As a lead-in to this weekend’s Detroit Fall Beer Festival, this week is designated by industry insiders as Detroit Beer Week.
This often sold-out festival at Eastern Market includes products from more than 80 breweries across the state, but Detroit Beer Week specifically concentrates on boosting beer made within city limits.
Breweries in and around the city are hosting special events and releases, and some brewers are participating in discussions to review the state of the craft brewing industry specifically in southeastern Michigan.
On Wednesday Meijer collected a group of brewery owners, operators and sales managers from across the state to talk for an hour about Detroit’s market. Gathered at Atwater Brewery just outside of downtown Detroit, the discussion was led by Shannon Long, host and producer of television show “Pure Brews America.”
The panel included seasoned brewers from all over the state including Joe Short of Short’s Brewing Company in northern Michigan and Mark Rieth of Atwater, along with newcomers to the business of John Leone, owner of ROAK Brewing Company in Royal Oak.
The conversation highlighted Detroit’s importance to the health of the beer industry state-wide.
“We have a restaurant that we opened in Detroit a year and a half ago,” said Tony Grant, owner and CEO of Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, which has locations in Ann Arbor, Dexter and Traverse City, as well as in Detroit’s Cass Corridor. “We’re a small company and we’ve always wanted to be physically located and have a presence (in Detroit).”
“Detroit is so important to the state and we feel it no matter where we’re from,” said Grant, who also owns North Peak Brewing Company and Northern United Brewing Company. “Our team’s from Traverse City, Bay City, Lansing, from Inkster ... when Detroit isn’t doing well the rest of us aren’t doing well, so to see what’s happened here, the passion the people, reinvesting in the city – and we’re a part of that, too – if we had a chance to do more investing in the city we’ll do it when we have the money saved up to do so. We’re proud to be here.”
Naturally, a lot of the conversation leaned toward thanking Meijer for its involvement in promoting Michigan beer.
“Today Michigan (beers) accounts for 38 percent of our craft beer sales,” said Rich O’Keefe senior beer buyer for Meijer, adding that Michigan craft beers account for 12 percent of total beer sales.
The panel also discussed the importance of brewers not getting caught up by trends, yet at the same time being flexible and willing to change and to listen to feedback.
One upcoming trend predicted by Bell’s Brewery’s director of business insights Matt Moberly is a focus on malts instead of hops. Joe Short of Short’s Brewing Company thinks there’s going to be more thought put into attractive packaging.
He says that customers, particularly millennials, know that most products on the craft beer shelf is quality, so they make a decision based on an interesting label instead.
“We’re all making great beer. So it’s what distinguishes our beer to attract a specific audience. Be the Ritalin to an ADD market,” said Short. “People need ... the next cool thing. Making cool beer isn’t cool enough anymore. We all make really good beers so what’s the next level.”
This media- and industry-only event wasn’t open to the public, but Thursday a similar event will be held at HopCat in Detroit 5:30-8:30 p.m. Billed as a “Michigan Craft Beer Industry Update,” the panel includes HopCat owner Mark Sellers, Rob Powers of Powers Distributing and others. Tickets, $50 for Association for Corporate Growth members and $75 for guests, include beer and food. Visit acg.org/detroit for more info.
Where to celebrate
But that’s all insider baseball. If you just want to drink some local beer and just not talk about it, here are some Detroit Beer Week-centric events.
■Motor City Brewing Works has partnered with GoGo’s Hawaiian Street Food (inside the Park Bar) to create Gogo’s Coconut Porter made with roasted coconut. It debuts on draft Thursday at the restaurant, 2040 Park in Detroit. In turn, Motor City Brewing Works will start serving a GoGo’s inspired pizza at the brewery, 470 Canfield in Detroit.
■Thursday after 6 p.m. there will be a Detroit Brewing Company tap takeover at Thomas Magee’s Sporting House at 1408 E. Fisher near Eastern Market. Order food from Stache International next door and enjoy music from DJ Wax-Trax-N-Dre.
■Slow’s Bar-B-Q, 2138 Michigan in Corktown. will host a tap takeover for a different brewery each day this week. Thursday try unique brews from Founder’s, including a 6 p.m. tapping of KBS and 7 p.m. tappings of Backwoods Bastard 2014 and BBA Redankulous. Friday Short’s Brewery is the star with KwikKriek, Slippery Brit, Dan’s Pink Skirt, Bim Bam Boom and others.
■The 8th annual Detroit Fall Beer Festival takes place Friday and Saturday in Eastern Market with 700 beers from 80 Michigan breweries. Saturday is sold out, but some tickets are left for Friday’s event, 5-9 p.m. for $40 plus fees. Visit mibeer.com.