is a story about the art of making beer. It was a cold afternoon
when I met Thom Cannell, a local beer connoisseur at Harpers,
a combined microbrewery and brewpub in East Lansing. And it was
a magical moment when we began tasting beer (they have six different
beers on tap). Cannell inhaled, took a whiff of his sleeves, and
exhaled before taking his first sip of the brown beer in front
of us. "Your sleeves are neutral, so you can better perceive
the maltiness and the bitterness of the beer," he explained,
as if it were the most natural thing.
After 30 years of creating his own wine, Cannell finally began
to appreciate craft-brewed beer, or beer that isnt pasteurized
and smells very different from the mass-market beers. "This
sounds snobby, but if you look at the amount of variables, beer
is really more complex than wine." Different types of yeast
added a fresh bread-like smell, and the variability of grains
gave beer its specific malty flavor, hops created its characteristic
A few beers later, Scott Ishem, Harpers head brewer, joined
us at the table. The very rich brown beer we were drinking was
a result of the two mens friendship, I learned. Ishem called
it "Thoms Best Brown," because he was inspired
to create it after tasting a fresh batch at Cannells house.
Making good beer is an art, one could say.
Fascinating, I thought, just like Manet and Degas inspired each
other in painting.
Photos: Daniel Sturm/City Pulse
Ishem is the head brewer of Harpers Restaurant at 131
Albert St in East Lansing.
are roughly 500 homebrewers in Mid-Michigan, many of whom join
clubs such as the Capital Area Brew Crew in Lansing, Mid-Michigan
Maltmeisters in East Lansing, the Red Ledge Brewers in Grand Ledge,
or the Firkin Homerackers in Williamston. There are only two microbreweries
in the Lansing area, Harpers and Michigan Brewing Co. in
Webberville, and to fill the demand people are making their own.
Homebrewers love their own beers, which are as fresh as beer can
be. They say Anheuser-Busch, Budweiser and Miller are brewed technically
correct, but from the moment theyre pasteurized, filtered,
and put in a bottle, their flavor is lost. Whereas mass-market
beers have a budget, microbrewers can add as many ingredients
as they like. "When you make your own beer or buy fresh beer
from a microbrewery, the flavor difference is just incredible,"
says Karl Glarner, who owns the Red Salamander beer supply store
in Grand Ledge.
Glarner argues that all the big Pilsner breweries make beer with
no aftertaste because they assume Americans just want something
cold to drink, with alcohol in it. "The only thing really
with no aftertaste is water. Its refreshing, clean, and
has no aftertastes and those are the same terms that are used
by mainstream breweries to describe their beers." In contrast,
Glarner said he liked drinking beer primarily because of the flavor
-- the more flavor the better.
There are 65 breweries in Michigan, each making 10 to 12 different
beers sorts, but there are not many restaurants in the region
that actually serve craft-brewed beers. According to the American
Homebrewers Association, the national average of people who brew
their own beer is 1 percent or less.
Glarner says that the best part of his job is when people stop
by to share their freshly brewed beers with him. The most extraordinary
batch he ever tasted was a chili pepper micro beer. Hes
heard of people who add toasted hemp seeds to their beer for an
extra kick. Its hard to tell what homebrewers have in common
besides an apparent love for good beers, he said. "My customers
come from all walks of life -- factory workers, CEOs, attorneys
and doctors. I have people that are interested in the technical
side of it, and I have people that are interested in the creative
side of it. Some of my brewers even keep a log book."
Potterville resident Ray Johnson brews beer in a three-keg
system heated by propane burners.
of these more sophisticated homebrewers is Ray Johnson in Potterville,
whos brewed 30 different kinds of batches within the last
12 years. Johnson, a Web applications designer for state government,
owns an elaborate homebrewing system. "Most homebrewers dont
have anything thats even remotely close to this," he
said, proudly revealing his three-keg system. Johnson was a passionate
beer lover. One could learn to appreciate beer, he thought, but
to love beer, well, that was a more innate gift. "I was born
as a beer lover," he said.
Craft beer was really hard to come by in Michigan back in 1991
when Johnson started. At the time, he didnt know anybody
in Lansing who brewed beer. But still inspired, he decided to
buy the necessary equipment in Lansings only supply store,
called Beer Gear (which no longer exists), to start from scratch.
His first batches were stove-top brews using malt extracts, or
beer syrup. Over the years they became more sophisticated, with
a combination of fresh-crushed grain and extracts.
Today, Johnsons three-keg system is heated by propane burners.
After the water in the first keg is heated to 180 degrees, it
floats into the second, where the grain is added. For about an
hour the malt mingles with the hot water, creating the right starch
conversion to sugar. This liquid, called "wort," then
travels to the third keg, where its boiled and where hops
and other "finings" (such as dried seaweed) are added.
"The seaweed helps to clarify the beer," explains Johnson.
After it cools down, the beer is moved into an air-locked five-gallon
fermenting tank. After about one week of fermentation, ale beers
are already ready to drink. Lager beers, on the other hand, can
take up to three months.
