Cedar Springs Brewing acts as catalyst
The brewery is the downtown district’s first new build since the 1950s, but more is on the way.
David Ringler almost started a brewery in the 1990s.
It wasn’t for a lack of trying. Ringler was educated in traditional German brewing and, had his investors not pushed for light American lagers, the Grand Rapids craft beer community might be talking about Ringler’s brewery as they do Founders Brewing Co. and New Holland Brewing Co. — which would have been his contemporaries.
Instead, he utilized his college degree and started a financial advisory firm in 1999. Ringler never lost sight of his goal, however, and stayed involved in the Michigan beer community.
“When I got married, I had to get a real job,” Ringler said. “I was fortunate that when I really started to get itchy again, I was able to bring on partners that were willing to buy me out so I could do what I wanted to do and knew my customers would be taken care of.”
With breweries opening on a regular basis in West Michigan, many might question the decision to open a brewery now. But Ringler saw a market segment relatively untouched and a community ripe for development: Cedar Springs.
His brewery concept is largely based on what he wanted to do 20 years ago.
“Even then, I wanted to do authentic German beers and build on those,” he said. “Well, there’s still no one really doing it.”
Ringler set out to find the perfect site for his new brewery, including on the west side of Grand Rapids, a historically German part of town. He had friends and family in the northern part of Kent County who encouraged him to consider Cedar Springs.
“The more I looked up here, the more excited about it I got,” he said.
He looked at two buildings, both of which would accommodate a brewpub where he could brew beer and serve food and other beverages — but weren’t large enough to be able to distribute the beer.
“My heart was in manufacturing,” he said. “I love the brand building side of the business.”
So he acquired a building on Main Street in Cedar Springs and razed it. Then he sought and received Michigan Economic Development Corp. funding, and Orion Construction began the project.
It’s the first new build in downtown Cedar Springs since the 1950s.
“The Cedar Springs Brewery was an excellent opportunity to bring a sense of revitalization and inspiration to Cedar Springs’ main corridor through new construction and through delivering a unique and high-quality offering,” said Orion’s public relations coordinator, Jason Wheeler. “We hope this will become a destination and a catalyst for future growth in the area.”
There have been plans for a major downtown overhaul in Cedar Springs for nearly 20 years, and while the $2.3 million Cedar Springs Brewing Co. project isn’t exactly a true catalyst, it certainly can act like one.
“The brewery is a huge boost,” said Donna Clark, director of the Cedar Springs Public Library. “It’s beautiful and inviting. His plan is to draw people to downtown Cedar Springs.”
In September, the library started a fundraising campaign to finish up funding for a $1.5 million new library across the street from the brewery, along Cedar Creek. The project has $600,000 toward its goal and construction hopefully will start in spring 2016. Clark said the plan is to begin soliciting bids in February.
The library has waited 15 years for the right time, Clark said; it’s the initial project in Cedar Springs’ master plan for downtown development, which was updated in 2011 after an original draft in 2005. The redevelopment plan is multi-faceted and will be undertaken as various fundraising campaigns are completed.
“There’s a large-scale plan for the property — for the heart of Cedar Springs,” Clark said.
Included in Phase I of the master plan is an outdoor amphitheater designed to look like an old train depot — a train once ran through the property. Also early in the redevelopment plan is cleaning up and allowing public access along Cedar Creek.
Phase II includes an indoor banquet facility for rental use. Phase III includes a community and recreation center that will house the city’s offices.
Clark said the community’s hope is to make downtown Cedar Springs similar to downtown Rockford.
“We’re trying to think outside of the box and always asking the question, ‘What’s good for Cedar Springs?’” Clark said. “What kind of legacy are we leaving?”
As for the brewery, which is scheduled to open sometime this month, Ringler is confident it will be ready to go. He designed the facility for traditional German brewing methods, which can include more tanks, and much more time, than other methods. He’s starting with a 15-barrel brew system — a barrel is approximately 31 gallons — and will have an initial annual capacity of 1,500 barrels.
Plans are to make a mix of ales and lagers, Ringler said, noting there’s 3,000 years of brewing history prior to the invention of lagering. The brewery’s two flagship beers will be an original-style weissbier — a bit darker and nuttier than the blonde, banana and clove style many are familiar with today — and a Salzburg Marzen, an approachable lager based on daily drinking beers in Germany.
“I love double IPAs and barrel-aged beers as much as anyone, but you can’t drink them all the time,” Ringler said. “Given our community, we have to be a bit of a catchall. They’ll be a bit more than what commercial beers are, but you can see where they came from and you can enjoy them on a regular basis.”
There are plans to can and distribute under a brand called Kusterer, named for the 19th century Grand Rapids brewing pioneer Christoph Kusterer. Kusterer was the city’s second brewer and built one of the largest breweries in the Midwest before dying in a shipwreck in Lake Michigan in 1880.
Ringler hopes the brand will lead to growth, but he’s not banking on it just yet.
“The pattern most people are using is to start as a smaller brewery, turn right around after being right up against a wall and reinvest,” Ringler said. “This way, we can get to a certain number before seeking reinvestment.”
First and foremost, Ringler wants the brewery to be a gathering spot for the community.
He said there are three places along U.S. 131 between Rockford and Big Rapids to stop and get a meal and adult beverage, including his establishment. He said the Cedar Springs community needs a place to call their own.
He knows being a production brewery is hard but isn’t worried about an impending “bubble” in the beer industry. He notes that in 1874, there were 4,100 breweries serving an American population of 39 million. Today, there are 320 million people in the United States and just more than 4,000 breweries.
“We’re still a long way from saturation,” he said. “Even then there was a lot of consolidation, and a lot of the breweries were really small. The future is a lot of small breweries.”
Ringler is set on Cedar Springs Brewing serving as a restaurant to the surrounding community, with a menu that offers a variety of Bavarian and modern bar food. He even has used some panels from the old Schnitzelbank restaurant in Grand Rapids.
“After a football game, they go to Rockford or Greenville,” he said. “The average commute is 30 minutes, and then they go back to Grand Rapids for dinner. There’s an opportunity here to get on the ground floor of a community that was looking to call something their own.”