With 2.1 million jobs and $328 billion in economic activity, craft beer is big business in the United States. In Michigan alone, a top 5 beer producing state, the industry accounts for 62,688 jobs, $2.6 billion in wages and $8.8 billion in economic output according to the Beer Institute and the National Beer Wholesalers Association. Across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula alone, in which many communities have a variety of beer-related businesses and interests, the economic impact of beer is $346 million.
Not only is making beer an art and a science, but an industry that impacts the Upper Peninsula (UP) economy in a variety of ways.
For the Keweenaw Brewing Co., it was the chance to call the Copper Country home that helped make the hops-influenced vision become a reality. After graduating from MTU, Dick Gray was looking for a way to return to the area. On a visit to the region he brought along Paul Boissevain, who fell in love with Lake Superior and the hospitality of Houghton, and together they began the KBC as its fondly referred to by locals.
The Michigan Tech alumni are also connected to another beer industry start-up, Upper Peninsula Malt Co. It began in 2015 when Ontonagon natives, David Chynoweth and Bill Weisinger, started producing malt from U.P. grown grains. Several UP breweries, including the Ore Dock, The Vierling, Barrel + Beam and Cold Iron Brewing, use its artisan malt which provides unique flavors characterized by the nature of the UP.
Craft breweries across the peninsula range in size and specialty. Upper Hand Brewery, a division of Bell’s Brewery, located in Escanaba, took on an interesting venture when Bell’s decided to start an entirely new craft brewery 400 miles away from home. While the scale of Bell’s would lead most to believe it to be the root of its success, Upper Hand’s model is based on being exclusively available in the Upper Peninsula.
“More than anything, Upper Hand Brewery is a love letter to the UP,” shared Sam Reese, production manager. “It’s Bell’s way of showing that we are committed to this community and doing our part to give folks yet another reason to love living in and visiting the Upper Peninsula.”
Upper Michigan’s beer culture continues to expand as demonstrated by the recent opening of Drifa, the taproom of the Marquette Brewing Cooperative, which will have its grand opening on October 3. This unique venture blends craft brewing and the co-op business model, and only exists in a dozen or so spots around the United States. Drifa has evolved thanks to members who are committed to furthering the culture and craft in the UP, but you needn’t be a member to stop in and enjoy their work.
An abundance of breweries also means many great events and activities occur across the UP. Among the most popular is the UP Fall Beer Festival which is organized by the Michigan Brewers Guild and held annually in Marquette. Having just completed its 11th year, the festival not only introduces many craft beer enthusiasts to UP offerings but contributes to the area economy. The event draws more than 4,000 attendees, with approximately half traveling from outside of the UP. Tourism officials estimate this adds $1.5 million to the local economy over three days.
With 23 breweries across the Upper Peninsula, for many the opportunity to explore and enjoy a local craft beer enhances why the UP is the best place to live, work and play.