Community, Classic Styles Power The Mitten

A post on Facebook showed that the people of the west side of Grand Rapids, Michigan were important to Chris Andrus and Max​ Trierweiler even before opening the doors of The Mitten Brewing Company in 2012.

The post showed a coffee-stained business plan with a part of the caption reading: ‘Biggest hit: “We will support charities that are important to us.”‘

“Our nonprofit giving has created that loyalty,” Andrus told Brewer. “Everyone knows that their dollars are well spent here. They know that we’re here every day.

“We were always about connecting what we do here to the people that are affected by it. That was just what works messaging-wise throughout the pandemic. It’s what always made us special. It’s our nonprofit work and our constant showcase of our team members, I think, is what sets us apart. We’d love to be the quintessential Michigan brand. That’s our logo, that’s our name, and known for the good things we do for the people that surround us.”

Sticking to “classic styles with a twist” was also important and the GABF and World Beer Cup medals for an English Mild, Imperial Rye IPA and American Amber show that aspect as well. In a recent trip to Grand Rapids, hosted by Experience Grand Rapids, the duo showcased the brewery’s pizza and beer along with its 20-barrel production facility catty-corner to the former firehouse that was retrofitted into a baseball-themed brewpub.

The Mitten is one of those breweries that have helped drive Grand Rapids to continue to be named “Beer City USA. Recently, Grand Rapids was tops in USA TODAY’s 10Best Readers Choice Awards.

“From the get-go we always said — it’s kind of corny — because we didn’t know what you’re doing: ‘Classic styles with a twist,’ ” Trierweiler said. The Mitten recently won two awards at the World Beer Cup and was the only brewery in the state of Michigan to win two along with being the only brewery that won gold in the state. 

The gold was for the brewery’s English Dark Mild, Triple Crown Bown. 

“It’s been a staple of ours since well, within the first six months we opened,” Trierweiler said. 

But wait, it’s labeled a Brown Ale. What gives?

“We actually called it a Dark Mild and people wouldn’t order it because they didn’t know what it was,” he said. “So let’s call it Brown.”

Although IPAs help pay the bills and are usually a part of the brewery’s top sellers, West Coast Swing Amber and Triple Crown Brown are always in the Top 5 or so in sales, making them production pieces in the off-premise sales also. 

“We added a 40-barrel fermenter and a 40-barrel brite for Country Strong IPA to keep up with the in-house and distribution needs,” Trierweiler said. “We’re pushing our New England right now, Fogout, in distribution pretty hard. 

“People said it was hard to get an IPA out there. It’s a more difficult nut to crack with M43 being in the state. Even though, personally, our product is more drinkable and has a better price point.”

READ MORE: Looking Through the Haze: Old Nation Branches From NEIPA Strength

The brewery distributes its beers throughout Michigan along with two additional taprooms and a new pizza place they opened in 2022.

​”​We’ve never said it’s only a Michigan brand​,” Andrus said. “We will grow as big as we can grow, or are able to. We were on a pretty good trajectory​ and did 2,000 barrels in 2019. 

​”​We were planning to do 3,000 barrels in 2020​, and we had the capacity to do so. That just obviously didn’t happen. We did really well, considering​,​ during COVID because we do pizza, and pizza lends itself really well to carry out. We sold just as much food in 2020 as we did in 2019, where ​we ​were lacking was all of our pints sales in our pubs. 

​”​We sold to-go beers but it paled in comparison to what we were doing in the pubs.​”​

​Andrus said sales are “regressing to the mean a little bit” now though. 

“I think the biggest thing we’re seeing now is we’re almost back to historic sales, but people just aren’t going out as much because everything costs too much,” he said. “Our two-times-a-week people are now a one-time-a-week thing. We still have the fierce loyalty, and we’re still seeing the same faces. It’s just that it’s become much more of a luxury than it used to be (for consumers). 

“I think we’re fortunate and in a good position compared to a lot of our peers. But it’s hard out there.”

Because there are so many breweries in the state, and people are loyal to their local breweries, getting in on the east side of the state is a little more difficult than getting somewhere closer to home, Trierweiler said.

“We had a sales force and COVID hit,” he said, “we had two people out in the streets, and they both had to stop. One is working for us again but in a different role.

“We just hired a new sales rep this summer, so we’re starting to get our name back out there again.”

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