Owosso’s new Barrister Brewing Co. takes theming to the max


At Owosso’s Barrister Brewing Co., if you pass the bar, you’ve gone too far.

The new legal-themed pub and eatery, complete with gavel-shaped taps, law-book flight boards and a trial-themed menu, opened May 6 in a historic building in Owosso’s West Town district.

Its arrival came more than two decades after co-owners Dan and Barb Nees first moved to the area from western Michigan.

“When we got here, we didn’t know anybody in town. I told him to get a hobby because he was always right there,” Barb Nees said of her husband. “He started brewing on the stove with kits and kept getting bigger and bigger with it as the years went by.”

Dan Nees became an assistant prosecutor for Shiawassee County in 2008. Around the same time, he began expanding his home brewing operation alongside his sister Brenda Christian.

“They bought a half-barrel system so they could make more consistent batches. His sister also really wanted them to start a brewpub, and they were working on business plans for it,” Nees said.

However, Christian’s death from breast cancer in 2012 put those plans on hold.

Dan Nees continued his legal work and kept tinkering with his home brews through 2020, at which point he and his wife began exploring the possibility of opening a brewery once more.

In 2022, they settled on a 3,700-square-foot building in West Town that was in need of renovation.

“We found a really cool building, but it wasn’t really cool when we found it,” Nees said. “So, we worked with the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and were able to get a substantial grant for $557,000 toward the rehab because it’s a classic building, which helped a ton.”

With a location secured, the couple recruited three additional partners: Don and Melissa Hall and former Shiawassee County Prosecutor Deana Finnegan. Taking into consideration Finnegan’s and Dan Nees’ career experience, the group decided on a legal theme.

Barrister offers a full food menu as well as a rotating selection of house-brewed beers on tap.

“We do as much in-house and from scratch as we can, and at least 50% of our agricultural inputs are from Michigan,” Nees said.

Her favorite menu items include the Twelve Angry Men — pretzel bites with house-made mustard — and the pulled-pork flatbread pizza, topped with barbecue sauce, onions, pickles and jalapenos.

“For the beers, we’ve got a couple of really dark ones like the brown and porter, all the way to the lighter ones,” she said. “There’s a Mexican lager that people are loving lately that’s really good with a lime wedge on a hot day. We’ve also added seltzers that are house-made with Michigan sugar.”

When it comes time for last call, guests may be notified with the bang of a gavel instead of the typical shout.

“We’ve got a couple of gavels, which we’ll use depending on who the bartender is and what the crowd is like that night,” Nees said. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously, and it’s been a lot of fun getting it up and running.”


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