From Humble Beginnings

Kuhnhenn Brewing Co. Plans Major Expansion

By now, almost every Michigan craft beer fan knows that Kuhnhenn Brewing Co. rose from the ashes of a former hardware store in Warren. The big box hardware stores were pushing the independents out of business. The family passion of homebrewing provided a way for the Kuhnhenn family to grow a new business from one of the small sections of the hardware store they were about to close. Turning the former store that offered brewing supplies into a brewery was a great decision.

Some 15 years later, Kuhnhenn is expanding. They plan to open a production facility and taproom in Clinton Township in the first quarter of 2014. Hour Detroit’s Michigan Beer Blog was granted access to the new facility, formerly an Evergreen home and garden center.

Bret Kuhnhenn and Jon Piepenbrok, the director of marketing and sales at Kuhnhenn, met us at the new facility while awaiting a delivery of some production equipment. The truck carrying the equipment was over an hour late and Kuhnhenn was almost immediately called away on some brewery business, but that didn’t stop us from touring the building.

Piepenbrok provided a guided tour through the 35,000-square-foot building while explaining the plans for each section of the building with as much detail as he could. It required a good imagination to picture the fantastic ideas while strolling through the nearly vacant building – but the plans sound very interesting.

The most important aspect of the new facility is the addition of new (to them), high-volume brewing equipment; they are projecting an annual 20,000-barrel brewing capacity. In addition to substantially increasing their beer volume output, the new facility will also be home to their packaging and distribution efforts. Included in the plan is an aggressive increase in producing and packaging the wide variety of mead. New bottling and high-speed packaging equipment is starting to arrive from the various trade shows and auctions the Kuhnhenn family has been travelling to over the previous year. Kuhnhenn is also looking to bring canning operations to the facility.

Kuhnhenn Brewing Co. will be packaging their beer for sales at retail outlets, initially focusing in southeast Michigan and expanding statewide as production and sales allow. Their marketing plan focuses on the production of four year-round brands, three seasonals, and some limited-release brews. The four year-round brands are tentatively scheduled to be Loonie Kuhnie Pale Ale (the brewery’s best selling beer), DRIPA (the 2012 World Beer Cup IPA Gold Medal winner), The Fluffer (session IPA), and Hefeweiss (hefeweizen). The seasonal and limited-release beers will be selected from their diverse menu and new recipes.

The expansion will also provide a second tasting room for Kuhnhenn beer, wine, and mead. It will occupy the east end of the building, and will incorporate both indoor and outdoor spaces, which Piepenbrok plans to have open year-round. The patio will face Groesbeck Hwy., and with some creative landscaping and construction, will provide a quiet exterior space to complement the mostly glass-enclosed indoor seating area.

The entrance to the facility will allow patrons to view the brew house and (eventually) a distillery.

One of the great features of the new tasting area will be the proximity of the taps to the cold room. None of the draught lines will be more than three feet long to provide the freshest, best-tasting product possible.

Plans for food service at the new tasting room are still being developed. Ideas range from matching the current food policy at the original location to a small kitchen or even food trucks. Fortunately for beer lovers, maintaining the high level of the quality of the beer is the top priority.

Piepenbrok also discussed the possibility of partnering up with other local breweries to provide bus services for mini brew tours, event shuttles, and brewing collaborations.

Kuhnhenn Brewing Co. will continue to contribute to the economic turn-around of Macomb County by staying close to their roots. The new facility will employ an additional 20-30 people in both the tasting room and production area. The original location will also remain open as the pilot brewery for small-batch experimentation as well at the Kuhnhenn’s foray into distillation.

As the pictures show, the Kuhnhenn crew has their work cut out for themselves. The building remodel, brewery set up, and tasting room construction are lofty goals to get done within the next several months. Their proven track record makes it very difficult to bet against them.

The Michigan Beer Blog will be monitoring the expansion progress and providing updates as the project continues. Keep an eye out for what promises to be an excellent grand opening event — hope to see you there!