Railtown Brewing Co. founders Justin Buiter and Gim Lee like to say their year-old West Michigan craft brewery sits “in the middle of nowhere and between everything.”
Tucked away in an unassuming strip mall along 68th Street, Railtown Brewing has managed to eke out a solid reputation among the craft beer cognoscenti, all while operating on a shoestring budget.
Instead of having the flashiest taproom or branding, the brewery instead invested in the quality of its liquid, focusing on buying equipment that will ensure its beers live up to the owners’ high standards.
“We really break all the molds,” Buiter said.
Buiter and Lee first met while working in the I.T. department at Family Christian Stores and they immediately clicked over their shared passions for homebrewing and golf. They both left the Grand Rapids-based bookseller about the same time and decided to partner in a brewery.
But first, Buiter installed a pilot brewing system in his basement so they could perfect their recipes and mimic the system they would eventually be brewing on at Railtown.
|Railtown Brewing Co.
3555 68th St. SE, Dutton
Hours: 3–10 p.m., Mon.–Tues.; 2-10 p.m., Weds.; 2 p.m.–12 a.m., Thurs.-Fri.; noon-12 a.m., Sat.
The reason: They knew they couldn’t afford much room for error once the self-financed business got off the ground.
Their work, it seems, has paid off as sales have steadily increased since the brewery officially opened in December 2014. After starting with a capacity for 150 barrels of beer, the company invested in equipment last year pushing capacity to the 700-barrel mark, Buiter explained.
“Things have really taken off,” he said. “It’s been a battle just to keep up. We try to take it a quarter at a time, but we’re already where we thought we’d be in year five of our plan. It’s tough to plan for the future when your goals have just been dust in the wind. … We’re going to keep growing as long as we’re having fun.”
That growth was spurred in part by keg sales at the brewery as well as getting distributed to 14 locations in West Michigan and Lansing last fall.
This year the brewery will also start releasing 22-ounce bottles of select beers for sale at the taproom, starting with the Really Good Mooed Milk Stout, an imperial version of one of the company’s oldest recipes.
Plans for 2016 include an expansion to open up more space for the taproom and the cramped brewhouse. Adding more brewing space could also make it feasible to add a barrel-aging program.
“Hopefully, the expansion will allow us to get a barrel or two,” Lee said.
Railtown also makes use of as many local ingredients as possible, especially hops from Greenville-based Hopyards of Kent and malted grains from Pilot Malt House in nearby Byron Center. When Revue visited, the brewery had just recently tapped its Grinning Mitten double IPA as a showcase of those local ingredients.
Mainstays and frequently tapped beers include:
- Bike Ride Blonde, a hopped wheat beer that stands up to the rest of the lineup (meaning, it wasn’t an afterthought like so many iterations of the style seem to be).
- Shadyside IPA, an American IPA made with C-hops (Citra, Cascade, Centennial and Chinook).
- Citra Warrior, a smooth 9.6% ABV double IPA made with 36 pounds of honey.
- Whirlypits, a Scotch ale that’s got a hint of smoke.
- Good Mooed Milk Stout, the brewery’s lightest beer by ABV that’s full-bodied and made with lactose, giving it a creaminess and accentuating the coffee and chocolate notes.
For March, the brewery expects to release its Nitpicker ESB, Belgian Hipster Trappe (a Belgian Strong Ale), and Pow Right In The Kizberry (a fruit beer made with raspberries).
Locals also flock to Railtown for music. The brewery offers bands a chance to play live every Saturday, with shows booked almost every weekend through May.
“We love beer and music and we’ve had a fantastic turnout for bands,” Buiter said, noting the slim options for local music in the area.
While they’ve dedicated their livelihoods to brewing, it’s still difficult for Lee and Buiter to let go of their roots as I.T. professionals. They like to monitor social media sites like Facebook and Untappd to ensure customers are having positive experiences at their establishment, and if there is a problem, they want to address it quickly.
“We want everyone to have the best experience possible,” Buiter said. “We want to be the brewery where we remember your name. It’s the small things like that.”