Michigan's craft beer industry ranks among top in the country

The number of breweries in Michigan has more than doubled since 2010

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DETROIT - You've probably seen them at the grocery store, in your friend's fridge, heck, maybe even your own fridge -- Michigan beers. There are a lot of them, and for good reason -- people are buying them.

The number of breweries in Michigan has more than doubled since 2010 with more than 200 operating breweries and an estimated 25 or 30 in planning stages. Craft beers seem to be all the rage among not just Michiganders, but across the nation.

In 2013, Michigan ranked 8th in barrels of craft beer produced with 582,909 barrels. In 2014, the U.S. produced more than 21 million barrels of craft beer, taking an 11 percent share of the beer market with a 22 percent increase in sales. The U.S. saw a 29 percent increase in craft breweries from 2013 to 2014, with more than 3,418 total. (According to the Brewers Association)

Michigan is traditionally mentioned in the best beer state conversation along with California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado and New York. Grand Rapids was named "Beer City U.S.A." in 2012. But is Michigan the best craft beer state?

"Absolutely," said Scott Newman-Bale, a partner at Short's and the President of Business Development. "We have world class brewers and variety that many states can only dream of. With beer made up mostly of water, it makes sense that we do so well with the resources we have."

The Michigan Brewers Guild estimates that in 2014 Michigan's beer industry helped to employ 7,137 people with an economic impact of over $608 million.

"Exports are way up," said Scott Graham, executive director of Michigan Brewers Guild. "Michigan beer has a 5 or 6 percent share right now, but there's so much room for growth."

Kalamazoo-based Bell's Brewery is the 7th largest craft brewery in the country, and 13th overall, as of 2014. Grand Rapids-based Founders Brewing Co. ranked 26th.

In 2013, Bell's Two Hearted Ale ranked 2nd on Zymurgy's best craft beers list. Paste Magazine ranked Founders KBS 4th, Dark Horse Plead the 5th ranked 15th, Founders Breakfast Stout 22nd and New Holland Dragon's Milk 33rd on their list of "100 American Craft Beers Every Beer-Lover Should Drink" this year. Thrillist ranked Michigan the 4th best beer state in 2014.

Newman-Bale said, "Consumers nationally are probably still learning how good Michigan beer is, as the breweries expand distribution and go out of state for festivals."

So, it's clear Michigan beer is getting some national attention -- but how do Michigan brewers feel?

"Michigan is holding its own on the national beer scene," said Andy Langolis, co-founder of Marquette's Blackrocks Brewery. "Whether is has the best and most innovative brewing in the country is a tough call."

Blackrocks Brewery opened in 2010 and has grown from brewing 270 barrels in their first year to 4,500 in 2014. Langolis says the company is forecasting 60 percent growth, with expanded distribution in 2015.

"The Michigan Brewers Guild coined Michigan as "the Great Beer State". It's tough to visit one of their beer festivals and argue that," Langolis said. "I don't believe you can reach, sustain and grow at that level without making great beer and being innovative."

Short's Brewing has a different philosophy -- as Newman-Bale put it -- Michigan Only, Michigan Forever.

"Short's is unique in that we are focused purely on supplying the Michigan market and have committed to not expanding sales to other states," said Newman-Bale. "We think that it is important for us to stay in Michigan because we believe that the craft beer's foundation is built on ties between the breweries and consumers, the further away you are from the person enjoying the beer, the less strong the tie."

Michigan's beer industry is growing fast. There's no doubt it will continue to grow, even as more people are drinking wine and liquor, rather than beer. The next time you're looking for a good beer to drink at the bar, be sure to ask what Michigan beers they have on tap.

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