It’s often been noted that there is no substitute for passion.
It is easy to be reminded of this fact when talking to Evan Westervelt, Head Brewer at Lumber Baron’s Brewery in Bay City. He probably used the word passion at least five times in the first five minutes of our sit down in the Tap Room at Café Cremosi, one of several thriving businesses in the Lumber Baron’s complex.
One this is clear – The guy likes his job.
Like many leading the current craft beer boom, Westervelt began as a homebrewer, around a decade ago. After a few years of perfecting his technique on small batches, he wondered if his interest and abilities might be of use in the Michigan micro-brew industry, which was just beginning its current growth spurt. It was a leap of faith when he decided to try to make a move into professional brewing.
As he put it, Westervelt “sent a resume to every brewery within an hour of here.”
It did take some faith, as it was a full year later when he received a reply from a regional brewery which had an opening for a Production Brewer. After two years in that role, mastering the nuances of translating his small batch experiences into production quantities, he moved to Lumber Baron’s as the Head Brewer.
The Lumber Baron’s facility is the perfect setting for a traditional brew house. The multi-use facility, which houses a five-room banquet center, The Stables and the Fire Bar in addition to Café Cremosi, serves as an extended set of tap rooms for Westervelt’s beers.
When seated in the Café Cremosi, you get a clear view of the state of the art brewing system, which is kept in immaculate condition. It’s the second-best view in the building, as the panorama of the “East Bank” of the city’s riverscape might be the single best view in town. (On the other hand, when you hunker down with a cigar in one the converted horse stalls in the Stables, you can’t see outside at all, but that’s kind of the point.)
One thing that Westervelt pointed out was a difference between the approach of a home-brewer, versus that he must take in a commercial operation. Westervelt explained, “This is a pretty big brewing system for a facility of our size. I have to be subtle with changes or experiments.”
While the beers on tap at Lumber Baron’s have typically whimsical names as “House of the Weizen Sun” or “Crooked Quaker Oatmeal Stout,” Westervelt typically concentrates on attempting to make authentic renditions of the styles he brews, rather than exotic recipes or “trendy” flavored beers.
“When brewing a traditional beer, I try to be unique by finding beers that others aren’t brewing. You then do things like soften the water, harden the water, trying to get as true to the conditions that the beer was originally made with.”
One interesting offering on the beer menu is the “Bees Knees Shape Shifter.” This beer morphs in character slightly with each batch, as it is formulated with seasonal ingredients available at Organic World Spice Market in Birch Run.
A typically production batch for a Lumber Baron’s beer is 431 gallons, or approximately 15 barrels. They have 16 different beers on tap now, either in serving tanks or kegs. They do not bottle for distribution. Customers can buy growlers or kegs to take home, in addition to drinking the beers in the restaurants and bars on-site.
Westervelt also shared one trait that we have seen in many of the brewers we have interviewed for this series that might surprise the average craft beer aficionado: A real respect for the mass market brewers, largely for their consistency and attention to small details in the brewing process.
Now that he has his own product line to manage, Westervelt described how his motivation has changed. “My inquisitiveness got me started. It was the science of brewing and a passion for traditional beers that got me hooked.”
There’s that word again.
Lumber Baron’s is located at 804 E Midland St in Bay City. You can find hours, menus and information on reservations and bookings at their website www.lumberbaronsbrewery.com or find them on Facebook.