Beer along the Fruit Belt: Transient Artisan Ales gets the yeast it needs

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Chris Betts, owner and brewer of Transient Artisan Ales, stands behind the counter Wednesday. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BRIDGMAN — Chris Betts originally began brewing under the name Transient Artisan Ales about three years ago in Illinois.

He would brew out of other facilities by renting space, using his own fermenters and producing his own beer.

“It was a little difficult because you would have to work around everyone else’s schedule,” he said. “For the first two years it was just me, while I was working part time at other breweries. For our purposes, it allowed us to start small.”

That small start allowed Betts to save up and buy the building at 4229 Lake Street in Bridgman in July 2015. Artisan soon opened its taproom in the first week of May 2016.

Betts started brewing in college his sophomore year with a few friends in his fraternity, before getting a few jobs at bars to learn the craft.

Like the wineries in the area, Betts was attracted to Southwest Michigan because of the area’s agriculture.

“This part of the state has an incredible fruit production,” Betts said. “It helps because we’re doing a lot of wild, spontaneous beer. I mean we make your standard IPAs and stouts, but we focus on the spontaneous beer.”

In order to make spontaneous beer, Betts puts beer out from the kettle where it is inoculated with wild yeast and bacteria. It’s then pumped back into wine barrels, where it ferments for up to three years.

It’s a type of beer that does best when there’s a good source of yeast in the area. Yeast performs well around good sources of fruit, which Southwest Michigan has an abundance of.

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Transient Artisan Ales, located here at 4229 Lake St., opened its taproom in Bridgman. Transient specializes in spontaneous beer that involves the use of wine barrels. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

Transient’s had a few things to celebrate about.

It is no longer a one-man operation. Since opening at the Bridgman location, Betts now has an assistant brewer and a taproom manager.

The Bridgman brewery also won two awards at the Festival of Wooden Barrel Aged Beer.

They received a bronze for their fruited sour beer with apricot called Foeder 2. Then came the gold medal for a collaboration beer Transient did with Hailstorm, an Illinois brewery. The gold winner was called Agnitio, a farmhouse ale style beer.

“We’ve done quite a few collaborations like that since we started,” Betts said. “Brewers can be quite friendly. You normally find people you want to work with whether to have somewhat of a break or to just switch something up. Normally, it’s just a way to have fun.”

Betts said he wants the brewery to stay somewhat small and level out their production at about 1,000 barrels per year.

Transient also recently switched to its winter hours, which are now 4-8 p.m. on Wednesday through Friday, noon to 8 p.m. on Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Transient is closed on Monday and Tuesday.

Those interested in learning more about the brewery and the beers available for sale can visit the store, stop at www.transientartisanales.com or email Betts at transientartisanales@gmail.com.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Dec. 10, 2016)

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A foundation on brewing: Watermark Brewing Co. finds a home with Stevensville

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From left: David Cockell, Justin Schaul and Chris Mason stand inside a backroom of the Watermark Brewing Co. The Stevensville brewery was built on village-owned land. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

STEVENSVILLE — There seemed to be something missing in downtown Stevensville that other cities throughout Southwest Michigan had begun to accumulate.

With so many breweries popping up in Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, the village on the outskirts of the Twin Cities was one of the remaining municipalities to not have a barley footprint. That changed three months ago, when three entrepreneurs opened the Watermark Brewing Co.

David Cockell, Chris Mason and Justin Schaul had been looking for property for six months when they turned their attention to the Stevensville-Lincoln Township area.

“As craft beer had already become popular in the area with places like The Livery and Greenbush, Stevensville wanted to have their own stake in the ground as well,” Mason recalled. “We turned a house, two vacant lots and a park into a brewery. (Stevensville) partnered with us and said they we would love to have us.”

There was a building that had tax liens on it that led to a few conversations between the three friends and village officials.

Berrien County Treasurer Bret Witkowski was serving as Stevensville’s interim manager when Cockle, Mason and Schaul approached the village in search of viable property. Witkowski told them about the village-owned spot and took them there.

“I told them that the village was willing to work with them to get a fair price,” Witkowski said. “There’s not much competition here and it was in a downtown. The council and Watermark agreed to a selling price and the rest is history.”

Witkowski said the village then used a new law that kept the taxable value the same on the property for a number of years. This helped Stevensville because it was getting a new business while enhancing the tax base.

“The village value of that property will be uncapped and be brought back up to value,” Witkowski said.

Bringing a business onto the parcels had another benefit.

Former Stevensville Village Manager Todd Gardner had borrowed money he wasn’t authorized to do in order to buy the property that houses Watermark.

