Brewery Showcase: Griffin Claw Brewing Company in Michigan
Outside of Michigan, people seem to know shockingly little about the USA’s 26th state, let alone its craft beer scene. With a significant percentage of HopPlotter’s users coming from Michigan, we decided we needed to know more about this booming beer destination, so we went straight to the source and interviewed native Michigander (a new term for us) Kyle VanDeventer from Griffin Claw Brewing Company in Birmingham, Michigan. Kyle is the sales director for the brewery and has 10 years of experience in the industry. Read through our interview with Griffin Claw Brewing Company and discover the secrets behind Michigan’s craft beer craze and what you can expect when you plan your next brewery tour of the Great Lakes Region!

Pro Tip: Add Griffin Claw Brewing Company and other Michigan breweries to your HopPlotter "Wish List"


Part 1: The State of Michigan

Michigan Breweries

Michigan’s Craft Beer Movement: A History Lesson

“The beer industry in the state of Michigan was really started by and revolves around Larry Bell out of Bell’s Brewery. He started Bell’s in the mid-1980s (and it is now the sixth largest craft brewery in the United States). [Bell first] started a little homebrew shop in Kalamazoo, Michigan, which really wasn’t known for much more than the state college. It was a slow-go like all great things. We really didn’t start hitting a stride in the state until the late 90s when Founders, Arcadia, and New Holland and all these amazing breweries started popping up in the 1997-1999 range. Once those started happening that was the foundation of the state’s style. We really didn’t know where we stood on what styles people liked. Bell’s was making Oberon (an American Wheat Ale), an amber, a pale ale, these really traditional easy-going styles, for years and then all of a sudden Two Hearted (an IPA) took off in the early 2000s and that’s what people gravitated to. Founders was making Scotch ales, porters and pale ales, really traditional style stuff for 20 plus years so the state’s deep in the tradition. The 'Michigan Beer State' started in the late 80s but really didn’t take off until early 2000 when all of a sudden these really amazing breweries started sprouting up and really kind of showing off what we have in this state.”

On Michigan State Pride and its Role in Craft Beer

“The one thing of Michigan which is its biggest asset but also its biggest fault is its pride. In the state of Michigan we call it the big three, our auto companies: Ford, GM, and Chrysler. We are so proud of them and so tied into them that you drive those three and nothing else. We will drive them until they fall apart no matter what, because we’re proud that they are Michigan companies. Everything we do, if you are Michigan, if you’re local, we will support you until the day you die. We have 350 breweries in this state, a lot that are growing and so many that are amazing, there's so much support for everyone of those - no matter how big or small, no matter how old or young. I can leave my house today and walk to five breweries locally.

What Kyle Wishes More People Knew About Michigan

“When I tell people I’m from Michigan, often the response is ‘oh Detroit, how are you still alive?’. Detroit always gets a bad rap, but I love Detroit. There is also a lot more to the whole state of Michigan than just Detroit; we have other great cities like Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, and Lansing. But then we have this amazing upper Peninsula that is gorgeous and scenic; there are waterfalls, and of course we have all the Great Lakes that are surrounding us. We have the best of both worlds where we have the very urban cities that have a lot of grit, but then up north you have this extremely gorgeous playground.”

Beer Styles Waiting for you in Michigan

“Founders’ KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout) was one of the first breweries to use barrels exclusively [for a beer]. That was a big deal. Bell’s Two Hearted (an IPA) was a traditional one, but this state is very hop-centric IPA and then very barrel-oriented. The two keywords are hop and barrel. Everything else seems to fall into place every once in awhile. We are definitely a hophead state and then a barrel boozy state.”



Part 2: Griffin Claw Brewing

Griffin Claw Taps

A Brief History of Griffin Claw Brewing Company

“My corny tagline is ‘we are a 3 year old brewery with a 12 year old history’. We used to be called Big Rock Chophouse, which is a small steakhouse in Birmingham, Michigan, and 14 years ago they decided to make a brewing program, but then they didn’t get our head brewer (Dan Rogers) until 12 years ago. Dan Rogers is our heart and soul. He’s brewed in Las Vegas and then came home to Michigan where he’s been brewing in the scene since 1991. When they brought him over 12 years ago, that’s when I say that we started. Because he started making some amazing beers, and then in 2010 we won gold medals for World Beer Cup, Norm’s Raggedy Ass IPA, and then a silver medal for our Imperial IPA, and that basically started the need for us to go into distribution. So 2013 is when we opened as Griffin Claw, and we moved down the road to a 20,000 barrel limit production facility that popped up out of nowhere. We’d been making the same beer for the 9 years before that so we had a foundation already. In the first three years we pumped out roughly 9,000 barrels the first year, 14,000 the second year and 18,000 our third, so 41,000 barrels in three years.”

Griffin Claw’s Claim to Fame

“Norm’s Raggedy Ass is our flagship. It’s 75% of our business, our biggest seller, it’s like an East Coast meets a West Coast IPA. It’s pretty hoppy but then it has a lot of sweetness in the backbone that’s pretty well balanced. That’s the key on that one. We use five different hops in Norm’s Raggedy Ass; it’s mostly Centennial, Amarillo for rounding, Simcoe and a couple of other ones that we don’t like to give out but basically like Citra. It’s not a bad thing that I have to drink the majority of that.”

