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Cheers to Craft Beer and its Economic Impact on the Upper Peninsula

Craft beer industry brews up business in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Production facility of Upper Hand Brewery

Across the Upper Peninsula, many communities are fortunate to have a variety of beer-related businesses and interests that enhance the region’s craft beer culture. Not only is making beer an art and a science, but an industry that impacts the Upper Peninsula economy in a variety of ways.

With 2.1 million jobs and $328 billion in economic activity, craft beer is big business in the United States. In Michigan, this industry accounts for 62,688 jobs, $2.6 billion in wages, and $8.8 billion in economic output according to the Beer Institute and the National Beer Wholesalers Association. Known as “The Great Beer State”, Michigan is a top 5 beer producing state and home to some of the best breweries in the country. In the Upper Peninsula alone the economic impact of beer is $346 million.

For the Keweenaw Brewing Company, it was the chance to call the Copper Country home that helped make the hops-influenced vision become a reality. After graduating from MTU, Dick Gray was looking for a way to return to the area. On a visit to the region he brought along Paul Boissevain, who fell in love with Lake Superior and the hospitality of Houghton, and together they began the KBC as its fondly referred to by locals. Michigan Tech alumni are also connected to another beer industry start-up, Upper Peninsula Malt Co. It began in 2015 when Ontonagon natives, David Chynoweth and Bill Weisinger, started producing malt from U.P. grown grains. Several U.P. breweries, including the Ore Dock, The Vierling, Barrel + Beam, and Cold Iron Brewing, use its artisan malt which provides unique flavors characterized by the nature of the U.P.

Malt from the Upper Peninsula Malt Co.

Craft breweries across the peninsula range in size and specialty. Upper Hand Brewery, a division of Bell’s Brewery, located in Escanaba, took on an interesting venture when Bell’s decided to start an entirely new craft brewery 400 miles away from home.  While the scale of Bell’s would lead most to believe it to be the root of its success, Upper Hand’s model is based on being exclusively available in the Upper Peninsula. “More than anything, Upper Hand Brewery is a love letter to the U.P,” shared Sam Reese, Production Manager, adding, “it’s Bell’s way of showing that we are committed to this community and doing our part to give folks yet another reason to love living in and visiting the Upper Peninsula.”

Taproom of the Drifa Brewing Company

Upper Michigan’s beer culture continues to expand as demonstrated by the recent opening of Drifa, the taproom of the Marquette Brewing Cooperative, which will have its grand opening on October 3, 2019. This unique venture blends craft brewing and the co-op business model, and only exists in a dozen or so spots around the U.S. Drifa has evolved thanks to members who are committed to furthering the culture and craft in the Upper Peninsula, but you needn’t be a member to stop in and enjoy their work.

An abundance of breweries also means many great events and activities occur across the U.P. Among the most popular is the U.P. Fall Beer Festival which is organized by the Michigan Brewers Guild and held annually in Marquette. Having just completed its 11th year, the festival not only introduces many craft beer enthusiasts to U.P. offerings but contributes to the area economy. The event draws more than 4,000 attendees, with approximately half traveling from outside of the U.P., tourism officials estimate this adds $1.5 million to the local economy over three days.

With 23 breweries across the Upper Peninsula, for many the opportunity to explore and enjoy a local craft beer enhances why the U.P. is the best place to live, work, and play. Craft beer is big business in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.


About Keweenaw Brewing Company
Keweenaw Brewing Company is the hops-induced vision of Dick Gray and Paul Boissevain. The KBC taproom is located in the center of historic downtown Houghton.

About Upper Peninsula Malt Co.
Founded by Ontonagon County natives and MTU grads David Chynoweth and Bill Weisinger, Upper Peninsula Malt Co. is an artisan floor malting company with the purpose of creating finely crafted malts of old world quality.

About Upper Hand Brewery
The founder—Larry Bell of Bell’s Brewery—had always dreamed of opening a brewery in the Upper Peninsula—little clues of those dreams can be found in many of the classic Bell’s brands, which pay tribute to the U.P. in their names and label artwork. This dream became a reality when they broke ground on their 20 BBL brewhouse in 2013.

About Drifa Brewing
The Marquette Brewing Cooperative, Inc. is a grassroots effort on the part of homebrewers and craft beer lovers in the Marquette area to create a cooperatively-owned microbrewery and taproom in order to meet the needs of its member/owners.

About InvestUP
InvestUP is a private sector-led economic development organization keenly focused on driving economic growth across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Founded by the region’s leading private sector businesses and the region’s universities, its mission is to deliver business and job growth across the peninsula.

As a part of our commitment to the Upper Peninsula, we collaborate with partners to share some of the most compelling stories about business and job growth across the region. Our goal through these stories is to get at the heart of what makes the U.P. unique — and to ensure these stories travel beyond our peninsula and broadly illustrate why the UP is the place to live and work.

If you have an idea for an article, please contact a staff or board member at InvestUP.

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