Months before Ellison Brewery + Spirits opened in East Lansing, I had several opportunities to stop by the brewery and see how things were going. Each time I was greeted warmly and handed a glass of beer or cider — whatever was in the fermenter or recently batched up. Owners Eric Elliott and Aaron Hanson, with the support of numerous family and friends, were building not just another Michigan brewery but a great collaboration between beer lovers and great beer makers.
On October 2, 2015 they put the finishing touches on their converted warehouse space and opened the doors to a much-anticipated brewery and tasting room.
Ellison brings together the business, distribution, and distilling experience of Elliott and Hanson, combined with the talent of Master Brewer Todd Schwem, who honed his craft at Kuhnhenn Brewing Company, Cellar Master Leon Traczynski, affectionately known as The Gnome, as well as Brewpub Manager Kaylan Shrum and Winemaker Jordan Artuso.
Ellison is first and foremost a brewery, not a bar. Almost all of Ellison’s converted warehouse space is dedicated to the brewhouse and distillery. In the tasting room are long hand-made tables with long benches for you to sit and talk with friends or strangers or the owners or the brewers. The staff of Ellison is always accessible and eager to talk about whatever is in your glass or what they are brewing next.
Conversation is easy, without loud music or dim lighting. There is one large TV, but only for important things like Spartans, Red Wings, Lions, Tigers, and of course, Shark Week. You are welcome to bring or order in food from the variety of nearby restaurants into the tasting room.
While the tasting room is a great place to be, the beer lineup is what Ellison is all about. Ellison’s two flagship brews, Mud Slinger and Big Toad’s Very Hoppy Timings, are at opposite ends of the beer spectrum. Mud Slinger is a smooth and creamy chocolate milk stout, while Toad’s is a crisp IIPA loaded with hops, tropical fruit notes, and a hint of pine.
Schwem and Traczynski’s skilled brewing allows them to play with flavor combinations that always deliver. Watermelon and grape hefeweizens, hazelnut coffee stout, banana chocolate stout, tiramisu stout. The options are so varied, it’s impossible to get through them all in one visit. Even the coffee used in brewing is so good, it’s served cold on a nitro tap for a nice creamy pour.
Ellison uses hand-pull casks to show off their most distinct creations. They’ve already featured a double chocolate covered espresso stout with double the espresso, and a chocolate peanut butter covered banana stout. Both sold out in just a couple days.
If beer is not at the top of your list, enjoy a glass of semi-dry riesling or pinot noir. True to form, the wine selection will change and expand as well. Fermenting right now is a cherry ciser and a mead from local honey. The current hard cider flavors include blueberry and pear. Ellison also carries Faygo Pop and juice boxes for the whole family.
Michigan has proven over and over again that a cottage industry like craft brewing, fueled by passion and talent, can succeed and thrive among national giants. And the folks at Ellison are delivering top-notch, delicious brews out of the gate. Look for the “capitol tap” all around the mid-Michigan area to find an Ellison brew where you are. And then bring your friends and family by the tasting room to see what else they have to offer. I guarantee you’ll find something to love.
By Jackie Mitchell, WRA 491 – Travel Writing student at Michigan State University