Northern Michigan Microbrew Interviews: Jeff Brooks, Bravo Zulu

To celebrate Traverse City Beer Week, MyNorth will be running a daily interview with brewers and pub owners in the Northern Michigan microbrew scene. Technically speaking, Traverse City Beer Week kicks off Friday, November 7, but on Thursday, November 6, Little Fleet is hosting The IPA Challenge, a contest in which 11 northern Michigan brewers will put their best brew forward in a blind taste test event to be judged by regular beer fans and experts alike.

Today we check in with Jeff Brooks, co-owner of Bravo Zulu Brewing, in Acme, to learn the story of his microbrew pub.

Give us a little background on your microbrew pub, share the concept with us.

Brooks: I’m a former Navy guy and former Army guy, and I wanted a place that would honor all the veterans and coppers and firemen and all the people who serve, a place that would say, “job well done,” which that is what Bravo Zulu means in military speak. They are out there putting it on the line every day and they don’t get much back.

So not just make good microbrews, but bringing something much bigger into the equation.

Brooks: Yeah. Our dreams and ambitions were to not only put out the best beer we possibly could and distribute it through the local market, but also help veterans in particular. So we run veterans events here to recognize them and help them find jobs, do résumé building and stuff like that. And whenever possible, we donate to charitable organizations that are helping those people. If there’s a fallen guy or gal in the military, we want to give to help out.

Color that in a little more for us, a little more about the workshops.

Brooks: So for the past few months, on the first Tuesday of each month we’d have a workshop. We pull in different organizations that help veterans. We had Matter of Honor in, and we had Michigan Works in to tell what services they have, how they can help veterans. And we had a VA representative in to talk about different programs. Tonight I’m meeting with a group of dentists to talk about setting up a program for veterans who don’t qualify for free dental in the VA, but who also can’t afford to pay for a dentist. We are stopping the workshops for a couple of months to get through the holidays, but we will be starting them again after the New Year. Next month I’ll be meeting with Governor Snyder to talk about program that helps veterans stay in touch with one another. Veterans need other veterans because they are the only ones who can really understand what they’ve gone through.

How did veterans respond originally when you first opened?

Brooks: They were very cautious. And justifiably so. A lot of organizations out there want to capitalize on a vet. But when they hear my story, they open up. I had PTSD really bad and it took me a while to get my mind around it, but I did. I have counseled families of soldiers just back from the war. Their veteran is acting differently, and the family doesn’t know how to handle it. But I can relate to their feelings. I’ve counseled about 50 families since we opened December 13, 2013. I can tell people, look at me, I was suffering PTSD and now I own a microbrewery. You are in the worst of it now, but it will get better.

That’s a powerful bunch of backstory for a microbrewery, but there’s the beer part of the story too. Tell us about that piece, what’s your mission there?

Brooks: When it comes to beer, our approach is we want to have the crispest, cleanest beer we can make, whether its our lightest beer, our Golden Valor Ale, all the way to our darkest, our stout, and everything in between. We are not afraid to try things, but you aren’t likely to find a crazy beer here that sounds ridiculous. Our brewer, Sam Sherwood, has 15 years brewing experience down in Grand Rapids. He grew up in Kalkaska and wanted to get back here, so I asked him to join on. He is a genius with beer chemistry. He’s the master. And another thing, we understand that everybody works hard for their money, everybody earns it, so we run the lowest beer prices in town. In order for us to reach out, to invite people to try this good beer, we drop our prices to as low as we can get them and still stay alive.

What are your personal favorites?

Brooks: Our IPA, the New Direction Ale. I also really like the American Pryed—it’s a rye—and our Ember Amber Ale. Those are my three favorites.

Any thoughts to share about the IPA Challenge tonight?

Brooks: We believe we have the best IPA in town. It’s that simple. It’s our everyday IPA, not some special brew, because we figured if we wanted to showcase something, this is what we want people to taste, the IPA they can get any time. Of course, if anybody wants to get a jump on things, they can come out to Bravo Zulu and have some.

Find Bravo Zulu Brewing in Acme at the northeast corner of US31 and M72. 231.943.1459, bravozulubrewing.com.

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