BREWERY OF THE MONTH: BIG LAKE BREWING
Big Lake Brewing began where most breweries do: homebrewing. Co-owners Nic Winhimius and Travis Prueter had been brewing together since they met in 2007, and, like most homebrewers, aspired to open their own brewery and began laying the tracks.
“Greg [Makeller] joined the group about a year and a half ago,” Winhimius said. “We were friends already and had worked together, but Greg was a winemaker – and I said 'That's perfect! We'll make both.'”
The two have spent the last three years formulating beer recipes, honing them and getting them ready for the brewery.
“We wanted to build everything ourselves, our beer, our wine, our place,” Makeller said.
They applied for their LLC., and had to provide a name right away.
“Growing up in the area, there's small inland lakes everywhere, but everyone refers to Lake Michigan as 'the Big Lake,'” Makeller said.
With the trio established, they began looking for a location in Holland, as well as for ways to fund their new brewery, all the while saving money on their own.
After some difficulty trying to raise the funds through investors and banks, they realized they had saved enough between the three of them to purchase their new brewhouse.
“[The investor's] dream of what this brewery was going to be was more of what New Holland's pub is today – a huge operation, downtown, with a pub and a kitchen,” Winhimius said. “We didn't set out to do that.”
They continued to discover new possible locations, and were introduced to their soon-to-be home along with property owner Bill Vanhuizen, who was very interested in bringing a brewery into his plaza and helped Big Lake to open. The owners began renovating the space on their own, installing a brewery and cellar space, as well as a taproom and bar.
“The bank doesn't own anything in here,” Makeller said. “This is all ours – it's a great feeling to have.”
The taproom is deceitfully large, with a long wooden bar and geographical maps on the walls – even their flight carriers are rowboats – everything that represents Lake Michigan.
Big Lake operates 10 taps, and upon my visit, two were dedicated to Michigan cider, four to beer and four to wine.
Four beers were being served when I visited, including wheat beer (5.8%ABV), IPA (7.5%ABV), Chinook Strong Ale (8.8%ABV) and Mild Brown (5.7%ABV). The owners are planning to maintain four to five standard brews and have one to two rotating taps for seasonals and specialties. The trio expressed their love for classic styles, their desire for consistency and honing their beers to perfection.
“We're all engineers,” Prueter said. “We've been brewing beer for quite a long time, what we really want to concentrate on is the process – how can we make good repeatable beers as best we can?”
When it came time to decide how much space to dedicate to the brewery and how much to dedicate to the taproom, the trio decided to prioritize the brewery space.
“We didn't want to shortcut the process,” Makeller said. “You sacrifice some seating in the taproom, but there may not be many people here if you don't make good beer. We'd rather have only 60 seats, drinking 60 pints of great beer.”
Where: 977 Butternut Avenue, Suite #4, Holland; (616) 796-8888
BEER OF THE MONTH
Mt. Pleasant Brewing Sacred Gruit
Change things up as the seasons start to change with this gruit from Mt. Pleasant. What is a gruit, you ask? It is a pre-hops style of beer that utilizes local spices and herbs to counterbalance the malty sweetness of fermented beer. This beer pours hazy orange with a quickly dissipating white head. The nose is full of herbs, bright citrus and some must. It is low-to-medium bodied with a tartness up front, which is followed by a complex display of herbs (including rosemary) over the slightly bready body, and finishes with a semitartness that lingers.
On Aug. 5, Founders Brewing Company releases the next backstage series release: Mango Magnifico Con Calor.
The Michigan Homebrew Festival and Michigan Beer Cup Awards take place on Aug. 17 in Holly. See mhfsite.com for more information.
Traverse City Microbrew and Music Festival happens Aug. 23-24. Taste more than 300 beers and watch more than 100 musicians perform. Visit tcbeerfest.com for more information.