The Elephant in the Room: Detroit Beer with Dayne Bartscht & Paul Hoskin of Eastern Market Brewing Co.
INTERVIEWED MAY 9, 2017
AT EASTERN MARKET BREWING CO. - DETROIT, MI
Detroit, like much of the midwest, has a rich brewing history. Yet in the craft boom of the last decade, only a couple breweries have opened their doors within the city's limits. An enclave often misunderstood by those who don't call the Motor City 'home,' Detroit has had some well publicized dark days of late. But the tide is turning. With new industry, housing projects, and a booming culinary scene all taking foot in the last half a dozen years, progress shows no signs of slowing down. Looking to join in on the energy that's burning in the city's downtown, a group of friends with ties to Chicago look to open Detroit's first craft brewery since 2015, in one of Detroit's most historic sites.
Eastern Market, located just outside the city center, has been operating since the mid-1800s and still to this day is packed with over 40,000 visitors on a Market Day Saturday. An old building just off of historic Shed #2, which formerly housed a meat packing facility in the 1930's, will be home to Detroit's newest brewery—the aptly named Eastern Market Brewing Company. Founded by friends, Dayne Bartscht, Devin Drowley, and Paul Hoskin, Eastern Market Brewing looks to capitalize on the energy and excitement coming from the city while still paying homage to its rich history. We sat down with Dayne and Paul to discuss what it means to open a brewery in Detroit and talk about the giant elephant in the room...
Let's start with how you two know each other.
Dayne Bartscht: In total there are five partners. Three of us are here day to day—me, Paul, and Devin. Our fourth partner is Brad. We all went to Northwestern for undergrad and have been friends for a long time. Dave, our fifth partner, is one of Paul's good buddies. Brad and Dave don't live here. They are involved, but not as much as the three of us who are here each day.
So, they're more investment partners?
DB: Yeah, and Brad has a law degree, so that helps with a lot of the permitting stuff and all the legal stuff. He also has a family-run restaurant supply company.
Well that sure helps.
DB: That helped us with the bar and little restaurant build out. The way it all started was, I just moved home from living in England. My wife and I are both from the area and we always wanted to move home and start a family here. Living abroad and reading everything that was going on in Detroit, I got really excited about it, and that was kind of the final straw of convincing me to move home. My wife helped bring me back, but everything going on in the city did as well.
I ended up buying a farm in Ann Arbor and these guys and my wife threw a big surprise party for me. At that party, we were discussing the barn in the back and what to do with it. Devin, who had been homebrewing, and another homebrewing friend, Ethan, suggested brewing some beer back there. That's where the original idea came from.
Did any of you have any experience in the brewing industry?
DB: Not quite to that level. Devin and Ethan had been homebrewers for seven or eight years at that time. But we didn't have big plans, we were literally just going to homebrew and talk to some local bars and ask them to put our beer on tap and see what happened.
A different weekend, we were here to see Eastern Market and stumbled upon this building that had a phone number on the side of it and wondered how much the building cost. We called it, but the owner didn't get back to us for about two weeks. We weren't really expecting an answer, but then he finally called us back and this wine shop from New York was trying to open here. But plans fell through, and we were the last person to call him.
He offered us what the wine shop was going to pay. We loved the area and were shocked at how inexpensive it was. It was a really good investment opportunity, just in real estate, and then we were talking about this brewery idea. The two things kind of came together. Next thing we knew we were going from brewing on a little system in my backyard to starting a brewery in Detroit.
And where did you come in Paul? What was the pitch from a Michigander to a Chicagoan to be a part of this?
Paul Hoskin: I was born and raised in Chicago, went to school in Chicago. We always wanted to start a brewery back when we were in college and had been talking about it for awhile. We finally got to the point where we had some money saved and we could actually do something like that.
Dayne convinced us to come out here and do it in Detroit. We had looked at a few cities—Ann Arbor, Detroit, Chicago—and me being from Chicago, I wanted to do it there because of the amazing beer scene. Then I thought about it, and there's a really good opportunity here in Detroit. Property is cheap, there are not many breweries, and there's a lot of people moving here. I got pretty excited about the prospect of opening a brewery here instead of Chicago. There are 150 breweries in Chicagoland, it's really competitive, and the costs are higher to get involved. So that's why I'm here. Dayne's energy convinced me.
What did you know about Detroit prior to starting this process?
PH: I had never been to Detroit. I didn't really know anything about it, I just knew what all outsiders know—there have been some really dark times...
DB: So when we saw this building that was your first time in Detroit...?
What was your initial impression?
PH: A little grim, which I think might be a lot of people's first impression. But as I've hung out here a little more, I've become very comfortable. I think it is a really cool city to be in right now.
The national media definitely has not painted it in the best light at times.
DB: When you're abroad, it's even another level of negativity. International news tends to latch on to the negative things happening. I got driven back by wanting to be involved in Detroit, and part of that was I always found myself defending the city. People would hear all these negative things and not hear about all the positive things going on. You have to read the Detroit Free Press or talk to a local Detroiter to know about the good things.
