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 the region’s most renowned brewer, Joe Short, of Short’s Brewing, in Bellaire.
We saw 11 brewers at Traverse City’s IPA Challenge Thursday night, all northern Michigan contenders. Do you think we are anywhere near a saturation point for microbrewers up here?
That’s tough to say. If you look at the percentage of craft beer vs. macros, we still have a lot of market share to absorb [nationally, microbrews make up about 7 percent of beer market volume]. I think it will be more and more difficult for the packaging brewer to compete. But I’m all about the small town pub, brewing and serving, and I think there will be good growth there.
So, more microbrew pubs, not necessarily more bottles on the store shelf.
Yeah, there’s a new generation of consumers out there, and they are looking for something a little different in where they hang out. Not so much the dark place with no windows and a jukebox in the corner. They want light and good food and a different atmosphere.
I know there are different views on the value of food in the microbrew pub equation, but you are saying food is an essential?
The pubs are the huge transition pieces, the places where people congregate. In Bellaire, we are one of the few places you can get something to eat, and not only eat, but we have samplers, you can try stuff. You might like one or two and that might prompt you to keep trying them. Then you find out, after a year of tasting, you are a bona fide connoisseur. Hospitality is the huge link in all of that. We are converting people. They come here for the food and they try the beer and like it.
Is there still a spirit of brewer brotherhood among Northern Michigan brewers, a shared sense that a rising tide lifts all ships?
For the most part that still exists. And I think it will for a while, especially if our microbrew pubs are brewer owned. And that brotherhood has been a part of it. The people at Bell’s and Founders have been very generous to us, sharing information. We are looking at installing a 100-barrel brew house, and they had us down, showed us their operation, talked about timelines, installation issues, what worked, what didn’t. I’m not saying there’s not competition on the sales side. Sure, I’d like to see Short’s tap handles where there are Bell’s, but there is an understanding that as long as somebody is drinking Short’s, Bell’s or Founders and not Pabst, we will do well.
Any new competitors out there that you especially like?
I just went to Rare Bird Brewery for the first time, and I was really impressed with the quality of the beer and the food. And I really liked seeing that because our trade relies on that, on quality product. It takes a lot of time and patience to make sure the brand has quality. The other thing I was impressed with there is they are serving beers from other microbrewers in the region. And that’s another essential part of our future success, the beer bar, places like 7 Monks and Rare Bird who are collecting the best beers into one place.
Bring us up to date on Short’s. What’s the next big thing? … or things?
We have a lot going on on both sides of the tracks—Bellaire and Elk Rapids. In Bellaire we acquired five downtown storefronts and restored the first block-building ever built in Bellaire. And we will be expanding our pub into the old pharmacy, which moved across the street. It’s all part of a downtown redevelopment process that will continue for a couple of years. In Elk Rapids we also bought neighboring property to expand production, and we will be breaking ground for a 100-barrel brew house and bottle filler, and a wastewater treatment facility.
And just this week we announced our own cider brand. It’s called Starcut Ciders—you know that star shape when you cut an apple horizontally? That’s the inspiration on that. We are excited about that brand, and it’s also exciting that we are getting apples from local growers. I’ve enjoyed learning about apples. We will have 10 flavors to roll out at the start. And when we start packaging a year from now we will probably have that narrowed down to two to four to sell that way.
I feel like we are just getting started and I can’t wait to see what the next 10 years will bring.