Monday, April 22, 2024
Home MI Places MI Meet & Eat Fermenting Fun at Michigan Breweries

Fermenting Fun at Michigan Breweries

By Khristi Zimmeth

Founding father Ben Franklin may have reportedly said it best: “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” 

There’s no dispute that many people enjoy lifting a pint at the end of a long day and that microbreweries, breweries and brewpubs are growing across the state. In fact, Michigan ranks fifth in the nation, in part because of our four seasons, glacier-enhanced soil and nearby Great Lakes.

There are currently more than 270 brewers in the state, with more being added almost daily, reports the Michigan Brewer’s Guild

While beer fans may be well acquainted with the hundreds of breweries dotting the state, they may be less aware that they can also be the sites of extraordinary events.

We’ve rounded up four that promise not only a perfect pour, but also a “hopping” place to host a meeting or party. 

Frankenmuth Brewery

America’s oldest microbrewery and Michigan’s original craft brewery, The River View at Frankenmuth Brewery dates back to 1862, proving that the area produces much more than just chicken.

“People are drawn to us because of our name and beer knowledge,” says Banquet Manager Lindsey Schommer. “Our draft list is completely unique.”

The brewery hosts a variety of corporate events in two signature spaces—the aptly named Barley, which accommodates 150, and Hops, which hosts another 100. Together, they combine to seat up to 275 in the River View Room, which boasts floor-to-ceiling windows that can be opened and look out over the nearby Cass River. 

“The brewery provides a superior dining experience and first-rate food and service,” attests veterinarian Joseph Kline, secretary for the Saginaw Valley Veterinary Medical Association, who has held educational events and dinners there. “The view from the dining room is pretty spectacular, too.”

The brewery recently launched a new catering menu. Not surprisingly, some dishes— macaroni and cheese, for one—include beer in their ingredients. Other options are barbecued pulled pork, fried Brussels sprouts and more.

“We’re planning to use [a new food truck] for on-site events, but also hoping to have it travel for off-site parties and business lunches,” Schommer explains. 

Add-ons include tours with brew master Steve Buszka, who can attend events, lead tours and answer questions. “Flights and tastings are usually a part of that as well,” says Schommer.

No request is too off-the-wall. “We’re very versatile,” she says. “We’re open to whatever people want to do, as long as it’s legal.” 

Bell’s Brewery

Bell’s journey began in Kalamazoo more than 30 years ago next door to where its pub and meeting venue, the Eccentric Café, is located today. “Our brewers are constantly experimenting, developing new favorites and continuing the work Larry Bell started in 1985,” says Ryan Tovey, café general manager.

With more than 20 draught options (many of which are only available at the Eccentric Café, Tovey points out), a full-service restaurant, beer garden and comfortable patio, Bell’s is one of the premier craft beer destinations in Michigan, he insists, one that “offers a memorable experience for event attendees, from the beer to the atmosphere. Guests enjoy the freshest Bell’s beer, and delicious in-house catering sourced from our numerous local farm partners.”

Sam Accardi, CEO of Philadelphia-based Bikes and Beers, owns a cycling event company that hosts events throughout the year at the country’s largest breweries. This is its second year returning to Bells, he says.

“There is ample space inside as well as outside,” he adds. “It gives us the flexibility to hold an event there rain or shine because we know that we can move everyone inside. Of all of the breweries we visit across the country, this is one of my favorites just because of the scenery outside and the vibe of the place.”

Event capacity is 30 in the café’s Back Room, up to 370 for café standing-room events. In-house catering ranges from appetizers to a full dinner menu. Options include plated dinners up to 40 people, chef-attended or self-serve buffet for 40 and up, or family-style meals for up to 100. Tours are available.

