A Day of Crafting Beer

Dianna Stampfler holds the beer she and her friends brewed and labeled. Borealis Blonde is named after the Michigan northern lights.

by Dianna Stampfler • photos by Two Eagles Marcus

The craft beer scene is taking Michigan (and the country, for that matter) by storm. Currently, Michigan, the “Great Beer State,” is home to more than 155 breweries (and growing, monthly). It’s safe to say there are at least two dozen, if not more, breweries in various stages of planning at any given moment and there seems to be no end in sight.

Beer festivals are also on the rise in Michigan with four events held annually by the Michigan Brewers Guild, the official trade association for this thriving industry. Community festivals are also held in Grand Rapids, Traverse City, Lansing, Ludington, Bridgman, Mackinaw City, Detroit, Charlevoix and countless other cities around the state.

For those who would like to take their craft beer experience beyond the pub or the festival grounds, there is one place in Michigan that allows you to step in the shoes of the brewer. At Saugatuck Brewing Company, you have the opportunity to create your own brew; from selecting the recipe to creating a custom label and bottling a finished product, you’ll get the whole experience.

Saugatuck Brewing is one of the few “Brew on Premises” operations in the state, and for roughly $300, your group of up to six people can take part. This activity is ideal for corporate team building, wedding parties, birthday celebrations or any other gathering of friends. It’s a time to be creative, drink craft beer and have a great time socializing.



Once a brew date is selected, Dexter Gauntlett, the head brew-on-premise brewer, works diligently to help the group determine which style of beer they’d like to make. With more than 200 recipes to choose from, not to mention custom blends, the opportunities are endless. The experience, run by Gauntlett, takes about four hours on brew day, with another hour dedicated to labeling and bottling a few weeks later. The experience delivers personal instruction, all the equipment, and up to 72 22-ounce (750ml) bottles of your customized beer, fit with personalized labels if you choose to do so.


In early March, I had the opportunity to cross “Brew Beer” off my 2015 bucket list. I and four other women ventured to Saugatuck Brewing Company. The group included myself, my daughter Mollie and her friend Kailey, my fellow beer-loving sidekick Delilah and her friend Natalie, who is a home-brewer. This power team of all women was geared up and ready for a day of brewing!

We arrived around 10 a.m. ready to make our slightly hopped blonde ale named “Borealis Blonde” after the northern lights that frequent the skies of Michigan.

The small 3.5-barrel system that Saugatuck uses for its public brewing program is the same that they used for their own operations when they opened in 2005. The program hosts six individual tanks for brewing, allowing Gauntlett to manage multiple groups simultaneously.

Our Borealis Blonde began with a recipe featuring pilsen malt, cara-pilsen dextrin, munich malt and three different types of hops: simcoe, cascade and motueka. Gauntlett had all the ingredients lined up and ready to go when we arrived.

The first step, or the mash process, involves adding about 18 pounds of hand-milled grain into the mash kettle. Over the next hour, the thick, hot cereal-like mixture warms and steams, dispelling a malty fragrance into the air of the pub as it is stirred every 10 to 15 minutes. There’s no question you’re in a brewery.

An hour or so into the process, and once the fermentable sugars are extracted into the mash, the grain is lifted out of the kettle and sparged, which rinses the remaining sugars out of the grain bed. What remains is a hefty supply of spent grain, which is bagged up and sent home with each of us for recipe creation (mine became a fruit and nut based granola).


The next step took about an hour and involves boiling the wort and adding hops at various intervals. These hop additions add bitterness and other floral citrusy flavors and aromas to the brew. “Without hops, the resulting beer would be very sweet and likely not very palatable,” said Gauntlett.

At the end of the boil, the wort is cooled, filtered and pumped into a fermenter. Here, the yeast is pitched into the fermenter and then stored in a temperature controlled room. Our work is done at this point until we return three weeks later to bottle our creation; the bottling process takes about an hour from affixing the custom labels to filling, capping and boxing the beer.

The take-home result, besides the unique, inspiring and educational experience, is enough beer for roughly a case per person (if you’ve a group of five). Perfect for sharing with friends back home!

The “Brew on Premises” program at Saugatuck Brewing is offered by appointment seven days a week, year-round. For more information, visit www.SaugatuckBrewing.com or call (616) 990-8865 and ask for Dexter Gauntlett.

Dianna Stampfler holds the beer she and her friends brewed and labeled. Borealis Blonde is named after the Michigan northern lights.


  • Hops: An herb added to boiling wort or fermenting beer to impart a bitter aroma and flavor.
  • Maltose: A water soluble, fermentable sugar contained in malt.
  • Dextrins: The unfermentable carbohydrate produced by the enzymes in barley. Gives the beer flavor, body and mouthfeel.
  • Mash: To release malt sugars by soaking the grains in water.
  • Sparge: To spray grist with hot water in order to remove maltose. This takes place at the end of the mash.
  • Spent Grain: The leftover malt after mashing.
  • Tun: Any large vessels used in brewing.
  • Wort: The solution of grain sugars strained from the mash tun. At this stage, it’s regarded as sweet wort, later as brewed wort, fermenting wort and finally beer.

courtesy of www.beeradvocate.com

Basic ingredients in a beer

according to Beer for Dummies, 2nd Edition:

  • Grain: A starch source that is mostly malted barley. It provides color, flavor, maltose, proteinsand dextrins.
  • Yeast: Is responsible for fermentation. Two main classifications used based on style of beer are ale yeast and lager yeast.
  • Hops: A common method for flavor variation. Hops provide bitterness, flavor, aroma, stability.
  • Water: Comprises up to 95 percent of the beer!


Learn more about the local beer culture and beer as a whole with these Michigan authors:

  • Grand Rapids Beer: An Intoxicating History of River City Brewing by Pat Evans
  • Beervangelist’s Guide to the Galaxy by Fred Bueltmann
  • Michigan’s Best Beer Guide by Kevin Revolinski
  • Art in Fermented Form: A Manifesto by Brett Vanderkamp

Dianna Stampfler is one of Michigan’s most passionate writers – especially when it comes to the world of eating and drinking!




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