Among the can't-miss tables during our recent trip to the Great Taste of the Midwest was that of Short's Brewing Company out of Bellaire, Michigan. Short's has a lineup of what you might call "regular" beers, but it's in their lineup of "Specialty Beers" that the creativity of Short's Brewing Company really shines. This year's highlights included Bloody Beer (a lighter bodied beer with an appealing ruby red glow and aromas of spicy tomato juice), Carrot Cake (an experimental beer w/ carrot, marshmallow, vanilla, maple syrup, orange zest, walnuts, pecans, and spices), and Spruce Pilsner (which served as the inspiration for Sun King's polarizing Norwegian Blue).
For this HBG Six Pack we contacted Joe Short to find out a little bit more about Short's Brewing Company, and what's behind their success.
1) Who are you, what's your age, where do you work, and what's your job title?
Joe Short - 32 - Short's Brewing Company - Everything: (Creative Engineer - Director of Operations)
2) Your bio is pretty standard stuff for a professional brewer: Discovered Bell's beer, got inspired and started homebrewing, found a job at a brewery, bounced around a bit learning the business, and then you finally opened your own brewery. How much of your current success would you attribute to "paying your dues" with other breweries?
I suppose I attribute my time at other breweries more or less the "fundamentals of brewing beer". I think our success at Short's is largely due to how we apply those fundamentals to the way we make beer and the philosophy of our company which is embraced by the staff. We have several philosophies and mission statements all surrounding attention to detail and the relentless quest for quality. Quality not only in the beer but everything that exists within the globe of Short's Brewing Company. It could be anything like how we stock a cooler or clean a toilet to our festival display. We sweat the small stuff.
3) Where does Short's fit in the general scheme of Michigan breweries? Would you consider yourself a large Michigan brewery? What sort of distribution do you do? Any chance of Indiana?
Our focus is Michigan. We call it the "Short's Brewing Company Michigan Stimulus Package" - we want you to come to us. So growth wise, we aim to feed the demand of the State of Michigan. So no, probably not likely to enter Indiana - sorry. I think because we're solely Michigan focused we're kind of the black sheep of the Michigan beer scene. Also, we make a lot different of beers annually and we're not afraid to try anything. I like to think the creativity of our beers matches the quality. I'm not really sure where that puts us in the general scheme?
4) While I think that a lot of the attention Short's receives is due to what you call your "specialty beers", you've also got a pretty nice lineup of regular or annual beers. What are your most popular regular beers? Why do you think they're your most popular? Do you think your audience starts with the more traditional stuff and then finds the specialty stuff, or the other way around?
We make something for everyone. Our most popular annual beers are the Huma Lupa Licious IPA and Bellaire Brown. Both are kind of beefed up versions of the classic styles (American IPA and American Brown Ale). I think people are all over the place so offering traditional, specialty and experimental covers a lot of bases. You might get a die hard IPA drinker who loves our pale ale or IPA and then get someone who doesn't drink beer at all to really like the carrot cake or bloody beer. It's a win win.
5) Long Question: The beers you list as "specialty" are all over the map - from pretty traditional stuff like Beach and Snow Wheats (which are Hefeweizens) to your Key Lime Pie beer (with fresh limes, milk sugar, graham cracker, and marshmallow fluff) - When it comes to the wacky stuff, were you doing this before you owned your own place?
I've always had outrageous ideas, and I wasn't brewing long enough at another brewery to try them. I'm guessing that the majority of my former employers would have turned down the 55 gallon drum of tomato puree or the pallet of marshmallow fluff.
How does the creative process work?
There is no rhyme or reason as to how our ideas make it to the brew kettle. Now that we have a lot of people working for us we have a lot more ideas and everyone has a different creative process. The idea for the gambler was born after having a cigar while drinking a huma, so a bourbon tobacco IPA beer was put on the list. Bloody beer and black licorice lager were born because of my fondness for black licorice and Bloody Mary's.
What was the first one that worked?
I actually think it was black licorice lager.
Was there any point where you surprised yourself?
Most of the time. That's why it's fun to keep doing them.
Do you look at ingredients or does it start with food?
A little of both.
How many batches of these beers do you make before it ends up where you want it?
Most of the time the first one is pretty good and we'll continue to make adjustments to them as needed.
How big are those batches?
Those are seven barrel batches (200 gals or so). We usually do them a few time before they go into production (pending they make the schedule cut)
How often does it go completely wrong?
It seems like every day there is some kind of emergency or challenge to overcome. Beer specific catastrophes are thankfully really rare. I'd say maybe one in a hundred...
How long before you give up?
Most of the time we don't - we'll figure out a way to make it work. The only beer I gave up on was bananas and blow after 4 or 5 tries. Someday day I may take another stab at it.
6) Has owning your own brewery turned out to be what you thought it would be?
Yes and no. I always figured it would be a lot of hard work and I'd live happily ever after as a pub brewer. Once we started distribution and the risks became greater, I had to learn how to run a growing company (I'm learning every day). I do a lot of things I don't really care for and I do a lot of stuff I love. Unfortunately I am rarely making beer, which I miss a lot. Is there anything you'd do differently in hindsight? Not really. All the mistakes I have made have really helped me grow and learn. I suppose I little more research on the Elk rapids property and production facility design would have saved some headaches, but at the same time I'll be able to use those experiences for the next facility.
What's next for Shorts?
Our growth is still pretty crazy so keeping up with demand, improving and maintaining quality are the number one priorities. I also have a lot of improvements I still want to make to the Bellaire pub and pub brewery. Our Elk Rapids facility is also undergoing some transformations and lastly we are also starting to plan for the next production brewery. As commonly heard around the plant: "lots of action, lots of action".