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How Lansing’s underground homebrewers craft the perfect glass

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In basements, porches and back rooms across Lansing, homebrewers are the hyperlocal backbone of the craft beer movement. Some operations remain humble with stovetop setups, but others are turning their spaces into small scale “nanobreweries,” complete with chalkboard signs, neon art and multiple rotating beers on draught.

John Frederick is the owner of Poidog Brewery on the south side, a nanobrewery with five beers on tap. His basement bar setup is flanked by a wall of tanks and brewing supplies. However, he prefers to make his grog outdoors on the porch. Frederick has been into the craft of homebrewing since 2001.

“It started when one of my best friends came over one day with a beer, handed it to me and said ‘Try this. I made that,’” Frederick said. “I couldn’t believe he made it, but people weren’t doing it back then. It wasn’t a craze yet.”

Frederick immediately jumped on the hobby after the encounter, buying supplies from homebrew supplier Things Beer in Webberville.

“I started tweaking the recipes. Even with the first one, I changed it up,” he said. “Then I got into writing my own. With any hobby you do, you keep growing as you get more into it.”

Maneuvering around a boiling pot full of rye grains, Frederick uses a timer and consults a sheet on what times to add cups of hops for different flavors. Hops added at the start of the process retain the signature bitterness of an IPA while hops added at the end lend a more aromatic note in the brew.

In the warmer months, Frederick brews as many as five beers per month. Each takes about six hours of work and requires two weeks to ferment. Winter does slow him down with outdoor brewing, but he still musters the will to get out on the porch and brew occasionally.

“I can keep warm by the boiling pot,” he said.

What makes Poidog a nanobrewery is that it is a micro-microbrewery, Frederick added. The concept focuses on small-batch beers in rotation over big batches.

“Nanobrewing is where it is at. It gives you versatility,” Fredrick said. “I’m taking the baby steps to get my system into a small place with small food offerings. There will be lots of beers to choose from but not a lot of it. I like the nano aspect in small brewing. You can sell out of fresh. And if it is a hit, it’ll grow.”

The homebrewing movement can be credited with 1% of all beer production in the United States, according to a 2017 study by the American Homebrewers Association. Though it sounds small, 1% equates to roughly 1.4 million barrels of beer per year.

Fredrick said it is a challenging and rewarding hobby.

“I just love the aspect of growing and being artistic. What better way to enjoy a glass of your own beverage as someone says it’s a good beer?”

Dave Vander Roest is another homebrewer who has six years of experience. He recently got done making a toasted coconut stout with a hefty 14% alcohol per volume content.

“After it’s done fermenting, I add two pounds of cocoa nibs and toasted coconut. That sits in there and the beer just absorbs the flavors. I keg everything and put it into bottles for sharing,” Vander Roest said.

His home setup has six of his beers on tap.

“Homebrewers is where the craft beer movement really started. For me, I started brewing things I couldn’t buy. As embarrassing as it is to admit, I really like pumpkin spice ales. I didn’t just like them in October. I wanted to make them in January too.”

Vander Roest started with small homebrewing kits from the store where the only thing needed was water and a stovetop. Over the years it transitioned to a full-fledged home setup worth thousands.

“I originally told my wife I’d be saving money by homebrewing. We’re not saving a cent,” Vander Roest added.

Vander Roest kept brewing the things he couldn’t buy or find in Michigan. At one point, he brewed a Fat Tire amber when the beer wasn’t available in the state. Now, he’s settled on making Northeastern IPAs. “Eventually, I’ll move on into something else,” he said.

For Vander Roest, he said homebrewing is a creative outlet.

“You don’t brew unless you love it because it is a lot of work. You’re talking about an eight-to-10-hour brew day lifting liquids and heavy grains. It is a labor of love not for everyone,” he said. “Brewers are all creative folks. We can be scientific, artistic or a mixture of both. You just have to understand the basics of it.”

The Greater Lansing Brewtopian Society and Red Ledge Brewers are the two major brewing groups in Lansing. The groups are dedicated to sharing tips and mentoring newcomers in homebrewing. Each has monthly meetings open to any to attend.

“You’ll learn more from those guys than any YouTube video. Learning from and watching actual brewers is what will make you better. They are always willing to share their stories if you are willing to talk to them,” Vander Roest said.

Todd Branster is the owner and manager of Capital City Homebrew Supply, which manages the Greater Lansing Brewtopian Society. Branster helps homebrewers of every level with the tools, equipment and know-how to brew beer. He got into homebrewing after a trip to England. He was floored by the beer there and since he couldn’t find anything comparable in the states, he made it himself.

“It awakened my spirit of homebrewing. Back then you couldn’t find it, so you had to make it. I liked making cherry stouts. Red ales were a favorite,” Branster said referring to rare flavors he experienced overseas.

Branster said small breweries with beer brewed and served exclusively on premises stand the most to grow in today’s beer culture. “There are a lot of people brewing beer in Michigan, but the future is in small pub style breweries like Dimes Brewhouse in Dimondale.”

He classifies working retail at the homebrew supply store as a dream job.

“My clientele are husbands, wives, college students, bankers, executives and everything. It is really fun to deal with it like that. I get to see everyone in this place and I enjoy people.”

According to Branster, the introductory basic three-gallon homebrewing setup costs $125.

The best homebrewers are people who enjoy making things themselves, Branster said.

“They would enjoy cooking, growing things and the process of it. If you enjoy that, homebrewing is a great hobby for you.”

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