So you wanted to be involved in Detroit, but then you bought a farm outside of Ann Arbor? That's a little trek.
DB: I moved around as a kid, but had some property at one point. We both grew up around horses, so we were always thinking if we did move back to Michigan, let's have some property and eventually have some animals.
PH: And your family is out there.
DB: And my family is out there. We could have easily lived in downtown Ann Arbor.
You talked about looking at Ann Arbor, Chicago and Detroit. What was it that really solidified Detroit as the place to open the brewery?
DB: It's the energy and excitement in the city. If you talk to someone who lives or works in Detroit, it's so positive. It's a really small community. As soon as we purchased the building, people were supportive of us and introduced us to other people in the community. We continue to meet people and everyone seems to know everyone else. We felt at home.
Ann Arbor is exciting, but property value is really high and there's already a lot of breweries with more opening. So part of it was excitement and part was we saw opportunity to fill a void of breweries in Detroit. You look at a city like Grand Rapids that's a fraction of the size of Detroit and has 40 plus breweries.
Why do you think there has been a void in Detroit when it comes to breweries?
DB: Just look at Eastern Market and its history. There were at least a dozen breweries in the market. Eckhardt & Becker Brewery was next door, Stroh's was across the street, so it's weird the breweries haven't come back, and weird more haven't opened. I think part of the problem is people target the suburbs. There are dozens of breweries within a twenty mile radius, but not that many in the city.
This is the right time where the demographics are shifting and there are a lot of younger craft drinkers around. Steven [Roginson] from Batch [Brewing Company] was the first to take the plunge and he's found a lot of success. I'm sure in the next three years there will be more, you have Founders coming to town, and you have Motor City and Atwater who have been around for some time now.
It's great that Founders is coming in. They instantly take the level of beer in the city to another level. Jolly Pumpkin doesn't brew here, but everyone loves their beers and sours, so they are doing their part in bring up the level of expectation. Again, Steven at Batch, makes incredible beer.
PH: We did a collaboration with them on a pale ale.
Are you using collaborations to get your name out there right now since there is no beer of your own currently available?
DB: A little bit, but it is more just to have fun with the other brewers. Hazen, our brewmaster, is really well connected in the city, so he just reached out to people he knew. So our first one was with Batch. Right now we also have beer on tap at Detroit Beer Co, who is making some good beer, but doesn't always get the recognition. We've also been on tap at Dragonmead.
Tell me more about Hazen, and how you ended up finding him.
PH: His name is Hazen Schumacher, he has been brewing for over 20 years. He started at Bell's, worked for Atwater for 16 years, then had a stint at Brew Detroit and we were lucky to find him. Now he is super excited to be working here and we are giving him the keys to the brew system to do what he wants — just brew good beer — and work in some local market ingredients when you can. Hazen comes from the production side, the factory setting. He has never really had this opportunity, so he's excited to be able to play around and have control over everything.
Besides being an amazing source for fresh ingredients, what does it mean to be a part of Eastern Market?
DB: We talked about how we fell in love with Detroit, but we particularly fell in love with Eastern Market. It's just such a cool community. We talked about the other businesses being great and supportive. I think sometimes it's Detroit versus the suburbs. But on a Saturday in Eastern Market, you have 40,000 people who are both local and people coming in visiting. It's a really great crowd, and that will obviously help us as well. We know we'll have a lot of success on Saturdays, but one of our objectives is to support all the local businesses around here and bring in a little beer tourism. People can have a beer here, have a drink at Detroit City Distillery, and go visit some local restaurants.
Access to the fresh ingredients is huge. Hazen is traditionally trained, he brews beer to style, and he's excited to experiment. It's not something he's always had the opportunity to do since probably his Bell's days. When he was there, they were still small. He talks about being there when they came up with what he calls Summer Solstice, but everyone now knows as Oberon. He was there when they came up with Two Hearted. We have an assistant brewer, Sean Bourke, who brewed at a farm up north, Tunnel Vision, where they used ingredients from the farm. So he will be a nice balance to Hazen's more traditional style. They will have a really good dynamic and help push each other.
PH: He was born and raised in Detroit, he knows everyone — all the brewers, all the contractors. He's gotten us in the door at a lot of places.
Can you tell us about the building you are in?
DB: The building was built in 1929 or 1930. It's really old, but has great bones and is structurally super sound. It has been a meat packing facility from, I believe, day one. We purchased the building next door and we just found out it was at one point a little brew pub way back in the day. We need to look into that a bit more.
The building itself is two stories, basically a big square. Each floor is 2,600 square feet, so we have a lot of space. We're phasing out the project and right now just focusing on the first floor where the brewery and taproom will be. Hopefully by next year we can open up the second floor and expand the tap room. Then the main thing that sold us on the building, besides being in Eastern Market, is the rooftop. So maybe next summer, if things go well, we want to open up a roof top beer garden. There's just a lack of roof tops in Detroit.
