Mike Plesz has been in the brewing business for nearly two decades now, but you'd never guess it by looking at him. He also has the enthusiasm of a 21-year old, as excited about the world of craft beer as someone who has just discovered it. The main difference is that he has firmly entrenched himself in the production and distribution of this golden adult beverage. In fact, he's owned his own brewery since 1995 – and with the completion (and rapid growth) of the Rochester Mills new brewing facility in Auburn Hills – he's made more than just a dent in the beer world.
To say that the new production facility for Rochester Mills, located just a hair south of the Palace of Auburn Hills, is gargantuan would be a complete understatement. The place is 50,000-square feet of beer brewing potential, and it's quickly being filled out – at a rate of two new machines every month and a half – with state-of-the-art machinery, storage containers, a tasting room and a canning and bottling line. "They say making beer is an art," Plesz explains, "but it's also a lot of science."
The thing to keep in mind is that, even though they're now utilizing a super-impressive facility to grow their business, they haven't backed away from putting out quality beers as their focus.
"Both myself and Bill Wamby – we are the two brewers – are very passionate about brewing the highest quality ales and lagers," says Rochester Mills Brewmaster and Michigan Brewers Guild President Eric Briggeman, "no matter what size brew system or technology is being used. We still have to design beers that we are proud to call our own."
These aren't just some rinky-dink brewing machines that any monkey can operate in their basement, either. This is a combination, like Plesz says, of science, art, planning and a mind for what needs to be done to adequately grow the business. "The lifespan of the machinery is infinite," says Plesz. "They'll outlive all of us. They're made in the same way that auto machinery is made – the only difference is they make cars and we make beer."
Separate massive rooms for canning, cold storage, labeling and the like are being populated with the appropriate utensils to build the Rochester Mills business to its fullest potential. And even the brewing machinery is sourced locally – just up the road in the Lake Orion and Clarkston areas. "I try to source as much as I can locally," Plesz says. "Grains, local farms, everything I can." And he encourages others to do the same – particularly when it comes to beer. "Read the label," he says, "know what's in your beer – know where it comes from."
To make Plesz sound like a cold-calculated scientist and mathematician would be unfair to the man's passion for the industry, however. His attention to detail comes just as much from wanting to run a business the right way as it does to helping the economy, environment and population of the state as much as anything. His interest in alternative energy is also a breath of fresh air for the craft beer world – he's constantly researching and looking into everything from solar power to geothermal energy to fuel cells to biofuels and other such things that most of us wouldn't understand.
Having founded three different microbreweries over his career, he's not a rookie in this business – and has even gotten himself involved in the legislative dealings within the trade to help assist his industry-mates in addition to helping build a better economy within the state through the growth of one of the fastest-trending industries the state has seen since the automotive boom. "I've been beating the local drum since '95," he says. "If you spend your dollar here, it stays here."
"The general public is finally getting educated about beer," adds Briggeman. "They are starting to realize that there is more to beer than something light, fizzy and yellow. Not that there is anything wrong with a yellow beer...one of my favorite beer styles is a Czech-style Pilsner. But it does have a crisp, hoppy flavor..."
So, obviously people are spending their dollars with Rochester Mills. Having just celebrated the fourteenth year of the facility in downtown Rochester, they've been the top-producing brewpub for ten of those years. "It's all about doing things the right way the first time," says Plesz. "We're making sure we can get to our long-term goals – we have short-term goals – but we're focused on the long-term."
Briggeman echoes that same sentiment. "We are still in the very early stages of our new production facility," he explains. "That means we will have our hands full as we expand our distribution to all areas of the state over the coming months. We have a great brewing location, with a building that is set up for lots of growth. There is a lot of potential for our brands to grow aggressively, along with the rest of the craft brewing industry in the Great Beer State!" | RDW