Saugatuck Brewing Co.

Now with three west Michigan locations, an ambitious beer- maker expands its quest to develop innovative new flavors
It’s all about the beer and keeping customers happy at the Saugatuck Brewing Co.’s production facility and pub in Douglas. // Photos courtesy of the Saugatuck Brewing Co.

Unique, bold, and sour — Saugatuck Brewing Co. brings it all.

In 2005, after inter-national travel exposed salesman Barry Johnson to beer variations worldwide, he decided to leave his career and open a brewery. Following his dream, he started a new company in a modest storage building with a small-barrel brewing system.

Saugatuck Brewing Co., or SBC as it’s locally known, quickly developed a strong following for its innovative flavors, and Johnson soon outgrew his small facility. In 2008, he moved operations directly across the street to the brewery’s current 25,000-square-foot home on the south end of Douglas, near Saugatuck. The site provided SBC with enough room to add a pub and kitchen offering sandwiches and finger foods.

Johnson retired in 2009, passing control to experienced hospitality industry professional and current CEO, Ric Gillete, who fueled SBC’s rising popularity. He expanded the kitchen to provide a wider variety of entrées and appetizers, including Three Pigs Grinders, a Crispy Shrimp Po’ Boy, and a Bavarian Jumbo Pretzel appetizer with SBC’s own beer cheese dip.

SBC’s inventive thinking also drove the company’s decision to put its old 3.5- barrel system back to work. The team installed the copper kettles at one end of the bar and dining room, and offered customers the opportunity to create their own, personalized beer flavors. Through a process known as Brew on Premise, customers can work with brewery staff to create unique flavors, which are then brought to life in the smaller brewing system. The new beer’s creators can also choose the name and design a specialized label for the bottles or cans.

Brew on Premise was an immediate success; its limited-run productions have been used for family gatherings, wedding parties, corporate retreats, and other events.

SBC is known for its special brews, and its flavors — such as Blueberry Maple Stout, which tastes like pancakes, or Neapolitan Milk Stout, with hints of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry — often sell out immediately upon release.

Many of the company’s innovative flavors come from staff meetings, where new ideas are often thrown around for all to critique. “Our Blueberry Lemonade Shandy was an idea tossed out in the boardroom,” says sales director Michael Biddick. “Now it’s one of our most popular flavors.”

SBC maintains a stable of mainstay brews, adding two seasonal options and a variety of specialty flavors to its lineup throughout the year. Regularly available flavors include local favorite Oval Beach Blonde, the award-winning Bonfire Brown, and creamy, rich Neapolitan Milk Stout.

“Now we do a blood orange Oval Beach Blonde, which has been really popular for us,” social media manager Robert Antor says. “I feel like the orange comes out in a natural way, not too sugary or sweet.”

In 2019, with its popularity continuing to grow, SBC decided to expand and merged with Gonzo’s BiggDogg Brewing in Kalamazoo to create SBC Kalamazoo. The merger increased SBC’s footprint, giving it new exposure and a larger circle of clientele.

This year, SBC expanded again by acquiring Creston Brewery, which had been an up-and-coming brewpub in Grand Rapids when the pandemic shut down restaurants and bars. The closure strangled the sale of kegs and, like many breweries, Creston never recovered from the drastic reduction in sales.

“We saw an opportunity to expand into the Grand Rapids market,” Antor says. “Creston was well-loved by the community, and it’s been fun to save it.”

SBC also intends to launch an ambitious sour program this year, with new brews expected to hit the shelves in 2022. The barrel-aged creations will include flavors such as mango lime sour, which is slated to be the first off the production line.

With three locations, a variety of popular beers that span a broad spectrum of tastes and styles, and great food to tie everything together, Saugatuck Brewing Co. has become a popular destination for locals and tourists alike.

Whether stopping by the original location or one of its new destinations, visitors will find everything from smooth IPAs and bold, dark beers to unique flavors such as the ever-popular Blueberry Lemonade Shandy, which is available on tap in the bar or in 6- and 12-packs sold on-site.


Saugatuck Brewing Co.

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