We talked about Hazen being a traditional style brewer, is there a direction you want your tap list to swing?
PH: As I said, we are giving Hazen the keys. He's going to want to do his traditional clean German Pilsners. He also loves Scotch ales. So there will be those kinds of beers, but we will also have a market day menu that will be focused on using ingredients from the market. Hazen calls that the bastardized menu where we bastardize his pure beers, but the market day menu will get weird with it.
DB: I'm telling everyone we need to avoid the pilsners because of fermentation time.
You just need to drop a few more tanks in here.
DB: The one thing I would say, is you have to be conscious of the consumer. Chicago is a city where you have people who drink beer, know beer, and understand the styles. I think there's a lot of people like that in Detroit, but not to the same level. A great example, is we are brewing on a pilot system in my backyard, and Hazen and Sean have been experimenting with some beers. They brewed an English style porter and it got really bad reviews from a group of friends and family we use as a sensory panel. It was in reality a really good beer to style. It was light and crisp, and people couldn't wrap their heads around that it was a porter. They wanted something a little higher in alcohol and full in body. If you're going to brew to style, you need to educate the consumer on what that beer is, especially somewhere you don't have traditionalists and people who are just getting into IPAs, then all of a sudden you are going back to the traditional pilsner.
Do you think there will be a big education process here with Market Days bringing in a diverse group of people and the new arena opening in the fall bringing a whole separate crowd?
DB: Yeah, Lions tailgates are in Eastern Market too. We have no plans to distribute, we want to be hyper local and focused on the community, the people who live here, and the visitors. We've talked about a basic rule that if our beer is anywhere that isn't here, we send someone with it to help serve and talk about the beer for education purposes and to represent ourselves and the brand. Not everyone here will want or need to be educated. I'm sure we will have plenty of customers who will know more than Paul and I even do. It really is just being conversational and talking about the beer.
What will both of your roles be once you are up and running? Will you quit your day jobs?
DB: I think we're different than a lot of breweries that are popping up. I think there are two basic types of breweries opening right now. One is someone who has been brewing, either at home or as an assistant somewhere. Then you have the brewery where you have an investor who is excited about beer and is hands off and just providing money.
We are definitely somewhere in between. We're excited to have a brewery. We're not really in it to make a bunch of money. We are just passionate about the city and the business, and we like drinking beer. I don't think anytime soon this will be a full time gig for us. We really are not in it to make enough money so it can be. If it naturally evolves into that, it is what it is. But, we have Hazen and already have some staff.
Who will be managing the taproom?
DB: It's a bit of a family affair, but my sister-in-law, Jacqui Spears, has been helping with all of our marketing. We've hosted some events here and she has been the event coordinator for that and kicking butt. She will be our general manager. We want people to have opportunities here and grow within the company. If someone is interested in brewing, come on as a server and volunteer on brew days, learn from them, and hopefully grow from there.
Any advice for a group of friends looking to follow in your footsteps?
DB: If there's one piece of advice I have for someone like us trying to open a brewery without experience running a brewery, is to start small and focus in on what really matters to you. Don't worry about a kitchen and a restaurant, or how many people you can get through the door. Get the basics right and you can always expand from there.
PH: And focus on the tap room, not distribution. It doesn't take much time to realize the margins are razor thin with distribution.
DB: When you look at the economics of it, you see the midsize breweries, who are huge compared to us. But they are the ones who are kind of struggling right now. You have the really big ones and then the smaller operations that are really finding success. You just have to decide what you want to be. But don't be stuck in between.
So the elephant in the room... literally?
PH: Essentially, we talked to four different branding companies when trying to figure out our logo design, and each put together their idea board. Every one of them had an elephant on it.
Independently of each other?
PH: Yeah and we thought it was really cool. Elephants are a super social animal, they are smart and also look really cool. So we decided to run with it. We also thought it was important to stand behind something that was living instead of some cool design. There really isn't any other brewery using an elephant except for Delirium. We put the trunk up for good luck.
DB: Also, they have amazing memories, and we are trying to pay homage to all the amazing breweries in Eastern Market and Detroit that came before us. This was basically ground zero for German immigrants in the midwest.
Since there is no EMBC beer yet, what are you drinking right now?
PH: I gravitate to clean crisp pilsners. That's what I love to drink. I love that there is this craft pilsner movement right now. I fight the other guys who want the hoppy stuff, but I want to be a part of that pilsner resurgence. And Hazen can execute it.
DB: My wife makes fun of me, because when we do drink wine, I like the sweet wines. But I love sours, especially Jolly Pumpkin.
Photography by Nick Costa.
Thanks again for Dayne and Paul showing us around the space. Eastern Market Brewing Co. is slated for an August 2017 opening. Until then swing by the market on Saturdays to say hi to the team and pick up some merch.