By Alexander Smith
Listen Up Lansing Staff Reporter
Craft beer sales are growing, and so is the customer base. According to a recent Nielsen study, 35 percent of adults 21 and older are more likely to try a craft beverage. To 56 percent of those surveyed, “craft” means coming from a small, independent company such as a local brewery.
Michigan has plenty in cities such as Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor, and Lansing is starting to follow suit. However, Lansing has trouble keeping people downtown after the workday is over.
“Downtown is definitely trying to draw more people. Living here, I’ll go down to get Jimmy John’s or go to the ATM or something, and after 5 p.m. downtown is dead,” said Lansing resident Chad Hester. “It’s funny, because they just put that billboard above the Nuthouse that says ‘Lansing: Alive After 5.’”
The city has been making an effort to build up downtown, especially the Stadium District. The Lansing City Market reconstruction in 2010, Marketplace Apartments in 2014 and the soon-to-be-completed Outfield Apartments overlooking Cooley Law School Stadium are only a few of the recent developments. October 2015 brought a new local brewery and revived a century-old name: Lansing Brewing Company.
“We’re going through a lot of beer, making a lot of different beers as well, a lot of different styles now,” said Head Brewer Sawyer Stevens. “A lot more than I expected, a lot more than other breweries do seven months down the road.”
The original brewery shut down in 1914, but the Gillespie Group, responsible for many of the recent residential and mixed-use developments downtown, invested $1.5 million into the former auto warehouse. General Manager Dan Glazier said the brewery is a step in the right direction for Lansing.
“This is the last major Michigan city to be explored in terms of breweries,” said Glazier “It’s the last frontier for big cities in terms of having a brewing community, and it’s an exciting time for Lansing right now because you’re seeing them pop up here and there’s more on the way.”
“It’s definitely not where Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo are, but the cool part about that is we get to be on the ground floor here in Lansing,” said Stevens. “I think we’ll get there sooner rather than later.”
Michigan placed sixth nationally in number of breweries according to a 2015 Brewers Association study. The number has doubled since 2010, with nearly 770,000 barrels of craft beer produced in 2015.
Among those statistics, the Nielsen study determined that locally-produced beer is an important factor to more than half of craft beer drinkers 21 and older.
“Bell’s Two Hearted is my favorite,” said Lansing resident Philip Shoaff. “I like to buy beers made in Michigan, so if there’s something I haven’t tried or a seasonal beer from a company in Michigan, I’ll usually go for that. I’ll try a couple different things I’ve never heard of and a Two Hearted, because I know it’ll be a good time.”
The increase in local production is tied to the hop market, which has grown in Michigan and surrounding states within the last decade. In 2006, a warehouse fire destroyed 4 percent of U.S. hop production, and that, along with low yields in 2007, led to demand outpacing supply. Growers in the Great Lake states started planting hops, and the industry slowly began to grow as the needs of craft brewers could be met.
“It’s a snowball effect. The more breweries that pop up, the better it is for agriculture,” said Sawyer. “Like the craft beer industry in Michigan, the hop industry has risen exponentially. When we get to look back ten years from now, it should be interesting. I can’t even say what it’ll look like, the market is always changing.”
Though Lansing Brewing Company is mainly sticking to well known styles, many craft brewers experiment with ingredients other than hops, such as maple, molasses, vanilla beans, coconut, cherries, chestnut chips, and much more.
“That’s why I like craft beer. The art and style that goes into it, you’re not just drinking to get drunk,” said Hester. “You’re drinking to enjoy the flavor, pick up on all the little things that go into it and so forth.”
In many aspects, Lansing still can’t compete with Grand Rapids or Ann Arbor, but craft brewing is one area that seems poised for growth. Michigan’s reputation as a beer haven is because of cities with a strong brewing community. Building that community in Lansing is good for the health of brewers, drinkers and the city.
“I think that’s the main focus of most breweries that open up,” said Glazier. “Where you’re at, it’s important to you, and you think of your local community first. We’re no different.”