Breweries Look to Wine and Cider to Broaden Appeal

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Breweries are offering beer alternatives like hard cider and wine. Photos courtesy of Big Hart Brewing Co.

Before he opened Ypsilanti-based 734 Brewing Company in 2018, craft beer enthusiast Patrick Echlin recognized a need for alternative beverages in beer-heavy spaces.

“When I used to throw parties when I lived in southern Arizona, there was always somebody that didn’t like beer, so I wanted to have something for them — something to make them feel welcome,” he says. “So, apple wine was my thing.”

Now at 734 Brewing, the slightly carbonated wine made with champagne yeast and juice from Old Orchard in Sparta is a popular staple on the menu, and Echlin’s mission of inclusion hasn’t changed. He says apple wine is “a springboard into beer” for people who have perhaps been “left out” of the craft beverage scene.

“We go out of our way to make sure that everybody feels welcome, especially those groups that may have been left out,” he says. “We’re all about growing the pie for everybody, trying to get people into it, get people interested and increase people’s chances to be involved, whether through ownership or employment or just enjoying the beverage.”

734 Brewing isn’t alone in trying to broaden appeal for non-beer drinkers.

At Motor City Brewing Works in Detroit, brewmaster Daniel Scarsella makes small batches of red and white table wines to sell in drafts for the “one out of every 10” people who visits the brewery and doesn’t consume beer.

“They’re not beer drinkers, but they come with all the other beer drinkers, so it’s a nice alternative to have,” he says.

Some Michigan breweries take advantage of winemaker’s licenses to produce other alternative beverages, such as hard cider. At Big Hart Brewing Co. in Hart, guests can enjoy a blended apple-pear cider or a version with Montmorency cherries added. The juice for both beverages comes from J&H Fleming Farms in Shelby.

“For some people that don’t like beer, it gives them another option on our menu,” says general manager Phil Thomson. “It’s also a gluten-free option, which a lot of people are looking for as well.”

Even though production volume pales in comparison to that of the beer made in the facility, the ciders are “very popular,” Thomson says.

“If we don’t have it on, we definitely hear about it,” he says. “As we’re running out and kegs are getting low, we’ve become very aware that we keep track of it.”

As for the future of alternative beverages at Michigan breweries, the market won’t be dying down anytime soon. Some brewers may even expand their offerings.

“I think we would like to get into some basic reds and whites,” Echlin says, “but we’re probably not going to go crazy too quickly.”

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