‘Good beer wins’ at Greenbush

Published 6:24 pm Thursday, July 7, 2011

Pictured are Scott Sullivan and Jill Sites of Greenbush Brewing Co. in Sawyer. Photo by Jennifer Piotter


Blue Star Highway

Scott Sullivan believes “good beer wins.” Not just his beer — all good beer.

He was surprised no one had opened a brewery in south Berrien County. So the hands-on, do-it-yourselfer did something about it, recently opening Greenbush Brewing Co. in Sawyer.

After working for a number of years in the tech world, he set up shop as a woodworker in Chicago. An injury suffered while working on a project led him to dabble in home brewing. The fourth batch of a porter tipped the scales from brewing as a hobby to the notion of opening up shop.

Sullivan brewed batch after batch of the beer, handing it out to everyone he knew. He and operations manager Jill Sites estimate that prior to opening Greenbush, Sullivan gave away more than 9,000 beers.

“That helped us make a lot of friends and build a groundswell of people waiting for us to open,” said Sullivan.

So he and his oldest-friend-turned-business-partner Justin Heckathorn wrote a business plan. The rest of the story couldn’t write itself any better, as the guys purchased brewing equipment on Craigslist that could be traced back to one of the country’s first microbreweries in California.

Speaking of the brewery’s Sawyer location, Sites said that southwest Michigan is “ripe for beer heads,” with locals running the gamut from home brewers to people who simply enjoy the finer things in life, like good beer.

Originally from Harbert, Mich., Sullivan transformed the former laundromat/video store/garden center building on Sawyer Road from the ground up, grinding down and staining the concrete floor and using his skills to build the bar inside the brewery.

Sites said: “You’re drinking Scott’s beer, sitting at Scott’s bar.” You can’t get more local than that.

The brewery opened Flag Day weekend and since has experienced unprecedented crowds of locals and out-of-towners alike. Even a few weeks into operation, they already have “regulars” who walk to the tap room on a nightly basis.

To keep up with the insane demand, Sullivan and the guys at Greenbush are brewing beer five days a week. The establishment currently has seven mainstays on tap and is gradually adding more. By the end of July, they expect to have 12 beers available at the tap room.

The brewery’s mainstays include the one that started it all, the fourth-batch porter called Distorter. Don’t shy away from Distorter just because of the preconceived notion that porters are winter beers; treat it like dessert. Who would ever say you can’t eat dessert year-round? (Definitely not me.)

Sunspot, a refreshing hefewiezen posing as their summer seasonal, and Red Bud, the signature copper wheat ale with enough hops to make it pale-ale-esque, are Greenbush’s most popular offerings.

Two distinct IPA’s on tap are Dunegras and Anger, a black IPA that the Greenbush website describes as “a haughty black IPA with a bit of pent-up attitude for those ‘special’ days.”

Many of the brews’ names have a back-story. When Sullivan wanted to brew his “lawnmower beer,” the golden cream ale Traktor morphed into the lawnmower beer’s unflappable, amped-up uncle.

Closure is an always-evolving pale ale. Instead of a consistent combination of hops, Sullivan will change up the hop variety every new brewing cycle. The name Closure points to new beginnings, as characterized by the blooming crocus that’ll show up on the future bottle’s label.

Sullivan and crew hope to have bottled beers out in stores by late summer. A number of area restaurants already supply select Greenbush beers on tap, but bottling will also increase their presence in restaurants that only serve bottled beer.

In the mean time, growlers sporting the Greenbush name and logo are also available at the tap room as the method for taking beer “to-go” until bottles are ready for sale. Greenbush will happily refill any establishment’s growler with their beer. “We’re all craft brewers, why wouldn’t we support each other?” said Sites.

Even just a few weeks in, the crew at Greenbush is embracing opportunities to grow in the community and further its reach. They’ve recently collaborated on a beer with Chef Danny Grant of Chicago’s Elysian Hotel restaurants Balsan and RIA.

Coming up, they’ll collaborate with Chef Stephanie Izard of “Top Chef” fame and Chicago’s most talked-about new restaurant, The Girl and the Goat, as well as Pat and Ellie Mullins from New Buffalo’s sustainable food and cured meat shop, Local.

In addition to the Sawyer tap room, you can find Greenbush Brewing Co.’s beers on tap at the following southwest Michigan restaurants: Bentwood Tavern in New Buffalo, Red Arrow Roadhouse in Union Pier, Wheatberry Restaurant and Tavern in Buchanan, Fitzgerald’s in Sawyer (right next door to the tap room), 5 O’clock Sports Bar & Restaurant in Stevensville and Wild Dog Grille in Douglas.

But, trust me on this one; nothing beats the experience of sitting at Scott’s bar, drinking Scott’s beer.

Greenbush Brewing Co. is located at 5885 Sawyer Rd., Sawyer. For more information, call (269) 405-1076 or visit www.greenbushbrewing.com.