By Rick Coates
Currently, Michigan ranks fifth in the United States for the number of
craft breweries, and when the new totals come out next month it is
expected to be fourth in the country.
Driving that figurative beer truck with a full load in fifth gear and with
the pedal to the metal is Scott Graham, who was named the first executive
director of the Michigan Brewers Guild in 2007.
The Guild was formed in 1998 as a non-profit organization with goals to
increase the sales of Michigan-brewed beer through promotions, marketing,
public awareness and consumer education. Thirteen years later it looks
like they have accomplished the goals they set out; today there are new
goals on the horizon.
Graham, who resides in Gaylord, grew up in Harbor Springs (fourth
generation). After graduating from Harbor Springs High School in 1984, he
headed off to college. Four years later, he attended the U.S. Brewers
Academy and went to work at the Frankenmuth Brewery in 1989 under the
direction of German Master Brewer, Fred Scheer where he worked in all
areas of production as well as in the lab.
After leaving the Frankenmuth Brewery he worked in Petoskey as a beer and
wine wholesaler at Bayside Beverage from 1990 to 1995, where his duties
included route sales, sales supervision, brand and inventory management.
In 1995 Graham joined the Big Buck Brewery in Gaylord as a founding
manager where he headed brewing operations as Brewmaster. From 1995 to
2001 he managed beer production for four locations in Michigan and Texas.
In 2001 he was offered the sales manager position for Miller Brewing Co.
in the outstate Michigan market.
He took time out following the Michigan Winter Beer Festival in Grand
Rapids to answer a few questions about the state of the Michigan craftbrew
Northern Express: What is your gut telling you about the state of the
Michigan craftbeer industry?
Graham: All indications point that our industry is going to continue to
grow for years to come. What I have noticed in the past couple of years is
the interest in Michigan craft beers is expanding and what businesses are
finding -- both retailers and restaurants -- is that having a strong
line-up of Michigan beers is good for business.
They are finding that Michigan beers attract a good, affluent clientele
who have an appreciation for quality food as well. In 2009 Michigan beers
had two percent of the beer market in the state. When I look at the
craftbrew culture we have in Michigan, the number of breweries we now
have, somewhere over 90 and 82 of them are members of the Brewers Guild I
see Michigan positioned to enjoy growth in this industry like Oregon,
Washington, California and Colorado. In Oregon, 30 percent of the beer
consumed there is now craftbrewed.
NE: Recently, Booth Newspapers did an in-depth report on the Michigan
craftbrew industry and the amount of money being invested is unbelievable.
For example, Bells Brewery plans to invest $50 million into their
operation over the next five years. That speaks volumes to the health of
Graham: Our industry is thriving in an otherwise miserable economic
environment in Michigan. Just about every brewery is either currently
expanding operations or getting ready to in the near future. Ive heard of
over $100 million being invested in various brewery expansion projects
over the next few years. Here in Northern Michigan, the Cheboygan Brewing
Company and the Soo Brewing Company are are both close to opening.
NE: With over 90 breweries, have we reached a saturation point here in
Graham: Far from it from my perspective. Look, (craftbeers) are only at
two percent of the beer sales market here in Michigan and that number is
sure to jump when last years numbers are revealed.
I believe we have room for more breweries, especially here in Northern
Michigan. I see the opportunity for more pub breweries with restaurants as
well as more microbrews. Especially when you consider that the craftbrew
industry is 180 degrees different from the model of brand loyalty the big
Craftbrew drinkers have their favorites, but they want to try new things
from various breweries and they expect their favorite breweries to make
new beers for them to try. So having more breweries helps to create more
interest as long as everyone is producing quality and creates a positive
experience. It is the rising tide lifts all ships theory.
NE: What do you see as being new or big in your industry in the next year
Graham: There are several but there has been a lot of talk about cans in
our industry. Keweenaw Brewing in the U.P. was the first in Michigan to go
with the can package and now a lot of others are looking into it.
I am in favor of it. I personally like the can package because of its
portability; it is lightweight; it has a 100% barrier to light (which can
Another area that I see that will change our industry is Michigan-grown
hops. We are starting to see more acreage committed to hops being grown
here in Michigan. The challenge is will it be cost-effective and also
getting brewer acceptance. Brewers are loyal to their hops and it can be
hard to make that change. Certainly a Cascade Hop grown on the Leelanau
Peninsula is not going to be the same as the one in Yakima Valley.
NE: Do you miss being a full time brewer?
Graham: I miss brewing, I still fancy myself as a brewer even though I am
really not. Dont get me wrong, I love what I am doing I am excited to be
a part of this business and in my small way to help it grow in Michigan.
For info on the Michigan craftbrew industry check out the Michigan Brewers
Guild website www.michiganbrewersguild.org