MICROBREWERY OF THE MONTH: Cellar Brewing Company
The story of Cellar Brewing Company begins a little more oddly than most. Chuck Brown was an operations director for Grand Valley State University and was thinking about taking his life in another direction. Being a homebrewer, he began to draw up a business plan to open his own brewery in Allendale. One day, the catering director burst into his office and said there was a brewery for sale on Craigslist. Brown didn't take him seriously at first, until he was watching the news the next night and saw Michigan Beer Cellar Owner Dan Humphreys talking about his unusual sales method.
"I had totally dismissed the whole thing. I thought it was just equipment," Brown said. "I gave Dan a call and came up that Saturday to meet him."
Humphreys and Brown met every Saturday for the following months, with Humphreys teaching Brown everything about his establishment and operation, and in January 2013, they signed the purchase agreement. Humphreys stayed with him another six weeks, ensuring a smooth transition of ownership, and then said goodbye to his brewery.
"He was here on a consulting capacity," Brown said. "At one point we said, 'We're good,' shook hands, and parted ways. He still pops in from time to time."
The taproom is very large and open, with a long bar along the east wall and plenty of open seating, including large sofas and armchairs on the main floor. There is a beer garden out back where you can sit in the sun and enjoy your brew, or you can stay inside for any of the musical acts in the taproom, or even a football game on the big projector screen.
Now owner and brewmaster, Brown retained the existing staff, along with headbrewer Ben Laninga, who had been brewing at the Cellar for a year and a half.
"We try to keep it varied so the taplist isn't the same every time people come in," Laninga said.
Cellar Brewing maintains a "customer driven" taplist, featuring standards, as well as beers that customers would like to see. The beer styles are varied, and they also offer wine and spirits. Some highlights of the taplist upon my visit were Hyperion Imperial Irish Red, Black Magic RYPA, Monkeywrench IPA, Vanilla Porter and Brit's Best ESB.
"We try to keep all the different styles well represented," Brown said. "With 16 taps, it's pretty easy to have a style that anyone can like."
The taplist retains a lot of Michigan Beer Cellar's spirit, but fills in a few holes that were missing. Brown said it's not about creating a new foundation, it's about building on the one already there.
"You don't have to have the wildest, craziest, far-out beer," Brown said. "We don't have to have a crazy orange-jalapeno beer – there are other people out there that are doing that, and that's fine. I just want to make good, solid beers."
"We have a couple beers that get outside-of-the-box," Laninga added. "Not too far, but just enough to stand out."
CBC also features an extensive liquor program, featuring infused vodkas and some whiskeys for mixed drinks (for non-beer drinkers), including two single-malt whiskeys that are currently aging for release down the road. They also feature more than 15 wines, most of which are made in house, including Sweet Cherry Peach and Michigan Apple Delight.
CBC will release Bourbon Barrel Aged Double Black Magic RYPA early this month, along with Barrel Aged Hyperion Imperial Irish Red.
"We've created some distance between Michigan Beer Cellar and Cellar Brewing Company," Brown said. "We're really starting to have a different identity than what was here before."
CBC distributes in bottles currently and is looking toward canning in the future, opening a kitchen to serve some killer pub fare (it currently has a sandwich kitchen and snacks).
"I've been very happy with everything Chuck has done since he's come here, it's been nothing but positive," Laninga said. "Every day we're moving in a good direction."
Cellar Brewing Company is located at 500 E. Division St., Sparta. (616) 883-0777, cellarbrewingco.com
BEER OF THE MONTH: Cranker's Professor IPA
This dry IPA pours a brilliantly clear, deep gold with a bright, white head. The aroma is loaded with citrus hops and a soft, malt presence. This brew is light bodied, which showcases the huge display of citrus hops, and finishes dry, which lets the bitterness stay with you all the way to the next sip.
On Sept. 7, Michigan Brewer's Guild hosts its UP Fall Beer Festival. Choose carefully from the more than 300 brews laid before you at Mattison Lower Harbor Park in Marquette. For more information, visit michiganbrewersguild.org.
Enjoy microwbrews, music and food on Lake Michigan's shore Sept. 28 at Weko Beach Brewer's Festival. Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door. For more information, visit wekobeachbrewersfest.com.