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Wednesday, June 26,2013

The next generation

New breweries are on the horizon for greater Lansing

by ALLAN I. ROSS
In August, HopCat-East Lansing will open on the ground floor of The Residences, a new mixed-use development project in downtown East Lansing that’s expected to be completed later this year. This will be the second location for the Grand Rapids-based establishment, which was named the best brewpub in the United States and the third best bar on the planet by Beer Advocate magazine earlier this year. In fact, HopCat helped push Grand Rapids, which is chock full of brewpubs, beer grocers and beer bars, to gain the title Beer City USA last month. Not bad, neighbor. 

With three other Grand Rapids concept bars, you would think BarFly Ventures, HopCat’s parent company, would keep working from the same formula and push for a bigger presence in the West Michigan city. But Sam Short, director of new projects for BarFly, said the expansion to East Lansing was a natural move. 

“A lot of us have ties to East Lansing and Michigan State University, and when we first thought of expanding, the capital area was a no-brainer,” Short said. “Initially we wanted to bring a beer bar and also open a Lansing brewing company, but we couldn’t find a space for that, so we’re just going with HopCat for now.” 

Unlike the off-the-beaten-path EagleMonk Pub, which became Lansing’s first brewery since the Lansing Brewing Co. disappeared in 1914, HopCat is smack-dab in the middle of a high-traffic area, and is poised to cater to that much-valued Broad Art Museum crowd. But be not mistaken, there will be no drinking games and “Sweet Caroline” sing-a-longs here. 

“HopCat is a restaurant first and foremost, with an emphasis on good food and high quality beer,” Short said. “We’re not catering to the college crowd that’s just looking for a party bar with cheap beer. This is going to be an upscale environment.”

As for that brewery, Short said plans are on hold for now while a suitably large space is located. Plan A was inside the Stadium District, the Gillespie Group’s $12.3 million dollar mixed-use development project across from Cooley Law School Stadium. But Pat Gillespie, president of the Gillespie Group, is the proud owner of the name Lansing Brewing Co., even if the brewery itself is nothing more than an ethereal concept. 

For now, at least. Gillespie has issued an A.B.B. (that would be an “all brewers bulletin”) to any microbrew beer maker looking to set up vats in the Stadium District, and he seems ready to tap the keg. 

“Grand Rapids has nine brewpubs; Kalamazoo and Traverse City have seven each,” Gillespie said. “Ann Arbor has six, and how many does downtown Lansing have? Zero. I think there’s something wrong with that.”   

Gillespie said he’s got the space, the liquor license and the startup funding ready to go for Lansing Brewing Co. — now all he needs is a brewer. 

“I’ve sent emails to the top 40 breweries in Michigan, the top 10 in Indiana and Ohio, but so far, no one’s biting,” Gillespie said. “Our passion is Lansing, and we want a brewpub to call our own. I think it could be the beginning of something huge in this area.” 

So could Lansing one day be in the running for Beer City USA? 

“Wouldn’t that be great?” Gillespie sighed. “One step at time, but first things first — we’ve got to start making some beer.”

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