Johnson prefers brewing in the winter, because the process generates
a lot of heat. The cold temperature also helps for lager beers,
he told me. But two thirds of his basement was filled up with
ale sorts, because they were just easier to make and supposedly
Karl Glarner, owner of the Red Salamander beer supply store
in Grand Ledge.
you talk to homebrewers, youll find that theyre going
through all of this trouble not just because theyre connoisseurs
in search of a taste that isnt mass-marketed, but theres
another kind of commonality: Homebrewers like to experiment, have
technical skills, like to do things on their own, and (of course)
they enjoy good beer. "A homebrewed beer is a form of art,
its literally a living and breathing thing, because we dont
pasteurize our beer to kill our yeast, like Anheuser-Busch,"
I met only male homebrewers in the Lansing area. Johnson said
he didnt know any female brewers. He had no explanation
for the fact that few women were attracted to the art, but said
hed be glad to "see more diversity."
Ive often heard beer lovers praise Germanys "Reinheitsgebot"
(purity law). I didnt trust the argument, because I knew
it had too often been used by conservative German politicians
who wanted to make it harder for foreign beer brands to be sold
in the German market; thus they claimed that regulated ingredients
made German beer "purer."
The purity law, originally passed in 1516, had asked Bavarian
brewmeisters to use only prescribed substances. At that time beer
contained less alcohol than it does today, but herbal ingredients
were added to make it taste spicier. One of those plants was "Bilsenkraut,"
or henbane (Hyoscyamus niger), which contains two substances,
atropine and scopolamine, which in large doses can lead to unconsciousness
or a coma. When added to beer, henbane had hallucinogenic effects.
Thus getting drunk from beer must have felt quite different from
today. Henbane seeds were also burned in public bath houses, to
free people from inhibitions, as henbane was also considered to
have aphrodisiac effects. Linguists argue that the name "Pilsner"
refers to the hallucinogenic herb that used to be in the ingredients,
and not to the old Bohemian city, "Pilsen."
The Michigan Brewing Co. in Webberville offers 12 different
beers. Its micro beers include Mackinaw Pale Ale, Michigan
Nut Brown Ale,. and Celis White.
Bavarian purity law, a beer regulation, was thus interestingly
one of the first prohibition laws in European history, but it
wasnt until the early 20th century that brewers actually
stopped adding henbane to their beers. Politicians in conjunction
with an increasingly hysterical press cater to the interest of
the more puritan-leaning middle classes--and to receive their
votes in return. They told people herbs would make beer "impure,"
and lead to more tavern fights, boisterous behavior and higher
rates of drug addiction.
Hops was introduced as a replacement, and, in contrast, "Its
been well documented to be a sedative, with a calming effect on
people. Politicians thought that the purity law would help keep
people a little more under control," Glarner said. Ironically,
beer hasnt become any less "dangerous" : The percentage
of alcohol contained in beer has climbed from 2 percent to 5 percent,
where it remains today.
Brewing against all odds
Glarner tells me that the excitement in homebrewing originates
from the very fact that one isnt forced to follow any of
these laws. "You can add whatever herbs you want to."
The fun part is experimenting with recipes and creating new kinds
of beer. Glarner started as a homebrewer 15 years ago. In 1997,
when he got laid off by the Internet firm hed worked for,
he walked along Red Cedar River in Grand Ledge with four months
severance pay in his wallet, and his eyes fell on a charming old
He knew that he wouldnt want to work as a professional microbrewer.
"Brewers really are a kind of a cross between a cook and
a janitor," he said. "They work hard, they shuffle tons
of grains, and they work in high humidity. That didnt appeal
to me." He knew there was a need for a supply store in the
area and decided to go into that direction. His wife, a graphic
designer, helped create the logo, a red salamander because when
they moved to Grand Ledge, they found red salamanders in their
The Red Salamander sells all ingredients necessary for brewing,
such as base malts, hops and yeast. The secret of brewing beer
has a lot to do with how creatively one combines the different
ingredients. There are 50 different kinds of special grain, 40
different hops, and 40 kinds of yeast available, each adding a
different flavor to the beer. The cheapest starter kit to begin
with would be a seven-pound package of malt for $19, which makes
five gallons of Irish stout. Other than that, you only need a
spaghetti pot to boil your own beer, and it takes about one week
until you can enjoy the first batch.
Thom Cannell shows his homebrewing system in Lansing. The
beer connoisseur joined an eight-member beer study
beer is not rocket science unless you want it to be," Glarner
said. For a batch, one just pours the grain into a fermenting
bucket, then adds water and yeast. The time involved can be minimized
to just minutes. In contrast, you can also grow hops in your own
backyard, set up a yeast laboratory, and do your own water chemistry.
