Michigan is brewing a growing industry attracting visitors from across the state and around the country. Craft breweries are popping up across the Great Lakes State, bringing together the agriculture and tourism industries in a new way.
“It’s interesting to look at the agriculture side of this industry,” says Scott Graham, executive director of the Michigan Brewers Guild. “We don’t always think about beer as an agriculture product, and for those who do, we think of the hops, which is a key ingredient in making beer. But for many years we’ve also been looking at Michigan-grown products like fruits, berries, nuts, vegetables, syrup, sugars and water to use as well.”
Michigan has seen a resurgence of breweries in recent years. When Stroh Brewery Company closed its production operation in the state in the 1980s, there were no large-scale breweries left. Today, that has changed. Graham says there are 350 breweries operating across Michigan and around 40 more in planning.
“That’s more than we’ve had at any time in history,” Graham says. “Even before Prohibition.”
A New Tourism Venture
Today, Michigan ranks sixth in the country in the overall number of breweries, microbreweries and brewpubs. This thriving industry contributes more than $144 million in wages with a total economic contribution of more than $600 million.
The new wave of beer business has brought tourism into the state. Tourists are visiting Michigan for tours of its craft breweries, and Michigan residents are finding new treasures in their backyards.
“We’re working to promote Michigan beer to existing and new consumers,” Graham says. “We see people coming from several different states and countries, but we also have people from right here in Michigan thinking about our industry. They’re headed to dinner and they think, ‘Where’s the closest brewpub?’”
Beer Festivals and Events
The Michigan Brewers Guild hosts four beer festivals throughout the year that cover the technical aspects of beer production and sales and marketing, as well as food pairings for various types of beer. There’s also an annual conference for brewers, offering valuable information on topics such as purchasing hops, outsourcing production and more.
And for daily visitors, Michigan offers the Kayak, Bike & Brew, a brewery pub pedal and paddle event that has visitors traveling through Traverse City’s urban bike trails, Boardman Lake and River, and West Bay. The tour’s participating breweries include Right Brain Brewery, The Filling Station Microbrewery, Rare Bird Brewpub, Ferment, Monkey Fist Brewing Co., North Peak Brewing Company and The Workshop Brewing Company. A similar experience, called Paddle for Pints, lets visitors paddle through downtown Traverse City while visiting six breweries.
Coming Back to Agriculture
As the craft brewery industry grows in Michigan and tourism follows, opportunities in agriculture also present themselves. In recent years, the hop industry has expanded. Michigan’s northern climate provides a hospitable growing environment for hops, which traditionally do well in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States.
There has also been an emergence of more facilities to process malting barley. “These breweries really bring so much to the state,” Graham says. “In tourism and in agriculture. Sometimes where you may not realize it.”