Thursday, March 1, 2018

From Cultivate to Collaborate

Cultivate brewing guru Kuma Ofori-Mensa and owner Ryan Wallace.

In just a few short years, Cultivate Coffee and TapHouse in Ypsilanti’s Depot Town has established itself as a premier community gathering place, not to mention a good spot to get a finely roasted cup of joe or a cold and foamy glass of beer. Now, with the addition of longtime brewer Kuma Ofori-Mensa – formerly of Arbor Brewing, Glasshouse Brewing, and Tecumseh Brewing – Cultivate is setting its sights on even bigger things: a regular collaboration with different breweries to produce exclusive new beers for customers to enjoy. I caught up with Kuma recently to talk about this unique new collaboration program.

Cultivate isn’t a brewery, so why did they hire a brewer?

Ryan [Wallace, Cultivate owner] started the brewing collaboration program several months ago, and it’s reached a point where he wants to make it a regular part of the brand here. But he doesn’t have time to flesh it out himself. The dude is busy – like he’s always doing something. I’m not even sure he sleeps. I know for a fact he rarely eats.

A pretty common thing among business owners…

Right! So I got hired on to take over this collaboration program as part of my full-time responsibilities. I also work shifts behind the bar and make sure the draft lines are clean.

Can you explain how the collaboration program works?

We come up with a recipe first, then we approach a brewery where we definitely can work with them to create that specific recipe. If there’s a brewery that excels at IPAs, we’ll go to that brewery, or there’s a brewery that’s good at stouts, we’ll go there – that kind of thing. We’re always seeking out places where we already know someone, and thankfully between me and Ryan that’s a lot of someones. Then we ask if it’s something they have time and want to brew. If yes, we go back and forth on the recipe, and we’re open – we say, “Look, if you think the recipe sucks, let’s change it.” There’s no reason any of us should try to sell something we’re not proud of.

Then it’s a matter of getting to the point of where they can say "We have these ingredients, we’re happy with the proportions, we’re happy with the targets, let’s brew it." We plan a brew day and Ryan and I go out to the brewery, though with Ryan being so busy it eventually will probably be just me. After that, there’s follow-up communication about the fermentation and any secondary additions – whether we’re dry-hopping or adding coffee, tea, or whatever. We try to find things in-house that we make to add to the beers to give them characteristic flavors.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Two Local Beer Faves Nominated in USA Today's "10 Best" Survey

HOMES owner Tommy Kennedy and head brewer Nick Panchamé.

USA Today runs an annual "10 Best" Readers' Choice survey, and it just so happens that Ann Arbor's own HOMES Brewery is up for Best Brewery in the 2018 edition. Not only that, but the Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival, a major Ypsilanti event, is in the running for Best Beer Festival.

There are 20 nominees in each category, so only half can make the final "10 Best" list. Readers can vote once a day for their favorites, and voting closes on St. Patrick's Day (that's March 17 for you n00bs). As of this writing, HOMES is sitting at No. 5 in its category and the Summer Beer Festival is No. 10.

Let's get both of them to No. 1, or as close as we can, eh? Dilly dilly, or something! Vote early, vote often here: HOMES | Summer Beer Festival.

(You can read more about HOMES in this feature I wrote for the October/November 2017 issue of Great Lakes Brewing News.)

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

2018 Ann Arbor Oberon Pub Crawl Is March 26

Mmm, Oberon.
Oberon Day will be here before you know it – Monday, March 26, to be exact – and with it, a beloved Ann Arbor tradition: the Downtown (mostly) Oberon Pub Crawl! Bell's and Rave Associates have released the schedule for this year, and it's a wee bit different from last year, so look close:

Join the merry band of Oberonites as they make their way across Ann Arbor, dressed to the nines and ready to drain a few pints in their quest to welcome the return of spring in Michigan. Hey, it beats working.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Polar Bear Day Returns to Grizzly Peak February 19

Never mind the Winter Olympics, Grizzly Peak's annual Polar Bear Day is Monday, February 19, and it's the perfect opportunity for winter warriors of all stripes to strut their stuff.

Brave the elements on the Grizzly patio between 4 and 7 p.m. and be rewarded with $1 draft beers and discounted food specials. Unlike previous years, the event is open to all, not just Mug Club members, though if you're a Mug Clubber, you'll receive some special GP swag. Dress warm and come early as space is limited.

Other upcoming Grizzly Peak events to be on the lookout for include Brewer's Night from 6-9 p.m. on March 6 at the Old German bar, featuring the release of Maylem, a strong ale brewed on-site, and the annual Mug Club Homebrew Competition on April 23.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Arbor Brewing Refreshes Brand, Will Distribute Cans Statewide

Image courtesy of Arbor Brewing.

In addition to the recent announcement that they will be opening a Plymouth location, Arbor Brewing has more big news. Here it is, in their own words:
YPSILANTI – Arbor Brewing Company announced today that it is switching its beer packaging from bottles to cans to offer  customers an even higher quality and sustainable package for its award-winning  craft brews. Along with new packaging, the 22-year-old brewery unveils a fresh, new look.

Started in Ann Arbor in 1995, Arbor Brewing expanded into a production brewery in Ypsilanti in 2006 and has been distributing its beer in bottles ever since. In January 2018, the brewery is making the switch to package its year-round and seasonal beers in aluminum cans, while its sour series will remain in 500 mL bottles.

