Timing is everything.
For nearly 10 years, there’s been talk of collecting priceless in-depth interviews with brewing industry leaders around the state as well as documenting the history of the Michigan Brewers Guild, which was officially organized in 1997.
“I’ve had an idea for a long time to capture the stories of brewers and breweries because they’re so interesting,” says Scott Graham, MBG executive director. “The day is going to continue to come when the first-hand accounts are no longer available, so it is important to gather this information now.”
The concept continued to brew in March 2018 at the Hop & Barley Conference in Kalamazoo when Scott and Fred “The Beervangelist” Bueltmann of Red Horse Center for Collaborative Leadership (and long-time brewery member) began cultivating the idea.
“We didn’t really know what this project would look like,” Scott says, “I was thinking maybe a brochure or something the size of a festival program.”
Turns out, that initial collection would become more than a pamphlet or simple printed piece. In less than a year, Bueltmann scheduled and professionally recorded (audio, as well as some video) detailed accounts from about three dozen individuals in various areas of the brewing community, editing them down into a finished 105-page book with 35 finished vignettes collectively called “A Rising Tide – Stories from the Michigan Brewers Guild,” Volume 1.
Each person brings to the table a diverse perspective and unique stories about how the Guild and its members have helped shape this thriving industry.
“I enjoyed several conversations with Scott Graham about each of our separate ideas about how one would go about writing a history about Michigan beer and Michigan brewing,” Bueltmann wrote in the book’s introduction. “He has a very unique perspective on our early days and has connected with so many aspects of our industry, and I’ve always appreciated his respect for history. It is Scott’s reverence that began to create a sense of urgency – a realization that if we wait too long, these are stories that may not be told, and lessons from legends that may not make it to the next generation of brewers if they’re not shepherded forward.”
The book is an interesting and entertaining array of stories, but there is so much more to share. A great deal of content wasn’t able to be included in the printed piece but was certainly content worth sharing. With archive of audio and video, an opportunity to create another avenue for delivery emerged.
Thus, Michigan’s Great Beer State Podcast was born in the early summer of 2020.
“In a written piece you’re editing from the perspective of composition and you’re helping the reader thread together themes,” Bueltmann says, “but when you share a collection of audio interviews, you’re really allowing the listener to make their own conclusions about themes.”
The podcast quickly progressed with conversation-length pieces to compliment the book. With their casual delivery, it’s as if listeners (or viewers who choose YouTube as their delivery vehicle) are simply bellied up to the bar listening to brewers and other industry insiders talk shop with each other.
“We want people leaning in and feeling like they have access to a story they wouldn’t otherwise,” Bueltmann says.
Comprised of full-length archival interviews from the book as well as conversations recorded in the here and now, the podcast gives a behind-the-scenes experience at a critical time in history.
“When the pandemic hit, we had a conversation that this is another one of those times that we should be documenting and hearing from membership and also providing intimate content when we weren’t able to be together,” says Bueltmann. “Sharing stories from the archives that we’d already collected and recording content via Zoom in the here and now allowed us to share new stories without having to travel or worry about social distancing. It also provided connectivity in multiple ways, in a time when it was in short supply.”
Without events to bring the brewers and the community together, MBG needed to keep the channels of communication open as well as continue with its mission to “promote and protect the Michigan beer industry.”
“This pandemic was devastating and we needed a way to promote our brewery members,” Graham says. “And it needed to be something digital. The podcast idea had been stewing, which ultimately allowed us to direct listeners to our members through our ‘Support Your Local Michigan Breweries’ campaign.”
In addition to the podcast, the Guild launched a series of short support videos throughout the summer of 2020 to showcase how its member breweries were navigating and often reinventing themselves during the pandemic. These were then shared on social media to engage beer enthusiasts and the general public and encourage them to look to their local breweries for take-out beer, food, gift cards and socially-distanced visits when possible.
“There is a dual purpose to the book and the podcast,” Bueltmann says. “One is that we want the industry and membership to understand each other better by providing easy, natural and comfortable lanes for breweries that are 20 years old or those that are two years old to communicate with each other, while also providing ways for the consumer to learn about the breweries.”
Each podcast opens with Graham and Bueltmann bantering back and forth about the current situation in the local brewing industry, talking about upcoming events (like the 2021 Michigan’s Great Beer State Golf Series) and highlighting a weekly “brewers dozen” list of members.
Produced from Bueltmann’s studio at Red Horse Center in Fennville, Season 1 of Michigan’s Great Beer State Podcast includes 32 episodes, with Season 2 well underway. Bueltmann, an entrepreneur, author, marketer, musician and award-winning brewing insider with more than 20 years’ experience in the industry, really was the ideal person to manage the overarching project of documenting the history of the Guild, its members and the industry overall. With his unique storytelling style and technical skills, he was able to pull it all together in a respectful and informative way.
“I’m really not trying to put my opinion on things but instead using my knowledge of the industry to ask thoughtful questions and let the story reveal itself,” he says.
And the stories, they flow like beer from a tap!
“Talking to legendary figures as well as new brewery owners, each with their own story, you discover different yet equally important challenges,” Bueltmann says. “There is lot of curiosity either way, even for an experienced member of the community, like myself. The stories from newer breweries and brewery members whet my own appetite to go see what they’re doing and taste what they’re making.”
And with combined 50+ years between them, you’d think these two would have heard it all? Not exactly. Over time, recollections may have changed or different perspectives are revealed but in the end, new things are often learned.
“We are consistently delighted by those little nuances about people or events that we learn for the first time, especially with someone we have known for years,” notes Bueltmann.
Among those featured in the book and the podcast are Rex Halfpenny, publisher of Michigan Beer Guide, Jack Archiable, co-founder of Traverse Brewing Company; Larry Bell, Bell’s Brewery (starting as Kalamazoo Brewing Company); Ted Badgerow, Ypsi Ale House and founder of the former Real Ale Company in Chelsea founded in 1982; Ron Jeffries, Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales; Joe Short, Short’s Brewing; Melissa Brolick; Old Boys’ Brewhouse; John Linardos, Motor City Brewing; Derek “Chumly” Anderson, The Vierling in Marquette; and many others. Newer brewers featured include Edwin Collazo of City Built Brewing, Tina Schuett of Rare Bird Brewpub and Kim Collins at Guardian Brewing Company, among others.
You can find the podcast in a variety of virtual platforms including MiBeer.com, your favorite podcast apps and the MBG YouTube channel – where episodes are cataloged together in a complete playlist.
This year, listeners/viewers are likely to find a few interviews with others who support the brewing industry, from agricultural interests to retail and businesses that supply goods or services. Autographed copies of “A Rising Tide” can be purchased exclusively at MiBeer.com/book.
Reprinted from the 2021 edition of “Michigan. The Great Beer State” magazine.