July 29, 2014 at 1:00 am

Detroit, Michigan's newest craft beer city

Atwater Brewing founder Mark Reith has come a long way in a short time, but says fewer regulations would help craft brewers like himself. (David Coates / The Detroit News)

Detroit is known by many nicknames: The Motor City, Hockeytown, ‘The D’, Motown. The last moniker on this list is in large part due to young entrepreneurs in the city taking risks and creating their own opportunities.

Now, Mark Reith, owner of Atwater Brewing Company has declared the metropolis Craft Beer City. And young people in Detroit agree. Recently, over 200 young people gathered at Atwater to hear Mark talk about beer and to participate in Generation Opportunity’s first Free the Brews event in Michigan.

Free the Brews is a national conversation which highlights how young people are revolutionizing the craft beer world. This entrepreneurial energy is not only delivering a better product and more choices to the consumer but is also breathing new life into areas desperate for change.

With over 130 craft breweries in the state, Detroit alone is home to five distinct hop factories. All five are committed to creating unique and delicious beers that embody the hardworking spirit of the city. Reith and his team are committed to shaping Michigan's reputation as a premier beer destination.

While Michigan has experienced a recent effort to allow brewers more freedom, and craft breweries have subsequently boomed, many brewers in the Mitten State are still being encumbered by outdated and frankly nonsensical government regulations. Prohibition-era laws remain intact and make the process of owning and operating a brewery extremely expensive and challenging.

The most burdensome law is the three-tier system which requires that brewers, distributors, and retailers exist as separate entities. Brewers who produce over a certain number of barrels of beer cannot sell their products directly to consumers. Instead, they must sell to a distributor who then sells to the retailer. Not only does this steer profit toward the middle-man, it also makes expansion and experimentation difficult.

The culture of craft beer in Michigan and across the country is one of camaraderie, and brewers are always trying to push the envelope with new and exciting brews. Unfortunately, regulations make it hard for brewers to drive change. When Reith decided it was time to open Atwater and bring his passion for beer to the young people of Detroit – all of whom are over 21, of course – he faced a few setbacks.

“I had to go through every level of government just to get a permit,” he lamented at the event. Just waiting for the permit to go through federal, state, and local officials took almost twelve months. If regulations were streamlined to make the permit process simpler and speedier, more craft breweries would be able to open, spurring an increase in local competition and more creative products for consumers to choose from.

Less government means more opportunity, more craft beer, and more freedom.

More craft beer also creates an economic impact that can’t be ignored. While the Atwater Brewing team has typically used malts and hops from Germany to brew its beer, it is making a push to go local. Atwater isn’t alone in this push, either – many breweries rely on local farmers for ingredients and often partner with farmers on special brews. This creates a local fan base and loyalty-driven sales for particular brews and farms. Everybody wins, especially the consumer.

Ultimately, it is the consumer who should determine whether or not a craft brewery is successful. If a product is good, people will buy it – it’s as simple as that. Brewers in the state of Michigan and in Motown deserve a fair chance to share their beers with those who want to drink them.

The conversation has begun in Michigan, but there is still plenty of room to free the brews. You can taste the entrepreneurial energy in the craft brew world, and by freeing the brews, GenOpp hopes to pop the top off of other creative industries in Detroit, the Mitten, and beyond.

Kevin Gardner is the Michigan state director for Generation Opportunity, a youth advocacy organization.