With our headquarters in Washington DC and the bulk of our correspondents found near America’s top producing craft beer regions on the coasts, it only makes sense for us to start a new series giving all the states their due, featuring breweries large and small, plus the histories behind them.
For the sake of clarity and with an eye toward avoiding any bias, we’re doing this thing alphabetically. We’ve reached our 22nd state on the list, one with many nicknames including Water Wonderland, The Peninsula State, The Mitten State and the official one, The Great Lake State. Also known as “The Wolverine State,” the name is rumored to have been given by either Native Americans or Ohioans due to settlers ravenous acquisition of land. The Wolverine, an intense member of the weasel family, is not at all indigenous to Michigan.
Michigan ranks 10th in total population (over 9.9 million), is ranked 17th in population density and houses 205 craft breweries as of 2015 (an increase of 46 or 22% since 2014) who are represented by the Michigan Brewers Guild. The state ranks 6th in total breweries and 13th in breweries per capita as of 2015, according to the Brewers Association.
The first accounts we could find of brewing in Michigan were in 1829, with the Cleveland Herald reporting beer from Detroit coming into town via the lakes. We also know that home brewing was prevalent in the 1830’s in Kalamazoo, with inexpensive “table beer,” “spruce beer”(featuring spruce oil) and “sugar beer” recipes printed in the Kalamazoo Telegraph.
Darker English ales dominated the landscape until the 1850’s, around the time German immigrants brought lighter Bavarian lager styles to the scene. For it was in 1850 that the one and only Bernard Stroh founded what became the state’s largest and most prominent brewery.
By the mid-1860’s, Detroit was home to over 40 breweries, with Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo fostering larger, increasingly industrial operations as well. From the 1880’s until prohibition hit Michigan (early) in 1917, the lager style continued to flourish, so too the size and number of breweries.
With Michigan being the first to ratify the 21st Amendment in 1933, Detroit beer again boomed with 20 breweries in operation by 1934, but then busting just as quickly, reduced to only 12 by 1938. By 1964, Stroh’s was the only large brewer left in the Motor City, who ultimately sold to Pabst and Miller in 1999.
The oldest existing brewery in the state, Frankenmuth Brewery (founded in 1862), has been renamed multiple times and while it shut down in 1996 due to an F3 Tornado, it reopened in 2003 and still operates in it’s original location.
The oldest microbrewer in the state is Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo. Founded by Larry Bell in 1985, this Michigan stalwart is also the largest craft brewer in the state and 7th largest in the country. While Founders Brewing (opened in Grand Rapids in 1997) creates some of the most beloved suds in the state, they’re now 30% owned by Mahou-San Miguel Group and thus no longer recognized as a craft brewer by the Brewers Association.
11 Michigan Breweries We Like and You Should Check Out
Arbor Brewing (Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti) – Open for over 20 years, Arbor is one of the most established brewers in the state, featuring constantly rotating styles, including stellar Belgians, sours and English ales. The first solar brewery in the state, ABC boasts two locations in the US and in 2012, opened a location in Bangalore, India.
Arcadia Ales (Kalamazoo, Battle Creek) – Another brewer now open for 2 decades, Arcadian has also been wowing palates in two different locations. Known for their big barrel-agedbrews, such as their Cereal Killer Barleywine (twice-medaled at GABF), they also feature well regarded DIPA’s and other strong English styles.
Atwater Brewery (Detroit) – Housed in a nearly century’s old warehouse, Atwater’s brewing process primarily utilizes German equipment to create 200 year old styles. With their popular session-able Vanilla Java Porter, twice-GABF-medalled seasonal Bloktober and the tasty single batch series, Atwater has set the pace for the Detroit scene.
Big Lake Brewing (Holland) – Known for their Ryecoe Rye IPA and my buddy Stevan’s favorite, the Darkstar Coffee Stout, Big Lake has been one of the best rated new brewers in their 3 years of existence. Founded by two brewers with 15 years of brewing experience and a third with a background in wine and mead, they always have something on hand for every taste.
Dark Horse Brewing (Marshall) – This2 time GABF medalist who’s been in business for nearly 20 years and created over 250 styles definitely takes pride in “making bad ass beer.” Scotty Karate is one of the best Scotch ales we’ve had, though their Crooked Tree IPA and various Imperial stouts/porters are not to be missed.
Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales (Dexter, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Traverse City) – One of the newer breweries on this list, they’re also the largest chain of in-state breweries and it all seems to run contrary to their focus: small batch wilds, sour s, saisons and other farmhouse styles. Possibly the most in demand brewer for trades outside state borders, they’re certainly bonafide with 5 GABF medals in their pockets.
Keweenaw Brewing (Houghton) – Brewing since 2004 and one of the first to start canning in 2007, KBC is known for being the best brewery in the Upper Peninsula. With some of the best pub food in the state, it’s worth the trek to Houghton to sample inexpensive pints of their Widow Maker Black Ale and Dark Side of the IPA.
Kuhnhenn Brewing (Warren) – Launched in 2001, Kuhnhenn is more than a brewer of beers, but also of mead and wines. Originally opened as a home brew supply shop in 1998, they’ve collectively brewed over 300 distinct offerings and have raked in an impressive 4 GABF medals along the way.
New Holland Brewing (Holland) – Another Michigan brewer celebrating their 20th Anniversary this year, New Holland has always impressed with their barrel-aged creations and willingness to experiment. Able to nab 6 GABF medals, including 6 silvers, we dig their Carhartt Woodsman Barrel-aged Pale and the seminal Dragon’s Milk.
Odd Side Ales (Grand Haven) – Only in existence for 6 years, Odd Side is one of the fastest growing and best rated brewers in the state. Living up to their name, experimentation and unique flavors are the order of the day. Having had their popular Bean Flicker Blonde Ale and Bourbon Barrel-Aged Mayan Mocha, it’s no surprise to us why success has come so quickly.
Short’s Brewing (Bellaire, Elk Rapids) – Off the beaten path in the Northern part of the Southern Peninsula, Short’s has been one of the most prolific in the state during it’s 12 years in existence, creating nearly 400 recipes. With 4 of their 5 GABF medals awarded for experimental beers and creating beers such as an Imperial Spruce India Pilsner, be prepared for something completely different.
For the full scope of Michigan’s Breweries, check out this map to find more!