Right out of a horror movie with names like Anger, Retribution, Pain, Delusion, Rage, Penitence, and Apathy, the beers at Greenbush are scary good. Just short drive from Chicago, located at 5885 Sawyer Road in Sawyer, Michigan, the Greenbush tap room is an easy stop off I-94 if you’re on a beer trail and a great hang out for locals.
I have known two of the owners of Greenbush for over 25 years – Scott and Justin. My first visit to Greenbush was shortly after Scott had gutted a derelict old laundromat and a custom copper 7bbl hand hammered Fred Zaft Kettle, MashTun, and open Lautering Tun-All Unique and fermenters were piled in the middle of the room covered with dust. Then in June of last year I stopped in after their first week open they were selling great beer and were cash flow positive. I recently caught up with Scott learned they continue to prosper. Here’s what Scott had to say.
Scott: I was making furniture in 2008 and injured my hand. I started brewing and the 4th batch I made was Distorter (Porter)- I really felt I had something. I’d give my beer to people and a lot of them told me they thought it was really good. So, I brewed once a week, then twice a week, giving it all away. I was talking to Justin and he thought we could sell it, so we developed a business plan. Jill Sites was working at the Acorn (theatre) wine shop in Three Oaks and we got to know her pretty well. So much so, that my wife told me we better not let her get away, so we approached her about working at Greenbush, she was initially bartender, ambassador of everything, and now she’s an equal partner.
ICBG: I haven’t been in here in a few months and every time you blink, this place has grown.
Scott: Yeah. Our business plan for year one was 375bbl –We sold 2,347. We’ll make over 4,600 in the 2nd year. We’ve gone from two full time employees to 32. We are still on the 7bbl system with 2 turns a day 6 days a week and one on Sunday. We moved the wall on the taproom so we can seat 46 and opened up the outside patio.
ICBG: Wow expansion! What else are you planning?
Scott: Initially, more kitchen space. Food has become 30% of our business. People want to grab lunch and a couple pints. We are also adding a 1,500 sf of space for more fermenters in back. We want this place to stay a brewpub with lab beers and other specials. We are going to open up a production house across the street at the former Corvette Central warehouse with a 30bbl brew house and 60bbl fermenters. I’d like the pub to have a 15bbl system – like Pete’s (Peter Crowley of Haymarket Pub & Brewery).
ICBG: I remember you telling me a while ago that the taproom was kind of an afterthought and then during the first weekend the masses drank up all your beer!
Scott: Yeah. It’s been profitable from day one. I’d say we are doing 60 kegs a week in pints, growlers, and flights. We bottle everything we humanly can and …looking towards rack… yeah by mid Saturday, that is gone too. Really it helps us in the winter. We have 1,000+ mug clubbers. It picks up for the local regulars.
ICBG: You’re located in Michigan so why did you join the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild?
Scott: We are very much a Michigan brewery. But we have great relationships for collabs and we are on taps all over the Chicago. We want to be active in the Chicago market, not just ship beer there. We are always on tap at Kumas, and usually a few other places. We let Windy City (distributing) help with that, but we can’t support everyone…yet. We get so many people from Chicago on a beer trail or just stopping by.
ICBG: You told me out of the gate, that you weren’t out to uphold any style guidelines. Have you taken any flack for that?
Tasting: Dystopia Russian Imperial Stout
Scott: Yes…in a recent Facebook post by a well-known judge/beer writer/consultant took issue with one of our brews. He has a right to his opinion, although he undermined his own rant by saying that the place was so busy that he couldn’t find the brewer for comment. Hey Carlos (Head Brewer) Do you care about winning an award? Carlos, “Nah, I don’t care!” Scott “We are just trying to have fun here!”
ICBG: What are some of your favorite beers by other guild members?
Scott: Hmm that is a toss-up. I like Pipeworks…End of Days. But that beer Pete makes…Mathias…Man, that is a good beer.
ICBG: So things are going great. Do you feel like craft breweries are saturating the market?
Scott: No. In Michigan, Craft is 3% of the entire market. The goal is 10%, so that is a lot more beer. We (Michigan Breweries) are about to jump up to 4th nationally in the number of craft breweries in a state. But we have a lot more room to grow.
ICBG: Of all of your selections, what do you recommend for a first time visitor?
Scott: Dystopia Russian Imperial Stout among other excellent choices.