Gardner’s illegal actions came during a stretch of years when he embezzled more than $270,000 from village funds. While Gardner was sentenced to prison on a wire fraud conviction, the land is now benefiting the village from its sale to the restored taxable value.

Mason said they closed on the property Nov. 3, 2015, and broke ground on the 7,200-square-foot brewery a day later. It would be another eight months before Watermark would be open.

The Watermark effect

The three entrepreneurs have been brewing together since they met in 2014.

Mason and Schaul were living in Chicago at the time and home-brewed together when they discovered each other were obsessed with craft beer. Then they met Cockell, who happened to study biochemistry at Purdue University.

It was a perfect storm. Schaul was already working in the hospitality industry in Chicago. Cockell’s education in biochemistry would be a foundation for making the product. Mason, who worked at the Chicago Tribune in its digital media division, would handle marketing. Mason said it was his second job at a popular liquor store that helped with his decision to form a brewery.

The beer lineup is ever-changing at Watermark. Within the last three months, they’ve tried more than 30 beer recipes.

They supplemented food wants by encouraging food trucks to park right outside the brewery on certain days. It’s kept the beer drinker there longer and brings more business to the village.

“We didn’t want to do a restaurant because then you have customers that get rushed in and out,” Mason said. “We just wanted to open up with beer, because that’s what we’re interested in.”

With this being Stevensville’s first brewery, Witkowski said the community has responded wonderfully.

The Village Council could have sold the land for residential housing, but Witkowski said they wanted something commercial that could benefit the other downtown businesses. Watermark would be a way to help change the image and perception of downtown Stevensville.

“The idea was to create some sort of nightlife for Stevensville,” Witkowski recalled. “Fill up the parking lots and streets. Before Watermark came in, there were no cars after 5 o’clock. They are a huge draw as it’s helped other businesses because of the foot traffic.”

Schaul said they’ve appreciated the community’s reception.

“The cool part is, we thought there would be more Illinois plates in front of our place when we first opened,” Schaul said. “But it was actually a lot of Stevensville residents. We wanted to give Stevensville something a little different, and it’s been great to get to know everyone.”

As more breweries open up and the craft beer market becomes saturated, Mason said they want to stay as small as they can.

For now, all that matters is how the community has adopted the brewery.

“We don’t want to be on every shelf and compete with the Founders and Bell’s of the world,” Mason said. “We’re just trying to have fun and make beer.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 3, 2016)

Whirlpool launches home brewing product using crowdfunding platform

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR — Whirlpool Corp. is launching a beer fermentation product aimed at home brewers through a crowdfunding campaign.

The Benton Harbor-based appliance maker announced its partnership with Indiegogo to release the Vessi Beer Fermentor and Dispenser system for home brewers. The patent-pending Vessi system ferments, carbonates and dispenses home-brewed beer in as little as seven days – compared to other beer-fermenting methods that can take up to four weeks.

Whirlpool launched the Vessi Fermentor exclusively on Indiegogo, a global crowdfunding platform, to engage with early adopters and to test the market for a consumer-driven product that crafts beer.

W Labs, a division of Whirlpool that helps bring innovative appliance ideas to life, designed the Vessi system.

Noel Dolan, a senior manager for Open Innovation and Strategic Partnerships at Whirlpool, said the team thought there was a better way to home brew beer and had to “re-think the entire beer-brewing process.”

“The traditional fermentation and carbonation stages for home brewers can be tedious, cumbersome and require many steps in order to get the perfect brew,” Dolan said. “With the Vessi Fermentor, we’re taking the stresses out of the fermentation stage for home brewers and allowing them to focus on what they love about beer making.”

The Vessi Fermentor includes a single tank system that’s sealed, pressurized and temperature-controlled to craft beer. With its single-tank design, the Vessi Fermentor allows users to reduce key risks in the home brewing process, including contamination, oxidation and imperfect temperatures.

The Vessi Fermentor retains the beer’s carbonation throughout the fermentation process, rather than the complicated multi-step carbonation process typically used by other homebrewing systems.

As of Thursday, the product has raised nearly $73,000 of the $100,000 goal at its Indiegogo page.

According to the product’s Indiegogo page, the Vessi Fermentor’s first prototype was built in November 2015. A month later its first batch of beer was fermented and dispensed.

Whirlpool plans to begin production of the Vessi system in October, and it will be launched in test markets Grand Rapids and Denver in November.

Initial micro-factory production of the Vessi system will be limited to 200 units per month, and units will be shipped as they become available. The first 200 units will be delivered in December.

