Crafted with Care: Michigan's Brewmakers

Innovators and makers are dedicated to the art of Michigan’s craft beer.

Two men drinking beer at a brewery
Ellison Brewery + Spirits | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan

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When you have access to fresh water sourced from the Great Lakes and hops that grow in fertile conditions thanks to the Lake Effect, the result is pretty spectacular. Between these geographical gifts and a surge of interest in craft beers, it’s easy to explore microbreweries and enjoy a taste that is purely Michigan!

Ask any Michigander about local beer and they’ll probably mention Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo. Founder Larry Bell first began brewing commercial beers in a soup pot and started producing what are now classic Michigan craft brews, like Third Coast Beer and Kalamazoo Stout. Bell’s release of Oberon Ale has become a signal for the start of spring in Michigan, and this year’s Oberon Day will take place on March 20. Meanwhile, Grand Rapids has gained national attention as Beer City USA with more than 40 breweries along the Beer City Ale Trail.

While Michigan’s craft beer scene has made its mark since the earliest days, there’s a whole new movement brewing: opening doors for people who don’t always have easy access to the industry. Of recent note, there’s Ypsilanti’s 734 Brewing Company, which is aiming to open the first Black-owned brewery in Detroit. Black Calder Brewing Company makes beer that also celebrates art and innovation in its packaging and collaborations.

Women leaders are also building up the beer scene to greater heights. Lending their support and knowledge to one another, a group of Michigan women in beer created Fermenta—a nonprofit organization committed to education, networking, diversity and empowerment. Barb Baker, aka the Siren of Stout, is the president of Fermenta and a first-level cicerone who honed her craft in Michigan. 

While the beer industry is traditionally dominated by men, Baker found herself moving in these circles with some ease. “When I go to a brewery and I’m the only woman or the only person of color in there, it has never made me uncomfortable because I’ve been that person throughout my whole life.”

Baker gives a lot of credit to her mother who told her, “Wherever you go, you belong.” Using that philosophy, she’s turned her focus on forging connections between women and other marginalized groups in the industry.

Above all, Baker and other beer enthusiasts are expressive about what makes Michigan’s beer culture so special. Whether area brewers are focused on creating modern hazy IPAs or old-style German pilsners she says, “we are more passionate, more innovative and we make really good beer!”

Another icon of Michigan beer is Annette May, who became the first female certified cicerone and teaches aspiring brewers and cicerones of all levels. Jess Stricklen recently opened Brewery Nyx in Grand Rapids, the first 100% gluten-free brewery in the state. Kris Spaulding is the president and co-owner of  Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids, the first production brewery in the U.S. to be LEED certified for its sustainable practices (and it also happens to be in a repurposed funeral home!). Last year, in honor of women in the beer industry, Bell’s created a specialty Belgian Tripel called Sparkle and SMaSH—brewed with hops and malts from women-owned Michigan businesses.  

However you prefer your pour, Michigan’s microbreweries, taprooms and tasting rooms can be found from Ann Arbor to Ypsilanti. Discover our guide to Pure Michigan breweries and share your favorites with us on Facebook or Instagram.