The Greenbush Grows
By Paul Schneider. Photos By Michael Kiser
We've been following Greenbush Brewing for almost a year now, before they even opened their doors. The first time we sat down with owner Scott Sullivan, he told us about his modest plans to sell about 300 barrels of beer in his first year of operation. Now, just over halfway into that first year, Sullivan projects that his inaugural production total will eclipse 2,500 barrels. If he ever gets bored of brewing, at least he has a promising career as a weatherman.
What's behind the unanticipated success? Well, Chicago, you certainly have something to do with it. "Chicago has been great," Sullivan said. "We've had a huge groundswell of support that has far outpaced our ability to keep up and we have a distributor—Windy City Distributing—that knows how to help us manage everything and keep growing. Thankfully we have another 60 barrels of fermentation coming online to supplement our existing 77 barrels so we should be able to get more beer to more places in about a month."
Some of that additional capacity will bring Greenbush bottles to Chicago for the first time. In April, you can expect to find six-packs of Sunspot, a hefeweizen, Dunegräs, an IPA, Retribution, a Belgian-style ale, and Anger, a black IPA on shelves around town. In the meantime, you can make an epic tri-state beer run like we did with Michael Kiser, the man behind the excellent lifestyle beer blog Good Beer Hunting and the lens that took the photos in this post.
Chicago travelers—most of whom probably visit for more than a beer run—are a huge part of the reason Greenbush has done so well, but the brewery's outreach in Chicago has been at least as important. So, just how did they pull it off?
"I think that has to do with two factors," Sullivan mused. "First, we built a tremendous amount of relationships in Chicago with chefs, bars and restaurants which helped us hit the ground running. Second, our area has a tremendous amount of Chicago traffic so it is great for cross-pollinating." We'll add a third reason: they've been sending everything they make to Chicago, which adds up to well over a dozen styles so far. This keeps curious beer geeks coming back for more. And a fourth: the beer is consistently good. Damn good.
If you haven't come across any of the collaboration beers made by Greenbush and their conspirators in Chicago's kitchens, it's time to make that a priority. Watch for the release of rye porter confab with Bangers & Lace later this month, and a white ale with blood orange and fennel consort with Cleetus Friedman of City Provisions in March.
With all the Chicago love, we had to ask: does Sullivan imagine Greenbush as a Chicago brewery? The people at Three Floyds seem to never speak in public without reminding us that they feel that way, but Greenbush is a little farther down the road. "Definitely not," he replied, then dialed it back. "We love Chicago. My family is from there, and I was born there and later spent a decade there, but we are most definitely a proudly Michigan brewery. Our guild is the best in the country, our scene stands up to any state--in my mind we exceed any other--and we are about as Michigan as you can get. That said, Chicago is our geographical backyard so it does sometimes feel a little like we have a foot in both worlds."
It seems like that footprint is destined to expand. By our calculations, Greenbush's capacity will increase from about 2,500 barrels to 4,750 when their new fermenters come in. That's a hell of a jump. Sullivan was coy about any further expansion plans, except to note that they plan on opening an outdoor patio for Memorial Day and are thinking about reconfiguring their current space to double the size of the taproom. But given the low cost of commercial real estate in Harbor County and the outsize demand for Greenbush beer, we'd be damn fools to believe his plans are so modest. We're betting on the announcement of expansion plan in 2012 that will likely push Greenbush's capacity above 10,000 barrels.
Paul Schneider is one of the co-founders of local beer blog Chitown on Tap.