June 17 2015 12:00 AM

New players and growing businesses beef up Lansing’s beer scene

Ty Forquer/City Pulse

Greater Lansing’s thirst for craft beer seems, at the moment, to be insatiable. Old Nation Brewing Co. opened Wednesday in Williamston (see New in Town, p. 24), Ellison Brewery and Spirits is slated to open in East Lansing later this summer, the Gillespie Group recently began renovations on the future home of Lansing Brewing Co. in the Stadium District and just last week developer Kris Elliott announced plans to bring a new brewpub to Michigan Avenue.

These new breweries join relatively young breweries BAD Brewing Co. and Eaglemonk Pub and Brewery, both established in 2012, as well as the self-proclaimed “original East Lansing brewpub,” Harper’s Restaurant and Brewpub. There’s also downtown’s Midtown Brewing Co., which began as satellite pub for the defunct Michigan Brewing Co. The Webberville-based brewery folded in 2012, but the downtown pub rebranded itself and added a full bar. (The similar initials allowed the pub to keep the wooden MBC sign above its door for a few years after the transition.)

And we can’t leave out the intrepid folks at Sleepwalker Spirits and Ales. The small outfit slings fresh growler pours two nights a week at Allan Market Place.

In addition to the brewers, there is no shortage of bars willing to help Lansing get its craft beer fix. Beer bars Hopcat, Taps 25 and the newly opened Beer Grotto provide a combined 173 taps of frothy brew, and neighborhood bars like Zoobie’s and the Soup Spoon Café offer a rotating assortment of craft beers.

Bursting at the seams

Along with the growth in numbers, at least two local breweries are growing in size. Sleepwalker Spirits and Ales has announced plans to take over two storefronts in the Kircher Complex, the building that houses Allan Market Place. Its plans include a 60-seat pub, a beer garden and a larger production area.

“This is an exciting time to be a part of the craft beverage scene in Lansing,” said Matt Jason, co-founder of Sleepwalker. “I feel particularly enthusiastic about having established ourselves in a part of town, between Downtown and East Lansing, that looks to be the epicenter of craft beer and spirits in the Greater Lansing area.”

While Lansing’s east side may be the epicenter, there is growth on the frontiers as well. BAD Brewing Co., situated in downtown Mason, recently purchased the storefront next door to expand its taproom.

“We don’t have enough room for everyone,” said Brian Rasdale, co-owner and brewer.

Rasdale said that Bad Brewing Co. has gradually increased its production capacity since it opened its doors three years ago. The outfit, which began with enough space and equipment to brew 80 gallons of beer at a time, has the capacity to brew 900 gallons of beer at a time. The taproom, which began with four beers on tap, boasts 14 taps, one of which is devoted to its house-made ciders.

DSC_1155_1.JPGHealthy competition

Even with all of the new players in town, Rasdale isn’t afraid of some competition.

“It’s going to be better for the area,” he said. “It gives us more destination appeal.”

Jason agrees, pointing to cities like Grand Rapids, Denver and Asheville, N.C., as cities that have established themselves as hotspots for craft beer lovers.

“They have a critical mass,” he said. “It makes the city a destination.”

Tracy Padot, vice president of marketing communications at the Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the growth in Lansing’s beer scene gives the area another angle to draw in tourists.

“We love it,” she said. “It’s just one more offering to attract visitors.”

The group recently rolled out its Makers and Shakers campaign, which highlights Lansing-area breweries, distilleries and wineries. The campaign includes a punch card, and participants who visit 10 of the 13 listed locations are eligible for a free gift.

“With such prolific growth (in craft beverages), we thought it would be a great way to draw people to the area,” Padot said.

A beer bubble?

With all of this growth, is Lansing on the verge of a bursting beer bubble? Jake VanAtta, director of marketing for the Beer Grotto, doesn’t think so.

“I don’t see it slowing down at all,” he said. “ We only see it growing.”

The Beer Grotto, which opened its Lansing location in April, also has pubs in Dexter and Ann Arbor. The Lansing pub boasts 48 taps of craft beer available in-house by the glass or to-go in branded growlers.

“All three locations are doing very well,” VanAtta said. “We couldn’t be happier.”

Even in craft-beer-soaked Ann Arbor, home to seven breweries, the Beer Grotto has been very successful.

“We’re seeing numbers that are way higher than anything we imagined,” VanAtta said. “People are really enjoying it.”

An untapped market

While the local craft beer scene seems to be exploding, Van Atta sees the growth as Greater Lansing finally catching up to the rest of the state.

“I think we’re behind the curve,” he said. “Nobody has enough taps. People are really enjoying the options.”

Jason agrees that as far as craft beer is concerned, Lansing has not reached its saturation point.

“The demand is there,” he said. “We’re very underserved.”