It’s no secret that craft beer is having its moment here in Michigan and we are here for it! Austin Brothers Beer Company (aka ABBC, aka Austin Brothers) in Alpena has found great success in our little northeastern corner of the state. We wanted beer and in our humble opinion, we got the best of it!
We caught up with Blake Austin (owner/operator) and Chris Heikkuri (sales director) to learn a little more about our favorite hometown brewery.
The ABBC Backstory
The Austin Family discovered Alpena about 15 years ago while on a month-long family road trip in a motor home. Leaving their hometown just outside of San Diego, California, Dana and Julie Austin, along with their two sons Blake and Brant, hit the road for an adventure. Several years and several trips to Alpena later, the Austin family decided they wanted to call Alpena home and start-up their dream of a brewery business for good.
Once they moved to Alpena, the next step was to find a suitable location for their production brewery. They found it near downtown; located off of Miller Street. By 2015 Austin Brothers Beer Company was officially in business!
The ABBC Beer
On opening day in 2015, Austin Brothers started out with 4 different beers. A couple of months later when the restaurant portion of the brewery opened, they had 6-8 different beers. Today, since their grand opening Austin Brothers Beer Company has made a whopping 92 different beers and currently rotates between 18-22 beers on tap!
“For our anniversary party this year, we got up to 22 beers, but most days we’re probably running around 18 different beers. We’ve made 92 different beers since opening and sometimes people will bring up different beers and we’re like, ‘yeah, we made that!’
We have 8 beers that will always be on tap. Everything else is seasonal and new trends that we want to try. We’re always evolving and watching the trends, we’ve even started a few trends in Michigan! Brant does his research and makes sure that if we’re going to try a new style, it’s made the right way. Sometimes people go crazy for it right away, and sometimes it takes a little while for them to come around. Like our New England’s, we started on those right away and they took a whole year to become popular in Michigan and now we sell a lot of them! The market is tricky, it can take time for a style to be accepted so we do a lot of smaller batch stuff to see if we think it will work. We’re always trying new things, it makes it fun!”
Austin Brothers quickly became Northeastern Michigan’s craft beer staple and it’s no surprise that the rest of the state needed to be in on the Austin Brothers craft! Statewide, Austin Brothers Beer has 28 warehouses and 22 distributors.
“We’re true blue statewide, nothing is distributed outside of Michigan at this time. We just filled out the western portion of the U.P and we’re in pretty much every city in the state. We’re in every Meijer and Walmart in the state and we’re currently in the process of adding Spartan and Kroger so we can double our volume in the state.
We’re just getting our feet wet and we’re really trying to grow responsibly. We have a bunch of avenues to explore in state becore we go out of state. You have to put in a lot of resources for out of state and we’ve still got a lot of work to do yet in Michigan. If Michigan still wants more beer, we’ll take care of them first!”
Tell us your secrets!
No, they did not tell us how to perfectly craft an Austin Brothers brew, but Chris and Blake did share a few exciting things to come in the near future!
“The biggest new thing is that we have a new silo coming. That’s going to help us with storage and production. We also just moved our whole product line to exclusively cans. We use to fill 6 glass bottles at a time by hand and now we can do 11 cans at one time. It’s a lot more efficient! We can fill 400 6-packs in an hour.
Cans are also better for beer as far as no oxygen, better for shipping, faster, and leaves a smaller footprint. Bottles were not cost-efficient and with the silver cans we can just buy the different labels. Having cans has also allowed us to get our smoothie series and our sour out to the market, where as before we just had 3 different beers in distribution.”
…and that’s not all
“Our raspberry vanilla porter has always been a taproom favorite, so we’re going to be putting that in cans for winter.”
Author’s note: It was this pivotal moment when we knew this winter was going to be considerably greater than the last! Austin Brother’s raspberry vanilla porter is remarkable, and knowing we can enjoy it from home on a cold winter night warmed the cockles of our hearts!
“Every month we try to release either a Murk series beer, a smoothie beer, or a New England IPA, or fruited New England. (Points over to a huge container that jiggles to the touch) This is 2,300 lbs. of raspberry that’s going into one of our sours. It will be ready in a couple of weeks.”
We’re also going to bring back the igloos this winter. Unfortunately, our igloos last year were damaged during a winter storm, but we are going to have 2 of them up again along with winter cornhole leagues. We’re also trying to implement a larger waiting area for customers.”
Let’s talk about personal favorites
Chris – “Parallyzer”
Blake – “Parallyzer”
Brant – “Parallyzer”
“Honestly, it really depends on what we are doing at the time. I really like our fruit and sour series and all of our New Englands.” – Blake
We’re really into a variety of Austin Brothers beers here at the CVB office. Nicole’s favorite is the Raspberry Vanilla Porter, Milk Route Stout, and the Barrel Aged Sumo Sumatra. Kyla likes the Amber Ale and the Cherry Bomb, and Mary Beth loves the suggested beer pairings with the food on the menu.
Parallyzer is obviously a very popular choice, too!
The ABBC Food
It’s not all about beer at Austin Brothers. To complement their delicious brews they also offer a rotating seasonal menu by the very talented Chef Michael Timmons.
“Our next menu change is coming soon, we’re shooting for around mid-October. Give or take what’s going on, we try to hit a certain time when it’s good to switch a menu over because it’s not an easy task! As far as bringing in new products, Chef spends months sitting down and getting samples in and finding as much locally sourced product as we can to use for our menu.”
One of the many things that we believe really sets Austin Brothers apart from the rest is their homemade ingredients! From ketchup, garlic aioli, and pickles to the fresh, seasonal chalkboard specials. No detail is spared!
“We make all our condiments from scratch. I don’t think people realize how hard it is to make all that. We have people come in and their job for the day is just to make ketchup. We spend a lot of effort and time into these things that set us apart and the things we take a different spin on. Chef likes to take certain things and make them our own and you can really do that with hand crafted sauces.”
“One thing I get lots of comments on, because I just moved up here 3 months ago, is that all my friends coming up here from downstate say they’re surprised that a brewery does sushi. I’ve had people tell us it’s the best they’ve ever had, let alone in a brewery setting! That’s definitely something that is unique with us.” – Chris
Author’s note: 10/10, can confirm that the sushi is remarkable!
Austin Brothers Beer Company is thriving and not only here locally, but all across the state as more and more Michiganders get a taste of their craft.
The Alpena Area Convention & Visitors Bureau would like to congratulate the Austin family and staff and crew of the taproom, restaurant, and production facility and wish them all continued success for many, many years to come!
*All quotes by Owner/Operator Blake Austin and Sales Director Chris Heikkuri