Can it!
Craft Beer Trends & Southwest Michigan Breweries

STORY CHARLOTTE YOUNG | IMAGE GONZO’S BIGGDOGG BREWING AND CHARLOTTE YOUNG

There are nearly 300 breweries, microbreweries, and brewpubs operating in Michigan with over 30 operations just in the 269 area code.

“You are never more than an hour from a fresh pint of hand-crafted beer. Brewing operations are located in communities throughout the entire state, many of which are revitalizing main streets and resurrecting historical buildings,” according to the Michigan Brewers Guild. “Brewery tap rooms and restaurants are diverse, unique gathering places that are connected and committed to their local communities. Additionally, local breweries have a profound impact on Michigan’s economy.”

Communities in Southwest Michigan are embracing the business of brewing. The area is saturated with a range of craft beer enthusiasts from rookies to self-proclaimed beer snobs. With so many great breweries in the region alone, patrons of the local craft beer scene may be fiercely loyal to the brewery in their corner of town or willing to explore and try new things, or both. It isn’t just locals who patronize area breweries either, Southwest Michigan is a bona fide tourist destination, bringing in craft beer drinkers from near and far.

From Calhoun to Kalamazoo to Berrien and all the counties in between, there are so many opportunities to try something local and new. With area businesses recognizing the value of beer tourism, you will find establishments offering unique hotel and spa packages, special transportation and tours, ale trails, and more. A growing number of businesses have embraced the opportunity to add craft beer to their customer’s experience in the form of beer on draft, draft beer to go growler stations, craft beer caves, and build your own six-pack options.

Like many other businesses, craft breweries often consider their environmental impact and sustainable options when making decisions about packaging. Now widely accepted, you may notice more craft beer hitting the shelves of Southwest Michigan in 12-ounce and 16-ounce cans instead of the old standby brown glass bottles, and for good reason. Trevor Eberstein, Sales Representative for Kalamazoo’s Gonzo’s Biggdogg Brewing says, “16-ounce cans have become very popular in Michigan.”

The advantages of canning beer are many. Beer brewers and drinkers alike have both opened their hearts and eyes to understanding the huge advantages of canning technology, acknowledges The Aluminum Association. Some of the most respected craft breweries in the world, including those in Southwest Michigan, are now utilizing this container. “Every beer style makes sense in cans,” says Pat Kleppert, Brewer at Boatyard Brewing Company, also located in Kalamazoo.

Aluminum cans are the most recycled beverage container. The average can contains 70 percent recycled metal and a recycled aluminum can becomes a new can in as little as 60 days in most cases. These cans are lightweight and easily stacked. This provides storage and shipping efficiencies and limits overall transportation carbon emissions through logistic and supply chains. Aluminum cans are more than 15 times lighter than the old standard glass bottles, allowing breweries to package and transport more beverages to thirsty craft beer fans using less material. Protection from light and oxygen are two more benefits of aluminum packaging. Beer and the hops used to brew beer are extremely sensitive to light. Exposure to light can cause the compounds in hops break down and react with traces of sulfur compounds in the beer, causing it to taste and smell skunky. Also, oxygen can manipulate the flavor of beer so that it tastes like cardboard.

A unique business has brought the possibility of craft beer canning to breweries throughout Southwest Michigan and the entire state. Michigan Mobile Canning is part of the growing network of mobile canners that bring canning to those who might not otherwise have the equipment or resources bring their beer to the patrons in this package. The people of Michigan Mobile Canning travel across the state, partnering with breweries to bring an honorable idea to life: “together we can.”

“As little as five years ago, canning was out of reach for most Michigan craft brewers. With the advent of mobile canning and the high demand for craft beer in local stores, canning has exploded in Michigan,” Kleppert says. “Breweries need distribution to help grow their brands and sales, and these full-service labeling and mobile canning units fill those needs without a company owning a complete canning line which saves capital. Sourcing cans and labels from right here in Michigan to get Michigan-made brews out into the market is a true hones example of a company with a positive effect on its local economy. We schedule with Michigan Mobile Canning when we have multiple beers ready to can and they come in and set up the morning of canning day,”

In addition to Boatyard Brewing located on Kalamazoo’s north side, Gonzo’s Biggdogg Brewing located downtown also uses the services offered by Michigan Mobile Canning. “Michigan Mobile Canning provides all the equipment we need,” agrees Tim Koss, Assistant Brewer at Gonzo’s Biggdogg Brewing. “We package right off our bright or serving tanks.”

Boatyard and Gonzo’s both use 16-ounce cans as their packaging of choice and say it is doing very well for them. Look for Gonzo’s flagship brands Yummy Hoppy Double IPA, Geyser Brown Ale, Burning Sun Red Ale, and Vanilla Porter at your favorite craft beer store and Porch Appeal Peach Wheat also in 16-ounce cans throughout the summer months. Boatyard currently offers almost a dozen beer styles in 16-ounce cans including West Michigan IPA, Lake Effect Double IPA and Hazy Sunset New England style IPA.

Charlotte Young is Creative & PR Manager at Imperial Beverage, a long-standing member of the Michigan beverage distribution community. Established in 1933 after the repeal of prohibition and purchased by Kalamazoo’s Cekola family in 1984, Imperial has grown from a one-county beer distributor to a top 10 statewide beer, wine, and spirits wholesaler. With 330 employees and three locations in Kalamazoo, Livonia, and Traverse City, Imperial provides statewide coverage that serves every Michigan County, every week, all year long.

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