According to the American Homebrewers Association there are an estimated 1.2 million home brewers who collectively produce 2 million barrels of home brew a year in the United States, and Whirlpool identified a consumer need.

As the world’s first crowdfunding platform, Indiegogo was launched in 2008 and is based in San Francisco, with offices in Los Angeles and New York.

Jerry Needel, head of Indiegogo’s Enterprise Crowdfunding service, took note of Whirlpool’s initiative in a news release Tuesday.

“Whirlpool Corp. is one of an increasing number of successful, established companies who are turning to Indiegogo to launch new products,” Needel said in the release. “Crowdfunding on Indiegogo is a great way for successful companies to test the market for their products and turn research and development into a driver of pre-sales.”

The Vessi Beer Fermentor and Dispenser can be supported on Indiegogo at www.igg.me/at/VESSIFERMENTOR.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on June 3, 2016)

Microbrewery tees off during Senior PGA Championship

North Pier Brewing Co. is scheduled to open Monday, in time for the Senior PGA Championship. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

North Pier Brewing Co. is scheduled to open Monday, in time for the Senior PGA Championship. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP — Jay Fettig didn’t know if he would be able to open his microbrewery in time for the Senior PGA Championship set to begin next week.

With a bit of persistence, the St. Joseph resident has hosted a few soft openings in anticipation for North Pier Brewing Co.’s official opening Monday.

“This was always the deadline to finish construction and have the beer ready,” Fettig said. “It’s such a great opportunity to get some good exposure during the golf tournament.”

Fettig will certainly get the needed foot traffic new businesses crave when the golf tournament returns to Benton Harbor for the third time in six years. The microbrewery, which is in a renovated building at 670 North Shore Drive in Benton Township, has been a few years in the making.

The building has gone from a gas station to a bird house factory to a motorcycle repair shop before it was transformed into North Pier. Fettig put in the work after receiving a special use permit from the township’s Board of Trustees to renovate the building and sell alcohol.

Fettig chose the specific building, built in the 1920s, because it’s something he’s driven past nearly every Saturday morning between trips to Harbor Shores.

“I golf with my dad, so I’ve driven past this building on a golf cart probably hundreds of times going between (holes) 13 and 14,” Fettig said. “When I saw the ‘for sale’ sign there, I thought it might be too small. I looked at a few other buildings and nothing really stuck.”

When he looked inside, it was bigger than Fettig thought. He bought the space in July 2015.

The microbrewery won’t be large enough to house a kitchen, Fettig said, so the company will team up with North Shore Inn across the street to provide customers with food.

“With North Shore Inn being so close, it seemed to make sense to partner with them,” he said. “I talked to the owners of North Shore, and they were open to do an almost takeout service for our customers. We would have their menus here. We just want people to have a good time and enjoy a beer and maybe one of their burgers.”

Just the beginning

When the doors open Monday, North Pier will have six beers on tap.

Once the microbrewery gets past its opening week, Fettig said they plan to brew more existing styles to have 12 different beers, add a nitrolized coffee tap and eventually offer homemade soda. Like most breweries, Fettig said they plan for an expansion in the event that they outgrow the available space. North Pier has room for 60 people inside with seating for 24 outside.

Including Fettig, North Pier will have three full-time workers and nine part-time employees.

One of the signature touches at the microbrewery are the tables and lower part of the bar, which have pieces of wood from Fettig’s uncle’s barn integrated with the setup. Adding to the building’s design and look was important to Fettig.

“Just to see the transformation in the building has been a great experience,” Fettig said. “It doesn’t feel like that long ago when we were doing test batches in my parents’ garage to brewing production-style batches here.”

North Pier’s hours will be noon to 10 p.m. on Sundays through Wednesdays and noon to 11 p.m. on Thursdays through Saturdays. Those with questions about the beer list can call North Pier at 269-757-7163 or visit www.northpierbrewing.com.

With the official opening day set, Fettig admitted his schedule has been hectic the last few weeks between getting the tap room ready, making sure the beers are brewed and prepping for the arrival of twins.

“It’s been hard balancing that with trying to get home and see my family, while planning ahead so if I’m not here, I’ll know it’s in good hands,” he said. “I’d be lying if it wasn’t a little stressful.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on May 21, 2016)

Greenbush Brewing Co. to expand again

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

SAWYER — Greenbush Brewing Co. has grown exponentially in the nearly five years it has been in business.

