The Frankenmuth Brewery has seen all kinds of things throughout its 153-year history. Apart from being the oldest brewery in the State of Michigan, it is also one of the top five oldest in the country and has witnessed many renovations and reincarnations over the years, apart from miraculously rising like a Phoenix from the ashes of a fire in 1987 and rebuilding after a disastrous tornado.
In 1857 John Matthias Fallers founded Frankenmuth’s first brewery and cousins William Knaust and Martin Heubisch opened the Cass River Brewery in 1862, where the Frankenmuth Brewery continues to stand today. This was purchased by Johann Geyer in 1874 and renamed Geyer’s Brothers Brewing, Co. where for the next 112 years, the facility operated under many names, including the Frankenmuth Brewing Company.
Ferdinand Schumacher from Düsseldorf, Germany, purchased the brewery one year before a fire destroyed most of the structure in 1987. The microbrewery continued operation following the ownership acquisition by Randall Heine in 1990, at which time the nation’s second oldest microbrewery was at peak production in 1996, largely due to the popularity of Bad Frog Beer, distributing more than 30,000 barrels of locally produced microbrews across 25 states until tragedy struck in the form of an F3 tornado, causing several millions dollars of damage.
A brewpub opened in 2003 and closed three years later and in 2009 it re-opened under new ownership that has guided this pivotal institution in the Great Lakes Bay to new levels of success as the fifth largest craft brewery in the state of Michigan.
Ryan Buchinger was born from German descendants & raised in Frankenmuth and has served as General Manager at Frankenmuth Brewery for four years. Affable, conscientious, and decidedly on top of the daily operations at this historical landmark, Ryan formerly served as a control manager at the brewery, which is how he met his wife Julie, who’s father also worked at the facility as a former Brew Master. “She’s part German and part Italian and I proposed to her in Venice, Italy,” he relates. “I figured if you’re going to propose to someone go big or go home. She shares my passion for beer and got me excited about it. I graduated from the University of Michigan and also travel every other year as an ambassador visiting our sister city in Düsseldorf.”
When asked about the resurgence of success at The Frankenmuth Brewery, Ryan attributes it to several factors. “I’ve been in the restaurant industry for 18 years now and find that people often focus on trying all thee new things, when all they really need to do is cover the basics well. People are attracted to the fact that we serve excellent food that’s ‘Beer-centric’. Our recipes are prepared with lots of different varieties of beer in it because as Germans, we don’t like to just drink beer, we like to eat is as well.”
“Our food is always a big draw, but the artistry of our beer is pivotal – that’s why it’s called craft beer. We used to do only traditional German beers and have evolved from pilsner to new levels with our various IPA’s and experimental beers, such as a maple syrup porter. We also recently introduced a beer called ‘Twisted Alice’ that has a little lemon and lime added at the end of the brewing process. It’s a perfect one for a hot day on the golf course. We also developed one called ‘The Hot Rocket’ with Jalapeno undertones.”
Recently the brewery expanded their banquet facility last year that now allows them to serve 275 people for any type of special event or meeting and it is the only spot in town offering riverfront dining, beautiful views, and the opportunity to bask in outdoor scenery while dining. They also purchased the old Sam’s Club next to Home Depot on Bay Road in Saginaw two years ago, which they are currently using as a warehouse with plans in the works to turn it into a production brewery.
“We’re growing so quickly that we didn’t have enough space to make as much beer as we need,” explains Ryan. “Our bottled product is currently made out of state, so we want to bring the whole thing back to Saginaw County. Currently we produce around 8-9,000 barrels a year but with the Saginaw opportunity we’ll be able to expand upon that.”
Currently The Frankenmuth Brewery ranks higher than The Bavarian Inn and Zehnder’s in terms of trip-advisory views and Ryan says this is because people are looking for something different. “Michigan is the 5th largest craft brew state in the country and to be the oldest brewery in the State is a big deal,” he reflects. “We spend a lot of time on simple training of our staff, because we don’t want you to come here for just a burger and a beer, we want the customer to come for an experience. Our servers are trained to be tour guides because we have people coming here from all over the world, so we have put together what I call ‘The Frankenmuth Class’ that teaches all our servers about Frankenmuth and the origins of the brewery, so they become experts on local history. When settlers came to establish Frankenmuth the first structure they built was a church and the second was a brewery,” he adds.
Ryan says the brewery prepares about 50 different varieties of craft beers over the course of a year, with their IPA the biggest seller in the market and their American Blonde the biggest seller in the restaurant. With three levels of dining, they are able to accommodate 750 people throughout the entire facility between the Red Sky Room at the top level and the street level restaurant with patio, and the new lower banquet facility.
Amazingly, after the big fire of 1987 destroyed the brewery, one thing that remained was the Beer Cellar. “Germans built beer cellars like bomb cellars,” remarks Ryan, “and its amazing to go down there and think how 153 years ago men and women were standing in the same spot talking about the next beer they were going to create to help support the community.”
“This is why we do tours here every day of the week and never charge a dime for them. We want to share the experience with people.”