“Breweries don’t jump states. They do the typical road map,” he said. “If I didn’t know what was there, I wouldn’t have made the jump.”
Two Beers beers can be found throughout the Lower Peninsula in cans, 22-ounce bottles and limited draft release.
Although the pull of family is strong, VandenBrink doesn’t see himself back in Michigan soon.
“I’m here. There’s no exit strategy,” he said. “I do toy with the idea of moving back to the Midwest, though.”