If you drink beer, saying Michigan is an awesome beer state is kind of like saying the sun is hot – totally obvious. It seems like a mindless statement. Of course, the 100+ breweries didn't pop up over night. Take our friends at Kuhnhenn Brewing in Warren, for example. Their story is particularly interesting because they started well before the craft beer craze ever exploded.
"I started brewing in high school," Bret Kuhnhenn reminisces. After a trip to visit his brother Eric in college (where a beer kit was purchased), Bret's whole outlook on beer changed. "I never realized beer could taste so good," he says. It could be said that one sip of stout changed the entire course of Bret's life.
At that time, home brewing stores were nonexistent. "Home brewing supplies were sold primarily in hardware stores," he says. It also seems kismet that Bret ran a hardware store back then. And over time, the store became less and less about hardware and more and more about beer. "Eventually," Bret laughs, "you were able to get a screen door repaired while drinking a beer."
Kuhnhenn has come a long way since their hardware store days. Now their beers are some of the most sought-after in the world. Raspberry Eisbock, which is released every few years (and will be released in 2012), is like gold in the beer trading community. Even their classics like Loonie Kuhnie and Penetration Porter are nothing to scoff at because those recipes have been around from the beginning, so they've been perfected after nearly twenty years.
Bret is pretty straightforward when it comes to talking about the success of the brewery. "We brew good beer," he says. "Everything is consistently high quality and we even designed the brewing system to brew the beers we want to make." Like many businesses in their infancy, Kuhnhenn has done their share of DIY projects – purchasing equipment at auctions, building their own stuff and doing whatever it took to make sure the endeavor worked.
And it has worked. In 2012, Kuhnhenn Brewing won the World Beer Cup in the India Pale Ale category for DRIPA (Double Rice IPA). "It feels like winning the lottery," Bret says, "You are competing against every brewery in the world." DRIPA won over 150 other IPAs, the most competitive category at the World Beer Cup. Interestingly, this wasn't even their first World Beer Cup victory. They won in 2010 for their fantastic 4th Dementia Olde Ale.
Summer Beer Fest will be taking place on Saturday, 6/23 at the Royal Oak Farmers Market, and Kuhnhenn will be tapping the ceremonial keg. "We'll be tapping a Michigan Wheat Wine made with all Michigan-grown and -malted wheat," says Bret. The hops are also Michigan-grown, in fact. (Talk about keeping it local!)
So, what's in the future for Kuhnhenn Brewing? "We're looking at new production facilities," Bret says. Expansion makes sense, as their beers are wildly popular everywhere they go. On top of that, there is talk of liquor distilling as well. "I applied for the license," explains Bret. "Now I'm just waiting to go in front of city council." If they take the same approach to spirits as they do with beer, we're all in for a treat.
Bret and Eric, along with their father, are intent on being the best brewery around. They are consistently developing exciting brews that push the envelope of what beer should be. Don't believe us? Visit the brewery during the Summer or Winter Solstice, or try the "Breakfast of Champions" on St. Patrick's Day. Your perception of beer will forever be changed – we guarantee it. | RDW