You might not think it, but one of Michigan’s largest breweries is Keweenaw Brewing Company.
It operates on a 50 barrel system in a production facility in South Range. It wasn’t always that way, though.
“Here in Houghton we opened on just one side the first year, 2004; we produced 400 barrels. The following year we got to 1,100 barrels and we opened side two of the brewery. In 2007 we added a deck to the back of the brewery and we went to 2,000 barrels and this year, 2014, we expect to go through 10,000 barrels,” KBC co-owner Paul Boissebain said.
In 2007, KBC expanded to include a large-scale production facility in South Range.
It’s from here that a majority of the beer is brewed and where each of the six mainstays are canned. And while the brewing process is relatively the same no matter what size system you’re working with there are a few minor differences.
“So these are 100 barrel fermenters,” Luke Dedo, one of the brewers, said, “so we’ll oxygenate that cooled wort, transfer our yeast, which is a California Common, typically, a strain of yeast, into our beer. Usually about seven days of primary fermentation then we can begin to cool that beer down.”
With names inspired by locations and history from around the Copper Country, KBC has built a familiar brand with craft beer drinkers across the state.
“The Pickaxe Blonde is the simplest beer that we make; it’s a golden ale. The Red Jacket Amber has a little bit more complexity, a little bit more malt character; kind of a sweeter style. The Lift Bridge Brown was the third released and then you get in to chocolate malts and caramel malts, and the American Brown style has a little bit more hop profile than our imports,” KBC’s head brewer Tom Duex said.
They also put out the Ore Dock Scottish Ale, the November Gale Pale and the Widowmaker Black, which became their surprise best seller.
And despite KBC’s size and range of distribution, it’s still a hometown operation.
“I don’t think of us as one of the big boys,” Boissebain said. “You know, we’re just a handful of people still making good beer and certainly there are more trucks coming to pick it up on a regular basis than there used to be, but it’s still, you know, we’re running with two brewers and there are two owners and four full–time staff are making all this beer. It still feels like a small, homey operation. Again that’s one of the other reasons that we don’t want to grow too fast is we like that small, intimate feel of what we’re doing.”