That growth will continue this summer as the brewery’s owner, Scott Sullivan, announced in a Facebook post Greenbush acquired Fitzgerald’s of Sawyer as part of its next expansion.

Fitzgerald’s and Greenbush are next door to each other in the restored historic buildings in downtown Sawyer.

“We realized that we had originally thought that (when) we opened (the) Taproom that would work for the long haul, but then pretty much immediately found that we lacked space,” Sullivan stated in the Facebook post. “So we expanded. Not enough space. So we expanded again. Still not enough space. So we opened (the) Annex, figuring that would take care of the space issue, right? Nope.”

In the newly acquired Fitzgerald’s space, Sullivan said he is bringing the next iteration of food as part of the “diner portion” of Greenbush.

The new space will take the best of Greenbush’s brunch menu with breakfast classics added in. At a 7 a.m. start time, Greenbush will begin selling breakfast food through the early afternoon. Greenbush had hosted a few brunch sessions the last few years and chose to offer breakfast food based on the popularity of those sessions.

Greenbush marketing dirctor Aaron Darling said the plan is to keep the original Taproom cooking and brewing with a southern-centric focus.

Offering several “blue-plate specials” for dinner in the diner expansion, Darling said they will offer bacon-wrapped meatloaf, Yankee pot roast, chicken paprikas and more.

In addition to the expansion, Greenbush will sell cider and wine at all three locations. Darling said the wine will come from local and California wineries.

Darling said 41 people were hired in anticipation for Greenbush’s summer opening at the former Fitzgerald’s restaurant and bar.

The opening

The diner portion of Greenbush should open sometime in June to coincide with the brewery’s five-year anniversary. On June 10, Darling said Greenbush will hold a large anniversary party.

“We’re hoping that by mid-June we can hold a soft opening for breakfast, just as a start,” Darling said. “After that, it should be open full time for sure this summer. But you can never put a hard date on things like this. With our Annex, we were waiting on licensing for a few months.”

After eight years serving Harbor Country and its visitors, Fitzgerald’s made a Facebook announcement it would close and hand over reins to Greenbush.

When Fitzgerald’s first went up for sale two years ago, Darling said several people came by asking if they were going to buy the property. Two years ago the timing wasn’t right because Greenbush had already opened the Annex across from the Taproom, Darling said.

“It became apparent over time that Fitzgerald’s would be the perfect fit,” he said. “Initially, Greenbush was going to be a small taproom. Sullivan and others would serve (customers) the beer, talk about it and go brew more beer. That lasted maybe a day.

“I think it was beyond our expectations.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on May 22, 2016)

Cultivating a new brew: Berrien Springs brewer to include on-premise growing, tasting room

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By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BERRIEN SPRINGS — Two years and another seven months.

That’s how long Nick Kuhn has been waiting to unleash Cultivate Brewing Co. to the public. It was two years spent seeking approval and gathering the financial backing he needed, with an additional seven months spent on renovations.

“It took some twists and turns from ownership structure, the location, name and financial backing,” he said. “We were able to purchase the property in June of last year and closed on a commercial loan in November.”

As owner of the brewing company, Kuhn already runs a real estate management business in Chicago, but says this new venture into barley and hops has always been a passion of his.

While the opening date for company at 961 E. Shawnee Road in Berrien Springs remains unannounced, Kuhn said it is set to arrive shortly.

“The date will be revealed very soon,” Kuhn said. “It’s very close and a few more pieces need to come together. We want to be able to offer a good variety of beers. So, we want to have at least seven of our beers on tap. The last three weeks has been just complete mayhem on the brewers.”

Cultivate Brewing is considered a working farm, growing its own barley and hops on premise. Kuhn said he wants craft beer enthusiasts to enjoy this new way of being a part of the craft process. Cultivate Brewing is stationed on an 18-acre farm and will allow visitors to walk through the hops and barley being grown on site.

(Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

Nick Kuhn pours a glass of beer from inside his new brewery in Coloma. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

Kuhn, a Baroda resident, calls it “farm-to-pint brewing.”

The idea was to merge the two concepts of great soil for growing and the surge in the hops industry.

“Hops needs to grow in between specific latitudes and longitudes, and Southwest Michigan falls within those parameters,” Kuhn said. “There is also this shift in a societal standpoint that people want to know more about where their food is coming from. We are doing something really neat here. We want people experiencing beer, not just drinking it.”

A barley field can be seen next to the brewery, with a nature trail feeding around it to allow drinkers to walk through and read signs about the barley they are consuming.

