Craft Beer. Heavy Metal. Fuck Yeah.
Unless you happen to live in Michigan, Northern Indiana, or Chicago, odds are you’ve haven’t heard of Greenbush Brewing. And really, that’s understandable. They’re located in tiny Sawyer, MI, population 1,443 (according to the most recent census data I could find). I’ve driven through the town and not seen a stoplight. Their taproom/base of operations used to be a laundromat and a plumbing shop, among other things. Yet in the mere 18 months since their taproom has opened, they’ve become something of a phenomenon in Michigan craft beer circles. They’ve already had to expand the taproom once and it’s still virtually always standing room only in the place, the lines are epic just to taste their beers at craft beer festivals, and perhaps most impressively of all, the legendary Hopleaf in Chicago recently hosted a Greenbush beer dinner. Simply put, their beers (their ‘arsenal’ of which can be found here) are that good, and if you find yourself near the Three Oaks exit on I-94 or driving anywhere near Three Oaks on US12, it’s well worth making a detour to visit the tap room and try their beers for yourself.
Recently, we were lucky enough to have Head Brewer/Plant Manager Joe ‘Carlos’ Hinman agree to take time out from what must be his whirlwind schedule to do a brief email interview with us.
Iron Hops: So I have this theory that most beer lovers can point to that one beer they had that turned them into a craft beer lover. Like they may have been beer drinkers before, but once they had their first taste of Craft Beer X, they never turned back—like for me, it was the first time I tasted Two-Hearted. What was the beer that turned you into a craft beer lover?
Joe Hinman: The theory is true in my case; the beer is Scotty Karate from Dark Horse. I first had it when I was just getting into craft beer, and at that point I hadn’t tried anything so flavorful and unique. It’s a good, balanced Scotch ale that’s nothing wild and crazy, just a simply amazing brew. To this day it’s my favorite beer.
IH: When did you first decide to try your hand at home brewing? How long did it take you to get good at it, and then what was the path that led you from being a home brewer to becoming Head Brewer at Greenbush?
JH: I had a friend in college that wanted to try it and had the equipment, so we brewed a couple batches together. Honestly, I had only brewed a few times before starting at Greenbush. The timing worked out that way. I knew enough about the process and I had the same philosophy on beer as Scott that I was able to pretend I knew what I was doing until I actually did. I didn’t admit that to him until I had worked there for awhile, though. So what really honed my skills (if you call them that) was paying attention to what other people were doing (both in and out of house) and to what I was doing and always seeing where I could improve. I started a couple weeks before we opened just helping out with whatever was needed, was an apprentice/bartender for all of three minutes before I was actually hired, and since then I’ve worked my way to being head brewer by following that same approach.
IH: It seems like you guys always have some kind of lab beer or collaborative beer in the works, and you don’t seem to be afraid to take chances as to what you put into your lab batches. I saw the pictures on Facebook the other day of Baney making a wasabi beer, and I was in the tap room one day when you all were dumping either Corn Flakes or Frosted Flakes into the mash of (if I remember correctly) a malt liquor. What’s the craziest ingredient you’ve ever put into a beer? Have any of those lab beers ever turned out so badly that they’ll never see the light of day, or do they usually all work out?
JH: I don’t know, Corn Flakes might be the craziest thing just because of how absurd that was. And it turned out so awesome. We strongly encourage experimentation at Greenbush. It’s something Scott has held to since day one. It’s really the cornerstone of how we do things. And what’s great is that everyone experiments in their own way, whether brewing a basic recipe with some crazy shit in it or doing some old, obscure traditional style of beer from wherever in the world. Full disclosure, we’ve had some lab beers that didn’t work out for one reason or another, but that’s super rare. We’ll put any wild experiment on to see what the response is. There’s a market for everything.
IH: I love the limited bomber releases that you all have started doing. What was the impetus behind starting that project up? And I guess a related question: when can we expect to see bottles of Greenbush beer outside the taproom? Any plans to distribute nationwide any time in the future?
JH: We realized that we have so many different beers that we brew regularly, and enough that we barrel age, that we can do a wide variety of limited bomber runs. So why not do it? As for package distribution, we’re working on it. We’re working on getting bottles out into retail in Michigan (for now) early next year. Keep an eye out.
IH: So we’re a site that covers metal as well as craft beer, and you mentioned that you like metal. If you were to brew a metal-inspired beer, which band would be your inspiration and what would go into the beer? Or does that beer already exist? Doomslayer is really pretty metal.
JH: Oh man, good question. It depends on when it was brewed, since I’ll get hooked on a band/album for a period of time. Right now it would be between Baroness (listening to Blue Record as I type this) and Black Cobra. Both bands just fucking crush. Or maybe I would stick to the classics and brewed some Holy Wars-inspired beer. We did have a beer at Summer Beer Fest called Bastard Samurai, which is a High on Fire song. That was Scott’s idea. As for what would go into the beer, I think it would have to be some evil, crazy high gravity brew. The liquid punishment due.
IH: One last question: what’s the coolest thing you’ve done or been a part of in your time at Greenbush?
JH: It’s really tough to pick just one. We’ve done so many great events, collaborations and festivals that are always a blast. Seeing Apathy on tap, the first recipe I ever wrote and first brew I made that was put into full production, was pretty awesome (ed. note–Apathy is one of my favorites and I think I have four bottles of it in my fridge right now). Knowing that something you created is now something people enjoy is an incredible feeling. But I think the most memorable/meaningful thing for me happened outside of work. Just some quick background: my degree is in broadcasting, which isn’t the easiest industry to break into. Very early last January I was watching the local news with my folks and one of the kids I had graduated from the program with was their new correspondent. It was moment of total clarity, where I was happy for the guy because he’s very talented and will most definitely go places, but I knew he would have to move all over the place to do so. I just wouldn’t be able to do that. It really solidified how I could not be happier with my career. There is absolutely nothing I would rather be doing with my life. The best moment at work was probably brewing PHD, the malt liquor you mentioned a couple questions ago. I mean really, who makes a malt liquor? That day was a lot of fun.