Creston Brewery: Community-Inspired
Opened in August 2016, Creston Brewery is planting an impression on their neighborhood. Rooted in a commitment to their community and all things local, Creston has transformed an old furniture showroom and warehouse into a welcomed destination for the northeast side of Grand Rapids.
Co-owned by Scott Schultz, Brewmaster, his wife Molly Bouwsma-Schultz, Vince Lambert, CFO, and his wife Cailin Kelly, and bonded by their friendship, Creston has already established itself as an inclusive taproom, inviting both dedicated locals and the craft curious.
I sat down with Jarrod Napierkowski, General Manager, and Andrea Bumstead, Sales and Events Manager, who kept generously feeding me beers, to talk about what it means to be a new brewery growing up in front of their neighbors.
Editor’s note: After this interview was conducted, Schultz tipped us off that they’re getting ready to release a brand new beer, and their first lager ever—Creston Lager, on Sat, April 22 in celebration of Earth Day—made exclusively with all Michigan ingredients. Since we kinda dig our planet (and The Mitten State) too, we asked him to tell us more about this day of firsts.
Scott Schultz: Creston Lager, at 4.7%, is brewed with water from Lake Michigan, malts from Pilot Malt House, and hops from West Michigan Hopyards and Michigan Hop Alliance. It’s my idea of a perfect beer: easy to drink, hugely flavorful, and supports the growers of damn fine ingredients in our great state. Earth Day is the perfect day to celebrate that. Basically, it’s the lager that AB-InBev could never brew.
Mittenbrew : Thanks for keepin’ it real, Scott. Can you break down the profile a little more?
SS: It’s a loose hybrid of a pils and a marzen. The menu description could read: Pale yellow with medium body, low bitterness. Bready, toasty, and with a citrus-dominated flavor and aroma from Nugget, Cascade, Chinook, and Crystal hops. Clean, crisp, and complex.
Ok, I’m sold. So, Creston’s first lager?
SS: Yeah. It’s our first time brewing it, too. We always have a house yeast strain for mainstays, but switch specialty yeast strains with the season. Spring is lager season. The ingredients perfectly showcase how good we have it in MI—as far as quality, availability, and affordability. I designed the brew system to easily handle lagers, and this beer gets an extra-long conditioning process to be as clean and crisp as possible.
What are your plans for its release?
SS: We tap it on Earth Day, and will have collectible Creston Lager glassware. It’ll be available to-go in crowlers and growlers as well. We’ll also be debuting our outdoor patio, unveiling all new awesome local art on the taproom walls, have brunch and dinner features, and the first-ever taproom performance from indie-soul band, Vox Vidorra. Stay tuned to Creston’s website for more details to be announced soon.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled interview…
What was the motivation for opening a brewery?
Jarrod Napierkowski: Molly and Cailin were friends first, who both knew Scott and Vince, who had never met, shared the same goal of wanting to open their own brewery. After telling them, “You guys have to meet. You’ve got to be friends,” both couples ended up sitting around a campfire over beers together. Scott, already a professional brewer, and Vince, a finance whiz, asked each other, “What do we have to do to make this happen?” Before they knew it, they were looking at our building.
How did Scott and Vince want to position their brewery compared to the others in Grand Rapids?
Andrea Bumstead: I feel with Scott’s experience in the industry, he seemed like he just automatically wanted to do things differently. Scott’s idea from the very beginning was that he wanted to brand everything with its own identity. He wanted to brew beers that weren’t necessarily true to style, but brewed to flavor first in such a way that their guests could identify with the beer as a whole experience.
JN: Part of it was the opportunity to bring this incredible building to life, and exposing the other side of the beer industry—the femininity and beauty behind brewing beer and operating a brewery. They were tired of seeing all these breweries that were metal and wood and raw—man caves by default. With the building and the beer, they wanted to express the natural beauty that is everything this industry can do.
Did either of the wives have any input on honing in on that femininity?
JN: Absolutely. They’ve been very hands-on, integral in the dialogue—exchanging advice with Scott and Vince. All four of them work in a cohesive partnership to create this thing, including building our team of employees as well. They give everyone a voice, and are very receptive when there are things we want to see happen. I really think Molly and Cailin helped build this as much as Scott and Vince did—they all came to the table with complementing skillsets.
There’s an gentle uniqueness to the ambiance of the building. What was it, in particular, that made them commit to this location? Was it the building or the neighborhood?
