Brewery of the Month: Unruly Brewing
Jeff Jacobson spends his days as an attorney, but one who harbored a secret desire: to open a brewery. However, it wasn't a task to be accomplished on his own. He had been doing some trademarking work for his soon-to-be business partner, Mark Gongalski, to whom he expressed his interest to open a brewery. They joined forces but were missing a crucial piece, the brewer.
As fate would have it, Gongalski's neighbor, Eric Hoffman, was an avid homebrewer, brewing around four times a week out of his home. Gongalski quickly picked up Hoffman as Unruly's head brewer. Investor Mike Brown then joined the partnership and with all pieces in place, the next challenge was waiting for them: location.
“From day one, it was going to be Muskegon,” Hoffman said. “That's where we're all from. ... I saw so many people from Muskegon who were happy to drive to Oddside, to Founders twice a week – willing to make the trip for good beer. We knew the market was here.”
Many potential sites proved troublesome, presenting renovation difficulties. It was property owner Gary Prost who changed the tide, offering to renovate the space in his downtown property to suit their needs. With this stroke of generosity, Unruly found a home.
“Generally, most of the beers I make are more on the flavorful side,” Hoffman said. “Our American ales are all stylistically a little higher alcohol, a little more hops in our stouts, along with roast. We're definitely trying to create different flavors.”
They completed installing the 3.5bbl brewhouse (117.25 gallons) and Hoffman quickly took to brewing in anticipation of opening. The staff had been hired, the beer was ready and so was the thirsty public. Unruly Brewing officially opened on November 27, 2013.
“We knew there was a demand for craft beer, but we never pictured the positive response from the community we got,” Hoffman said. “Lines around the block waiting to get in here – the first couple weeks we were open [we were] just pouring beer as fast as we could, which was cool. As far as how that's continued, we've far, far passed what we thought we were going to do.”
Unruly has six taps and a few maintsays that include the1890 Pre-Prohibition Cream Ale, an American stout named Foundry Stout and a West Coast-style IPA called Rebel Rouser IPA. Other beers on at the time of my visit included Peach Molly, a barrel-aged Belgian golden aged on ginger and fresh peaches, Lunch Break IPA, a session IPA, Accellerator Stout, Ryeot Pale Ale brewed with rye and another West Coast IPA called Grunter.
“Nothing we do is crazy experimental,” Hoffman said. “The beers are recognizable to a new craft beer drinker and adventurous for someone looking for something different.”
Customer demand has been taxing on the brewery's small system, and they already have plans to upgrade the current system to handle 5bbls at a time.
“It's April, and we're on our 105th batch already,” Hoffman said. “We went for several months brewing six times a week – only after I asked other people [in the industry] how often they were brewing did I realize how full steam ahead we were rocking.”
Aside from the minor brewhouse expansion and the already-startling growth within the building itself, Unruly is turning its sights to the outdoors, opening a new outdoor beer garden this month.
“We're going to continue to invest in more equipment and more people, and continue to grow organically,” Hoffman said. “Just keep on plugging away and getting our beer in front of people.”
Unruly has entered limited distribution and looks forward to being on tap at local craft beer bars.
BEER OF THE MONTH - Griffin Claw El Rojo Amber
This amber ale presents an orchestration of dynamic flavors without ever losing its balance. The beer pours a deep amber/copper with an off-white head that smells of sweet malt, some nuttiness and dried fruit. The body is full of middle-malt complexity, dipping into amber tones alongside a lightly bitter hop backbone that rolls right into the finish.
The National Homebrewer's Conference happens in Grand Rapids June 12-14. The American Homebrewer's Association brings thousands of avid homebrewers to Grand Rapids for a half week of seminars and events. Visit ahaconference.org for more information.
Lansing Beer Fest takes place June 28 and features more than 50 Michigan craft beers, food trucks, live music, vendors and more. Visit lansingbeerfest.com for more information.