Julia Herz High Fives Michigan’s Mighty Craft Beer Scene

By Julia Herz

Let’s face it; if you’re into craft beer and consider yourself beyond the beer beginner, you also likely identify with the activist, supporter, enthusiast or even evangelist label proudly worn by many beer lovers today.

Many who LUV craft brewed beer are very aware that the environment in which breweries grow and thrive is fragile and needs constant support, even beyond the beer lover level—which brings me to Michigan.

I have noticed a handful of happenings in Michigan lately that has inspired this post.

Michigan’s Thriving Craft Beer Culture

Eminem Says it Best

michiganDid you see the Chrysler commercial during the 2011 Super Bowl that starred Eminem? I did, and it stopped me in my tracks—successfully distracting me from the beautiful bomber of Alaskan Smoked Porter I was enjoying. While watching, all I could think of was how some of what the ad narrative stated reminded me of today’s U.S. small and independent craft brewers. America’s brewers have fought their way into the marketplace despite incredible access to market barriers in one of, if not the most, highly taxed and regulated businesses.

That’s What He Said: Lines from the Ad that Stood Out to Me

  • “Good things come to those who work.”
  • “When it comes to luxury, it’s as much about where it’s from as who it’s for.”
  • “Imported from Detroit”

Beer Creation = Job Creation

According to an article from Michigan Live, “While the state’s unemployment rate stood around 12 percent entering this year, breweries, microbreweries and brew pubs from West Michigan to Detroit to Bellaire and Bay City are adding jobs, increasing production and investing in expansions and renovations totaling more than $70 million.” Read the full article.

A Healthy Guild Makes for Healthy Beer Culture

michiganGUILDToday, the state of Michigan boasts close to 100 breweries, and is recognized in many circles as having a very advanced beer culture. The Wolverine state has a very active and passionate brewers guild that represents 87 breweries. The Michigan Brewers Guild (MBG) has worked hard to advance the beer culture, and is a great example of power in numbers by sharing the voice of the smaller breweries collectively.

According to the MBG, Michigan’s thriving brewing industry contributes over $24 million in wages with a total economic contribution of more than $133 million. In terms of overall number breweries, microbreweries and brewpubs, Michigan ranks #5 in the nation— thus supporting its claim as “The Great Beer State.”

As the result of a grant from U.S. Department of Agriculture, the MBG plans to host a hop grower education tour in August of four hop yards and a processing operation in Leelanau County with the goal of inspiring more people to start growing hops.

Michigan Brewers Guild Activities (to name a small few)

  • Fighting tax increases for breweries
  • Sharing their voice on keg deposits
  • Organizing the annual July Beer Month
  • Running four annual festivals featuring the state’s craft beers
  • Hosting dozens of craft beer events throughout the year

Learn more about the importance of state guilds and signup to receive action alerts on craft beer-related issues in your state at SupportYourLocalBrewery.org.

Michigan Craft Beer Fight Continues

Even with the amazing success that Michigan beer has seen, there are still battles to be won. There’s so much going on in fact, that a new committee, the Liquor Control Advisory Rules Committee, has been formed to examine Michigan’s liquor control system regulations. Details about the committee can be found at AnnArbor.com. Here are just a few of the current issues surrounding craft beer in the state.

The Three-Tier System

Check out this video with Brett Vanderkamp of New Holland Brewing Company as he explains Michigan’s three-tier system and the future of craft beer in the state.

Elevating Homebrew in Michigan

Current legislation is pending to allow homebrew to be served at Michigan breweries during private events, such as homebrew club meetings. Learn more about the legislation from MLive.com.

“This bill (House Bill 406) is good for homebrewers, good for breweries and good for beer lovers. It has passed the House and goes to a full vote in the Senate in September,” said Gary Glass, Director of the American Homebrewers Association.

The Bitch Is Back

ragingbitchFinally, there’s the recent Raging Bitch lawsuit. Yes, I did just type the B-word two times—I’ll type it again too. Raging Bitch Belgian IPA by Flying Dog Brewery in Fredrick, Maryland has returned to Michigan after being banned in 2009 due to its name and branding.

“The Michigan Liquor Control Commission’s involuntary reversal of opinion is a victory for craft beer,” Flying Dog CEO and General Partner Jim Caruso said. “Now, the great people of Michigan are no longer denied access to Raging Bitch, Flying Dog’s top-selling beer. But the fight for First Amendment rights in Michigan continues to rage on.”

Jim Caruso states the next pending step is a May 2012 trial by jury in Federal court against the individual commissioners. Something certainly to track as this evolves. Learn more from Flying Dog: “Victory for Raging Bitch, but our First Amendment Fight with Michigan Rages On.”

Fighting the Good Fight

Whether you are a beer beginner or hard-core beer geek, there’s simply more to finding and enjoying craft beer than meets the eye. Behind every pint are the efforts to promote and protect our valued privilege of savoring the flavor at many different levels. Michigan with its many successes proves that the fight for craft beer is both worth every effort and a never-ending battle.

Julia Herz is the Craft Beer Program Director for the Brewers Association, co-author of the free CraftBeer.com Beer & Food Course, as well co-author of Beer Pairing (Voyageur Press). She is a life-long homebrewer, BJCP beer judge and Certified Cicerone®. Despite her extensive experience, she will always consider herself a beer beginner on an unending journey to learn more about craft beer.

Read more from Julia Herz