In the midst of a brewery boom in Northern Michigan, entrepreneur and brewmaster John Niedermaier is hoping to carve out a unique space in the marketplace by pioneering a model borrowed from another popular local industry: wineries.
Niedermaier is the driving force behind Brewery Terra Firma, a new microbrewery located on 10 acres of farmland on the corner of Hartman and Dracka Roads in TC. The nearly complete operation will be the first “farm brewery” in the state of Michigan, using the surrounding land to cultivate crops and ingredients – including berries, herbs, hops, grains, honey and vegetables – that will end up in the company's brews.
Niedermaier says the concept came to him almost 20 years ago, when he was a commercial brewer at the now defunct Traverse Brewing Company in Elk Rapids. The company's bucolic setting inspired him to think about using a farm as a “support mechanism” for a brewery, but his contentment with his position at the time – and with his subsequent position as head brewer at Right Brain Brewery – caused Niedermaier to put off the project.
“People kept asking me, though, when I was going to do my own thing,” he says. “And I couldn't stop thinking about it. Finally, the timing seemed right to go for it. But I knew if I was going to do it, I was only doing it once. And I was doing it right.”
Niedermaier had specific criteria in mind while he went on a nearly year-long search to find the perfect property for his project: It had to sit on at least 10 acres of land, had to have existing buildings or structures on-site, and had to be less than a 15-minute drive from the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce – a spot he pinpointed as the heart of downtown.
“We had almost given up, and then found this place,” he says of his Garfield Township location. The parcel – which used to house a bed-and-breakfast in the 1980s – features multiple structures (including a barn, farmhouse and carriage house), two fields, an artisanal spring-fed pond and a creek.
Niedermaeir is now hard at work, aiming for an early July opening. Construction is nearly complete on the brewery's 2,000 square-foot, 90-capacity taproom, which will feature high ceilings, exposed beams, a finished concrete floor, multiple airy windows, 40 beer faucets and a custom audio system and bar. An energy-efficient heating and cooling system will reroute excess heat produced in the 5,000 square-foot brewing facility into the taproom's floors, heating them in cooler months and reducing energy costs.
In the adjoining facility, Niedermaier is prepping barrels of Manitou Amber Ale and Gladstone APA (American Pale Ale) – formerly two of Traverse Brewing Company's most popular recipes, the rights to which Niedermaier owns – for distribution to local restaurants and bars.
In the taproom, customers will be able to enjoy draft beers and buy growlers or kegs for take-home consumption. Niedermaier is keeping the list of taproom brews “top secret” until the company's opening, but says he has “hundreds of recipes” in his head for possible flavors to try out. The brewery will not have a kitchen, but will offer local snacks and allow customers to bring in outside food.
While the marketplace looks very different now than it did 20 years ago when Niedermaier first dreamed – he was one of the only brewers in the city at the time compared to the dozens operating here now – the entrepreneur is confident his model is as groundbreaking and primed for success as it was then.
“With the amount of attention we've already received as a start-up, I'm not worried about (any possible competition),” he says. “I think there's room for everyone here. We're doing something brand new – and I'm an old hand at the business. If we're smart, grow in a careful way and above all keep in mind that this is about achieving a high quality of life, we're going to be just fine.”