Short’s Brewing Company: Owned and Operated by Those Who Care

A personal passion for beer, a thirst for adventure, a little luck and a whole lot of elbow grease went into the creation of Short’s Brewing Company (Short’s). The Northwest Lower Michigan-based brewpub, started in 2004, is best known for making unusual, adventurous and cheekily named beers, and it is this enthusiasm and vivacity that has led the company to become both a top destination for any beer enthusiast and the local brewpub of choice in Bellaire, Mich.

Make no mistake, though, the Short’s team is nothing if not equally passionate and professional. Home brewing is trending on Twitter, but there’s a huge difference between cultivating the flavor profile of a single batch and producing 14,000 barrels of high-quality product (a milestone Short’s achieved in 2011, and one which the company is on course to break in 2012 with 20,000 barrels targeted). Mass production requires extensive food safety regulation savvy and the Short’s team has always succeeded by tackling barriers with enthusiasm, conviction and a smile. After all, the company motto reminds customers “Life is Short’s, drink it while you’re here.”

Joe Short founded the company to create a local brewpub producing quality craft beers with an attention to detail and the focus that defines a mom-and-pop business enterprise. The brewpub is located in a historic, century-old space that was once a hardware store, but was painstakingly transformed by a small crew over 18 months into a modern facility.

Succeeding with Focus

Short’s produced just 178 barrels in its first year using a seven-barrel brewing system with five fermenters and five serving tanks, but the quality and originality of Short’s beers propelled the company to produce 2,000 barrels by 2008, and that number has increased exponentially every year since. Of course, like many businesses sprouted from a personal passion, Short’s experienced its own set of serious growing pains.

In the winter of 2005 Short’s was actually in danger of shutting down as the company’s limited resources and rapid growth made it hard to balance both the brewing and the restaurant. When all the beer went sour from a lack of resources the team was pushed to the breaking point, but Short’s personality had obviously struck a chord with the community and before long the long hours and hard work put in by colleagues, friends and family company helped put the company back on track. The summer of 2006 saw the tides turn in Short’s favor as Joe Short’s previously silent partner Scott Newman-Bale took over the financial aspects of the company and Joe’s future wife Leah joined the team, personally overseeing every shift and sandwich produced that year.

“We’re probably the third largest brewery in the state now, but we’re best known for being the experimental brewery,” admits Scott Newman-Bale, CFO and co-owner of Short’s. Short’s sells exclusively to buyers in Michigan, but the company’s notoriety is partially the result of exposure from festivals and industry trade shows that draw the attention of fans from all corners of the world who have been impressed with Short’s use of unconventional ingredients.

Delighting in the Unusual

“Joe [Short] and Tony [Hanson] are the amazing creative people behind the brand and it’s because of them that we can put out a new beer every other week,” states Newman-Bale. And the truth is that Short’s beers are hard to forget as the team spends countless hours perfecting every batch and using every minute of free time to dream up unfathomable fusions of flavors where nothing is out of play.

Highlights from the specialty beers include a Key Lime Pie beer made with fresh limes, graham cracker and marshmallow fluff; the India Spruce pilsner, made with locally sourced and handpicked blue spruce tips; and the Bloody beer, a lighter bodied beer that retains a ruby hue with the help of Roma tomatoes, balanced by the kick of horseradish, peppercorns and celery seed.

The original brewpub location in Bellaire now serves up creatively interpreted versions of comfort food staples like BLT pizza and taco macaroni and cheese, complemented by a rotating selection of beers on 20 taps. The pub location still produces most of the beer consumed at the pub, using nine fermenters, 16 serving tanks, seven packaging tanks and extensive cold storage, but the lion’s share of the brewing happens in a 20,000-square foot facility in Elk Rapids, Mich. Short’s purchased the former manufacturing facility in 2008 to provide the team with enough space and equipment to begin packaging and distributing beers in a six-pack format.

The Elk Rapids represents over a year of intensive research, with special consideration given to possible expansion down the road. “We opened the new facility in 2009 with 16 new brew tanks and a detachable roof that would accommodate further additions,” adds Newman-Bale.

Life is Short

Short’s growing pains might not be entirely over yet, however, as the company has averaged 80-percent growth every year since it opened and Newman-Bale’s efforts to uphold that pace responsively earned him the nickname “The Magician.”

“We just can’t grow without growing production, but as we stabilize we want to continue focusing on the creative side as well,” asserts Newman-Bale, who reinforces the company’s commitment to innovative brewing through membership in the Michigan Brewers Guild.

Already in 2012 Short’s debuted a new Carrot Cake beer and attended the Extreme Beer Fest in Boston, a two-day showcase of the most extreme craft beers, designed to prove there are no boundaries to brewing. The festival is sponsored by Dogfish Head Craft Brewery and Short’s proved its mettle with several beers, including the Aphasia, an American-style bourbon barrel-aged strong ale; The Gambler, an IPA-style brew spiced with lapsang and rooibos tea leaves also aged in bourbon barrels; and the Whiskey Sour, a Belgian sour beer made with limes and aged in whiskey barrels.

Joe and Leah remain as involved in the day-to-day operations as ever, while a team of 65 professionals has also signed on to fill in the gaps and help focus energy to assure a comfortable production capacity. Short’s success stands as proof that taking risks and preserving a sense of fun and personality can make all the difference to consumers and, as distribution continues expanding across Michigan, Short’s Brewing Company will strive to ensure every beer and every meal shared will reflect the hard work, dedication and delight that went into its creation.