DTE Michigan craft breweries history beer

Tapping the amazing history of Michigan’s breweries

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Move over Wisconsin: Michigan is continuing its ascent as a mecca for beer enthusiasts around the world, as its ranked fifth in the country in number of breweries, microbreweries and brewpubs.

The industry, inclusive of more than 200 brewing factories, contributes nearly $7 billion to the state’s economy every year! Restaurants, festivals, historic tap rooms and fairs serve as the perfect watering holes for Michiganders and visitors alike to enjoy any of the now-famous brews on tap.

The craft craze has certainly shaped the Michigan economy, its communities big and small, and how outsiders view and appreciate the Great Lakes State. The modern successes of big-name brands all the way down to local, family-owned beerhouses have been more than 170 years in the making.

Founding Beer City USA

Michigan’s first brewery opened its doors in 1849 as German immigrant Christoph Kusterer established City Brewery in Grand Rapids. The end of the Civil War sparked a surge of family-owned operations who would use horse-drawn carriages to make deliveries throughout the region. Journeying to Detroit was a 7- to 10-day trek, and since the barrels were susceptible to heat, light and motion, brewers were pretty much forced into staying local.

This gave rise to breweries in Lansing, Traverse City, and other villages across the Lower Peninsula that had heard of these British-style ales, and wanted to experiment with their own yeast strains and processes. By the time the Prohibition Era began in 1920, Michigan was corking hundreds of thousands of barrels annually. Kusterer’s Grand Rapids Brewing Co. led the charge with 250,000 barrels per year, setting up Grand Rapids to taking on its present-day moniker of “Beer City USA.”

Rise of the Michigan beer titans

That said, Prohibition had a devastating impact on brewers in the Mitten. World War II was a time for consolidation, stunting the industry’s growth, and by the early 80’s there were just 93 breweries operating in the States.

Although Michigan beer had a heavy German influence, consumers’ interest ventured out into IPAs, stouts and wheats as hops crops flourished throughout both peninsulas. This is what would become known as the craft beer revolution as the likes of Short’s, Bell’s and Founders took off. Using their own recipes, processes and aromatics, each brewing company has made their unique stamp, inspired by the local Michigan fare and flavors.

Since 2011, the number of Michigan craft breweries has more than doubled; there are now more than 5,000 in the United States. Although growth is starting to plateau, the heads Atwater and Bell’s have expressed interest in expanding into Europe and/or Asia, taking the tastes of a Michigan summer to the global market. And to think, it all started in a Grand Rapids cellar!

Thirsty for more Michigan history? Look back at the origins of our state flower