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Brewer sets up shop in Grand Rapids

Artisan brewer will focus on ‘sour’ and ‘wild’ offerings.

April 8, 2016
| By Pat Evans |
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There’s a new brewer on the horizon set to push the boundaries of Grand Rapids beer.

Mitch Ermatinger recently moved back to West Michigan from Denver because he saw an opportunity to do something special in Grand Rapids: Speciation Artisan Ales.

Ermatinger was on staff at Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales, an offshoot of Former Future Brewing Co., when the brewery won two medals at the Great American Beer Festival for wild ales in 2014 and 2015. He’s quick to deflect compliments, crediting his former boss, James Howat.

Now, he’s back in Michigan and looking to bring the first all-wild and sour beer brewery to Grand Rapids.

“I see successful breweries in California and Colorado booming with a focus on sour and wild beers,” Ermatinger said. “I saw a super-passionate customer base in Grand Rapids and a hole in the market, with no one focusing solely on wild and sour beers, and that’s what I’m going to do and hope that works out.”

Michigan does have Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, one of the nation’s first all barrel-aged wild beer producers. With pubs in Traverse City, Ann Arbor and Detroit and nationwide distribution of its beer, Jolly Pumpkin has exerted a heavy influence on Ermatinger.

Coming from Denver, where there are nearly 60 breweries, Ermatinger saw breweries specializing in certain types of beers, from all-German at Prost Brewing — Ermatinger acknowledged Cedar Springs Brewing’s similar tactic — to TRVE Brewing, a heavy metal music themed brewery specializing in lower alcohol beers, and Crooked Stave and Black Project’s all sour and wild programs.

Sour and wild beers are on an upward trend, often taking on almost wine-like characteristics. Grand Rapids’ Brewery Vivant, for instance, recently started a specialty wild beer program, which has produced Fussy Dutchman, a beer of which Ermatinger said he is extremely fond.

Until Ermatinger is able to secure a location for his brewery, which will only ferment beer, not produce the pre-fermented wort, he’s helping start Harmony Hall and Harmony Brewing Co.’s sour and wild beer program.

“As soon as I announced I was moving back, (Harmony owner Barry Van Dyke) reached out and asked if I’d be interested in starting a small sour program,” he said. “It’s the perfect in-betweener as I continue with sour beers and develop my process and continue to push boundaries in Grand Rapids.”

Ermatinger hopes to have his first release by the end of the year. Once he finds a space, he’ll take pre-fermented beer and ferment it in various vessels using local micro-organisms.

Once Ermatinger’s beers are finished and bottled, he’ll open the doors once a month to sell direct-to-consumer. What’s left will head to area bottle shops and bars — but it won’t be much.

In his first month, Ermatinger expects to only produce 150 cases of 750 milliliter bottles. He hopes a typical Speciation consumer will buy a case, drink half of it and then trade or give away the rest, a model he’s seen be successful in states with more diverse beer offerings than Michigan.

Opening only once a month and keeping production low will allow Ermatinger to maintain control of all aspects of his business.

“I’m relying a lot on traders to fill in the holes and buy beer, and I want them to distribute it,” he said. “It’s a very low-overhead start at a pretty low volume, and the direction of the company will depend on the demand from the customers.”

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