KALAMAZOO, MI - Despite a state unemployment rate of roughly 12 percent, Michigan€™s microbreweries and brewpubs are adding jobs, increasing production and investing in expansions totaling more than $70 million, the Kalamazoo Gazette reports.
Michigan is home to more than 80 beer makers, ranking it fifth nationally, with at least three more scheduled to open this year.
"The state has just blossomed," said Scott Graham, executive director of the Michigan Brewers Guild. "I€™ve been saying I think we€™ll be going through continued growth for a while, and that€™s what you€™re seeing."
Industry officials credited the boom to quality products, educated consumers and increased visibility in bars, restaurants and grocery stores.
Michigan€™s beer scene has changed dramatically over the past quarter century.
In 1985, Detroit€™s Stroh Brewing Company announced it was closing its brewery after 135 years.
The closing came just seven months after Bell€™s sold its first beer, made in a 15-gallon soup pot at a small brewery in Kalamazoo.
Since then, Bell€™s has become the king of Midwest beer, producing more than 150,000 barrels last year. It is sold in 18 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, and is largely credited for triggering Michigan€™s craft beer craze.
Bell€™s celebrated its 25th anniversary in September and announced a $52 million investment over the next five years that could add up to 50 new jobs while increasing production capacity.
Chicago-based Symphony IRI Group reported sales of Michigan craft beer in the state€™s supermarkets have nearly doubled from $11.2 million in 2007 to $22 million last year, a large part of the nearly $30 million increase in overall state beer sales during the same period.
Rick Lack, executive vice president of Ann Arbor-based Rave Associates, a beer distributor representing 14 Michigan breweries, said his company sold about 35,700 barrels last year, up from roughly 14,000 six year ago. He said the state€™s craft beer growth is in its "infancy," one of the few industries in the states showing such promise.
"I used to think it was Michigan€™s best-kept secret. Now I don€™t. The secret€™s out," he said. "We see that as a clear road map when 10 percent of the beer consumed in this state is made in this state."
Joe Cekola, co-owner of Kalamazoo€™s Imperial Beverage Co., said he has seen more support for Michigan€™s craft beer since he started distributing it in 1996.
"The consumers are demanding it. They want to stay local with Michigan-made products," he said. "Because of that, both the restaurants and retail have expanded their Michigan beer €¦ I don€™t think it€™s a fad, it€™s a trend that€™s been going on for 10 years and it will continue to grow."