Traverse City Beer: Pete Kirkwood, Workshop Brewing Company

To celebrate Traverse City Beer Week, MyNorth will be running a daily interview with brewers and pub owners in the  Northern Michigan microbrew scene. Today we check in with Pete Kirkwood, founder of Workshop Brewing Company, Traverse City.

Give us a little insight into the foundation of Workshop Brewing. What kind of dream did it spring from?

Kirkwood: Well, our mission is three words: nature, community, craft. All decisions we make here are formed in consideration of those three things.

Maybe share an example of something that ties to each of those principles.

Kirkwood: Sure, so, nature, for instance. We are a zero waste facility and have been since the day we opened. Everything we do here is reused, recycled or composted. All spent grain goes to, say, local farmers for livestock feed. Whatever is left is composted by Bay Area Recycling. And all the stuff we buy is from recycled material.

As for community, we try to source as much as we can from local farmers. Michigan pumpkins for our Pumpkin Saison. Coriander from Black Star Farms—of course, you could say that buying local supports all three parts of our mission, nature, community and craft. Also, as part of community we are very committed to philanthropy, and all of the proceeds we get from the pub games here goes to local charities.

And craft, our commitment to tradition and commitment of making excellent beer and food. We call our beers heirloom beers because they are based on traditions that have been handed down generation to generation.

Which came first, the beer or the philosophy?

Kirkwood: I’d put our beer up against anybody’s beer, but it’s not only beer that movitates us. Really the philosophy came first and the beer and food are the opportunity to make manifest those principles. It inspires conversations around food and drink and what these things have to say about nature, community and craft.

What are you shooting for with the beers, what style are you operating in?

Kirkwood: We are not really trying new fangled things with our beer, but that doesn’t mean boring because old fangled is pretty damn great. It could mean styles that are rarely seen in the U.S. but that have been made a long time elsewhere in the world, recipes that have been refined for centuries. Aging in oak barrels, for example. We see that as a highest expression of brewing because you have to make a great beer to start with and then put it in the oak barrel. And this it is more art than science, tasting and blending and deciding how much time it should spend in there.

What can we expect on the taps when we walk into Workshop?

Kirkwood: We always want to have a mix of beers that are satisfying to a beer aficionado and also have gateway beers for a novice. So there are always seven beers on draft that offer a broad spectrum of flavors, beers that almost anyone will find delicious and live up to demanding expectations. From our blond ale to a nitrogen draft porter and everything in between.

But we’ve seen other beers offered too, beyond that.

Kirkwood: Right, so in addition, we have taps with seasonal beers, but they are seasonal beers you can count on to be there. So if you like our chestnut brown ale at Christmas, you know that next Christmas you can come back and enjoy it. And then there’s a class of beers I call the Master Class. These are beers that are ready whenever the barrels say they are ready—our flemish style brown ale is refermented in a wine barrel, our frambozn beer, a belgian wheat beer that’s refermented in a white wine barrel. We’ll age those as long as we need to. So the idea is, whenever you come in, you know there will be the seven you can count on, there will also be seasonals for variety, and then the Master Class beer too.

Food is not an after-thought at Workshop. Explain.

Kirkwood: I always wanted food to be a big part of this. We got Scott Williams, a great chef, and we design our menu with the seasons in mind. We are also conscious of how the foods lineup with the beers. Every beer has at least two foods paired with it on the menu.

We understand you came here after starting a brewery in Pennsylvania. Tell us how you ended up here.

Kirkwood: My grandparents had summered in Frankfort, so my mom did too and then so did I. And my wife and I, when we were looking for a place to raise our two children, we wanted an area that shared our values and Traverse City fit that bill. We have lived in many places around the country and abroad as well, and as we looked, the conclusion over and over again was this town embraced our vision, how we looked at the planet. And we’ve been ecstatic with our choice. My wife runs FLOW, which is all about water quality, so our joke is she’s about making the water clear, and I’m about making the water beer

What’s the next big thing for Workshop?

Kirkwood: We just took out a lease on the former Xylo space and will be having a breakfast place in there and it will also be available as a private event venue. It will be called The Remedy.

Workshop Brewing Company, 231.421.8977

More Q&A’s with Northern Michigan Microbrews

Joe Short, Short’s Brewing

Jeff Brooks, Bravo Zulu

Matt Cozzens, 7 Monks Taproom

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