Detroit Is America's Next Great Beer City
The city plays host to more than a dozen independent breweries, taprooms and beer-centric bars, and now, one of the nation’s most beloved beermakers, Founders, is opening up a satellite brewery, taproom and restaurant right in the middle of the action
Detroit, the city that spent the last decade of the 20th century and first decade-and-a-half of the 21st gasping through one of the worst economic depressions ever experienced by an American city, is poised to become an international craft beer destination. Michigan’s largest municipality not only plays host to more than a dozen independent breweries, taprooms and beer-centric bars, with more on the way, but one of the nation’s most beloved beermakers is opening up a satellite brewery, taproom and restaurant right in the middle of the action.
On December 4, Founders Brewing Co., based across the state in Grand Rapids, is opening its first new location in its 20-year history in an up-and-coming Midtown neighborhood called South Cass, which began boosting the city’s revitalization efforts in 2013. The 14,000-square-foot annex lies within a few minutes’ walk of the nationally acclaimed HopCat beer bar; a branch of Dexter, MI's nationally renowned Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales; and Detroit’s oldest continuously operating brewery, Motor City Brewing Works, not to mention the brand-new Little Caesar’s Arena professional sports and concert venue and the city’s educational and cultural institutions, independent retailers and restaurants, many owned by chefs who’ve returned home to invigorate Detroit after years away. Additional breweries outside Midtown can be easily reached by train, too.
But perhaps what’s more exciting than what’s here is what’s coming. In 2018, South Cass will welcome a full-sized brewery to complement three brewing programs offered by Eastern Michigan University; a branch of the Brooklyn-based bar Barcade; and a bar owned by Jolly Pumpkin’s parent company that will serve student-made beers pumped under a courtyard from the brewing school. The trendy West Elm home furnishings chain is erecting its first boutique hotel and Aloft stands a short walk away.
All of those amenities would surely generate interest across the Upper Midwest. But the addition of Founders, the country’s sixteenth biggest brewery – distributing in 46 states and 27 countries – and cult-famous for its trailblazing Kentucky Breakfast Stout and All Day IPA, will prompt many a “beer-cationer” to hop onto planes, trains and automobiles to visit Founders and Detroit’s impending critical mass of beer destinations.
“Founders has a dedicated, hard-core customer base,” says Susan Mosey, executive director of Midtown Detroit, Inc., which partnered with Invest Detroit to help Founders site the facility. “We have a lot of very local breweries opening but bringing in a large brand with a large reach will drive a lot of (outside) traffic into the neighborhood.”
Founders aims to cater to its local and long-distance customers by delivering unique beers brewed on a three-barrel system (1 bbl=31 gallons) and served on 18 taps along with core brands, seasonals and specialties trucked in from HQ. The food menu consists of sandwiches, salads and small plates of hummus and BBQ meatballs. Continuing a mission to directly support its communities with local partnerships and charitable endeavors, Founders will staff the new space with approximately 100 Detroit-dwelling brewers, servers, bartenders, tour guides and giftshop clerks.
“Detroit has been hit hard economically and the town has a real fighter’s spirit. It’s that same spirit that lives within our brewery’s history. We’re looking forward to being a part of the rebirth of one of America’s greatest cities,” says co-founder and CEO Mike Stevens.
Founders is known to be a solid corporate citizen that, with its tens of thousands of annual visitors, helped turned downtown Grand Rapids from a post-industrial wasteland into a national beer mecca that a Brewers Association public poll once named "Beer City USA." It's common to hear of craft breweries revitalizing a neighborhood or a district but not at all common for a brewery to so profoundly impact an entire community’s self-image and commercial makeup. With Detroit reaching an economic inflection point this year, thanks to unemployment dropping close to the national average and wages rising above the national scale, hopes are high for Founders to bring its mojo to the Motor City.