Craft Beer Conversation: What Makes Michigan Beer Stand Out?

"You can really tell how much work and dedication the area puts into their beer."

WWJ News
November 15, 2019 - 12:39 am
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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.

(WWJ) -- Over the last three months, WWJ's Zach Clark has been exploring the craft beer scene all across metro Detroit. From breweries and brewpubs to bottle shops and beer tours, each stop along the way has offered a unique insight as to what's happening in the beer world in Michigan, one of the leading states when it comes to the craft.

Zach has been curious --  what makes Michigan craft beer stand out? Why is this state so unique in its beer offerings?

Mike Didio of Blake's Hard Cider says a lot of the success of local brands -- including Blake's -- comes from the support of independent retailers and bars.

"Especially in metro Detroit, you can’t throw a stone and not hit a party store," Didio says. "In Michigan alone, we have so many of these independent retailers that love to support our brand, and it’s a neighborhood store. There’s a reason there’s one every stone’s throw away -- because those same people from that neighborhood that are going there, and that’s how you create your fans. The folks shopping at a chain aren’t necessarily always there to buy alcohol."

"The Beer Sherpa" at 8 Degrees Plato -- a Midtown Detroit bottle shop-tap room combination -- says it’s dedication from brewers that makes it stand out.

"When I think about the ethos of beer made here, I would say there’s definitely a lot of attention to the craft in it -- and that’s going to be with the whole Michigan industry -- but we have the opportunity and have had the opportunity to go into some of these breweries and have seen the process," he told WWJ.

Steve Johnson, owner of Motor City Brew Tours, says when craft beer first started to boom in the Detroit area, he saw more than anything German style beers. Now, it's all about experimentation and variation -- something Zach has seen at every stop on his craft beer journey. From a mango-habanero cider at Blake's, to the guava IPA at Nain Rouge Brewery, and Ron Jefferies' ever-changing sour beers at Jolly Pumpkin.

The Beer Sherpa says it's impressive how much work Michigan brewers put into honing their craft.

"You can really tell how much work and dedication the area puts into their beer," he said. "And then it comes back around to us. They want to share it with the people in their community too. Detroit does a really good job of not only getting out there and being present and showing people a different side of Detroit they may have had their own opinions on before, but the people in Detroit also are able to come back to those opinions and go, ‘here let me show you something a little bit different and let me show you how dedicated we are.'"

"When you bring it to the beer, it’s really just this hands-on dedication, everybody here is really proud of what they do. I don’t know if that lends itself to a particular style of beer or a particular craft, but I would say just the pure dedication to the craft is really the most important part and what I see a lot in the industry."

As the beer scene continues to evolve in metro Detroit,  Johnson is excited about the growing diversity.

"A diversity of customers. As we get more women and more minorities in this industry, we’re going to continue to see even more diversity of beer styles, more ideas coming out," Johnson said.

He says the evolution over the last decade has been "amazing." If you had asked him who his main customer base would be when he first started the brewery tours a decade ago, Johnson would have said mostly home brewers, and white, male "beer geeks."

"Now, my customer is 50/50 male and female. Little by little, I have different ethnic groups that are coming on tours and I have women just as jazzed about it as guys," Johnson said. "As we get more women and more minorities in this industry, we’re going to continue to see even more diversity of beer styles, more ideas coming out."

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 Zach.Clark@entercom.com