“I’ve been on the distribution and marketing side of craft beer for over 10 years, but I’ve always wanted to have my own brewery,” said Eric Elliott, one of the business’ four partners. Elliot, president of sales at Uncle John’s Cider Mill, will join brewmaster Todd Schwem, cellar master Leon Traczynski and head of operations Aaron Hanson to launch the brewery.
Ellison Brewery will become the eastern phalanx of the mid-Michigan brewery scene, which consists of Midtown Brewing Co. (downtown), EagleMonk Pub and Brewery (on the city’s west side) and BAD Brewing Co. (holding down the south in Mason). Like BAD Brewing, Ellison Brewery will officially be a “tasting room,” as opposed to a true brewpub, which means no food will be served.
“The popularity of craft beer is not going away anytime soon,” Elliott said. “We’re not starting this to be part of some trend. Our approach to beer, wine and spirits will be unlike anything else being done in Michigan.”
As a distillery, Ellison Brewery joins Red Cedar Spirits (East Lansing) and Sanctuary Spirits (Grand Ledge) in manufacturing artisan liquor. (Another proposed distillery in downtown Lansing, American Fifth Spirits, has begun distributing their Hue vodka, but construction of their tasting room seems to be stalled in limbo — stay tuned for updates on that.) Distillation at Ellison Brewery will run on a 53-gallon pot/reflux still, which is on the modest side for liquor production. Elliott said vodka and gin will be the first spirits offered, with whiskey, scotch and bourbon planned for the future. In-house wines will consist of a house red and a house white, but will only be available in the tasting room.
Schwem’s resume includes an award-winning stint as brewmaster at Kuhnhenn Brewing Co. in metro Detroit. The custom designed production line will churn out up to 5,000 barrels annually. (For comparison, Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo produced over 300,000 barrels last year.) Elliott said to start with, production will be limited to four main beer styles, but wouldn’t say yet what they would be. He said smaller volumes of seasonal and specialty batches could be expected as well.
A revolving menu of craft cocktails, meads (fermented honey brews), braggots (similar to mead, but with more malt) and limited release craft beers also will be offered. And Elliott said that although there won’t be a kitchen, customers probably won’t be going hungry.
“There’s a lot of good food in East Lansing, and we can’t really compete with that,” Elliott said. “But if someone has a food truck that wants to park nearby or someone brings in their own pizza, we’re not going to say anything.”