Greenbush Brewery hits the road

Published 9:50 am Thursday, February 27, 2014

The new Greenbush Brisket Van after its maiden voyage home. (Submitted photo)

The new Greenbush Brisket Van after its maiden voyage home. (Submitted photo)

SAWYER—Anyone who has been paying attention could tell you that Greenbush Brewing Company, located in Sawyer, represents a local success story within the grand narrative of Michigan craft brewing.

Available at hundreds of taprooms, restaurants and stores around Michigan, Indiana and Illinois, Greenbush’s various beers have developed quite a public following, winning a number of awards as well.

What folks may not know is that Greenbush also serves four types of smoked meats and a variety of other menu items at their taproom, located at 5885 Sawyer Rd.

“People don’t always realize that we have such great food that goes with the awesome beer we make,” said Nikki Miller, general manager of Greenbush.

One vehicle by which Greenbush plans to introduce more people to their food is The Greenbush Brisket Van, a food truck that has already developed something of a cult following.

In some ways, the story of The Brisket Van is the stuff that old blues ballads are made of.

Greenbush’s acquisition of The Brisket Van was born out of conversations between Miller and Greenbush owner Scott Sullivan, both of whom have a lasting love for food trucks.

“I have always been fascinated with food trucks,” Miller said. “I just love the concept of a food truck, and I didn’t know it, but Scott also had an interest in food trucks. We started talking about it, and then we found the perfect vehicle.”

“Nikki spearheaded the idea. The Brisket Van is really her baby,” Sullivan said.

The Brisket Van takes its name from a long-standing joke that had its roots in Sullivan’s Chicago days.

“I used to bet that I could sell $1,000 of brisket on Rush Street in one night downtown, like on Rush St. One of my friends said I needed an ice cream truck to do it,” Sullivan recalled. “Another friend from Scotland said I should call it ‘The Brisket Van,’ and that name has just hung around ever since then.”

After searching for many months on eBay, Miller found a vehicle worthy to carry the name.

“It was down in Lake Charles, La., and we could have paid to have it brought up here, but it turned out that Nikki was going down to Austin, Texas, to do a half-marathon anyway,” Sullivan explained. “So, we decided to drive down there, pick her up, and go over and get the truck. We thought it would be more fun as a road trip.”

And so, that is exactly what Sullivan, head brewer Pete Hasbrouck, and plant manager Ryan Beach did.

“We made an adventure out of it. We planned stops in a lot of cool places like Memphis, Nashville and New Orleans. We even made an unplanned stop that turned out to be a really good time,” Sullivan said. “We blew out a tire in Tuscaloosa and ended up spending some time on the campus of the University of Alabama.”

The crew documented their travels on the Greenbush Brisket Van’s Facebook page so that fans could share in their exploits.

“We’re going to keep posting on the progress of The Brisket Van. That’s why we have the Facebook page just for the van,” Sullivan said. “We’ll let people know what our big event will be when we bring out the truck for the first time. We plan to have The Brisket Van on the road on April 1.”

While the story of Greenbush’s acquisition of the van is a good one, The Brisket Van has a storied past of its own.

“The truck basically spent its whole life in New Orleans. First, it was used for city jail transport,” Sullivan explained.

“It still has these cool rings inside on the walls, probably where prisoners’ handcuffs were shackled to the walls,” added Miller. “We’re trying to find a way to use those.”

The truck was then pressed into service as a mobile food pantry by the Salvation Army.

“It even saw service during Hurricane Katrina. After that, the last owner bought it and took it to Lake Charles, but he only used it once or twice,” Sullivan said. “He basically never did anything with it.”

Because it spent so much time in New Orleans, the 1988 Utilimaster truck only has 30,000 miles on it. And, it is already equipped with a 24” griddle, a two-burner range, an oven, a refrigerator and warming drawers.

“It’s kind of amazing. It’s really in great shape. We just need to spend some time cleaning it up from its journey and giving it some TLC,” Sullivan said. “We’ve already done an exhaustive amount of research into the health department regulations.”

Greenbush’s current plans for The Brisket Van revolve solely around the goal of serving dishes that, up until now, have only been available in Sawyer.

“For now, The Brisket Van will be all about Greenbush’s food, not serving beer just yet. You’ll be able to get all the BBQ items we make as well as all of the sides that go with them,” Sullivan said.

People who are interested in visiting The Brisket Van can visit the Facebook page for updates on where it will be once Greenbush gets it on the road.

“We’re going to have it all over the county. We want to have it in various locations during the lunch hour, and we’re also looking to do a bunch of events,” Sullivan said. “It’ll be great exposure for the brewery.”

People can also request that The Brisket Van be brought to their own events by calling Greenbush at (269) 405-1076.

“We’ve already gotten calls about weddings, family reunions and graduation parties,” Miller said.

“One corporation even wants us to come and park it outside their building during their lunch hours,” Sullivan added. “It’s developed a real following already.”