Local Treks: Beer makes the map

Published 8:35 pm Monday, August 15, 2011

Mike Gardner fills a growler with one of the Livery's custom forged beers. Photo by Terri Gordon

With approximately 50 breweries scattered across its landscape, Michigan is becoming a desirable destination for beer lovers.
Two local pioneers of the movement are the Livery Microbrewery in Benton Harbor and Moersch Brewery, at the Round Barn Winery, Brewery & Distillery in Baroda. The Livery, on Fifth Street, serves its hand-forged beer in the newly renovated Palace Livery. The beer bar sits where horse stables once stood. Remnants of the old facility lend atmosphere and history to the place. A wooden lift remains between the second and third floors.   Brew master Steve Berthel began brewing almost by accident. Living in Kalamazoo, he would “hang out” at Bell’s Brewery, one of the first microbreweries in the state. He developed a taste for its signature beers. When a home brewing roommate left for graduate school, Berthel inherited his equipment and started to brew himself.
“A few years later,” he recalled, “I got a job at a brewery as a bartender.”
Not long after, one of the owners sold Berthel his share of the business, and Berthel found himself a professional brewer.
“It kind of fell right into my lap.” he said. He’s been brewing professionally now for going on 11 years.
Where Berthel fell into brewing, the Moersch family was pushed into it. Matt Moersch, in charge of production at Moersch Brewery, part of the Round Barn Winery, Brewery and Distillery, says that demand and licensing laws got them going. A popular place for weddings and other events, the Round Barn Winery couldn’t sell anything it did not produce itself — and a lot of people wanted beer.
“To satisfy the demand, we had to dive into the arena,” said Moersch.   With a little help from a neighbor who did home brewing and some advice from Founders in Grand Rapids and the New Holland Brewery in Holland, the Moersches were soon brewing beer.
“We’ve been doing fermentation for a long time,” said Moersch. “It’s not a big difference.”   Brewery hopping is quickly becoming a popular activity.
“People actually go on trips to check out breweries,” said Bethel. “Beer aficionados, home brewers clubs, beer geeks of all shapes, sizes, colors and gender get on a bus. They’ll hit four or five breweries in a day. It’s a really cool thing. They eat a little bit. You get to go see a brewery, and meet the brewer, try all the beers, and not have to worry about (driving).”
As for beer’s newfound popularity, Berthel thinks it’s really just a resurgence of the past.  “If you look back in history,” he says, “every culture has had a fermented beverage that deals with bread, or grain, long before fruit (for wine) was involved.” He also chalks up the renewed interest to an appreciation of the process and of the complexity and richness of flavor achieved in microbrewing.
“You’ve got a lot of variables in making beer. You’ve got the length of the boil, you’ve got hundreds and hundreds of different types of malts that are available — rye and wheat, corn, and oats and rice —that you can use to make beer. Then every company that malts these things and roasts them can do a different job. Every different country has its own soil conditions. Then you bring the hops into the equation. You’ve got hundreds of hop varieties from around the world. Then you’ve got your yeast. “You’re always looking for that perfect flavor profile. I think people appreciate that. You drink something like my Trippelbock, and it’s not even a beer anymore, it’s an experience.”
The Brewers Guild sponsors two beer festivals each year and publishes the Michigan Beer Directory, a list of the breweries in Michigan that are members of the guild.  Nearby Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids are home to several breweries — Bell’s Brewery, Kraftbau Brewery and the Olde Peninsula Brewpub, in Kalamazoo; and Founders Brewing Co., the Grand Rapids Brewing Co., the Hideout Brewing Co. and the Schmohz Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids — and many others are found throughout the state. In Saugatuck, the Saugatuck Brewing Co. is located just outside of Douglas, off the Blue Star Highway and across from the Blue Star Antique Pavilion. The New Holland Brewing Co. in downtown Holland produces four beers year-round: Paleooza, Sundog, Mad Hatter and Full Circle. “Michigan is making a name for itself,” said Berthel. “Internationally, nationally, regionally, locally, at festivals, in contests — Michigan breweries are bringing home the gold.”