A Brief History of Craft Beer in Northern Michigan

Happy Jack 1For those who make the journey up to our brewpub in Bellaire, many will wonder how Short’s came to be located in northern lower Michigan. The Short’s story is a tale for another day; today we discuss the history of craft beer in our region leading up to the existence of Short’s in 2004.

While there were a number of local breweries open throughout the state in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Prohibition had the same devastating impact on Michigan breweries that it did on others throughout the country. Even after “The Great Experiment” ended in 1933, it took nearly a half century of beer being strictly “macro” before the shift towards craft began again. In the late 1970s and into the 1980s, there was a craft beer revolution in the American West. Michigan began turning the tide towards craft around the same time, but it wasn’t until the mid-90s that northern Michigan’s first craft breweries began opening their doors.

In 1996, “Happy Jack” Archiable set up Traverse Brewing Company in Williamsburg, MI, just down the road from the Short’s production brewery today. At that time, there were only breweries in Gaylord, Boyne City, and Harbor Springs, and the craft beer movement was very barely off the ground. According to Jack “It wasn’t easy to get a loan for a brewery in those days, you needed to jump through a bunch of hoops. Heck, I needed to brew on a system in Pennsylvania for two years before the bank believed me that I could sell my beer.”

The task of getting Northern Michigan beer drinkers to consider trying local products wasn’t always the easiest sell either. “One of my first beers was a mild English ale called the Old Mission Lighthouse”, said Archiable. “I needed to brew a beer that I could give to people who had always been drinking Molson’s.” However, like most brewing stories, perseverance won the day. Not even twenty years since the brewery count in our region was three, now dozens of breweries populate Northern Michigan.

Since those days when Archiable helped get the craft beer industry off the ground in Northern Michigan, there has been a veritable boom in the region. In fact, three brewers from Jack’s Traverse Brewing Company now run their own breweries in the Grand Traverse Region: Joe Short (Short’s Brewing Co.), John Niedermaier (Brewery Terra Firma), and Russell Springsteen (Right Brain Brewery).

Next time you’re sipping the sweet nectar from your favorite Northern Michigan brewer, consider that beer’s place in the ongoing Up North beer story. Enjoy the taste of history.