Mitch Ermatinger is often in his brewery alone.
Speciation Artisan Ales in Grand Rapids, Michigan, opens once a month for bottle sales. Aside from release day, Ermatinger has one employee, and must find a way to cut through silence.
Naturally, he turns to music to accompany his ears and his array of tanks, all named for some of his favorite artists: Kanye, Frank (Ocean), Kendrick, Vince, Anderson .Paak, El-P and Killer Mike.
His listening habits are as spontaneous as his beers and production schedule. Some days he’ll crank up the raps and other days he’ll bang his head to metal.
The beers created in those tanks are bringing notice to Speciation, even before the brewery celebrates its first anniversary. Grand Rapids hadn’t seen a brewery business model like Speciation prior to its opening, and many in the community were skeptical a retail operation open once a month could pull in sustainable capital.
Ermatinger, who opened the brewery with his wife Whitney, had seen breweries operated similar models in bigger cities across the country.
Why not in a beer-loving city like Grand Rapids? He asked himself.
“We thought Grand Rapids had a great beer scene, obviously, but it’s not a super diverse beer scene,” Ermatinger said. “There’s lots of brewpubs, it’s great, but we wanted to diversify the availability of the types of options.”
Like a well-made song, he lets a beer stew as long as it needs.”
In a nondescript industrial park on the outskirts of Grand Rapids, Ermatinger listens to a diverse playlist of music as he crafts his beers.
The first seven releases were mostly takes on his base saison and golden sour, adding fresh Michigan agricultural products, fruits or hops, depending on what’s on hand at various farms around West Michigan.
He expects to diversify the offerings and with such a small, nimble operation, production is at the whim of his feelings.
“It’s a totally haphazard production schedule,” he said. “A lot of times I hear something is available and say that sounds good for batch six. A lot is just talking to people.”
Speciation beers are fermented, finished and bottled at the brewery, but the wort is brewed at other breweries and brought back to the facility by Ermatinger in a truck.
Crosstown, Founders Brewing Co. will produce approximately 460,000 barrels of beer in 2017. Ermatinger’s infant brewery will produce about 150 barrels, yet the beers are already making waves in some beer circles nationwide.
Ermatinger doesn’t rush the beer. Like a well-made song, he lets a beer stew as long as it needs. Each beer normally spends six to eight weeks in stainless tanks or barrels as it ferments and the conditions another four to eight weeks in bottles.
Especially now as the brewery itself matures, Ermatinger errs on letting beers sit even longer, normally reaching four months from brew day to release day.
“We’re not at all on a schedule,” he said. “What we package is what’s ready.