The magic of beer is a never-ending story. Cannell joined an eight-member
beer study group, so that he could become a "certified beer
judge." With a slight smile on his face, Cannell said it
was unfair for people to laugh when he talks about studying beer,
"because they think we just drink a lot." Cannell denied
this stereotype, pointing out that the eight future beer judges
hardly drink a single bottle per session. They discuss, compare,
and sip the stouts of London, the soft ales of Scotland, the dry
and hopsy Pilsner from Germany, and the Hefeweizen. On a score
sheet they measure how clean a beer is in the bottle, the color,
the aroma, the flavor, the "mouthfeel" and the overall
impression on a 50-point scale.
A variety of Lansing area restaurants carry micro brewery beers.
Toms Party Store on Grand River in East Lansing offers beers
from 20 different microbreweries. The owner, Rich McCarius, says
12 percent of his customers buy micro beers. "Were
in a good market because of our vicinity to Michigan State University,
and younger people are generally more knowledgeable about beer."
Brewing Co., 2582 N. M-52, Webberville, MI 48892. 10 a.m.
to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to midnight Friday
and Saturday, noon to 10 p.m. Sunday. www.michiganbrewing.com,
call for tours (517) 521.3600
Harpers Restaurant and Brewpub, 131 Albert St, East
Lansing. 11 a.m. to 2 a..m. daily. Kitchen closes at 11
p.m. (517) 333.4040
Travelers Club and Tuba Museum, 2138 Hamilton Rd. Okemos,
(517) 349.1701. 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, 9 a.m. to 10
p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, 8 a.m.
to 11 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Leopolds Brothers of Ann Arbor Brewery,
523 S. Main St., Ann Arbor 48104. 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday
through Sunday, 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday. (734) 747.9806,
Microbrewery with an integrated commercial greenhouse.
Mid-Michigan Maltmeisters, East Lansing. 1st Thursday
of the month; Thom Cannell, (517) 371-2058
Firkin Homerackers Guild, Things Beer, 2582 N. M-52, Webberville
3rd Tuesday of the month, 7:30 p.m.; Fred Clinton, (517)
Red Ledge Brewers, Red Salamander, 205 N. Bridge St.,
Grand Ledge 2nd Tuesday of the month, 7 p.m., Karl Glarner,
Capital Area Brew Crew, Lansing. 2nd Tuesday in conjunction
with Red Ledge Brewers; Ray Johnson, (517) 645.4333
- Charlie Papazian: The new joy of home brewing. New York:
Avon Books, 1991.
Beer Judge Certification Program
A non-profit organization to encourage the educational
advancement of people interested in the evaluation of
beer and related brewed products; www.bjcp.org
Homebrewing supply stores
Red Salamander, 205 N. Bridge St., Grand Ledge
Karl Glarner, (517) 627-2012
Things Beer, beer supplies store next door to Michigan
party stores such as Oades Big Ten, which carries hundreds
of micro beers at three stores in the area, or the well-sorted
Goodrichs Shop-Rite supermarket in East Lansings Trowbridge
Plaza, a place beer lovers should visit is Dustys Cellar
on Grand River in Okemos. The owner, Matt Rhodes, says that his
retail store actually specializes more in wines, having 200 different
sorts. "We only carry a little bit more than 100 micro beers,"
Another place to visit is the Travelers Club and Tuba Museum,
at 2138 Hamilton Road in Okemos. When ordering beer at this restaurant
and (yes) tuba museum, you can begin with what they call a "sampler,"
which is a wooden tray filled with small glasses from dark to
light. Most of the beer is bottled, but every couple of weeks,
Charlies Tuba is firebrewed on the patio. Its flavor changes
from brewing to brewing. The food is good, and theres live
music most Friday and Saturday evenings.
Going further east on Interstate 96, in the direction of Webberville
(Exit 122), youll find the Michigan Brewing Co., housed
inside a large barn. This company is the creator of micro beers
like Mackinaw Pale Ale, Michigan Nut Brown Ale, Hamtramck, and
Michigan Brewing Co.s sales manager, Mike Earnheart, told
me that its the third-largest brewing company in Michigan
and that it recently purchased Celis Brewery in Austin, Texas,
from Miller. They plan to move the Miller brewery to Webberville,
adding a new 70,000-square-foot building behind the existing structure,
which is scheduled for completion in spring 2004. Michigan Brewing,
which was founded in 1995, employs 15 people in the brewery, and
six in the beer supply store, Things Beer, next door.
Earnheart said that the microbrewery business is still growing,
and without too much competition. When he visits other Michigan
microbreweries he always makes sure to take a six-pack of their
own freshly brewed beer, such as Russian Imperial Stout (10%),
and to make sure that he gets something in exchange. When I asked
him how hard it is not to drink beer while working in a brewery,
Earnheart said hed recently decided to live without it for
30 days. "But its real hard, because we just set up
a taste test panel, and theres literally a lot of sipping
The brewerys small pub area offers 12 beers on tap. Theres
a big barrel full of peanuts, and Earnheart says people consume
25 pounds a day, and 50 pounds on the weekends. Theres also
a variety of flat breads and deli sandwiches to distract you from
your beer -- in other words a fun place to go. Call ahead for