Craft Beer Conversation: Harsens Island Brewery Combines History, Laid-Back Vibes

"It’s a very relaxed lifestyle, so I like to make beers that are easy to enjoy, easy to drink

WWJ News
October 10, 2019 - 9:55 pm

WWJ’s Zach Clark is searching metro Detroit for the best of the best when it comes to craft beer. On a quest for the best tastes, funkiest brews and most unique experiences on the craft beer scene, “Craft Beer Conversation” will be a weekly series highlighting the area’s best. Be sure to check it out every Friday.

MARYSVILLE, Mich. (WWJ) – Brian Phinney brews his beer at Harsens Island Brewery with one thing in mind – capturing the essence of his home.

Phinney grew up on Harsens Island and his family has roots dating back more than a century to the small island near the mouth of the St. Clair River. In fact, his great grandparents met on the Tashmoo Steamer, a steamship that operated in the early 1900s, carrying folks from Detroit to the island for a relaxing time away from the city.

That story is the inspiration behind one of his beers – aptly named the Tashmoo Steamer, a moderately malty California Common.

"The island actually used to be like an amusement park back in the late 1800s, early 1900s. Our family’s been there ever since," Phinney told WWJ’s Zach Clark. "We live there now, so we wanted to carry the theme of island living, island lifestyle throughout all of our beers."

Harsens Island has a population of around 2,000 people who live a laid-back Midwestern vacation lifestyle, Phinney says. So he wants to create beer that reflects that. He opened Harsens Island Brewery in Marysville back in 2015 and says he likes to keep the essence of his beers on the more traditional side, something the large portion of his customer base is used to.

"It’s a very relaxed lifestyle, so I like to make beers that are easy to enjoy, easy to drink – stuff that’s a little lighter in body, lighter in color, but still has a lot of flavor to it," Phinney said.

Just as the Tashmoo Steamer may be a recognizable name to many, so too is their German Helles Bock – dubbed "The Hump," after a popular fishing spot on Lake St. Clair.

While Phinney has a reliable stable of beers like the Tashmoo Steamer, The Hump and Stan The Man farmhouse ale, he says he enjoys experimenting with seasonal brews.

"I try to keep a good variety of styles. I try to keep a dark, I try to keep something light, I try to keep something Belgian. In the summertime we tend to do more fruit-style beers, so I would do a watermelon wheat. In the winter time, we’ll have more darks on," Phinney said.

So what will be on-tap in the near future? Phinney says he’s bringing back a sweet milk stout made with Vietnamese coffee that was a big seller last winter.

Harsens Island Brewery has an adventurous food menu to go along with the wide range of beers inside the nautical, island-themed taproom, located at 808 Gratiot Boulevard in Marysville.

For a brewery so keen on history, it’s fitting that Phinney has collaborated with Port Huron Museums for an upcoming beer tasting event at the Carnegie Center. What will they be sampling? A new, specially brewed “Edison Lite” to commemorate the 140-year anniversary of the commercial light bulb, invented by Thomas Edison, who grew up in Port Huron.

For more on that event and more about Harsens Island Brewery, listen to Zach Clark’s full conversation with Brian Phinney and Andrew Kercher, manager of community engagement for Port Huron Museums in the podcast below.

Zach's Brew Review:

"The Hump -- named after a spot popular with fishermen in Lake St. Clair -- is as a Helles Bock should be: it packs the punch of a traditional bock but comes in lighter and a bit more gentle on the palette. It's easy to see why this is Harsens Island's best seller. It's low in IBU and ABV, so have a couple next time you are in Marysville."

Listen to Zach Clark's full conversation with Brian Phinney and Andrew Kercher:

Have a favorite brewery or brewpub you want Zach to highlight in his “Craft Beer Conversation” series? Reach out on Twitter -- @ZachEClark -- or via email at