Here’s a common refrain every homebrewer with decent chops has heard dozens of times:
“Your beer is really good. You should open a brewery.”
While it may often be a polite declaration from a gracious recipient of free beer, it has nonetheless empowered more than a handful of hobbyists to consider making the leap into the professional leagues.
However, making that jump is not as easy — or as inexpensive — as it may sound.
Opening a brewery takes considerable capital, whether for leasing a building, buying equipment or front-loading the first few months before breakeven.
When Eric Fouch and Jeff Coffey decided to open Thornapple Brewing Co. after first meeting at Steelcase and then joining the Prime Time Brewers, they planned for it to take twice as long and cost twice as much as they initially expected. Luckily for them, they were able to come in under that budget multiple, thanks to their dogged determination and long hours of work.
“It was constantly like being a one-bucket fireman at a four-alarm fire,” Fouch quipped.
Thornapple Brewing Co. opened on June 10 at 6262 28th St. SE in Grand Rapids, the culmination of listening to their friends ask for years about when they would open a brewery of their own.
The duo — two strong cidermakers in the homebrewers club — had both brewed as a hobby for about 20 years. According to Fouch, their different tastes in beer helped to round out the initial tap list for Thornapple Brewing.
Coffey is the IPA fan and hophead who sticks more to style in his brews. Meanwhile, Fouch likes malty styles and “loves having fruits and groceries in his beers,” according to Coffey. That said, they agreed they wanted to have something for everyone on the tap list at all times.
“We didn’t want to be the place that has five IPAs on tap all the time,” Fouch said. “We have a good lighter beer in our 6 Foot Blonde, we have two saisons, we have a range of some things that go darker. … We want to have something on tap every week that people have not seen before — and that will knock your socks off.
“But we also want to be the place where everyone in your party can find something you like.”
To that end, the brewery also offers ciders, wine and meads, and is in the process of adding spirits and cocktails to its menu. Fouch currently is stockpiling spirits — produced in-house on Thornapple’s still — that he hopes to start selling around the time this report hits the stands, pending approval from federal regulators. He’s focusing on distilling whiskeys, apple brandies and rums, including several varieties made with cane sugar and fruits like oranges and cherries, among others.
So far, the co-owners say that demand for beers has been about what they expected, although they’ve been pleasantly surprised that all their beers seem to be selling at a similar rate as they still try to gauge the market.
For food, the brewery offers a range of pizzas and appetizers, and will work to meet special dietary requirements. (Pro tip: Try the house-made hummuses, especially the pesto version, although all are delectable.)
As Fouch and Coffey work hard behind the scenes to open the brewery and ensure the business runs as planned, they’ve found they have less time for what got them into the business in the first place: actually brewing on their own.
“I’ve still snuck in a couple of therapy batches,” Coffey said.
Thornapple Brewing Co., 6262 28th Street, Grand Rapids; thornapplebrewing.com