The Wolverine State Brewing Company Brewery and Taproom, housed in the back half of the original Big George’s building, had promised an opening last summer. Like most new businesses, especially those involving food or drink, the process went more slowly than anticipated. By early November, with most of the football season gone, the owners were getting anxious as they awaited the final inspection. The location had been chosen in part because it’s within walking distance of Michigan Stadium, and they had begun promising people it would be open for the November 6 Illinois game. Finally, at 2:59 p.m. on November 4, E.T. Crowe was able to send out a jubilant text message to 75 people, saying: “We are official!! Open tomorrow noon. Spread the word!!!”
Though Crowe is the company’s sales and marketing director, she declines to suggest a shorter alternative to the multisyllabic legal name—”Westsiders will come up with something,” she predicts. Also known as the “Beer Wench,” after a blog she writes, she’s the highly vocal and rambunctious member of a quartet who have already been selling a bottled beer, Wolverine Premium Lager, for several years now. The other partners are Matt Roy, the finance director; and Trevor Thrall, who now lives elsewhere. The head brewer is Oliver Roberts (“Don’t say brewmaster,” cautions Crowe, “it will get us in trouble with the purists”). Roy’s father, Earl Roy, was the contractor responsible for turning the old scratch and dent room of Big George’s into an inviting, clean-lined pub that seats 95, complete with dartboards, foosball, and tables inlaid with Michigan nautical maps. “We call him the Captain,” says Crowe of the unflappable retired engineer, who still plays hockey and Canadian fiddle tunes.
Oliver Roberts, twenty-eight, like many other local brewers, passed through the unofficial Grizzly Peak University (Jolly Pumpkin’s Ron Jeffries and the Blue Tractor’s Tim Schmidt both got their starts there). Roberts grew up in Ann Arbor and says his father gave him his first brewing kit for his nineteenth birthday, not so much because he was interested in beer at that point (“never had a beer until I was twenty-one,” he says with a choirboy smile), but because as a child he’d been fascinated by the art on the labels. He spent some time at WMU in Kalamazoo, and then was accepted into Oregon State University’s renowned fermentation science program, but “after three months of taking chemistry classes, I decided I just wanted to brew beer.” He eventually came back to Ann Arbor and fell in with the growing craft beer movement—according to Crowe, the city has more brewpubs per capita than any other place in Michigan.
Currently Roberts has seven varieties on offer, most of them the lagers Wolverine has decided to specialize in. Lagers, beer aficionados will know, are cold fermented and take longer to produce than ales, but like ales can be engineered to taste anywhere from hoppy and astringent to deep and mellow. The beer menu written on the chalkboard above the bar is a complicated table, listing short descriptions, alcohol percentages (which range from 3.7 to 6.9), and something called IBUs, or international bitterness units, from 15 to 67 (“Mention it!” urges Crowe. “Beer geeks will get it”). After Wolverine Premium Lager, the names get more fanciful: The Wench’s West Side Wheat, Insolent Mink, Gulo Gulo Northwest, Pride of Biscuitville.
The Taproom is emphatically not a restaurant (and there’s no wine or liquor either, though there’s a small selection of soft drinks). You can buy what are somewhat unappetizingly known in the trade as “dry snacks,” like popcorn and pretzels, and Crowe is heartily encouraging customers to order out. “I’ve got menus for Gourmet Garden, Happy Wok, Little Caesars, Hungry Howie’s, and Cottage Inn. You call, you pay, someone comes to the door and says, ‘Hey who ordered the triple pepperoni whatever.'”
Wolverine State Brewing Company Brewery and Taproom, 2019 W. Stadium, 369–2990. Mon.–Thurs. 3–11 p.m., Fri. & Sat. noon–midnight, Sun. noon–5 p.m. wolverinebeer.com