The Making of a Michigan Beer Hit
How Old Nation’s M-43 New England IPA became a success story
M-43 has taken the craft beer world bystorm since its introduction less than a year ago, and it shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, when this year’s numbers are released, the owners expect Old Nation Brewing Co. will make the top 10 list of breweries, by volume, in the state.
We asked Travis Fritts, one of the co-owners and brewers at the Williamston-based brewery, to provide insight into how the hazy, New England-style IPA became a success story.
Fritts and co-brewer Nate Rykse took a measured approach to creating M-43 before selling it out of the brewery’s pub in October 2016 and moving it to market last February. They relied on 30-plus years of combined brewing experience to adapt their approach while producing award-winning classic styles and developing new fan favorites.
“The inspiration behind M-43 was a blend between the drinkability of a continental-style beer like a lager and the highly hopped flavors of an American IPA,” Fritts says. “We want to push the levels of what’s acceptable in a beer while still maintaining drinkability and quality.”
Fritts notes that the brewing world has changed dramatically in the last 10 years.
“The days of top-down brewery production and distribution are over,” he says. “With new breweries continuing to open, the willingness to try something new is pushing styles and flavor profiles in new directions. It is no longer a simple case of the brewer telling the distributor what they are making and then moving it to the stores — consumers are walking into stores and asking for product, which is then passed on to distributors.
“Good distributors listen and send word back to breweries. Information is traveling both ways.”
Social media and feedback from consumers are also important, Fritts says. “People are interested in what we’re doing, and want to know that you’re thinking about the product,” he says. “Of course, some ideas presented to us don’t fit with what we want to achieve, but it’s still good to listen.”
The final piece of the success puzzle is maintaining a price point that makes sense both for the brewery and for consumers.
“We’re hitting margins with the current pricing, although many people are telling us we could be charging more,” Fritts says. “It would feel as if I were cheating people doing that. We make the necessary money to purchase ingredients and pay the bills while keeping customers happy; that’s important.”
The puzzle is fitting together nicely. Fritts says M-43 is using 85 percent of the brewery’s production capacity, and they’re maxed out. “We have bulked up as much as we can with our current system,” he says. “We’re in a good place because we built a larger facility than we originally anticipated we would need, but we’ve hit the ceiling. We’ve also bulked up the staff as much as we can to meet demand.”
They’re still tinkering around the edges. Old Nation followed M-43 in the “New Orthodox” IPA series with Boxer (NEIPA) and Greenstone (APA). These beers are variations on what made M-43 a success, while highlighting the differences using different ingredients.
Fritts considers this series much in line with jazz musicians playing variations on a song and expanding the composition.
Old Nation is expanding production. At press time, they were purchasing more equipment.
“We’re fortunate to be in a position where we could go out and secure financing for an expansion,” Fritts says. “But we’re making sure that that is the right decision.”