Birmingham: The Home of Griffin Claw Brewing

Birmingham

“Birmingham is 25 minutes north of Detroit. It’s pretty affluent, we have some awesome built-in clientele, but we are its only brewery. In metro Detroit there are a lot of cities that share roads and from our brewery you can walk to four different cities: Birmingham, Troy, Royal Oak, Clawson. They are all really tight-knit cities because of the population. Birmingham just happens to have a little more affluence than most, but Birmingham is really nice, it’s pretty quiet and quaint. Royal Oak is a little more younger of a crowd, Troy is a little more corporate and Clawson is a little more homely. So [Birmingham] kind of gets the best of most of the area. Back in the late 70s/early 80s, there was a big push from a lot of people that left the city of Detroit and went to the suburbs and that’s kind of where we are located.”

Nerding Out with Kyle on What Makes Griffin Claw Unique

Mash Filter

“Internally, our filtration system is a little different. Our brewhouse right now is the only one in the state of Michigan that has a mash filter. Instead of having a lauter tun, which just gets all of the grain out of the mash, we have a mash filter. We took the same mash filter as Delirium, which is an awesome Belgian brewery. We took that exact same filter and brought it and downsized it to us. We are one of about three breweries in the United States that have one. By the end of this year we will have two because we are going to have another facility opening. So that’s the whole start of the process. That means that the majority of our beer is 99% efficient and extremely quality driven. Our whole mantra is ‘well-balanced and quality-driven’.

“For being only three years old, we have full time quality control technicians that walk behind us throughout the day and try everything and put everything through iodine tests. We really believe that your first beer from Griffin Claw shouldn’t be your last. It should be the first of many so we are really quality driven on that aspect. When we first started three years ago, we were very German-centric, just because of Dan Roger’s history. We had a Bohemian Pilsner, which we still have; our pale ale is very sweet, German-style-esque. We have awesome hefeweizens, we have awesome wits. We do like to experiment and we play with stuff. We have coconut milk stouts with vanilla and we have awesome barrel aged beers, but we really like foundational items and that’s what we go with.

“We don’t have any open-fermentation so anything like lambics are hard for us to do, we don’t introduce bacteria. But we do do a lot of quads and tripels, and have a lot of heavier higher ABV products. We just did a quad for the third time, it’s called ‘Me So Ornery’. Our taproom has 18 handles but we have anywhere from 30-50 styles at a time. We’ve been doing a lot of single-hop IPAs right now just to experiment and keep Dan happy and sane. He’s a mad scientist.”

Micro vs Macro Breweries in Michigan

“The pride thing takes into effect, Bell’s and Founders in this state will never go away because of how awesome and how great they are but I think with the 350 breweries that we have currently in this state, there are a lot of pieces of pie to be doled out and I don’t know how big they are anymore because of the saturation. But it’s now to the point where everything is becoming uber local. Last year for our sales, we were in top 10 for the state, but if you look at the radius, the state as a whole, there is definitely a circle around metro Detroit, that’s where 50% of our sales are, and then you go out to the outer ring and you go Ann Arbor, and that’s another 30% of our sales. So 80% of our sales are doled out within a 2 or 3 hour drive from us.

"You’ll find Bell’s and Founders, Short's, and Atwater everywhere in the state but as it comes to the newer breweries that have only been around for 5-10 years, they shine or they sell the most in their immediate vicinity. The west side of the state has great breweries like Founders, Perrin, Arcadia and Bells and are steeped in tradition, on the east side of the state the brewing program is newer in comparison but the pride on this side is so strong that we like to support our Detroit and Metro Detroit brethren."

What to Expect from Your Visit to Griffin Claw

“We have an awesome restaurant: we have a full kitchen, awesome fish and chips, burgers, a great patio area with firepits. It’s very kid-friendly, I have a 10-month old and I take him there quite often. We have 18 handles, two of them are dedicated to cider most times. We also make our own spirits; we have a distillery where we make gin and vodka, so we make a lot of cocktails as well. It’s a full-fledged restaurant experience with a brewery attached to it. We firmly believe that beer and food are very tied in together considering we came from a steakhouse. We really wanted to continue the tradition, although we don’t have steak which is funny, we wanted to be more of a chill, family experience, not going to break the bank too much. It’s a great little restaurant, it’s in the middle of a residential area so we are surrounded by townhomes and houses and all of a sudden there is a brewery in the middle of it. Before I worked here I would ride my bike 2.5 miles to get to the brewery, get a bunch of beer, eat their funnel cake and ride my drunk butt home.”

Getting Your Hands on a Griffin Claw Beer

Griffin Claw Beers

“We’re available throughout the state, we have 10 distributors throughout Michigan. We did roughly 200,000 case equivalents last year. But we haven’t left the state of Michigan yet. The priority is to make sure that Michigan is taken care of before anyone else, and then as we go along and as we grow bigger, with our second facility coming within the year, then we’ll focus on kind of branching out, do the natural path of Midwest and trying to stick it as close to the brewery as we can and then kind of filter out as we see be.”

Griffin Claw distributes a core 5 throughout the state of Michigan that every distributor will carry: Norm's Raggedy Ass (IPA), Grind Line (Pale Ale), Mr. Blue Sky (Wheat with grapefruit & coriander), Gateway (session), El Rojo (red). They also distribute a rotating seasonal. Apart from their core, they have a bunch of barrel aged series, 22s, and also focus on kegs.

A Second Brewery in the Works

New Brewing Facility

Griffin Claw is launching a second brewing facility that is set to open within the year. Kyle gave me the rundown: “The second brewery is twice the size of our current brewery, it’s about 20 minutes north of where we’re currently located (Birmingham, Michigan) in a city called Rochester Hills and it’s mostly going to be small production, distilling, and our warehouse. Birmingham will be focused on the staple beers and then Rochester Hills, our new facility, will be kind of like a playground. It will focus a bit more on our spirits and have more holding space which we are currently lacking.”

Have you been to Griffin Claw Brewing, or any other amazing breweries in Michigan?
Let us know in the comments below!