There’s a storm cloud brewing on the horizon – literally. And for Frankfort that’s a good thing.
The much-anticipated Stormcloud Brewing has opened, giving the resort town on the Lake Michigan shore a boost for tourists looking for someplace fun to go. And for locals too.
Brewmaster and co-owner Brian Confer says the reception for the brewpub has been outstanding. “There were people lined up at the door the first day we opened,” he said.
Things haven’t slowed down much since.
Confer has had a tough time keeping up with the demand for his beers, which include a couple of different saisons (enhanced with strawberries, watermelon and other fruits), along with a Belgian pale ale, an IPA, a black IPA – nearly a dozen brews in all, with others on the way. Stormcloud also offers meads and wines.
Confer first started dreaming about owning a brewpub shortly after a photo assignment. The longtime photographer at Traverse Magazine, Confer shot a feature on Joe Short and Short’s Brewing Company, the Bellaire craft brewery that has helped kick off the craft beer industry in Northern Michigan.
“I’d been a photographer for 15 years.
When the industry went to digital I looked at something else to do,” said Confer.
He researched beer for his wife’s wine shop, and converted his home darkroom, complete with a sink, refrigerator and adequate ventilation, into a brewing room.
While trying to figure out his next move, he enrolled in and then almost immediately dropped out of culinary school. After all, it was brewing that most interested him.
Confer sought advice from friends and other interested parties, including Rick Schmitt, then the vice president for sales and marketing at Crystal Mountain. So naturally Schmitt quit his job to jump into the brewing business.
Okay, it wasn’t as simple as that. But Schmitt, one of the partners in the resurrected Garden Theater next door to Stormcloud, did decide that the move was what he wanted to do.
“I had one of the best jobs in sales and marketing. It was a dream job and a quality product,” said Schmitt. “Jim MacInnes (Crystal Mountain president and co-owner) was very kind and didn’t want me to leave.
“But it was an opportunity to venture out, and when Brian and I started talking about it, I thought maybe there was something to it. It’s a product I believe in, and it was now or never. Nothing comes without risk and work.”
Thanks to his involvement with the theater, Schmitt was acquainted with the owner of the property. He and Confer had their eye on the site, as it would allow for both indoor and outdoor seating. While reluctant at first to sell, eventually the site made its way into the hands of Confer, Schmitt and their financial partners, and after months of planning and construction, Stormcloud Brewing opened for summer 2013.
While the brewpub’s calling card is its selection of beers, there is an engaging if limited menu. Confer and Schmitt say they wanted to be able to offer their customers a little something to eat without having to install a full kitchen.
John Schneider holds forth in the kitchen. Confer says they interviewed a few people, and called the culinary program at Northwestern Michigan College, where he got a hearty recommendation for Schneider.
Among Schneider’s offerings are boards with aged meats, artisan cheeses, and pickled vegetables; seven different popcorn flavors, including cinnamon & sugar, apple cayenne, and bacon & chives; and a half dozen pizzas. The lattermost include the Roasted Root, with roasted beets, turnips, parsnips and corn, topped with goat cheese and horseradish and sour cream sauce.
Another favorite is the Echo’s Bend pizza. It includes fresh offerings from Echo Bend farm in Arcadia, brought in by server Charla Kramer, who owns and runs the farm with her husband Tom. It’s topped with goat cheese, toasted nuts, and chef’s choice of sauce.
They’re all meant to complement brews such as Fun Guv’nr Black IPA, B. Sirius Belgian Dubbel, and the Handsome Bee, a Belgian pale ale fermened with 120 pounds of honey.
“The guys always ask for the Happy Bee, never the Handsome Bee,” said Confer with a laugh.
Bee that as it may, it’s still one of the most popular brews, though Confer confesses his favorite is the Whiled Away IPA. “I love a good IPA,” he said.
Stormcloud Brewing Company is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and noon to 11 on Sundays. It’s located at 303 Main St. in Frankfort, just three blocks off the beach. Call 352-0118 or visit it online at StormCloudBrewing.com or on Facebook.
PRICES: Beers start at $5. Pizzas start at $8, salads and soups at $6.
DON’T MISS: Echo’s Bend pizza – ask the server for the day’s vegetable choices. Meat eaters, go for the Stormavore, with sausage, pepperoni, thick-cut bacon, and mushrooms. Pair them with your choice of brew.