Way north, in a tiny town just outside Traverse City, lies a magical place where only Michigan’s finest beer is brewed. In Bellaire, the beer mecca of Northern Michigan, Short’s Brewing Company has been making huge strides in craft beer for the Mitten State. I had the chance to tour the brewpub, take some photos on my super expensive disposable camera and learn some history about Joe Short’s quest to brew bizarre beer in Bellaire.
My first incident with a Short’s beer came in college, I’d been 21 for a couple months and had this urge to consume every new craft beer I could get my lips around. At the bar one night, a friend of mine suggested that I try a Short’s Soft Parade and with that advice I watched the bartender pour a deep red liquid into my glass that was topped off with a light pink head. Bamboozled by this awkward looking beer, I took a long hard sip, then slowly contemplated what the hell was in my mouth. It was fruity, strong, mysterious, and everything else in between, also my friend noted that it was about 8 percent ABV. From that day forth, I knew there was something kooky about this brewery and I liked it.
As much as I love living in the city, a chance to escape to the great north for the weekend is always accepted with much appreciation, so when the opportunity arose to get a tour of Short’s, I pointed it up I-75. When I arrived in Bellaire, I found my way to the brewery, which was tucked nicely into the heart of the small town. Rob Lewis, Pub Manager, graciously invited me into the pub and introduced me to my guide for the afternoon, Matt Gacioch, who is on the marketing team for the company.
Gacioch explained some of the history, starting back between 2002 and 2003 when home brewer Joe Short wanted to take his love and affection for brewing to the next level. If you don’t know who Joe Short is, just think of what it would be like if Willy Wonka was a brewer. His zany off the wall antics, creativity and passion for brewing parallel the likes of Mr. Wonka. Joe helped create a rare, unique style of brewing, where every beer is not true to it’s own style. For example, I had a beer while I was at the brewery called S’more Stout that is a traditional stout style, but he has thrown in graham crackers, milk chocolate, and marshmallows to give you the sense of a campfire nearby. It was even served with flaming marshmallow on top!
Rummaging around, Gacioch took me to Short’s seven barrel system which is located in the back of the brew pub. This is where Joe started creating all of the beer Michiganders enjoy today, from their early flagship IPA, Huma Lupa Lucious, which is Joe and head brewer Tony Hansen’s favorite brew, all the way to a new pale ale called Chatterbox, which is making it’s way to limited shelves in the near future. Also, this gives the guys the opportunity to experiment, which means some of the beers brewed can be exclusively drank at the pub. I was able to try crazy beers like Bim Bam Boom, which is a stout brewed with coca, cayenne pepper, and orange.
With creativity oozing from every crack around this pub, it’s easy to see that last year alone 100 different beers were poured from the taps, and about 38 different ones were bottled and released to the eager public. If being from Michigan wasn’t cool enough, Short’s Beer can only be purchased in the state, and there are no plans to see it move beyond that. They are even expanding their 30 barrel system in Elk Rapids, but no plans to ship to any other state in the country. #BallerStatus
Winding our tour down, I had one last question: Who creates all those quirky graphics? It started out with Fritz Horstman, who created the iconic logo at the start of it all and helped initiate the flagship labels. Nowadays it’s up to two artists, Tanya Whitley and Diana Ladio, and just as interesting as the beers taste, the names for them are found in the most peculiar way. No beer is named until it’s brewed and tasted by the brewers, then when a name is chosen it’s given to both artists. They then create a label for the beer and the one that represents it the best wins.
Before making my way out, not by choice, but the fact that I had to drive home, I filled up my growler for the road and picked up a pint glass to commemorate my visit. I would like to thank all of the wonderful people at Short’s for showing me around, it simply was a world of pure imagination.