Home brewers craft success

Published 10:19 pm Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Greenbush Brewing Co. followed a circuitous path before opening its doors in Sawyer.

SAWYER — As soon as Greenbush Brewing Co. opened its doors, it was turning a profit.
The beer is pretty darned good, but don’t discount the vision, execution and the passion of those who continue to pour the brew each day.
Scott Sullivan, Greenbush’s brewer extraordinaire, was not actively pursuing that particular career path when he discovered home brewing.
“I was living in Chicago, and I was building furniture and woodworking and stuff,” he says, sitting at one of Greenbush’s pub tables.
It was February 2008. Sullivan had injured his hand and was not working when a friend gave him a home-brewing beer kit for Christmas.
Sullivan was interested.
“We were like, wow. This is kind of fun,” Sullivan said.
He and friend Justin Heckathorn began brewing beer and giving it to friends.
“We were handing it out to people and people were saying, ‘this is awesome, you could sell that beer,’” Sullivan said.
But the two wanted to move beyond small batches of beer for their own consumption; Sullivan says they wanted to “do this the right way.”
“So we wrote a business plan, started looking around for space, looking for money,” he says.
They found it in the center of Sawyer.
They found friends who were willing to fund renovations to their location at 5885 Sawyer Rd., which gave the new business a leg up and saved debt.
Then, they brought in brewing equipment formerly used by the San Francisco Brewing Co.
“By that point, I had been brewing once a week at least,” Sullivan says.
Meanwhile, Greenbush’s resident “ambassador of everything,” Jill Sites, who had been managing the Wine Shop in Three Oaks, watched as beer lovers fawned over Greenbush’s brews during Beerfest, an event she was running in October 2009.
“Everyone was at his table the whole night,” she said. “It was awesome.”
Sites took a six-pack of Sullivan’s beer to New York with a group of friends, and she heard rave reviews again
To further cement its following, Sullivan said he and Heckathorn handed out nearly 9,000 bottles of beer in three

At Beerfest, “our table got smoked,” Sullivan said. A distributor even approached them.
The buzz grew stronger as Sullivan and Heckathorn were preparing their space and soon things started falling into place. Three distributors were after the two friends for their brews, “we ended up in the unique position to pick our distributor,” he said. “That gave us a little confidence being able to pick what we did along the way.”
One could say the rest is history — but it’s certainly a short history. Greenbush Brewing Co.’s rise to success — and the company can certainly boast of its success — has been strong and swift.
Inside the brewery feels more like stepping into the in-home bar of a good friend rather than a carefully marketed establishment like some other taprooms.
The music spills out into the main room and over the open ceilings where glass windows allow patrons to watch the brewing process.
Greenbush offers a straightforward list of brews and each is clean and clear in its flavors.
Sullivan can rattle off every element of his brews like anyone else might rattle off the alphabet, and Sites can tell which one he’s talking about before he’s even finished.
The two are examples of the synergy that goes on behind Greenbush’s bar.
Greenbush is going strong.
The taproom is open all year and, in the fall, they’ll be rolling out brews in the Chicago area.
They’re already on shelves from Traverse City to South Bend and Michigan City, Ind.
“I think we’re in an interesting position,” Sites said. “We’re in the best place to do business period.”
Even with its marginal success, thinking back to that moment when Heckathorn and Sullivan, two friends who enjoyed good beer, thought about going into business — Sullivan said Greenbush has been a pleasant surprise.
“None of us really had a vision for it to go as far as it’s already gone,” he said.
“We have these great relationships,” Sites said of the company and the people who have helped along the way.
“But we back it up with the beer. And thank God, the people love the beer.”
For more, go to www.greenbushbrewingcompany.com.