Monday, 02 October 2017 10:20

Behind the Barrels: Sitting down with the brewers of West Michigan

Written by  Kelly Brown
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John Stewart, Director of Brewing at Perrin Brewing Co.

From New Holland Brewing to Saugatuck and now at Perrin, John Stewart’s brewing career spans the surge of the craft beer industry. His passion for brewing, especially in Michigan, has landed him a spot as head honcho of one of Michigan’s finest breweries. 


What are the pros for brewing at a place like Perrin?

Each day brings its own issues and adventures when working at a production brewery. That’s part of what keeps the job exciting for me. I enjoy the people I get to work with and the team that we have put together here. The beer will only be as good as the people making it. You can make the best wort in the world, but if the yeast isn’t healthy, you get bad beer. It’s the same with people. 

If you could convince Perrin to brew one beer, what would it be? 

An IPA brewed with light stable hop extracts, packaged in a clear glass 40 oz. bottle. 

What’s your favorite beer to drink?

If I had to pick a favorite, or ‘if you could only drink one beer,’ the style of beer would be a classic German Oktoberfest lager. Clean, technically solid German lagers were one of my first loves in beer. I still think I could drink one on the hottest summer day or coldest winter night. 

Do you think craft beer has the longevity to stick around for a long time?

People, community and quality. Again: people, community and quality. Everyone looks at ownership, branding or beer styles being offered, but if you don’t support people (including your own), community (your lifeblood) and quality (the trust built with the community), then no brewery will have longevity in an up-and-down market. Winter is coming.

What are your thoughts on the current state of Beer City?

To make a long answer short, there is still plenty of room for brewpubs and on-premise sales. Going to other cities like Portland and Denver shows that cities can support larger numbers of breweries than we currently have. Now, opening up a regional brewery and trying to get packaged beer onto store shelves is another issue in today’s competitive market. 

Finally, a piece of advice for anyone looking to get into brewing?

Brewing requires mostly cleaning and sanitizing. Be prepared to clean and then clean again. Be prepared for long hours. Put the beer first and your greatest compensation will be enjoying the final product.


Laura Houser, Brewer at Founders Brewing Co.

In a male-dominated industry, Laura Houser has made a name for herself. A brewer at Founders Brewing since 2004, Laura has stood the test of time and continues to be one of the leading women in the brewing industry. 


How did you get into brewing?

I first got into brewing when my sister gave me a Mr. Beer Brewer Kit for a Christmas present in 2001. I started working at Founders in 2004. I love brewing because it is equal parts creative, scientific, intuitive, physical and cerebral. It’s rewarding to enjoy the fermented fruits of my own labor. 

What, for you, are the pros and cons of brewing on the scale of somewhere like Founders?

As Founders has grown, so has all the brewery equipment. It’s an exciting challenge to stay proficient and knowledgeable about everything. When I first started brewing, we had one brewhouse — now we have five. Even though they are all essentially the same, they each have their own varied nuance. Yet, I enjoy brewing in all of them. 

What’s your favorite beer to brew?

All the different brands of beer I brew are like my children. Some folks may think I have a favorite, but like any good mom, I will never admit that I have a favorite, let alone which one it is.

Do you think craft beer has the longevity to stick around?

Trends come and go, but beer is here to stay. People love fermented beverages, and as long as there are people around to brew them, there will be people to drink them. 

What was the first craft beer you fell in love with?

Founders Porter, because it is really rich, dark and sexy. 

What are your thoughts on the current state of Beer City?

If you make good, clean, tasty beer, people will come and drink it. If you don’t, they won’t. It’s as simple as that. No more. No less. 

Is there a brewer from anywhere that you really respect?

I respect all my fellow women, because they have to work twice as hard to be thought of as half as good in this male-dominated industry. 

A piece of advice for anyone looking to get into brewing?

Good brewing is primarily about cleanliness and sanitation.  If you can excel at those, then the rest will fall into place.


Matt Peterson, Brewer at Cedar Springs Brewing

This year, Cedar Springs Brewing Company took home two gold medals at the 2017 Los Angeles International Beer Competition. The two beers were the Kusterer Heller Weissbier and the Kusterer Weizenbock, and helping to make it all happen is Matt Peterson. One of a handful of brewers at CSBC, Peterson works hard to bring traditional Bavarian ales to West Michigan. 


How did you get into brewing? What do you enjoy about it?

I got into brewing because the cost of my favorite imported weissbier went up $0.50 for a 500-mL bottle. I heard a lot of commercials on the radio for a home brew shop and thought, ‘I can do that.’ What do I like about being a brewer? What is there not to like? I get to create my versions of traditional styles of beer.

What are the best parts about working for CSBC?

Dave Ringler and I are on the same page. We both have a lot of love for traditional brewing styles. (And) it is a very open and encouraging work environment.

What’s your favorite beer to brew?

I enjoy all our beers. The Original Weissbier and our Pilsner I tend to gravitate to, but I also love our seasonal beers. 

How about favorite beer to drink?

Probably Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. (You) always know what you’re going to get.

Will craft beer fade away? If so, what will you be up to?

I believe that craft beer is here to stay. So, I don’t believe I’ll be joining the professional rodeo clown circuit any time soon.

What makes Michigan a great place to brew beer?

Michiganders. They are so proud of ‘Made in Michigan.’ Who else is going to stand out in the dead cold of winter in Michigan to drink just as cold beer at an outside beer festival where it is likely snowing? Between the Brewers Guild and the people of Michigan that attend the festivals, I would not change a thing about the beer culture here.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone looking to brew, what would it be?

Never stop learning or cleaning. 

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