In Michigan, Craft Beer has So Much Penetration It Needs to Wear Knee Pads

Michigan Craft Beer

Bob Pease, president of the Brewers Association, is either a nefarious sorcerer with a crystal ball that reveals the future, in which case he should be arrested and burned at the stake, or just a pretty smart guy with a finger on the US craft beer industry’s pulse.

Speaking about 2016 craft trends in a recent issue of DRAFT Magazine, Pease said:

“We anticipate a busy 2016 filled with more localization of craft beer and opportunities in the marketplace. Craft lovers will demand more beers from their favorite brewers, resulting in more sessionable options, as well as overall continued growth via brewery openings, increased market share, and marketplace opportunities–think channels like convenience stores, continued penetration of stadiums, etc.”

Over the past few weeks I’ve seen every prong of this informed prediction manifested in kind across the metro Detroit area. Of course, to be clear, the wheels have turned in these directions for years now in Michigan, as they have across the United States, but the acceleration is particularly noteworthy in these parts. I think the bubble may burst at some point, but that day doesn’t seem near.

According to a report published in the Michigan Beer Guide, Michigan beer comprised “just” 8.6% of the state’s market in 2015, which amounted to a 2.5% YoY increase. That’s not a bad number and it’s one certainly trending in a positive direction, but it’s also one that shows there’s still ample room for growth. The state issued 56 new microbrewery licenses in 2015, as well — brewing licenses are segmented into Michigan brewer, microbrewery, and brewpub — and overall Michigan breweries cranked out more than 500,000 barrels of brew for the first time ever.

By year’s end there’ll be nearly 350 active breweries in Michigan, which speaks to Pease’s thoughts on greater localization of craft beer. To cite a small slice of the state, a wave of new breweries have indeed flooded Oakland County (and nearby environs) in the past few years.

River's Edge Brewing Co

Beer Board at River’s Edge Brewing Co.

Witch’s Hat Brewing Company, opened in 2011 and already relocated to a bigger space, put tiny South Lyon (my hometown) on the map. In Milford, River’s Edge Brewing Company bagged a number of significant awards in its first two years of operation, including a silver medal at the 2015 Great American Beer Fest for its Dubbel Entendre. In Howell there’s Block Brewing Company (its luscious Blood Red Orange IPA alone is worth a visit) and Eternity Brewing. Drafting Table Brewing Company just opened in Wixom; Kickstand Brewing Company set up down the road in Commerce; Draught Horse Brewery landed in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it New Hudson; this is not a complete list.

Draught Horse Brewery

Draught Horse Brewery

Any semi-respectable grocery store or party store–the latter local parlance for convenience store–has a proper selection of Michigan craft beers that often includes mix and match bottles for build-your-own sixers. Non-descript Country Acres in South Lyon continues to reinvent itself as one of the area’s premier craft beer party stores. The Busch’s chain of grocery stores stocks as much if not more local craft beer as it does macros. I picked up a few bottles from Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales on sale at Meijer, which has a fantastic craft selection. Brews from Atwater Beer, Bell’s Brewery, and Short’s Brewing Company filled the end caps at a random, everyday party store near Wolverine Lake of all places. Yep, stalwart craft supporters like the great Beer Baron have more and more company these days, and that’s a good thing, at least for consumers.

Again, this craft proliferation is not unique to Michigan, but in my personal experience, the difference between what I’m seeing today versus what I saw here more than 2.5 years ago is stark.

Finally, and again true to Pease’s ’16 predictions, Michigan stadiums are coming around, too. Last year Fifth Third Ballpark, home to the AA West Michigan Whitecaps, launched a craft beer clubhouse with 16 Michigan beers on tap. The Palace of Auburn Hills introduced a “Craft Beer Series” in its FanDuel Club 300 and has a craft brewhouse in the general concourse. At Comerica Park, Tigers fans can grab cans from Bell’s, Atwater, and other Michigan breweries from a walk-up stand that looks like a party store. There’s a dedicated Michigan craft beer bar for bottled and draft brews, as well, and single-brewery pop-up stands are scattered around the stadium.

Why drink Molson when you can have, say, a bottle of 8.5% ABV Founders Dirty Bastard for $0.50 more?

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