US. On tap: Breweries in Bay, Midland, Saginaw counties continue growing in popularity, profitability

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The business of making beer continues to grow in Bay, Midland and Saginaw counties. At least five small breweries have opened in the Great Lakes Bay Region in the past decade, and most expect a good year ahead despite a tough economy. The Michigan Brewers Guild estimates the craft-beer industry generates $133 million in Michigan.
In Bay City, two breweries – BARTS, 804 E. Midland, and Tri City Brewing Co., 3020 N. Water – have opened since 2005. Owners of each facility see more growth this year.
“We’ve basically doubled our sales the last two years,” said Kevin Peil, majority owner and founder of Tri City Brewing Co.
Peil opened the brewery, which has about 40 or so other investors/owners, in 2007. The brewery, which sells some of its product at Midland’s Dow Diamond minor league baseball park, expects to expand its tasting room this year and increase its production by more than 60 percent.
“We’re targeting 550-600 barrels this year,” Peil said.
A barrel of beer equals 31 gallons, or about 330 12-ounce cans or bottles.
View full sizeMichael Randolph | The Bay City TimesThe IPA or ‘Indian Pale Ale’ is one of 11 beers on tap that are brewed at B.A.R.T.S. in Bay City.
Bay City businessman Art Dore, owner of BARTS – formerly Lumber Barons’ Charcoal Grill and Brew Pub – reopened the facility in 2005.
“The revenue has been increasing steadily in the brewery,” said Dore, who owns a number of bars and restaurants in Bay City. “The brewery part is one of our high points.”
BARTS produces about 375 barrels a year, according to brewmaster Marty Rapnicki.
“Beer is very profitable,” Rapnicki said. “Alcohol in general is more profitable than food, and then you add the fact you make it, so you don’t have the middleman and the distribution.”
On Jan. 22, about 600 people attended a beer tasting event at BARTS with 20 brewers, including the region’s newest brewery, Midland Brewing Co.
“So far we’re spot on where we want to be, and it’s just a matter of every month it ratchets up another level,” said Keith Lawrence, co-owner and brewer of Midland Brewing Co., 5011 Saginaw, Midland. “There’s potential.”
Scott Graham, executive director of the Michigan Brewers Guild, a nonprofit public awareness and promotion group for Michigan craft beer brewers, said Michigan ranks fifth in the nation with about 90 craft breweries.
One of Michigan’s most well-known craft brewers is in Saginaw County. The Frankenmuth Brewery dates back to 1862, although the current building was constructed in 2003.
Frankenmuth Brewing Co. brewed about 2,500 barrels last year, according to the brewery’s president, Haithem K. Sarafa.
“We’re continuing to grow,” Sarafa said. “We plan to double our output this year.”
Frankenmuth Brewery, 425 S. Main, reopened July 1, 2009, after being shuttered for three years. It joined Sullivan’s Black Forest Brew Haus & Grill, 281 Heinlein, as the city’s second brewery to open since 2003.
Graham and other officials attribute sales growth to a close-knit brewing community and rising interest from consumers for specialty beers.
“Craft brewed beer in Michigan has been going up,” Rapnicki said. “Everybody’s thinking about buying local, think locally … well why not buy locally produced beer?”