How Copper Hop Brewing Co. Began
The story of Copper Hop Brewing Co. began at a joint birthday party for co-owners Ryan Balicki and Jeremy Lewis in the summer of 2016. Jeremy had been homebrewing for years and brought a few kegs for the party. The beer was a huge hit, and it soon became an annual tradition for Jeremy to bring his homebrewed concoctions for everyone to enjoy. By the third year, Ryan and Jeremy started talking seriously about starting their own brewery, and the idea for Copper Hop Brewing Co. was born.
With years of experience in the corporate world, Ryan had always thought about being an entrepreneur. He began working on a business plan, doing demographic research to figure out the best location for a brewery and trying to determine if the idea was even feasible. The two recognized the necessity of a third partner, and as luck would have it, Ryan soon ran into an old friend.
Ryan and Shaun Koltuniak had worked together at Best Buy as teenagers and had known each other for nearly 20 years. Catching up in Meijer’s frozen food aisle, Shaun was instantly interested in getting involved in the brewery, as he was also a homebrewer and had always wanted to start a brewery of his own. With Shaun onboard, the trio quickly found the perfect location in downtown St. Clair Shores. In December of 2019, construction was complete, and Copper Hop was ready to open its doors. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Pivoting for Success
“The worst part was the uncertainty of it,” said Ryan. “But our biggest concern was making sure our employees were taken care of.” Ryan, Jeremy and Shaun worked fervently to ensure Copper Hop wouldn’t flounder in the midst of a months-long lockdown. They kept the brewery open, offering curbside pickup for their customers and eventually adding an outdoor patio complete with heaters.
“For us, it was all about pivoting, being a chameleon and adapting to the situation,” said Ryan. We continuously thought, ‘how can we make a space that is safe and brings in enough customers so we can open every day?’”
Their strategies worked. Now, Copper Hop’s business is booming, and the brewery has even stimulated further development in the area. In the future, they hope to develop an event space and potentially make room for distilling. For now, they’re focused on the year ahead.
“We’ve been open for a full year and don’t know what a normal summer or fall would look like,” said Ryan. “We’re still waiting to have our first year.”
Community and Sustainability
For Ryan, Jeremy and Shaun, helping the community they serve is the most important part of running their business. This includes protecting the environment and making Copper Hop as sustainable as possible. From the start, they launched various sustainability initiatives, including recycling the water used in the brewing process and sending used grain out to local farms for use as cattle feed. Most recently, inspired by Hawaii’s Kona Brewing Co. – a brewery that runs on 100% solar energy – Copper Hop enrolled in DTE Energy’s MIGreenPower program.
“Before we opened, we looked at doing solar panels on the roof, and it wasn’t in the cards,” said Ryan. “MIGreenPower allowed us to get where we want to be without installing additional equipment.”
MIGreenPower lets DTE Electric customers attribute a percentage of their energy use to Michigan’s wind and solar parks, giving subscribers the opportunity to participate in DTE’s clean energy projects and reduce their impact on the environment. Copper Hop will be attributing 100% of their energy use to renewable energy and is the first brewery to enroll in the program.
Ryan, Jeremy and Shaun recognize that the brewing community is like one big family. In the beginning, Copper Hop received help from multiple local breweries, and has since had the ability to help other breweries just starting out.
“The comradery within the brewing community is amazing,” said Ryan. “And our community that we serve, St. Clair Shores, is amazing too.”