Frequent readers of the Michigan Beer Blog, or fans of Michigan craft beer in general, have probably seen references to the Michigan Brewers Guild. It’s an organization founded and maintained by representatives of breweries from across the state. Although the guild’s primary focus is to promote craft beer sales for the breweries, they also have many initiatives that appeal to casual and seasoned beer drinkers alike, such as the four annual beer festivals.
The guild also offers an Enthusiast membership, which gives craft beer lovers some great perks, including discounts at participating member breweries. One of the most fascinating benefits of the membership is access to VIP tours offered at participating breweries. Many tours are free, and provide an inside look at the people and the processes that go into making Michigan craft beer.
I took part in one of these tours recently and had an outstanding time — gaining access to a brewery in a way most beer drinkers rarely see. On the sunny, chilly morning of Saturday, January 4, 2014, a host of beer drinkers huddled together for warmth at the Enthusiast Tour at the Rochester Mills Beer Co. Production Brewery in Auburn Hills. Our host was Eric Briggeman, brew master for Rochester Mills Beer Co., who also serves as the president of the Michigan Brewer’s Guild. This tour occurred the day after a fire at Fifth Third Ballpark in Grand Rapids, where the guild’s Winter Beer Festival will be held in February. Briggeman assured us that the festival would still go on, despite the damage to the park.
The tour group was guided through the massive facility that was opened in 2012, showing us the ins and outs of the production process. Since Rochester Mills is one of the relatively few breweries in the state that cans their beer, even seasoned tour veterans may have had something new to learn here.
There were plenty of interesting sights at the brewery — from a room that holds seven fermentation chambers but has room to expand to up to 45 to a brand new canning line that was installed just weeks ago. The cans slide out onto a platform that’s actually a piece of the basketball court from the Palace of Auburn Hills.
Despite the fact that there were piles of grain bags, old furniture, oak barrels, classic cars, and stacks of empty cans (waiting to be filled) taking up lots of space in the brewery, it still felt very empty. There’s a good reason for that. As Briggeman mentioned, they wanted room to grow. With the explosive growth of the craft beer industry, many brewers tend to make a small expansion after a few years when they hit capacity, and then are forced to expand again a few years after that. Rochester Mills Beer Co. plans to avoid that pitfall by giving themselves plenty of space to expand into should the need arise.
It was an interesting tour at an exciting time for the brewery, and I look forward to many more Enthusiast tours throughout the year.