Black graphic; text reads "Midland Brewing Company: Local Spotlight by ZENTX"

As we mentioned a couple weeks ago, we at ZENTX have been trying to find ways to support our fellow small businesses (besides, of course, supplying safety signage to ones in the process of reopening). One of our other approaches is spotlighting some local businesses we’ve worked with in the past, starting last time with SPACE, Inc.

Today, let’s talk about Midland Brewing Company (MBC). As you might guess, it’s located in Midland, Michigan, not too far from where some of the flooding occurred. Fortunately, MBC’s facility wasn’t affected. Many things fall under MBC’s umbrella: a restaurant, a brewery, a distillery, a live music venue, an event space, and more.  One of its leaders, Clark Bickham, was kind enough to explain what ties all that together into one mostly-cohesive whole.

Honoring the History

Midland Brewing Company opened in 2010, but in many ways, its history goes back further than that. According to Clark, MBC’s founders wanted to “connect our passion for brewing craft beer to Midland’s early history — specifically its first 100 years, defined by the lumber, railroad, and beer industries.” That historical slant shows up in unexpected places sometimes.

For example, MBC’s name comes from another Midland Brewing Company, a short-lived brewery that opened in 1935 but fell prey to the Great Depression. Today, the sign outside MBC’s restaurant proudly proclaims: ”Established 1935; Reborn 2010.”

Exterior of a brewery, with an oversize tap handle hanging over the door
The tap handle ZENTX created for the exterior of the Red Keg

Similarly, when MBC opened a distillery next door to the restaurant, they looked to the past for inspiration again. They named it in honor of the Red Keg Saloon, which was Midland’s first saloon when it opened in 1868.  With its firehouse-red, barrel-shaped entryway topped by a oversize tap handle (a past ZENTX project), MBC’s Red Keg is impossible to miss.  It released its first vodka and whiskey in May 2020, and hopes to add gin and spiced rum later this year.

What’s in a (beer’s) name?

MBC has already developed over 100 different beer recipes in-house.  They don’t specialize in any particular type of brew, but according to Clark, “one characteristic we want all our beers to share is harmony. Harmony in beer is something that we (the industry) see getting lost in the excitement of creating a new recipe or substituting ingredients, and when it’s lost that can result in a clash of overwhelming flavors and insufferable aromas.”

The names MBC gives its in-house brews are another nod to history. They’ve created beers named after legendary lumberjacks who once operated near Midland (for example, the Silver Jack Driscoll Russian Imperial Stout, or the Fabian Fournier Peanut Butter Porter). Other beers, like the Copper Harbor Ale, reference places in Michigan.

Some of their most distinctive brews belong to the Smoothie IPA series.  Clark describes them as “New England-style IPAs brewed with lactose and fruits, which add rich aromas and flavors.” Besides their creative flavors, each Smoothie IPA shares another unusual trait: they’re all named after an ’80s song. So far the series includes beers named Thriller, Kokomo, One Night in Bangkok, and Blinded Me with Science. 

Adapting to the Pandemic
Red truck carrying wooden barrels, beneath a mural reading "Midland Brewing Company"
MBC’s Studebaker all ready for an event, beneath a mural ZENTX painted on the restaurant’s exterior

MBC’s restaurant shut down in early March, then began serving customers again through a curbside to-go menu in May.  “We were in a good spot for the transition because of our normally-strict safety and operations procedures,” Clark explains.  “We want our crew, guests, and distributors to feel safe and keep healthy.”

In the meantime, MBC continued to sell a limited selection of its beers in cans. Cans had been part of MBC’s business model already: they sell them in many bottle shops throughout Michigan.  Although MBC also sells cans from the restaurant, they wanted to broaden their reach and make it easier for fans outside Midland to enjoy their signature beers.  Two brews (the Copper Harbor Ale and the Midland Brut IPA) even appear in several east-Michigan Meijer locations.

Since the pandemic began, those cans have been the main outlet for MBC’s fans to support them.  And in fact, Clark reported that “the support from our local community has been tremendous and we cannot thank our good stuff drinkers enough!”

With the loosening of lockdown, MBC has been getting ready to welcome back limited numbers of dine-in customers in June.  “We are really looking forward to being able to share a beer and some laughs again with our friends, but doing so in a way that’s safe for our community and guests,” Clark says.  It’s all part of MBC’s mission to give their community “a historically great experience.”