Wednesday, 30 September 2015 13:15

Southwest Michigan welcomes new wave of community breweries

Written by  John Wiegand
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Territorial Brewing Territorial Brewing

Bigger isn’t necessarily better. That euphemism rings true especially for a new wave of startup craft breweries entering the industry in Southwest Michigan.

It’s an idea that’s caught on in the region as a new wave of startup breweries enter the industry with hopes of becoming a community hotspot rather than the next sensational mass production brewery.

The idea of focusing solely on providing craft beer to the local community was one of the primary reasons behind Charles Grantier’s decision to open Territorial Brewing in Calhoun County.

“It’s going to be tough for someone to be the next Founders or Bell’s, but if you’re focused on being the next community place, there’s growth in that,” Grantier said. “People like having neighborhood breweries that can support their own communities.”

Territorial, which opened its doors last November, fills its taps and kitchen with German-inspired beer and food. The brewery plans to produce approximately 800 barrels of beer from its 1,400-square-foot brew house by the end of the year.

Judging by the brewery’s reception thus far, Grantier believes that Battle Creek can easily support another one or two breweries before the area becomes oversaturated, he said.

“We’re happy that we’re here. It’s not a tiny town and there are plenty of craft beer fans,” Grantier said. “We’re in a great place where people are thirsty for new beer (and) the reception has been very good.”

Territorial Brewing is far from alone in its emergence into the Southwest Michigan craft beer scene. Other new entrants in the Kalamazoo region include One Well Brewing, which also opened last November, and Texas Corners Brewing, which opened in March 2015. Meanwhile, Brite Eyes Brewing, a combination coffee shop and microbrewery, is slated to open later this year or in early 2016.

Aside from the startups, several existing craft breweries have continued to invest in expansions and have added distribution over the last year.

On the smaller end of the spectrum, Tibbs Brewing invested $30,000 into doubling its production capacity to 250 barrels at its location in the Kalamazoo State Theatre building.

Also in Kalamazoo, Gonzo’s BiggDogg Brewing began distributing its beer across Michigan, owner Greg Haner stated in an e-mail. The company is starting small with shipments of around 40 barrels, he said.

On the larger side, Galesburg-based Bell’s Brewery, Michigan’s largest craft beer producer by volume, announced an expansion project in April that would increase its annual production capacity to 1 million barrels. The expansion will add 200,000 square feet to the brewery’s operations with a new bottling hall, keg storage facilities and warehouse, and is expected to be completed by February 2016. At its current size, Bell’s is capped around 319,000 barrels of beer annually, according to industry data.

Additionally, Bell’s, which celebrates 30 years in business this year, expanded its Eccentric Café in Kalamazoo with a larger kitchen and full-service dining in a project that wrapped up in July.

While maturing craft breweries such as Bell’s and Arcadia Brewing may lack the sex appeal of younger breweries as they edge toward their mature years, many startups credit those companies with paving the way for their success.

“I think the maturing companies really helped create the market and now there is so much buzz around the industry that it’s creating this whole second wave of people coming in,” said Ian Kennedy, a partner at Warner Norcross & Judd’s Kalamazoo office and chair of the firm’s new craft brewery industry group.

Startup craft breweries aren’t the only beneficiaries of Southwest Michigan’s history in the brewing industry. Josh Cook, co-owner of Green Door Distilling Company, largely credits the legacy of the region’s craft breweries for setting the stage for his company, which is planning to open in early fall.

“The established breweries have paved the way for this business model,” Cook said. “Coming into it, we were positive that we weren’t going to have a bunch of hurdles. We worked with Bell’s and Arcadia, they’ve stood the test of time in Kalamazoo and we’ve been able to learn a lot from them.”

Two other distilleries, Kalamazoo Distilling and Distilled Kalamazoo, have also announced plans to open, but are still in the early development stages. Additionally, Rupert’s Brew House recently started distilling and served up its first small batch spirits in January 2015, according to reports.

Whether in craft brewing or distilling, Kennedy of Warner, Norcross & Judd believes that new companies will find opportunity in Southwest Michigan and beyond.

“I think people are going to find their niches and figure out where they fit in,” Kennedy said. “People’s survival is going to depend on where they figure out they can be competitive.”

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