“We pride ourselves on excellent customer service, and aim to make event planning as simple and stress-free as possible,” Tovey says. “Whether your needs are as a simple as serving great beer to a large number of people, or something more extravagant, like filling a large above-ground pool with ice water for Polar Plunge or covering our tables in Kraft paper for everyone to doodle while they drink, we’re all about thinking outside the box. We love to bring out-of-the-ordinary events to life.” 

Lansing Brewing Co. 

Inspired by an earlier brewery of the same name, the original Lansing Brewing Co. opened in 1898 and was a fixture on the city’s early skyline. It was best known for its Amber Cream Ale, “the local beer of choice for everyone from laborers to statesmen,” according to its website.

Prohibition caused the original brewery to close in 1914, and it took a century before the current incarnation was revived in 2015, says Sales and Marketing Manager Keri Brown.

The recreated Amber Cream Ale is still a top seller. As it was then, “our beer is brewed by the city, for the city,” she says.

The brewery welcomes locals and others interested in hosting an event in one of its two meeting rooms. The smaller Brewers Meeting Room can accommodate up to 50 and is located just off the main dining room. The larger Stockhouse space has a warehouse vibe, with cement floors and painted walls, and accommodates up to 250. “There aren’t many venues that can accommodate that many in Lansing outside of a hotel or convention center,” Brown says.

They’ve hosted everything from yoga classes to corporate events, Brown says. Interested in team-building? The Stockhouse also includes games like shuffleboard, Jenga, and even a giant Connect 4.

Morgan Cross, corporate events specialist at AF Group in Lansing, has hosted receptions and dinners there in the past. “Since they’ve moved into our downtown area, we have hosted many successful events at the brewery and continue to select them as one of our go-to vendors,” Cross says. “Keri and her team provide outstanding service.”

Among the brewery’s many popular buffet features is the “slider bar,” which includes build-your-own mini burgers. “It’s unique to us,” Brown says. They work to accommodate special requests from smaller groups, and offmenu options are also available in the smaller room. “Every event is different,” she says. “We are open to ideas.”

Founders Brewing Co.

“We don’t brew beer for the masses,” insist Founders Brewing Co. founders Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers. After a few false starts in Grand Rapids and teetering close to bankruptcy, the pair decided to return to what had excited them in the first place—the chance to brew “complex, in-your-face ales, with huge aromatics, bigger body and tons of flavor.”

Their philosophy developed from those early experiences. “Our beers are crafted for a chosen few, a small cadre of renegades and rebels who enjoy a beer that pushes the limits.”

With a backstory like that, it’s not surprising that the events are extraordinary as well, says The Centennial Room Manager Mallory Walters. The brewery’s rental space features a fully-staffed bar with eight taps, including one nitro tap, seating for 50 to 60 people or standing room for 100. “What’s really cool about our space is that two large garage doors open to make it an indoor-outdoor venue with a maximum capacity of 140 with the patio,” she says.

Food options range from appetizers to buffets. “We can make a special menu for each group,” she explains. Past entrees have included street foods from around the world and Spanish cuisine. Optional add-ons include tastings and tours, some held in The Embassy, an educational space overlooking the brewery. “I’m pretty flexible,” says Walters. “We are willing to work with people.”

Tiffany Szakal, regional partner with Toledo-based Key Realty, held the launch of its Grand Rapids branch there last year and has conducted bimonthly training sessions at Founders ever since. 

“Who wouldn’t want to go to a brewery to learn?” she says of the two-hour training sessions followed by appetizers. She says she’s partial to the Dirty Bastard Meatballs. “Oh my gosh, they’re so good,” she reports. “We get such a great turnout that our other offices in Michigan, Ohio and Florida are now having their events at breweries.” 

Founders’ second taproom near downtown Detroit has a small private event space called The Barrel Room, modeled after the caves where the company stores its barrel-aged beer. That opened earlier this year and can accommodate up to 40 for intimate events.

Whatever the event or its size, signature brews promise to make it something special. As the Founders website insists (and Benjamin Franklin would probably agree), “everything is better when there’s beer.”