Hometown Tourist: Short’s Brewing Production Facility in Elk Rapids

Short’s Brewing Company —you know the name, the logo and there’s a good chance you know the taste. But what about how they make it? It all started in 2002 when Joe Short let the creative juices flow.

“I don’t know if you’ve seen the old Ed Sullivan Show, but there’d be this guy that would come and spin 20 plates while the piano was going la la la la la….That’s what Joe does constantly.” 

Meet Jack, Short’s Dude/Tour Guide. And even as we begin our tour of the Elk Rapids Production Facility, we already know something tasty is happening inside. Spent yeast sprinkles the exterior of the parking lot. 

“It looks like sawdust. Does it taste like sawdust?”

“No it’s more like a porridge…. Like an oatmeal, like a raw grain.”

And their biggest silo holds 72,000 pounds of grain. In the summer it’s refilled every seven days. Brewers punch in the amount they need and then it’s ciphered into the brew house.

Right now there are five brewers working around the clock Monday through Saturday. Every year brewers are required to think up at least one new recipe, but typically they’ll brainstorm six or more each.

“And any rumor out there that says Short’s brewers have to have beards, is not true. Even though we all do right now,” explained Jack.

The grain is pumped into the mash tank with water and brought to about 170 degrees. It’s called “striking the mash.”

Jack walked us through the steps.

“We’re taking the simple starches of the grain, the color, the flavor of the grains and creating a conversion to simple sugars, which is what we want for the fermentation process.”

Then over in the brew kettle they add pellets of hops, which are extremely concentrated and melted down in boiling water.

From there we make way to the cellar room, filled with endless wonders…water ways included.

“This reminds me of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The choco-river. I have no idea what’s actually flowing here, but it’s the Short’s river.”

The yeast is kept happy at 68 degrees for fermentation, basically eating up the sugars to create alcohol.

“Yeast is the last ingredient added until Short’s adds crazy ingredients. The crazy good things that we have,” Jack added.

CO2 adds carbonation, then pasteurized and filtered one more time. And now we have official beer. 

For me, it was obvious in the smell.

“This is the first time that the smell smells like beer to me. I’ve gotten grainy smells like if you’re at a pet store, like dog food. But now it smells like beer.”

360 to 420 cases are packaged every hour. The glass bottles are lifted and filed onto the line where they’re labeled and stamped with date and time.

But the names on the labels…Howlin’ Chinaski, Huma Lupa Licious… I mean, you can’t write this stuff. Or if you can, then who does?

“Anybody whether in Bellaire or here because we have about 125, 130 employees, can come up with an idea. And we’ll all bounce that idea back and forth…It’s pretty cool. It’s a roundabout for creativity, for ideas, its pretty wide open,” Jack answered.

In the final seconds, bottles are rinsed with cold water, topped with CO2 and last but not least, filled with the good stuff.

And though you can’t legally pop a brew here at the plant, there’s still something to take away.

From the tour guide himself, “It’s beer drinking, cider drinking, the appreciation of it, the love of it… Is very Americana. I hope they leave with that idea.”