MICROBREWERY OF THE MONTH: Walldorff
Mike Barnaart is a classically trained chef who spent many years pleasing palates, most recently as the executive chef at Michigan State, but he never forgot his first job out of high school washing dishes at the then-brand-new Arcadia Brewing Company in 1994. This was where he was first introduced to the craft beer scene, and it stuck with him.
Barnaart took his various culinary experiences and beer passion and combined them into one new, exciting endeavor that he called the Walldorff. The building the brewery is housed in is 140 years old and was vacant for six years before Barnaart secured it for Walldorff. It features a 200-person ballroom on the top floor, as well as the brewery, the pub, and a full kitchen.
“I saw potential and I thought it really fit the vibe and feel of a brewery that I wanted to create,” Barnaart said. “It's hard to create character in a strip mall. For me, it was looking at the building, peering through the dirty windows and thinking 'This could really be something.'”
Barnaart joined forces with brewer Sam Sherwood and developed their beer offerings, which were designed to be sessionable and balanced to cater to their local crowd, all while finalizing licensing and finishing renovation. The Walldorff officially opened on July 20, 2006 to great response.
Current head brewer Brett Hammond started as a dishwasher in 2009. The following year, he was approached by Barnaart and Sherwood, who invited him to join them bottling. He was soon taken under Sherwood's wing, and they spent three years brewing together before Sherwood moved on to the recently opened Perrin Brewing Company, leaving Brett the reigns to the Walldorff.
“Out of the gates we had a simple, straightforward beer menu with hopes we could evolve people's tastes, and I think we've managed to do that,” Barnaart said. “A lot of these big, quirky beers are too extreme. Balance is really the key.”
“Our mindset is to keep it clean, balanced and good,” Hammond said. “Keep the taps always changing, besides our mainstays, and keep the creative side.”
The beers on tap during my visit included a Chocolate Oatmeal Stout, Bee Sting Honey Rye, Hopnoxious IPA and Cobain's Double Dark IPA, which took a gold medal and best of show at World Expo of Beer 2010. They are also currently featuring a Belgian series, including a wit, an IPA and a golden strong ale. Sundance, a summer wheat brewed with orange and coriander, will be returning to the taproom soon for the remainder of the summer.
“We're trying to come up with beers that other people aren't doing, which is getting harder and harder,” Barnaard said. “But it's fun to think of the kind of beers we're not necessarily seeing, and giving our interpretation of it.”
In seven years, the Walldorff has doubled in size, took on more than 50 employees and has seen production grow from 270bbls to more than 800, exceeding all expectations. Walldorff hits capacity often, and the demand has grown to the point that expansion plans are starting to take form.
“It never slows down, we're always cranking beer out,” Hammond said. “Meeting the demand is pretty intense, we created such a big, thirsty market.”
Grab some friends and head down to Hastings for a great time with handcrafted food and beer.
“We have this really simple, one-word mission statement: happiness,” Barnaart said. “It's about giving people a great place to hang out and feel good about being here, and that's where I get my joy. I see a smile at a table and I know we're doing something right.”
BEER OF THE MONTH: Jolly Pumpkin Bam Biere
This lively saison from Jolly Pumpkin is a treat any time of year. The beer pours a hazy gold with a bright, white head that's full of spicy yeast tones, some bright malt and some sourness. This light-bodied brew features a prominent yeast presence alongside subtle tones of green apple, some bread-y and biscuit-y tones, along with some earthy, spicy tones from the yeast.
- Beerfest at the Ballpark on April 5, join over 32 Michigan breweries for a day of sampling at the Cooley Law Stadium in downtown Lansing. Visit beerfestattheballpark.net for tickets/more info.
- Founders Brewing Company brings out its darkest brew for the Black Party at the taproom on April 19. The event includes some rarities, taproom-only brews and firkins. For ticket information, visit Founders' website.
- Shorts Brewing Company recently announced a major brewpub expansion in Bellaire, which will add an additional 20 jobs and expand the taproom, to be completed by summer 2014.
- Founders Brewing Company launched a new mobile app that allows you to quickly locate the nearest Founders pint or bottle, along with beer information and what's currently on tap.