Wolverine State Brewing Makes its Mark with Exceptional Lagers

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After two previous expansions, and with sights set to continue to grow within in its physical space to boost its territory footprint, Wolverine State Brewing is just like any brewery in the country focused on the growth of its brand.

“With our first two expansions, by the time each were completed, we were already planning the next one,” said the brewery’s Director of Brewery Operations, Oliver Roberts. “This gives us a cushion for a couple of years where we won’t have to worry about knocking down walls, digging up the floor and wondering if the contractor is going to show up on any given day. [This year] is a growth year to maximize our output with the new capacity (of 5,000 barrels).”

You could say this is a year to wait around for the brewery as it takes a slight breather. A unique aspect for the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based brewery is that its staff is used to waiting around. You see, every beer put out by Wolverine State is a lager, and it has been since opening its doors in 2006.

“When people hear the word “lager,” they immediately think flavorless, over-carbed macro beer. It’s understandable,” said Wolverine State PR Director Mackenzie Meter. “The proliferation of American-style lagers in today’s market means that people really usually only have that one interaction with lagers on a regular basis.”

Meter said the fun part about marketing lagers is being able to shatter some preconceived notions of what “lager” means.

“I give them a sip of our ‘Gulo Gulo’ IPL, and they’re shocked. They taste our ‘Double Fisted’ Doppelbock, and they say how much more they like that than ‘lagers,’ but then I get to tell them that Doppelbocks ARE lagers,” she said.

From a marketing perspective, Wolverine State focuses on the lager aspect, but what’s more important to the brewery is getting the message out there that its beer is balanced, unique and innovative.

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“We focus on making really, really good beer, and the result speaks for itself,” Meter said. “We’re able to play with the uniqueness of our identity to get attention initially or spark a conversation, but what keeps people coming back time after time is the quality of the beer.”

The idea behind being an all-lager brewery came from the founders/owners, Matt Roy and Trevor Thrall.

“They are from a generation that grew up with Stroh’s, and once that brewery closed, Michigan was without a locally made lager that could be an everyday beer,” Roberts explained. “So originally Wolverine State was founded on a crisp, clean, American Lager, Wolverine Premium Lager.”

Once the visibility of craft beer took off and lots of craft breweries were making the standard Pale Ale, Porter, Wheat, Stout and IPA lineup, their idea shifted from “let’s grow with one lager” to “let’s grow with lots of lagers!”

When Roberts started working with the company while it was contract brewing at the now defunct Michigan Brewing Co., he worked with lots of different lager yeast strains at home.

“During those test batches I was able to try different base styles of beer with those yeasts,” he said. “I discovered a whole new world of building unique beer recipes that centered on the using lager yeast.”

Some of the brewery’s tanks are only filled 8-9 times per year because of the lager process.

“Time, time and more time,” Roberts said. “We’re always up against time with lagers. In terms of process improvements, though, we’ve worked with temperatures, maturation time, pitching rates, spunding processes, and filtration to continuously try and make the beer better. Mostly to maintain the aroma and flavor profiles for the lagers when they are at their freshest point. Also gaining shelf life with those all important beer characteristics at the forefront.”

Roberts did admit with the success of the brewery’s tap room at the beginning he wasn’t able to keep up with the demand by consumers.

“I made an American IPA and a Wheat Ale that first year we were open,” he said. “No longer!”

Patience is a major part of the brewery, which made 2,700 BBLs in 2016. But with 5,000 BBLs available after the expansions, being able to move product to new territories within the state and into neighboring states is a new goal. Currently the beer is available in the Detroit and Ann Arbor markets, but proliferation will be just like its lagers in the fermentor, slow and steady.

“We’re not compromising our process to get beer out faster than when it’s ready,” Roberts said. “It’s our goal to keep fresh beer on the shelves and only growing into markets where we know we can accomplish that.”

Being a tad different is also a great way to be added into a wholesalers portfolio and Roberts acknowledged that.

“Creating a portfolio of lagers that a distributor can add to their portfolio, because they now have Michigan’s best lager brewery to sell, we believe adds to a distributor’s value as a company,” he said. “It shows that they want to have options that round out their offerings. [Michigan has] top-notch ale breweries, a solid sour brewery, and now a lager brewery can give customers a complete set of options to round out their tap handles.”

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