Ingham County distilleries, breweries are showing their spirits

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It’s been more than 10 years since a Michigan law that allows microbreweries and distilleries to serve alcohol made on their property in “tasting rooms” or elsewhere onsite. Ingham, County’s brewing and distilling industry really started becoming apparent in 2015, but planning happened much before then.

With the passing of the bill in August of 2008 sprouted ideas from those with a background in alcohol and a willingness to brew it. On Feb. 22, the Michigan Beer Festival takes place in Comstock Park near Grand Rapids, and Ingham businesses will be there to share insights and market their drinks.
American Fifth is one business making an appearance. It opened in 2015 and boasts a menu of spirits and cocktails, president and owner Rick Wyble changes the selections of mixed drinks the fifth of every month.

Brewing tanks are right by the window of the small building. Inside, there is a bar counter made with epoxy-covered pennies and a large wall of spirits. American Fifth has a 1920s look with wood furniture and coil lighting, making it distinctive.

Michigan Brewing Works in Williamston, the future home of a microbrewery, distillery and small winery, is expected to open in March. Bobby Mason, the owner and only employee of MBW, uses a one-barrel system in the basement of his tasting room to brew beer 31 gallons at a time. Mason has 12 beers on tap which are static through the seasons but doesn’t want to distill any spirits until he officially opens in the spring.

Mason said adding spirits and wine to his selection could be an important step in making profits and a bigger company name.

Unlike other Ingham breweries, MBW is off the beaten path on farmland. It sells kgs offsite. “What makes us different is our property. The wheat we buy from Michigan and the malt barley purchased from the Midwest mimics the land around us,” said Mason. “Out in the country, we can host summer venues and camping for customers without disruptions.”

Mason was present in the legislative creation of Act 218, writing the bill with the State Rep. Barb Byrum, now the Ingham County clerk; former governor Jennifer Granholm, and MSU Professor Kris Berglund. Byrum says she got interested in Michigan’s brewing industry after obtaining a degree in agricultural business. “I grew up in the small, rural community of Onondaga, and there was a lot of farming there. I was really interested in everything we harvested,” Byrum said.

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