by David Specht

Beer Brewery picture

While the US economy as a whole may be trembling after a rough last few years, the craft beer market is standing strong – and Michigan’s portion of that market is one of the strongest. Over the last 10 years, the state of Michigan has brewed up one of the fastest growing craft beer markets in the nation, and the last three years have been anything but an exception.


Currently, there are over 2,500 breweries operating in the U.S., with over 2,400 of these being craft beer makers, and with a new brewery opening nearly every day. From the head brew master to the delivery truck driver, craft brewers currently employ over 100,000 full-time and part-time employees. These are big numbers; especially in a state that just last year experienced a 12 percent unemployment rate.


In the early ‘90s, Michigan barley – excuse me, barely – had a presence in America’s craft beer market. As of 2013, Michigan is home to nearly 100 breweries, and thanks to newly loosened restrictions, this number is expected to continue to grow. On a national scale, Michigan ranks 5th for overall number of breweries, microbreweries and brewpubs. With nationally-recognized brew masters, such as those found at Short’s Brewing Company in Bellaire, Mich., it’s no wonder the state has earned the title of “The Great Beer State.”


‘The craft beer industry in Michigan is a microcosm of the industry throughout the country,” said Matt Gacioch, sustainability specialist at Short’s Brewing Company.


“We continue to grow in numbers and in production as we keep chiseling away at the Michigan beer market.”


The Michigan Brewers Guild states that each year Michigan’s brewing industry contributes more than $24 million in wages, with a total economic contribution of over $133 million. This could explain why, during one of the most devastating economic collapses in the state’s history, the craft beer industry has invested millions of dollars and continued to expand – a trend which seems to be evident in most other states as well.


According to a report by Demeter Group Investment Bank, “State of the Craft Beer Industry 2013,” craft beer seems to be thriving within a declining national beer market. Nationally, while beer continues to lose market share to wine and spirits, premium beer sales continue to grow. At its current growth rate, craft beer is projected to represent nearly 15% of the national beer market by 2020.


Thus far, the total amount of investments planned by Michigan-based breweries for 2013 exceeds $70 million. Short’s Brewing Company is no exception to the growth, or the investments.


“We had a big expansion of our production brewery (Elk Rapids, Mich.) in July 2012,” said Gacioch.


“The production brewery expansion was significant in the bumping up of production capacity. That month saw the removal of eight small tanks and the addition of 16 brand new, larger tanks. This took our production potential from around 16,000 barrels per year to about 44,000 barrels per year. We also put in a second bar at our Bellaire brewpub in April 2013. Furthermore, we’re working on plans for another Bellaire expansion right now, but those plans haven’t been finalized as of yet.”


According to their website, Short’s experienced a 40 percent growth between 2011 and 2012. Aside from the growth of the brewery itself, the growth and benefits to both the state and local economies are evident and much appreciated – especially in a town the size of Bellaire, with a population just over 1,000.


“With all of the growth in production, as well as the growth at our brewpub, we’ve been happy to add significant staff,” said Gacioch.


“In the last 18 months, we’ve increased the total number of employees on staff at all Short’s operations by about 30 percent, to a total of just over 80 employees today.”


Aside from employment opportunities, the benefits of the recent growth of Michigan breweries can be found elsewhere in the community. In 2012, Michigan beer distributor contributions to local community activities exceeded $5.5 million.


Having repeatedly supported organizations such as Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation Trails, Inc., Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, and the Institute for Sustainable Living, Art & Natural Design, it is evident that Short’s is proud to use their name and goodwill to have a truly positive impact.


With a slogan that reads “HOMEMADE BY PEOPLE WHO CARE,” this comes as no surprise.