Joe Short showed uncommon entrepreneurial tendencies at an early age: “One time in middle school I found this stash of candy left over from Halloween. It was December, and I realized that all the other kids would be out of their candy, and I could sell mine on the bus—I made a good haul.”
Joe Short showed himself to be an uncommonly hard worker at an early age: “My family was poor, and I knew that if I wanted anything, I had to earn the money myself, so everything I got—my own bikes, snowboards, lift tickets—I earned myself.”
Joe Short expressed an uncommon interest in beer (making beer, that is) at an early (though not inappropriately early) age: “When I was in college, people would come over to my apartment and they’d see me sitting there with all these books open in front of me and notes all over the place and they’d say, ‘Whoa, man, you got some kinda big test tomorrow?’ and I’d say, ‘No, man, I’m writing—a new beer recipe.’”
And so it was, and so it is, and so it will be, Joe Short is a brewer, a hardworking brewer, an entrepreneurial brewer, and he’s still a young brewer—he’ll turn 29 later this year.
And on a Wednesday last January—a day like any other in his brewer life—Joe Short’s destiny is playing out at 121 N. Bridge Street in Bellaire, Michigan, home to Short’s Brewing Company, where he makes beer in the basement and serves it in the street level pub. At 10:30 in the morning, a weak winter light shines in through the big windows of the former hardware store, filling the pub with a pale, dreamy glow. The place is empty save for a woman prepping the cook station for lunch and another woman mopping the floor. Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues plays from somewhere in the back, specifically the basement, where Short has already been working for four hours.
At this particular moment Short is walking around the space—a neat assembly of 13 stainless steel tanks about 8 feet high and 4 feet in diameter set amid clean brick walls first raised in the late 1800’s. He wears knee-high rubber boots and sprays things with a hose. “The big secret of a brewer is that you are basically a cook that cleans.” he says, his boots squeaking on the wet floor.
Meanwhile, the dull hissing surge of a large gas burner provides a clue about the status of today’s brewing mission. The flame, which reflects blue on the wet floor beneath the mash kettle, is heating 350 gallons of water that will be used for the mash.
Today’s concoction is named Soft Parade, and with ingredients like red raspberries and black raspberries to be added at day’s end, the recipe embodies one of Joe Short’s central philosophies: push the flavor boundaries of beer. By adding unexpected ingredients—licorice, cocoa, black cherries, dill, horseradish and coriander, among many others—he creates rich and complex flavors not found anywhere else. Short’s now sells about 20 beers, ranging from Local Light to Chocolate Wheat—not a one of them “plain Jane,” he says. On top of that he makes 13 in what he calls the Imperial Beer Series. And the market has taken notice. Though Short opened his brewery in April 2004, he already sells tap beer in kegs to more than 70 pubs and restaurants statewide, and Short’s own pub has become one of Northern Michigan’s hottest gathering spots for locals and tourists—a popularity helped along by his commitment to presenting live music.