Saturday, January 14, 2017

HOMES Coming: Inside Ann Arbor's Next Brewery

Owner Tommy Kennedy and head brewer Nick Panchamé of HOMES Brewery.

Like many people in their mid-30s, Tommy Kennedy wondered what was next for him in life. He had a family and a career in health care he enjoyed, but somehow something seemed missing. That something was beer.

"On my 34th birthday – February 20, 2015 – I challenged my wife and a few close friends to help me think of what I could pursue that I would be most passionate about, and we landed on starting a brewery," he says.

Two years of hard work, eight investors, and a loan from Ann Arbor State Bank later, and HOMES Brewery – named for the mnemonic device schoolchildren use to memorize the names of the Great Lakes – is just about ready to open its doors for business.

"We're shooting for late February or March. All the licensing and the unseen work is done, now it's mostly the cosmetic stuff," he says, gesturing toward a pile of lumber stacked haphazardly on the rough, unfinished floor, "And we should probably make some beer."

That job falls to Nick Panchamé, a New Jersey transplant whose most recent gig was at Traverse City's Right Brain Brewery. Panchamé responded to an ad placed by Kennedy, and the two realized immediately they were simpatico. Following a bicoastal road trip to some of America's most respected breweries, including Allagash Brewing in Portland, Maine, and Cascade Brewing in Portland, Oregon, Kennedy and Panchamé honed their vision for HOMES beer.

"We're gonna touch on a lot of styles, but we're really homing in on super-fruity, hop-forward beers, probably lower on the bitter end but very tropical and citrusy," he says. "We're also focusing on wine barrel aged sour beers, using fruit in the barrel and local ingredients."

Panchamé is ready to brew some beer.

For hops, Panchamé notes he has secured contracts for supplies of some of the Zeitgeist-iest varietals, including Mosaic, Citra, Simcoe, and Galaxy, as well as Copper, a new Michigan-grown hop. "We're looking for the crazy, fruity, earthy, all-over-the-place hop profiles," he says.

Panchamé, who expects to begin brewing as early as next week, will work on a 10-barrel steam-fired system from G.W. Kent in Ypsilanti, with customizations from Mike "Beerguyver" O'Brien to make the most efficient use of limited space.

"We tried to get a system that was really compact because our space is so narrow here," he says. "Mike helped with the install and did all the modifications for us."

For example, notes Panchamé, the hot liquor tank and mash tun were combined into one unit to lessen the system's footprint. Another space-saving step involved putting reservoirs for the glycol chilling system in a shipping container situated on the roof of the building.

All in all, Panchamé says, the system has the capacity to produce 90 barrels at one time. "That's pretty good for a small building like this," he adds.

A view from the exterior.

He and Kennedy, a University of Michigan grad originally from Bloomfield Hills, have been homebrewing test batches in Kennedy's garage for the past several months to fine tune their initial offerings, which should take up 10 of the brewery's 20 taps upon launch. The first few batches Panchamé plans to brew will immediately go into barrels to age in the building's unique cellar space.

"This was a Culligan Water building, and they used to make a brine solution down in these pits that they would then load into their trucks and use to clean out customers' water filter systems," he says. "The temperature and humidity down there hold pretty constant, so it's an awesome space for our sour program."

The bar will also offer several varieties of wine as well as spirits from the Ann Arbor Distilling Co. to make simple cocktails. "We're about gathering people together, celebrating community, so if you have someone in your party who doesn't or can't drink beer – my wife is gluten-intolerant, for example – we didn't want that to be an impediment to coming here," says Kennedy.

The brewery will also serve food, under the direction of restaurateur No Hang of No Thai! fame and an executive chef formerly of Tomukun. The menu will be "Asian-inspired street food," says Kennedy, with a focus on flavorful bowls of not-your-average-pub-fare. "We'll be different in that we won't have burgers and pizza, and that may disappoint some people but we're comfortable with providing something a little different."

The planned decor holds with the building's previous industrial use, with a clean, modern look of wood and metal overlaid with colorful painting by Detroit street artist Paolo Pedini. There will be a "rec area" with TVs and games such as darts, and, once the weather is warmer, an outdoor patio space will be added. All told the building capacity is about 100, says Kennedy, with an additional 80 that can be accommodated following a planned buildout.

There are no immediate plans for packaging or distribution, though if down the road that makes sense, then they'll look at it, says Kennedy.

"Right now neither of us really cares to run a straight-up distribution center" or to compete with the big breweries, he says. "It's more about scratching the little itches that are out there."

HOMES Brewery is located at 2321 Jackson Ave. on Ann Arbor's west side. Follow them on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram.


  1. Welcome to the neighborhood. Looking forward to meeting all of you and trying your beers.