From the soil to a glass

Nicholas Dumon, brewer and St. Joseph resident, was living and working in Chicago when he first heard about Kuhn’s idea. Dumon was teaching a brewing class when Kuhn and a few of his friends stumbled into the course.

A few days later Kuhn came back and made Dumon an offer.

“With Cultivate Brewing Co., what really stands out is the connection to the land,” Dumon said. “We are situated on a gorgeous piece of land where we have these ingredients to make beer. We have a more imminent connection to where beer actually comes from. That really sets us apart.”

The site is not all farm though.

Cultivate Brewing has a shaded-porch area that seats 50, a tasting room inside that can fit up to 50 people and a patio outside that can hold 60.

Kuhn said the brewery will start out by offering nine traditional styles of beer. It won’t serve food in a traditional restaurant sense, but will include snacks.

Tasting room hours will be from noon to 8 p.m. on Tuesday through Sunday. The brewery will welcome walk-ins, but Kuhn asks people to schedule reservations for groups of eight or more.

Kuhn said he has always been interested in the creative process of taking nothing and making it into something tangible.

“It’s a fun passion. I think it was Jimmy Fallon who said ‘thank you craft beer for making my drinking habit seem like a hobby,'” Kuhn said. “It’s a big undertaking because you’re not just opening a brewing company, you’re also getting an active farm up and running at the same time.”

To learn more about Cultivate brewing Co., visit its website at www.cultivatebrewing.com/locations.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@thehp.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on July 21, 2015)

Beer as a form of art: Beer-tasting event with artwork returns to Whitehall

The Arts Council of White Lake announced its second Artist-N-Beer event in Whitehall on Saturday, Aug. 23. (MLive File Photo)

The Arts Council of White Lake announced its second Artist-N-Beer event in Whitehall on Saturday, Aug. 23. (MLive File Photo)

By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

WHITEHALL, MI — Both art and beer will be on tap in Whitehall on Saturday, Aug. 23.

The Artist-N-Beer event is coming back to the White Lake area, but in a new venue. From 4-8 p.m. on Saturday, residents have the opportunity to buy artwork and wet their whistle behind the planned site of Fetch Brewing Company, located on 100 W. Colby St.

Kim Harsch, the executive director of the Arts Council of White Lake, said this will be the second time the Artist-N-Beer event will take place in Whitehall, as it has been one of the few events that has been focused around both beer and art.

“It’s going to be unique. There are a lot of beer-tasting events, not many focus on the art of beer-making,” she said. “Combining artwork with beer is a little bit of a unique experience, so we’re glad to have an event like this.”

Along with the craft beer, attendees will be able to browse artwork provided by ACWL artists and the Nuveen Center, as well as musical performances.

The new location is more equipped to host a beer–tasting event, as the council first held it in front of its office two years ago.

The event will include music from local musicians and is expected to be held every two years alternating with the area’s wine-tasting event.

“The last time (we had this event) was two years ago,” Harsch said. “We’ve been rotating it with a wine-tasting event. Two years ago we had about 140 attendees, but this year we are shooting for at least 200.”

Tickets can be purchased ahead of time for $30 in advance, while increasing in price to $35 at the gate. Harsch said tickets can be bought online at artswhitelake.org, where there is a limited amount of 200 tickets that will be sold.

Since grant funding doesn’t always cover costs for nonprofit groups, the money raised from the event goes toward supporting the Arts Council of White Lake operationally.

“We are really fortunate the committee is made of all volunteers from the community,” Harsch said. “We are really, really fortunate to have such support.”

One of the main intentions for this year’s Artist-N-Beer will be to educate the public on the process of making beer. Additionally, the beer selection will not be something the ordinary shopper would find at any local store.

Jennifer Hain, who runs the Fetch Brewing Company with her husband, Dan, is a member of the committee and is known for her extensive knowledge of beer.

When bringing this type of event to the public, Hain strategically handpicked people who were familiar with craft beer.

“There are actually quite a few beer connoisseurs in this area,” Hain said. “They are working directly with distributors to bring in unique styles and tastes. It will all be Michigan beer.”

Since their initial plans to open a brewing company in Whitehall, Hain became very familiar with the Arts Council of White Lake and decided to throw her hat in to helping with the community-wide event.

“They were looking to do an event that had been done two years ago,” Hain said. “With their art knowledge and our beer knowledge, it was a good pairing. Beer is a form of art, and bringing the artists into where you are doing the sampling of beers was a solution for raising funds.”

Tony Wittkowski is a staff reporter at MLive Muskegon Chronicle. Email him at twittkow@mlive.com and follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Aug. 17, 2014)