ANN ARBOR - In a city saturated with breweries micro, craft and otherwise, opening a brewing company seems like a risky gambit.
But Teo Watson-Ahlbrandt, who opened Edelbrau Brewing Co. earlier this year, says his operation is filling gaps in town.
Tucked away in an industrial space at 719 W. Ellsworth Road on Ann Arbor's south side, Watson-Ahlbrandt is brewing and selling 11 varieties of beer in a small shop at the front of his brewery.
His beers can be found at the Lunch Room, Miss Kim and Everyday Wines in Kerrytown Market & Shops, and in high-end eateries Pacific Rim, Vinology, Spencer and Grange. He explained that many Ann Arbor breweries have not been able to penetrate the local restaurant market and struggle to meet the chef-desired flavor profile. He meets in person with local chefs for tastings of his current beers and consultations on crafting a custom beer for a specific restaurant.
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Edelbrau is also self-distributing. "There’s not a lot of breweries doing that," he said.
"I’d rather grow at a slower pace and maintain quality than suddenly have to worry about how I’m going to sell it before it goes bad."
Watson-Ahlbrandt got his start in the industry 14 years ago at Zingerman's Deli where he sold meats and cheeses. After having customers ask him time and time again to recommend wines or beers that would pair well with their items, he decided to give the beer industry a try.
"I made the goal for myself to make 100 batches of beer before endeavoring to work in the profession," he said. "I had friends that were throwing parties and they’d let me know ahead of time and I'd either have some batches already made or make something special for that."
Watson-Ahlbrandt was in demand, and the self-taught brewer decided it was time to get some professional experience as well as a degree. He received his bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Eastern Michigan University.
With 11 years of professional brewing under his belt, he launched Edelbrau in early 2019. Consultant Spike Oliver, who is also the lead concierge at Zingerman's Mail Order, helped Watson-Ahlbrandt craft the vision.
Why the name Edelbrau?
"We found an old brewing company, one existed in Brooklyn and one existed in San Francisco, not necessarily connected called 'Edelbrau,' which is a German term originally denoting a premium beer," said Watson-Ahlbrandt.
The use of a foreign language as well as a retired beer is suiting since he draws inspiration from historic and international beers, which includes ingredients sourced from different countries.
"I'm open to using Michigan products like hops and malt and yeast, but when I’m interpreting a foreign style, I’ll usually try and get ingredients from that country, so German malt or German hops, or some of the oat malt I’ve seen in England is superior to what I’ve seen here," he said.
A five-employee operation, Watson-Ahlbrandt said he focuses on quality over quantity and believes in investing in employees.
"We’re pretty staunch about paying people well. If we’re going to put all this time into training them and compensate them well, then the hope is that we can depend on that return," he said.
At the moment, Edelbrau has several German and British styles, as well as IPAs.
"The way that we price things here is kind of the reward for people coming out here to find us," he said. "I feel like as far as comparing ourselves to other bars and breweries, we’re on the cheaper competitive side."
Edelbrau has a few specialty beers where the price point is higher due higher ABV levels. "There's a couple of different beers that are on the menu right now that I use an old British technique where we separate the sugar from the grain in part to make a stronger beer out of part of it and then sort of a more 5-6% sessionable beer out of the rest of it," he said. "So what you get in the stronger beer is this really concentrated flavor. The price that we end up putting on a can like that is $10 but it’s a 12% beer."
Watson-Ahlbrandt said he plans to start a special release program soon.
Public hours at Edelbrau's location at 719 W. Ellsworth Road are:
- Fridays: 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
- Saturday and Sunday: Noon to 9 p.m.
For more information, visit www.edelbraubrewingcompany.com.
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