During the renovation of the Mitten Brewing Company’s 1890 firehouse in 2012, as construction lights dimly lit the interior, co-founders Max Trierweiler and Chris Andrus kept seeing the harsh shadows move.
Yet the doors were locked and they were the only ones inside. The pair also heard a lot of odd creaks and footstep-like noises from within the old building.
Perturbed enough by their experiences in their new building, they eventually asked a photographer who lived on the second floor if he ever heard anything weird, out of the ordinary, or supernatural. Andrus says they received a slow, ominous nod. Then they asked if it was haunted—and they received another nod and a simple message: “Just know it’s nothing bad, nothing you have to worry about.”
“He immediately acknowledged he knew what we were talking about,” Andrus says. “He’d lived in that building for years.”
The alleged Mitten Brewing ghost was particularly active during the demolition processes for the downstairs brewery and taproom, and later the upstairs taproom. The spirit still purportedly makes its presence known somewhat regularly, with Andrus noting it has a certain proclivity for electrical currents, including a speaker in the upstairs taproom that, even when turned off, will emit static, a yelling voice, or several seconds of a song.
Employees are encouraged to record their experiences in a leather-bound journal —which ends up missing for months at a time—and now on their employee Facebook page with the hashtag #ghostfiles.
“We’ve never had anything bad,” says Andrus, whose brewery took home a gold medal at this year’s Great American Beer Festival. “No one has reported a bad feeling, but people will see things, feel a presence, or have a presence that follows them home.”
Shortly after opening in the fall of 2012, Andrus was alone in the brewery mopping up before heading out for the night. He was the last to leave and first to return the next morning. He checked the lobby where he had mopped to find footprints starting and ending in the middle of the room, heading in random directions, yet none toward any of the exits.
A few months later, during demolition for the upstairs taproom, the same footprint was found on the building’s original wall behind drywall. That footprint is now preserved in the upstairs bar top.
These experiences are exciting for Andrus, a lifelong paranormal enthusiast. That interest also makes him wary to share his experiences.
“Anyone who knows me knows I have this huge interest,” he says, also noting he’s become more skeptical with age. “I actually do my best to temper it because I don’t want everyone to think I’m advancing this without any corroboration.”
While he might not be quick to bring it up, when the subject does arise he’ll spout for hours about ghosts, Bigfoot, and any other cryptozoological fascination imaginable.
The brewery has welcomed the Grand Rapids Ghost Hunters, which recorded plenty of electrometer activity. One member reported seeing the apparition of an old man.
Andrus doesn’t seem to believe the Mitten’s ghost is linked to the building’s history. He instead cited a theory from John Keel’s The Mothman Prophecies that states if paranormal entities exist, they’re all connected to each other.
“Without getting too metaphysical, if these things are real, ghosts, Bigfoot, the supernatural, I believe they’re all the same phenomenon,” Andrus said. “Keel posited that they’re some sort of cosmic pranksters. He was figuring out why we can see monsters in New Jersey and dragons in Scotland—not everyone is crazy or seeing something.
“I’m intrigued that there is something more than what we can see and know.”
Even without a ghost, the 19th century firehouse adds its own character to Mitten’s brewery. Owing in part to a lack of funds at the outset,, Andrus and Trierweiler kept elements of the building’s bones as aesthetic reminders of its history..Emphasizing their desire to restore rather than remodel, they’ve kept the building intact and have decorated it in a way that tells the story of the nearly 130-year-old firehouse, from the footprint bar to the pub brewhouse in the former horse stable.
“The worst thing you can do is come into a beautiful old building like this and see drywall,” Andrus said. “The bones are beautiful. They’re a little crooked, a little sloppy, and a little old, but then again so am I. We didn’t have the money to make everything slick, shiny and new. And in a time with venture capital and overbuilding in the industry built on camaraderie and do-it-yourself, I still feel this is the best place to be.”
When Mitten Brewing opened in 2012, Andrus and Trierweiler were worried it might have been too late to enter the industry. Instead they opened at the perfect time for their less-than-polished business model and beer. Friends since childhood, with no hospitality experience and decent homebrews, theirs is the quintessential craft brewery story.
Rather than invest their profits into fancy building renovations and merchandise, they kept it bare bones. It’s paid off, winning a medal at the 2016 World Beer Cup for its Triple Crown Brown and the gold medal this year at Great American Beer Festival for their West Coast Swing Amber.
“In 2012, it was still possible for guys like us and allowed a learning curve,” Andrus said. “We were aware of our shortcomings and spent the first four years reinvesting everything into the brewing process. That’s how you go from average homebrews to a gold medal at GABF and hosting Oprah at your place.
“It’s not that long ago, but the way we did it probably isn’t possible now.”
Mitten Brewing is now approaching its sixth anniversary in November, now with a production facility and taprooms in Northport and Saugatuck, Michigan—but first, Andrus gets to celebrate his favorite month.
“Halloween is the one day—for enthusiasts, really a month—that you can let your freak flag fly for this kind of stuff and blend in,” he said. “You can feel like the veil is thinner between our world and the spirit world, maybe just because of the attention, but it feels like all sorts of crazy things are going on.”
Illustration by Remo Remoquillo