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Brewing companies find their niche in local communities

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published April 6, 2016

 Sherwood Brewing Co. creates 250 gallons of beer a day.

Sherwood Brewing Co. creates 250 gallons of beer a day.

Photo provided by Lisa Sherwood

METRO DETROIT — What ales you? Local brewers are answering that question with a cold one.

Ray Sherwood, co-owner of the Utica-based Sherwood Brewing Co., started out about 25 years ago as a home brewer, and he’s still quenching parched throats with his 10-year-old brick-and-mortar business.

“Brewing is interesting,” Sherwood said. “It requires a lot of scientifically minded things and creativity-minded things — and both of those things I have an interest in.” 

Sherwood said that with many jobs, other than a paycheck, there isn’t a reward in the form of a physical product.

“You’re not going to necessarily walk away with the satisfaction of a crafted beer,” Sherwood said. “We work an eight-hour day and create 250 gallons of beer that people are going to enjoy.” 

Lisa Sherwood, Sherwood’s wife and co-owner of their business at 45689 Hayes Road in Utica, said her husband’s passion for brewing began when he volunteered at a local brewery. He quickly realized that northern Macomb County needed one too. 

“I think we’ve really found our place in the community,” she said.

Ray Sherwood said that the scale of home brewing and commercial brewing are of course very different.

“(It’s) the difference between making 5 gallons versus 250 gallons,” he said. “Using 10 pounds of malt versus 500 pounds of malt.”

He added that home brewing involves figuring out how to “marry flavors” to perfect a recipe.

To get started home brewing, he recommends, read a home brewing book and involve some friends.

David Youngman had the home brewing itch, which he scratched in 1992 in college. Now as the marketing director for Rochester Mills Production Brewery, his passion still runs strong.

“I find it interesting to talk with the people that are continuing to home brew as they experiment ... and collaborate with each other, and they’ll ask me a lot of questions,” Youngman said.

He said that with home brewing, the creativity is high and the risk involved is low.

“You’re brewing 5 gallons at a time, and you’re willing to take more risks and push the boundaries to see where you can take things,” he said.

While it is hard to say how many home brewers are in the mitten state, he said craft brewing is a growing industry.

“People have taken that and made it their career. If you ever meet a home brewer, the first thing they’ll do is extend a hand and say, ‘Try this,’” Youngman said. “They want to get your feedback.”

Rochester Mills Production Brewery’s Mills Big Brew event is designed to gather feedback for those who home brew or have home brew shops.

The all-day event will be held April 30 at the brewery, 3275 W. Lapeer Road in Auburn Hills.

On June 4, the Big Brew Review invites those brewers back to the brewery for a People’s Choice tasting of the April 30 beers brewed.

“It is a friendly competition,” he said.

Youngman said the April event is massive.

“Last year we brewed over 1,000 gallons of beer, 5 gallons at a time.”

Beer home brewer Dave Vogel and his wife run their business, Cool Brewing, from their Farmington Hills home.  

Vogel has home brewed for the past eight years. He created a fermentation cooler several years ago that has gone global.

“I had a passion for brewing when I saw the opportunity to control the temperatures,” Vogel said. “A critical step is controlling the fermentation process.”

He says on his website that his first batch of home brew went down the drain.

“My supposed red ale tasted like a mix of Juicy Fruit gum and bananas,” he said. 

His home brewing friends told him he needed to cool the fermenter in a plastic tote and water contraption that was not too convenient for him.  

The Cool Brewing fermentation cooler was developed shortly after that as a waterproof, insulated fermentation chamber.

Vogel said there are different ways to make beer.

The most common way is boiling the beer, which takes about an hour. Then brewers typically boil malt extract — either in liquid or powder form — in water and add in ingredients, mostly malt and hops, for beer flavoring. After it is boiled and cooled down, people add in yeast, also called wort. Once the yeast is in, it will start fermenting.

Vogel said the ideal fermenting range is about 62-68 degrees. The process takes about two weeks.

“That is how I felt compelled to create the product,” Vogel said. “In that stage, it is really hard to keep my temperature below 75 degrees in my house. I was surprised when I started brewing, really, the only option was to piece together your own cooler to fit the fermenter.”

Vogel came up with the idea in Florida.

“If it gets to be 80 or 75 (degrees), it can produce flavors not desirable for that beer; if it gets too cold, it stops fermenting,” Vogel said.

Vogel added that home brewing is a great hobby and is fun to do.

“I think it’s going to continue to grow,” Vogel said.

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