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Cheboygan Brewing Company

Glen Young - May 23rd, 2011
Not content to relax in retirement, Jamie McClurg, a retired Proctor and
Gamble executive who called Northern Michigan home in the 1970s, turned to
a buddy while sunning on a Florida beach in 2009, asking, “Do you want to
open a brewery in Cheboygan?”
McClurg laughs about the memory, but the result is the new Cheboygan
Brewing Company, set to open this weekend at the corner of North Main and
Pine Streets, a few blocks from where brewing first began on the banks of
the Cheboygan River in the late 19th century. Construction began in
October, with brewing commencing in mid-April. Now McClurg, his partners,
their investors and their employees are prepared to deliver their first
draught.
A horse drawn wagon will deliver the first kegs to local bars in downtown
Cheboygan on Friday, May 20. The taproom is scheduled to open Memorial
Day weekend.
The brewery, which will open with a capacity to produce 4,000 barrels a
year, will distribute their products through Petoskey’s Bayside Beverage.
There are currently plans to supply roughly 15 accounts including bars
and restaurants in Emmet, Mackinac, Otsego, and Cheboygan counties. Plans
are for additional tanks in the next year will double capacity to 8,000
barrels. McClurg says the group plans to install a bottling line in July
to help further expand production.

LIVE MUSIC
The emphasis is on the beer, rather than food.
“First and foremost is the quality of the beer,” McClurg says of the
group’s singular objective. A primary purpose of the decision to forego
serving food is to avoid any overlap with bars and restaurants that sell
Cheboygan Brewing beers. “We don’t want to compete with our customers.”
Customers of the taproom are nonetheless welcome to bring in a pizza or
other goodies to munch on while sipping their suds.
The front of the house will offer a taproom where customers can sample the
beers in addition to relaxing on the outside patio or rooftop deck. Live
music will be featured regularly.
“We want to be event driven,” McClurg says of the taproom. Special
features are planned for Oktoberfest, as well as other beer-specific times
of year. Plans call for the taproom to be open Thursday through Saturday.
Key to the success of the new brewery is the expertise of brew master Tim
Perry, a veteran brewer with experience from Michigan to Colorado and
Hawaii, including two years at Traverse City’s North Peak Brewery. Perry
explains the raw materials for his new beers include German hops and
Midwestern malts. The brewery’s first offering will be a Lighthouse
Amber, a German style Alt. The process for brewing requires patience,
Perry says. “We ferment a little lower and a little slower. It makes for
a mellower taste.”

SIGNATURE PRODUCT
There are plans for additional beers, but McClurg says it is important to
have a signature product. “It’s important to have a beer that is the
foundation of your business,” he states. “We gravitated toward an amber
beer as a good start,” he continues, but acknowledges, “There is a lot of
opportunity to have fun with other products in this business.” Other beers
are set to follow, as soon as later this summer.
Brewing has a rich history in Cheboygan, a fact McClurg and his partners
wish to reignite. Prussian immigrants Charles and Peter Hentschel brought
German style beers to Cheboygan. Later, Irishmen John and James Moloney
established the Northern Brewery, just south of where the new taproom
sits. The Moloney brothers operated their business from 1882 to 1911.
They famously declared their product, “The beer that made Milwaukee
jealous.” Phil Porter, director of Mackinac State Historic Parks, and a
part-time Cheboygan resident has put together a comprehensive history of
local brewing, which can be found on the brewery’s website.
McClurg and his partners are keenly aware of this local brewing heritage,
striving to make it a cornerstone of the atmosphere at Cheboygan Brewing
Company. Historical signage, as well as displays highlighting the
contributions of the Hentshels, the Moloneys and others, lines the taproom
walls. One display offers interactive features, allowing customers to
view historic timelines and artifacts. Working with the Cheboygan
Historical Society, the brewery plans to display antiques, including a
wooden barrel and a branding iron. Archival labeling and advertisements
are also part of the marketing and branding strategy.

ALASKA MODEL
McClurg says that after the partners agreed a brewery would work in
Cheboygan, they set about developing their business plan, which involved
analyzing the models of other successful brewing establishments. “We did
a lot of research,” he says, “and we were most impressed with the business
model of the Alaskan Brewing Company.”
McClurg visited the company on a trip to Juneau, where their development
plan has expanded capacity from an initial production of 15,000 barrels at
their inception 25 years ago, to more than 120,000 barrels today.
McClurg believes the key to success is patience. “We’re trying not to do
too many things too fast.” In addition to all else, the plan is to
reinvigorate the heritage of brewing in downtown Cheboygan. “We’re
bringing brewing back to Cheboygan after 100 years,” he says with
satisfaction.

For more information on Cheboygan Brewing Company, visit their website at
www.cheboyganbrewingcompany.com.
 
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