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Stormcloud—Michigan’s Best New Brewery—Set to Expand

Stormcloud Brewing Company expansion bottling plant Brian Confer Rick Schmitt Michigan's best new brewery The Betsie Current Jacob Wheeler Benzie County Frankfort

New brewing and bottling plant coming to Frankfort

By Jacob Wheeler
Current Editor

Stormcloud Brewing Company has pulsed new, year-round energy into downtown Frankfort since it opened three summers ago. The venue is dynamic, the events are quirky, the crowd is upbeat, and the beach is just two blocks away. But head brewer (and co-owner) Brian Confer’s beer is why MLive named Stormcloud as “Michigan’s best new brewery” earlier this month.
Following a public poll—during which 30,000 votes were cast, nominating more than 100 breweries—John Gonzalez and Amy Sherman, who host MLive’s Michigan Best series and Behind the Mitten broadcast, traveled 2,500 miles throughout the mitten state and sampled more than 300 beers.

“On this search, we were looking for new breweries that are making exceptional beer. Period,” Gonzalez says in a press release.

Gold medal for Stormcloud, thanks to Confer’s handcrafted, Belgian-inspired ales. (Suttons Bay’s Hop Lot Brewing Co. narrowly missed a medal by finishing fourth).

“Each and every beer we sampled [from Stormcloud] was just about perfect,” Sherman says. “Add to this the great sense of community that Stormcloud has created in Frankfort, and you have a winner.”

But Stormcloud has even bigger news to unveil. The brewery will break ground—potentially as early as this fall—on a new brewing and bottling plant in the industrial park at the foot of the Gateway Arch in downtown Frankfort. Production could begin as early as next summer.

The 10,000-square-foot plant, on a six-acre plot next to M-115, will allow Stormcloud to increase capacity and distribute bottles and kegs of its award-winning beer all over the state. Co-owner Rick Schmitt told The Betsie Current that he is excited to make inroads in Grand Rapids and the Detroit area. Stormcloud currently sources its beer to 33 different counties around Northern Michigan. The brewery employs 60 in high summer; Schmitt estimates that Stormcloud will add another five to eight workers at the brewing and bottling plant.

“The time is right to brew more beer,” says Jim Kunz, a silent partner behind Stormcloud. Kunz bought the building, previously occupied by the old Caddy Shack golf shop, where the brewery now sits in downtown Frankfort. “The stars aligned for us with the opportunity to buy this property.”

When Stormcloud opened in June 2013, Kunz, Schmitt, and Confer expected that the business would grow and that the need would arise to make more beer and pump up the distribution. The brewery has succeeded enough to beat all financial projections.

The team will work with Kalamazoo-based Byce & Associates to design the new plant. State Savings Bank will help finance the venture.

Best of all, Stormcloud now has momentum on its side, following the prestigious award from MLive.

“We are both ecstatic and humbled to be named Michigan’s best new brewery,” says Schmitt, who was sitting in his office when the results were announced and quickly began receiving text messages of ‘congratulations’ from friends and employees. “Breweries in our state are making incredible beer right now, and to be publicly recognized with the nine other breweries on MLive’s ‘Top 10’ list is a true honor for us at Stormcloud.”

Kunz, who first saw the news via Twitter, admits that he is biased about who deserves to call themselves the best brewery in Michigan.

“You can never go wrong with the Rainmaker,” Kunz says. “The saison that Brian brews is also wonderful.”

However, the brewmaster, himself, does not want an oversized reputation to spoil his hops.

“We’re making every effort to brew world-class examples of traditional Belgian ales,” Confer says. “Collectively, the Trappist abbeys of Belgium have about 1200 years of brewing experience. We’ve been brewing beer here at Stormcloud for a little more than three years, so we have a little catching up to do.”

Read in our online archives about Stormcloud’s first year in action.

Feature photo: Stormcloud’s Rick Schmitt and Brian Confer. Photo by Aubrey Ann Parker.

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