East Lansing's Ellison Brewing enters second year

Tom Gromak
The Detroit News

Eric Elliott thought he was being trolled. But the owner of the year-old Ellison Brewing company found out otherwise when six ESPN camera operators showed up at his East Lansing brewpub to film some local shots to be used during last weekend's Michigan State football game.

Eric Elliott, of East Lansing-based Ellison Brewing.

The result? "A tremendous amount of attention," he said. All good.

"I got phone calls from North Carolina asking how they could get our beer," said Elliott. "Um, yeah, we're only distributing in four counties in Michigan right now."

That's about to change. Ellison Brewing -- named for Eric Elliot and a business partner with the last name of Hanson -- takes receipt in January on new canning equipment. He hopes that will lead to broader sales and growth in an increasingly competitive craft beer landscape.

"We're pretty new," he said while tending his booth Friday at the Michigan Brewers' Guild Detroit Fall Beer Festival. Then he laughed. At a year old, "I think we're probably pretty established in this day and age, with so many new breweries coming up."
Ellison, who previously worked for distributors in Detroit and Lansing, said the idea of starting a craft brewery (they also make hard ciders and a small line of liquor) had been with him for a while.

The DeWitt native saw East Lansing as a ripe target, especially in the wake of the demise of Michigan Brewing. The problem, he said, was that East Lansing, unlike markets like Detroit, Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo, wasn't really a craft beer-crazy area.

"Lansing was described as a complete desert for craft beer," he said. "So, now, we find we're spending a lot of time educating them, teaching them about styles. It's been really cool. But that's kind of unusual in Michigan these days."

One would think his market might be college kids, but Ellison said his demographic is 28- to 70-year-old beer drinkers who are seeking out good craft beer and find it at his industrial park brewpub at 4903 Dawn Ave., across the street from a Whole Foods Market.

"We're still kind of finding our way," he said. His head brewer focuses on IPAs and stouts. Eric works on hard ciders, something he likes. But they've also launched an East Coast IPA, a hoppy, citrusy, bubble-gummy beer called "Relativity," available at the beer festival this weekend. It's made with Cascade, Centennial and Chinook hops, and a Vermont-made yeast. Hop-heads will love it. Another to check out: their Tiramisu Stout, a coffee stout that Elliott said "tastes like dessert."

Also in the works, but not yet ready: 517 Pilsner. "Hat's off to domestic beer, because it's really hard to make it," he said. While an ale can be cranked out in as little as a couple weeks, the pilsner is a seven week project. He thinks it will be worth it.
His goal? To grow his brewpub. He looks to his right at the Fall Beer Festival and gives a nod to Bellaire-based Short's. "We want to do this right. We'd just like to replicate just a little bit of what they've done."

Visit Ellison Brewing at the Detroit Fall Beer Festival at Eastern Market through Saturday evening.