The Michigan beer market embraces many trends; from a focus on community action to the use of locally grown ingredients and fostering great respect for the consumers of locally produced beer, Michigan craft brewing takes pride in the state from which it originates. Yet it still came as a surprise to me that Michigan was home to an effort to create the first Co-op Brewery in the Midwest.
Employee owned and operated beer cooperatives are a brand new idea to the craft beer market. To my knowledge, only one example of an open cooperative brewery exists, down in Texas. From High Five Brewery's own web site, their organization adheres to the following ideals:
- All membership is open and voluntary, without discrimination based on gender, race, sexuality, politics, or religion.
- All members control the co-op democratically and actively participate in making decisions, wih any elected representatives held directly accountable to the membership.
- All members contribute to and control any economic capital.
- Co-Ops are independent organizations, existing without control from other organizations, corporations, or governments.
- Co-Ops offer training and education for all members, representatives, managers, and employees of the Co-Op.
- Co-Ops work together with other Co-Ops.
- Co-Ops work with their communities through policies approved by their members.
Given the support and enthusiasm this market has for community and local focus, the concept of a cooperative seems right at home in the Michigan beer market.
Last Saturday High Five hosted their first tasting event, exhibiting five of their beers and one hard cider for feedback. The six hour event on a chilly late spring day not only showed off the beer brewed by the fledgling brewery, but also their dedication to and respect for their ideals: the event was a “trash free party:” the cups were compostable, and the bowls used for food were washable. It was refreshing to see so little trash created at such an event. The brewer-owners encouraged people to bring their own homebrew samples, lending a feel of camaraderie and collaboration. The food emphasized eating local, with amazing vegan and vegetarian pizzas paired with what is perhaps the best soup I have ever had. My compliments to Jameson for the soup; my notes did not catch the names of the rest of the chefs, so please post their names in the comments. They all deserve credit.
The beers we sampled ranged from retail ready to a little rough, but as I mentioned above, the spirit of teamwork was so pronounced that I have no doubt all of the recipes will improve substantially through mutual polish. Two of the strongest samples we tried were the coffee stout and the Wheat IPA. The coffee stout could more aptly be described as coffee with a hint of beer. This concoction, made with copious amounts of MadCap coffee, was deep, aggressive, sweet, roasty, and malty – everything you want out of a coffee stout. The wheat IPA brought together elements of a traditional, sweeter wheat beer that blended well with a dry, citrus finish of the hops.
Despite news of breweries opening on what seems like a monthly basis, excitement for the explosion of local Michigan brewpubs hasn't diminished. Here's to a group of environmentally conscious, locally focused, community centered people with the drive to establish Michigan's first Co-op brewery!