Thursday, 20 December 2012 13:11

January Microbrews: Rockford Brewing Company

Written by  Ben Darcie
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BREWERY OF THE MONTH: Rockford Brewing Company

Three different people wanted the same thing in the same place: their own brewery in Rockford. Rather than standing alone to achieve their visions, they joined forces to open Rockford's first microbrewery on Dec. 20.

Co-owner and headbrewer Jeff Sheehan started brewing while attending Idaho State University, and it led to a brewing position at Portneuf Valley Brewing Co. in nearby Pocatello, Idaho.

"[My Wife and I] decided it was time to get back to Michigan," Sheehan said. "I really wanted to stay in the beer industry and thought that the only way I could do that would be to open up a small brewery."

A job opened at New Holland Brewing Co., where he worked in packaging and then took over the role of pub brewer for three years. Talks about opening his own brewery had begun during his first year brewing at New Holland with the newly elected Rockford Mayor Brian Dews, and he left the brewery to pursue the opening of Rockford Brewing in 2011.

Dews previously worked in clock repair, owning and operating his own business since 1996. A homebrewer of seven years, he ran for city council and was elected mayor in 2008.

"I was being interviewed by a local reporter and he asked, 'What does Rockford need that it doesn't have?'" Dews said. "'A brewery' was the first thing out of my mouth ... When the article went to print, Jeff saw it and reached out to me."

They began discussing their mutual desire to open a brewery, and the city manager approached Dews and informed him of yet another person poking around Rockford to open a brewery, future third partner Seth Rivard.

Rivard was working IT in Whitehall for 13 years before he began planning on opening his own brewery in 2007. He moved to Grand Rapids and began looking around Rockford, consulting the city manager for advice.

"Each one of us brought something different to the table, different strengths," Rivard said. "Because of that we've been able to work things out and get over hurdles that we couldn't have on our own."

The three of them drew up a business plan together and Rivard secured a building on the river in downtown Rockford, but it posed many renovation difficulties, and they decided to localize their improvement contracts to just Rockford.

"I do have to say that everything about this project has happened at its own pace, very organically," Sheehan said.

The pub itself is warm and inviting, with a Michigan Curly Maple bar top and a giant window, where you can peek into the brewery. The upstairs is full of large windows, allowing you to peer out over downtown Rockford in all four directions as you enjoy your brew.

They intend to open with around seven brews: Obrien's Red Ale, Sheehan Stout, Hoplust IPA, Rogue River Brown, White Pine Wheat, and a yet unnamed multigrain ale, brewed with barley, wheat, rye, and oats.

Standouts include the Hoplust IPA, which is loaded with hop flavor, and Belgian Multigrain, which is sweet-bodied and has a thicker mouthfeel, with a soft belgian funk.

Rockford Brewing plans on limited distribution, focusing specifically on Rockford and other targeted areas. The next time you find yourself in Rockford, head downtown and warm up with some new Michigan beer.

"I want us to be a destination," Sheehan said. "Not just for beer, but for the whole experience. You walk in the door and you're on vacation; enjoy the scenery, listen to music, and then you can go back to your life feeling refreshed."

BEER – New Holland Dragon's Milk

Dragon's Milk is the perfect beer to keep you warm in these winter months. At 10% ABV, this oak-aged strong ale will keep you going through the coldest of days.

This beer pours nearly black with rich ruby hues and a tan head. The nose is full of oak, vanilla and alcohol, while the body boasts sweetness up front, supported by a full-bodied, vanilla-driven flavor profile that dips into roast, dark fruit and chocolate. Dragon's Milk finishes smooth with hints of lingering alcohol and oak.


Jan 12-18 is Kalamazoo Beer Week. Bar crawls, tap takeovers and beer events highlight this weeklong celebration of Michigan Beer. Visit for more information.

Pilsen Klub (Waldo's Tavern) in Kalamazoo hosts Short's Featured Beer Event on Jan. 19 from 8:30-10:30 p.m. The evening features Short's drafts, specialty bottles and some vintage offerings.

Grand Rapids Brewing Company opened its doors at 1 Ionia St. in Downtown Grand Rapids. It joins Rockford Brewing Co., Mitten Brewing Co. (Grand Rapids) and Our Brewing Co. (Holland) as the most recent additions to the West Michigan brewery scene.


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