Michigan beer continues to stamp out its place in the record-breaking U.S. craft beer industry.
Bell’s Brewery Inc. and Founders Brewing Co. claimed six of the country’s top 10 beers in a recent Zymurgy Magazine vote of its homebrewing readers. Forbes and the Brewers Association reported more than 460 brewery licenses in the state, making Michigan No. 4 in the country in terms of total breweries.
Clearly, a lot keeps moving forward with Michigan beer, even as the overall craft beer industry slows from its break-neck pace of the last several years. Here are a few things or news items to keep an eye on the second half of 2018.
Things to watch the rest of 2018
More breweries opening additional locations
- We’ve seen it with Founders, New Holland Brewing Co., Atwater, Jolly Pumpkin and most recently, Mitten Brewing Co. The Grand Rapids-based brewery already had a second location in Northport. Earlier this summer, Mitten Brewing Co. opened its Saugatuck location. Latitude 42 Brewing Co. also opened a second location on the west side of Kalamazoo and very close to its original location in Portage. Keep an eye out on under-served craft beer communities, particularly those in lake communities or vacation hotspots, to become potential locations for second or third taprooms.
A big year for Michigan lagers
- As spring arrived, so did an influx of Michigan lagers, especially in cans. Founders released Solid Gold in cans and Lager of the Lakes from Bell’s entered the market in cans. Locals Light from Short’s Brewing Co. was rebranded. Battle Creek’s Territorial Brewing Co. won the gold medal in the light lager category for its BC Light at the World Beer Cup in May. Several other breweries joined the fray with similar styles in what can be called Michigan’s Year of the Lager. The big question will be how they co-exist and which ones stick.
Sours become even more visible
- The style may not be for everyone, but those who love them certainly seek them out. Transient Brewing Co., Arclight Brewing Co. and Speciation Artisan Ales join Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales to give the state several high-quality options.
Continued discussion on the definition of “craft beer”
- This term is defined by the Brewers Association and has been adjusted over time as the industry matures. The discussion continues to intensify — mostly within the industry — as brewers are partially acquired by other larger breweries, craft and non-craft alike. The arrival of the “independent craft” seal from the Brewers Association adds another layer to what is often a lesson in semantics for those new to craft beer, albeit a necessary one.
Founders, Bell’s will combine to sell more than 1 million barrels
- While it has seemed inevitable for a while based on Founders Brewing Co.’s selling a partial ownership to Spain’s Mahou San Miguel in late 2014, it’s a milestone that should be noted. Both breweries have managed to increase sales, while others found the footing a little tougher in 2018. The breweries combined to sell 930,700 in 2017 with Founders narrowly edging Bell’s, Early this year, Founders owner Mike Stevens projected 680,000 barrels sold in 2018, meaning the plateau will be reached long before the year closes.
Fewer beer festivals
- For a while now, you can’t go a weekend without a craft beer festival somewhere in the state. The question about brewery saturation is constantly asked. Will it start applying to beer festivals? Even the Michigan Brewers Guild’s popular Winter Beer Festival didn’t sell out as quickly as previous years.
A Michigan brewery hotel?
- This seems like a potential next step for the major breweries around the state that are already one of the biggest draws in their respective cities. California’s Stone Brewing Co. announced plans for a 99-room hotel in Escondido in 2016 (the brewery’s website says “More details coming soon …”). Could some of the state’s largest breweries join the hospitality world?
Cans gaining on bottles
- Bottles remain the top packaging from for craft beer, but more and more cans are appearing on store shelves, particularly for spring/summer seasonal beers. “Cans are a force to be reckoned with,” said Jason Howard, of IHS Distributing. Cans provide more stability for craft beer by blocking out all light and its tighter seal, although its shelf life somewhat decreases, Howard said. During the warmer months, they are also much more conducive to outdoor recreation, as bottles are banned at many parks, campgrounds, lakes, beaches and golf courses.
As a reminder of how much can change, here’s a recap of our Top stories of 2017:
Top Michigan Beer Stories of 2017
1 . Short’s partial sale to Lagunitas/Heineken
2. Michigan surpasses 300 breweries
3. Old Nation’s M-43 becomes buzz beer of the year
4. 20th anniversaries for Michigan Brewers Guild, Founders, Arcadia, Dark Horse and New Holland
5. Laura Bell becomes CEO of Bell’s in Feb., 2017
6. Founders surpasses Bell’s as the top beer producer in the state
7. Bell’s Two Hearted tops Russian River’s Pliny the Elder in Zymurgy Magazine poll
8. Grand Rapids named Best Beer Scene by USA Today poll
9. New Holland, Pabst become distribution partners
10. Controversy causes closure of Craft Draft 2 Go in Kalamazoo
– Brewery closures, including Milgrove, Cultivate, Arcadia Brewing Co.’s Battle Creek facility, Dutch Girl
– New breweries: City Built, Lucky Girl, etc.
– Independent logo from Brewers Association
– Fred Bueltmann, aka The Beervangelist, exits New Holland
– KVCC Sustainable Brewing wins top national honors
– Atwater signs with M1 distributors
– Griffin Claw to open taproom in DTE Energy Park in Detroit
– Founders opens Detroit taproom
– Latitude 42 Brewing Co. to open second brewery in Kalamazoo
– Emily Bennett, of Hastings, visits more than 320 breweries in Michigan