Have a drink on MI
Michigan celebrates a rapidly growing beer industry with Michigan Craft Beer Month
Scott Isham, brewmaster at Harper’s Restaurant and Brewpub, of 131 Albert Ave., has been working in the brewing industry for around 16 years. Sitting in the brewing room on Monday, July 9, 2012, he said the industry has been maturing and harder for newcomers to break in, although that doesn’t seem to stop would-be brewers to try. Justin Wan/The State News
Scott Isham first fell in love with beer when he traveled to Germany after graduating high school.
There he developed a taste for “decent” beers, as opposed to cheaper macrobrews, the only ones he could afford when he returned to the U.S. to study anthropology at Central Michigan University.
In Mount Pleasant, Mich., Isham learned to brew his own beer in his apartment, and by a twist of fate, he was offered a job as a brewmaster when he met a pair of men one night who were interested in opening a brewery at a bar. Isham dropped out of college the next day and now has been a professional brewer for 16 years, 12 of which have been spent as the head brewmaster at Harper’s Restaurant and Brewpub, 131 Albert Ave.
In the time since, Isham has seen the craft brewing industry explode in Michigan, which has the fifth-most breweries per state in the nation, according to Michigan Brewers Guild.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “Sixteen years ago, if you walked into a restaurant and asked for a craft beer, people would look at you like they had no idea what you were talking about. Now, you walk into any place and they’ll have craft beers available. It’s wonderful, and it keeps growing.
East Lansing resident Lindsey Skoog sips on Bell's Two Hearted Ale and laughs with Lansing resident Michelle Brosius drinking Shorts' Soft Parade on Sunday night at Crunchy's. July has been declared Michigan Craft Beer month. Natalie Kolb/The State News
East Lansing resident and Crunchy's bartender Alicia Garnero prepares a bucket of The Locals Light Beer crafted by Short's Brew located in Bellaire, Mich., on Sunday night. Garnero said the bucket sells for around $29 and is about the same as drinking a 24-pack of beer. Natalie Kolb/The State News
“I look forward to a day when every tap is a craft beer instead of the mass-produced lagers.”
Crack a bottle
At least for the month of July, that day is already at Crunchy’s, 254 W. Grand River Ave.
In celebration of July being declared Michigan Craft Beer Month, the restaurant has outfitted all 27 of its taps with Michigan-brewed craft beers.
General Manager Mike Krueger said Crunchy’s never has fewer than 12 or 15 Michigan-brewed beers on tap, but the bar really turns it up for Craft Beer Month.
“In July, we always come back to Michigan beers,” he said. “We like to pay homage to everyone in Michigan by pouring all their beers. With all the jobs and people’s lives that are supported by the Michigan beer business, I think it’s important to support them too.”
According to data from the office of state Rep. Peter MacGregor, R-Rockford, Michigan breweries employ more than 1,000 people directly and produce about 400,000 barrels of beer per year, accounting for about $2.52 million in sales tax revenue.
MacGregor introduced House Resolution No. 102, which along with Senate Resolution No. 160, appointed July as Craft Beer Month to honor the workers in one of the state’s budding industries.
“These individuals took a risk in their life and tried to start a business, so I have a high opinion of them and they sit high in my craft,” MacGregor said. “This business grew the past decade despite how bad our economy is; it goes to show you they have the right item at the right time and provided the right service to those in our state.
“They still thrive and still grew because they were true entrepreneurs.”
Filling the glass
Michigan Brewers Guild Executive Director Scott Graham appreciates the support from Michigan’s Legislature to increase awareness of the brewing industry on Michigan’s economy.
“Part of what the proclamation does is recognize us,” he said. “Our business is unique and run by individuals, people who try to be a part of their communities and contribute locally.”
It’s that homegrown spirit that impressed MacGregor, as he applauded the brewers for partnering with the state’s agricultural industry.
He added the industry also has contributed to Michigan’s tourism business, as people will come from out of state to visit local breweries.
Graham said in the past year, the brewing industry saw about 27 percent growth, and Michigan-brewed beers account for about 3 percent of all beer purchased in the state. He added the guild has a goal to increase that number to about 10 percent, but expects sales to surpass that.
“When you look at that 3 percent share, and we look at that realistic milestone at 10 percent, I think there’s room for reasonable growth,” he said.
Buy you a drank
While the brewing industry thrives statewide, local brewers such as Isham feel the positive impact as well.
“It’s one of the few things in this area that’s made here,” he said. “Beers can be made in a different towns, different states, but this is the only thing made in East Lansing, and I think that’s pretty cool.”
Isham brews four main beers served at Harper’s — Raspberry Wheat, Harper’s Ale, Grove Street Pale Ale and Spartan Wheat — while rotating a seasonal tap with different brews depending on what he feels like making.
Although there are some difficulties in brewing for a college crowd looking for a cheap way to drink, Isham said he’s found that most college-aged patrons appreciate microbrews because they’re more willing to try new things. He said students appreciate the taste of the beers, but the local-themed names of the brews certainly don’t hurt.
“If you’re anywhere from Michigan and you hear ‘Spartan Wheat,’ you know it comes from East Lansing,” he said.
Recent MSU alumus Ben Russell said he typically drinks beer that is more expensive or heartier than a macrobrew because of the taste, but also because he wants to support smaller businesses. He said he enjoys Michigan-brewed beer — such as Bell’s Brewery Inc.’s Oberon Ale — because of the ties to his hometown state.
“The taste is a lot different from your run-of-the-mill macrobrews,” he said. “It’s richer, and I feel I can connect with it because it’s from my home state. I have a lot of pride in it.”