Joseph Bosch built the Michigan House in 1905, one of many locations in Calumet, Houghton and Lake Linden used to distribute beer brewed by Bosch Brewing Company.
In the ’80s the Michigan House closed and was open periodically for the next several years. Tim Bies and his wife bought the business and after repairs and renovations, decided to brew their own beer.
“We started in 2001,” Bies said, “and in 2004 we started brewing beer; started out with a half barrel system. We made an oatmeal stout; it was the only beer I knew how to make. I originally thought a stout wouldn’t sell that well. We never could keep up. We bought more kegs and more fermenters, realized that we needed to expand so we moved it into another part of the same building, and expanded it into our three-and-a-half barrel system.”
While Bies enjoys brewing porters and stouts he tries to keep a little variety on tap, making use of the fruits that abound in the area and sometimes partnering with local businesses.
He said, “There’s a lot of local ingredients you can use and you can pair with other local businesses to use coffee, or get the local fishery to smoke some grain for you and do a smoked porter. Try to pair with everybody and spread it out a little bit because it’s really fun.”
Traditional beers are always available at Red Jacket but what’s on tap isn’t limited to just the basics.
“People in the craft brew world that travel and go from one brewery to another are a lot of times just looking for something different and if you can offer that one offshoot that’s kind of different, even though you’ve got a lot more money in it and it costs a little more, people are looking for that so I recommend trying to keep one tap handle; we always call it the last tap handle and you don’t know what’s going to be on there,” Bies said.
And though many brewers use fermenters that were specifically designed for beer, Red Jacket beers are fermented in a milk chiller, left over from when the property was owned by Jilbert Dairy.
“We’ve got two of these [milk chillers] and they work quite well,” Bies said. “They have self-contained refrigeration. It’s kind of a semi-open ferment so we have to be very careful about our brewery sanitation and keep things clean.”
Bies sees Michigan’s beer industry as a community of people making a really good product, and he tries to highlight their beer as well as his.
He said, “All the tap beers are ours; we still have a large variety of other beers [in] bottles, cans that we sell. We try to highlight Michigan beers. It’s a little bit of a problem in our location, just getting them up here, but we really try to promote Michigan and the Great Beer State.”
As for the future, Bies hopes to see more local grain, hops and malt to allow for an entirely Michigan–made beer.