ESCANABA — The U.P.’s new brewery harkens back to the days when you couldn’t sell beer out of your own taproom.
Upper Hand Brewery is the brainchild of Larry Bell, who you might recognize as the man behind Bell’s Brewery, which, as of May 2013 was the sixth-largest U.S. craft brewery by sales. Yeah, him.
Announced in April 2013, Upper Hand’s timeline has included building the facility, stocking it with a system, and since every system needs a brewer, Bell looked within the Bell’s family to satisfy that need.
Enter Sawyer Stevens.
“At Bell’s, I was in the cellar for six, seven months, and then something came open in downtown Kalamazoo, in the R&D, recipe development facility on a 15–barrel system,” Stevens said. “I was there for a year and a half, and then this came available. It’s a dream job, so why not go for it? Starting from the ground up, brand new brewery with Bell’s, it’s pretty cool. Great opportunity.”
Bell spoke to a gathered crowd at their grand opening Monday. He talked about how opening a brewery in the U.P. has been a goal he’s been working toward for some time.
“It’s been about a couple of years in planning to get this open,” Bell said. “But before that, even, we had taken out trademarks on Upper Hand and UPA, knowing that we wanted to do this, and really, this fulfills a lifelong dream for me to open a brewery in the U.P.”
Upper Hand’s first three beers are lighter, ranging from 4.5% to 5.5% ABVs. Stevens discussed how they chose them as the flagship brews.
“We wanted these beers to be approachable by people who aren’t necessarily familiar with craft beer,” Stevens said.
And while more brews are planned for the future, Stevens was mum on the details.
“I want to brew a lot of different beers,” he said. “I want to brew beers that I like and that our staff likes. I don’t think you can make a beer for somebody. You have to make something that you like. We’ll see. We’ll see. I can’t say right now, but we’ll see. Stay tuned.”
For those hoping to find Upper Hand beer south of the Mighty Mac, Bell was very clear about one thing.
“This brewery is being built to celebrate the U.P.,” he said. “We’re not going to sell the beer in the Lower Peninsula, so those folks from down below that want to have this good beer are going to have to come up here to get it.”
The initial rollout saw Upper Hand beer on tap around Escanaba while kegs were shipped across the rest of the U.P. today.
It will soon saturate across the U.P. in bottles that will hit the shelves by the end of the week.
I stopped off for lunch following my tour and had a couple pints and, for what it’s worth, I’m a fan.