With slightly more than 15,000 residents, Traverse City is best known as a four-season outdoor adventure destination with a lively culinary and wine scene, but more recently it has suddenly emerged as a major center of craft brewing.
Draft magazine has named it one of Americas’ three “emerging beer towns” (along with St. Louis and Oklahoma City) and The Travel Channel listed it among the Top Seven Beer Destinations in North America. Today the area boasts 11 microbreweries, brewpubs and craft brew taprooms – three of them added in the past year – with four more scheduled to open before the winter snow flies.
The town now has its own “Ale Trail” that leads beer-loving visitors through many of Traverse City’s breweries and brewpubs by issuing them a “little passport to the big world of beer in Northern Michigan.” And it supports two major microbrew festivals – one in the summer and another in midwinter. This year, a third event has appeared: Traverse City Beer Week scheduled for November 8-15 as a relaxed celebration of craft brewing whose main focus is on breweries and restaurants.
Traverse City’s status as a craft brew town began in 1996, when the area’s first brewpub, Mackinaw Brewing Company, opened its doors in an elegant 19th century brick building at the corner of Front and Cass streets. Mackinaw was soon joined by a second brewpub, the North Peak Brewing Company, in a former candy factory down the street, whose basement eventually became the headquarters of Kilkenny’s Irish Public House.
It was the 2004 arrival of Short’s Brewing in nearby Bellaire that kicked things into high gear, moving beyond a classical palette of classic ales, lagers, stouts and porters into previously uncharted territory where such ingredients as raisins, maple syrup, spruce buds and cherries began finding their way into the mix. In 2007, Right Brain Brewery opened in Traverse City’s Warehouse District, and the local craft brewing scene suddenly got much more interesting.
Nearby packages stores and restaurants began stocking local brews, taprooms opened to serve the crowds of new craft beer drinkers, and in 2009 local promoters put together the first-ever Traverse City Microbrew & Music Festival. Meanwhile, the Jolly Pumpkin brewery of Dexter joined with North Peak to create a brewpub in Bowers Harbor on the Old Mission Peninsula.
In early 2012, former Vermont baker David Cannizzaro and his family opened the Filling Station Microbrewery in the city’s elegant Italianate railroad station, and opened a neighborhood brewery on Union Street called Brewery Ferment. This year former Right Brain brewmaster John Niedermaier opened of his “farm-to-mug” Brewery Terra Firma, on a seven-acre farm south of town that grows most of its ingredients on site, brewer Pete Kirkwood opened The Workshop Brewing Company in the city’s Warehouse District, and Michael Rizik opened Beggars Brewery near Wuerfel Park, south of Traverse City.
“An emerging beer town requires one thing and one thing only — excellent brewing creativity producing outstanding beer. Simple as that,” wrote Brooks Vanderbush in the Michigan microbrew site Mitten Brew. “And Traverse City isn’t merely emerging, it’s exploding.”