The Michigan Brewers Guild presented two key awards to industry leaders at its annual conference Thursday night, January 9, 2020, at the Radisson Plaza Hotel in Kalamazoo. The Tom Burns Award was presented to Ron Jeffries, co-founder and head brewer of Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales in Dexter while the Michigan Beer Champion Award was presented to Shawn Gary, President of Alliance Beverage Distributing in Grand Rapids.
Brewmaster (and Chief Squeegee Operator) Ron Jeffries began studying brewing science in the early 1990s and by 1995 was brewing professionally at Grizzly Peak in Ann Arbor. He quickly became well-known as a quiet leader in Michigan’s emerging craft beer scene. In the spring of 2004, Ron and his wife, Laurie, opened Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales which has since become one of Michigan’s most well-known breweries. Over the years, Ron’s passion and knowledge in his field have elevated him to one of the most respected world-class crafters of sour and artisan ales, garnering him countless accolades and awards from esteemed organizations and publications such as the Great American Beer Festival and The New York Times. Ron was a founding board member of the Michigan Brewers Guild, serving from the organization’s formation in 1998 through 2003, again 2007-2008 and 2016-2018 (five terms in all).
“I am very grateful for the opportunities I’ve been afforded in contributing to making Michigan truly, the Great Beer State, and humbled to receive this award of recognition from my peers in this great… beer… state…,” says Ron.
The Tom Burns Award is given to a person who embodies the pioneering spirit of the Michigan brewing industry. This is an individual whose hard work, passion, and perseverance has been a guiding force in creating the Great Beer State while being supportive of the entire craft beer industry in Michigan. Nominees can be brewery owners or employees, can be affiliated with a beer wholesaler or beer retailer or otherwise involved in the industry. Nominees can be part of the industry now or in the past and do not need to be currently living.
Past winners of the Tom Burns Award include Larry Bell of Bell’s Brewery Inc., (2012); Fred Bueltmann of New Holland Brewing (2013); John Linardos of Motor City Brewing Works (2015), Rex Halfpenny of Michigan Beer Guide (2017) and Eric Briggeman of Rochester Mills Beer Company (2019).
The Michigan Beer Champion Award is given to a person or organization who is a partner of our industry and who continually strives to promote or protect the craft beer industry in Michigan. Nominees can be individuals, wholesalers, retailers, affiliated businesses or can be groups or organizations.
Shawn Gary, President of Alliance Beverage Distributing in Grand Rapids, started his beverage career 34 years ago with Kent Beverage Company. Prior to that time, he worked as a Soil Scientist performing soil interpretive work on the MX Missile as well as productivity yields for the Federal Government. Throughout his career at Kent Beverage, Shawn was involved in many different facets of the business, including but not limited to operations to brand management to branch management. In the early 1990’s Kent Beverage was on the forefront of bringing many of Michigan’s craft brands to market. Shawn became President of Kent Beverage in 2008.
In 2013 Alliance Beverage Distributing was created with combining B & B Beer and Kent Beverage to create one of the largest, most diversified wholesalers in the state. Shawn continued as president overseeing the creation of this new company while continuing to acquire three additional companies securing distribution along the entire west side of Michigan. Alliance’s territory covers 39 western counties, extending from the Indiana/Michigan border, along the coast of Lake Michigan, up to Mackinac Bridge. Alliance Beverage serves 4,500 customers with a portfolio of over 4000 active products, consisting of large National Beer Brands, a great Craft portfolio, and a diverse selection of wines and high-profile non-alcoholic beverages. Shawn is very active within the industry, having served on multiple committees and advisory councils.
“Thanks so much for the recognition,” says Shawn. “There isn’t a segment in my business that touches my heart as much as the craft sector.”
Past winners of the Michigan Beer Champion Award include Rick Lack, Executive Vice President of RAVE Associates who received the inaugural award in 2014, and Steve Siciliano of Siciliano’s Market in Grand Rapids, who received it in 2019.
The Michigan Brewers Guild was formed in 1997 and held its first festival in July 1998. Today, the Guild hosts five festivals dedicated exclusively to Michigan craft beer produced by its more than 290 member breweries (a number that increases on a monthly basis).
The Michigan Brewers Guild is the network of innovative and passionate brewers that serves as the recognized advocate for the Michigan craft beer industry. The mission of the Michigan Brewers Guild is to promote and protect the Michigan craft beer industry with an overarching goal to help craft beer acquire 20% of the market by 2025.
Michigan’s thriving brewing industry contributes more than 17,000 full-time jobs and $700 million in labor income / wages, with a total economic impact of over $2.4 billion. In terms of overall number of breweries, microbreweries and brewpubs, Michigan ranks #4 in the nation—supporting its title as “The Great Beer State.”