The first three beers to be launched in cans are Strawberry Blonde, Euchre Pils, and Buzzsaw IPA, which are hitting store shelves now, and will be statewide by the end of the month. Arbor Brewing will release many  favorite seasonal beers in cans throughout 2018, alongside a few new beers.

Arbor Brewing made the decision to transition to cans for several reasons.

Quality – The impact on the beer was the most important. Packaging in cans increases the quality and freshness of the beer by reducing exposure to oxygen and sunlight, both of which contribute to a shorter shelf life. Cans allow the brewery to better deliver brewery-fresh beer to its customers across the state.

Pack-ability – Cans travel better, making it more convenient and safer for consumers to take their Arbor Brewing beer with them - hiking, kayaking, boating, tailgating, etc.

Sustainability – Arbor Brewing has been strongly committed to environmental stewardship for over two decades. Cans are 100 percent recyclable, and have a lighter carbon footprint than bottles, thanks in part to being lighter when empty and packing denser than bottles, reducing fuel in shipping.

The cans also feature a new look for the brewery.

“This is the first major branding change in the brewery’s 22-year history. In addition to sporting an updated logo, the cans feature new artwork and bright, eye-catching colors,” said Mike Messink, managing partner, Arbor Brewing Company. “The new packaging includes an “Ypsi Made” stamp to emphasize the production brewery’s roots in Ypsilanti, and calls out its 1995 origins, which place it as one of the early pioneers in the Michigan craft brewing industry,” Messink added.

These changes are the latest at the brewery since becoming part of Michigan-based Farm + Ferment in May 2017. Since the acquisition, the brewery has been investing in new equipment and technology.

“Our focus has been on the continuous improvement of the quality of our beer, and to give our brewers the tools to explore styles and ingredients as craft beer continues to evolve,” said Messink.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Local Malt On Tap at Area Breweries

Grizzly Peak head brewer Duncan Williams and Macon Creek Malt House co-owner Zach Goldenberg. Photo: Macon Creek Malt House

This just in over the transom:
In the works since 2015, Macon Creek Malt House in Saline has recently opened its doors to home brewers, commercial brewers, distillers, and artisanal food manufacturers. The rebirth of the corner brewery and the rise of craft distilleries has made Michigan one of the country’s leaders in the craft beverage industry. While recent years have shown enormous growth in hops production, the primary ingredient in craft beer – malted barley – is still largely imported. Macon Creek Malt House is bringing craft malting to Michigan, connecting small farmers with small brewers to produce a truly local beer.

Salt Springs Brewery, a farm-to-table restaurant and brewery in Saline, was eager to try them out. Ed Brosius, head brewer, recently brewed a maibock using Macon Creek’s pale Munich malt. The beer, named Macon Creek Maibock, will be on tap in December.

Duncan Williams, head brewer at Grizzly Peak Brewing Company in Ann Arbor, has also brewed with Macon Creek’s pale Munich malt, as well as their pilsner malt. Duncan invited Macon Creek maltsters Zach Goldenberg and Austin Wertheimer to assist with brewing back in October. Macon Rose Pale Ale is now on tap. This well-balanced pale ale features all Michigan ingredients: malt from Macon Creek Malt House and hops from Two Rose Hop Farm in Manchester.

Original Gravity Brewing Company in Milan and Poison Frog Brewery in Jackson will also be featuring beers made with Macon Creek’s malts this winter. Next week, Original Gravity will release a session IPA with malted rye, spelt, and Macon Creek’s pale munich. Poison Frog Brewery is currently brewing both a cream ale and a classic American pilsner with local malts.

All of Macon Creek Malt House’s grains are grown in Michigan. “We currently buy from five farms in Southeast Michigan. That list will get longer as we increase production. In 2018, we’ll have barley grown right here in Saline,” says Megan Goldenberg, owner of Macon Creek. Megan manages contracting with local growers and other general business activities, while her husband, Zach, manages malt production with Austin Wertheimer.

Home brewers are also buying local grains directly from Macon Creek Malt House during their “open hours” and through their online store ( To learn more about Macon Creek’s efforts to support truly local craft beverages, visit them on Thursday, December 14, between 4pm and 8pm at their malt house, 781 W. Michigan Ave., Saline.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Learn Local Beer History and Get Great Christmas Gifts

Two beer guys.

Christmas season is upon us, and that means you're probably starting to think, "Oh, crap. What am I going to get for [insert name of friend or relative here]?"

Allow me to make a splendid suggestion. The perfect gift is within reach when you join Steve Johnson, proprietor of Motor City Brew Tours, and me this Thursday, November 30 (tomorrow), at Liberty Street Brewing in Plymouth for a tour-de-force talk about the beer histories of Detroit and Ann Arbor. Then, just about the time we've bored you to sleep piqued your curiosity to an extreme, you can pick up copies of "Ann Arbor Beer: A Hoppy History of Tree Town Brewing" and "Detroit Beer: A History of Brewing in the Motor City" for that special someone (or someones) who deserves the best. We'll also sign them, making them priceless. The awesomeness begins at 7 p.m., and you can register for free here or, most likely, just show up. We're easy that way.

On Monday, December 4, Steve and I take our beer-and-pony show to the Chelsea Alehouse for another 7 p.m. chat and signing. Register for that one here.

Still on the fence? You can get an idea of how amazingly entertaining we are by listening to this podcast.

This Christmas, give the gift of local beer history books written by a pair of desperate alcoholics acclaimed authors, all while broadening your own horizons, or at least drinking some good beer.