JN: I think it goes beyond both. This actually wasn’t the first place they looked at. The most important thing I sensed was the vibe and feeling of what went into the dream to do something for a community. Originally, they had planned on being across town on Wealthy Street, and that fell through, but it didn’t disrupt their vision to open a brewery that focuses on the community, that makes the people in the community feel valued. All of that intention just transferred naturally to Creston. The goal of everyone here has been to bring up this community, and to make the brewery feel like we’re a part of it.
Assuming all things went well when the brewery opened, it would become an anchor destination in the community, so what came first—the brewery impacting the community or vice versa?
AB: Our neighbors have been very supportive. In the very beginning, it was difficult to do as much outreach as we had intended, but that’s only because everyone was working so hard to get us up and running. Since, I’d like to think that we’ve had a very positive effect on the neighborhood. Once a month, we host community workshop events either at the brewery or on location outside to help better the community, which have been really well received.
Were there any concepts you tried to implement at the beginning that looked good on paper, but didn’t get the traction you had hoped?
JN: The biggest challenge so far has been coming to the realization that we can’t take our entire staff out of the brewery to clean the parks or plant trees for an entire day. Business has been so good that many of us need to hold down the fort here. So, in order to have active interactions with the community, we’ve had to scale back our efforts just a bit, or be a little more creative while still being meaningful. We donate proceeds from events to local charities, and we employ people from Grand Rapids Urban League when we need extra hands out there. If there’s something we want to do, we find a way to make it happen, even if we have to do it in incremental steps to make the larger dream come true.
How have you accomplished that with the Creston Crew?
AB: Similar to the concept of a “mug club,” Creston Crew goes way beyond just getting a traditional discount on a beer. Members can actually choose their own day of the week, Sunday-Thursday, to take advantage of the Crew’s benefits. And, even if you come in and it’s not your day, you still get taken care of. We send out a monthly Crews News email newsletter to keep our members informed about what’s coming up, how they can get involved at events, and even what they missed since the previous month. To a certain degree, we put some of the onus on the members, too, to participate and take some ownership of their community, too.
Let’s talk about the beer. Why did Scott’s vision for the beer program resist a true-to-style portfolio?
JN: He knew he wanted to get close, but more than anything else—he wanted to be ingredient-driven. When we were first conceptualizing the brewery, we all talked together about how to best represent the beers. So, rather than beers with descriptions limited exclusively to style, we developed a custom scale to quantify Scott’s vision.
Editor: The Creston Brewery Beer Scale, designed in the shape of the letter C, expresses the following characteristics of each of their beers: color via Standard Reference Method (SRM), malt, bitterness, and hoppiness. In the middle of the C, the centerpiece of the scale, is a simple icon to indicate the beer’s “primary flavor and aroma” or to highlight a unique ingredient. Visit to see it applied on their menu. It’s clever.
For craft beer novices, how do you think the Creston Brewery Beer Scale has contributed to people interacting with you?
JN: It’s a way to help people visually recognize what they may (or may not) like in a particular beer, with the hope that they’ll seek out others based on their preference. We wanted to re-teach people how they learn about beer.
AB: The scale has also been a really nice way for our servers and bartenders to engage with our customers. It’s been an intriguing aspect of the guest experience so far.
JN: It’s also a great way level the playing field for people who may just want a beer. It helps eliminate the intimidation factor.
AB: Maybe half of the people who visit us don’t know much about beer. They come in for dinner with their family or friends, and with the Scale, we’re able to guide them on their discovery. We also get a ton of people who want to get their Brewsader Passport stamped, who end up hanging out a little longer to study what we do because of the Scale.
JN: People definitely seem to connect with the culture here. From the building, to the staff, to the beers, its menu, and to the food—we provide this nice little starter pack for people looking to explore what craft beer is all about.
As the sole brewer, what challenges, or successes, has Scott experienced?
JN: Having worked at Founders for 4 years, Scott witnessed them struggle if they wanted to go local for ingredients. They couldn’t do it because of the sheer volume they did. The nice thing here is that Scott can do that on a smaller scale, so he really focuses on that. If it’s not Grand Rapids local, it’s Michigan local. Whenever possible.
How has your draft list evolved since you opened?
JN: We started with about a dozen, and now we’re consistently at having 20 on.
What are your plans for distribution?
AB: On pace to do 1,000 barrels per year, it’s all self-distribution at this point. We’re currently on at 12 accounts between Grand Rapids and Lansing, and that’s all just happened within the last month.
Do Scott and Vince have intentional plans to increase volume or expand distribution?
AB: There’s always a plan. As long as things are growing organically and the best way possible. With all of us moving toward the same positive goal, then slowly or quickly we’ll get to where we’re supposed to be. It’s a matter of just dipping our toe in right now to gauge how we’re received. If the growth is steady and healthy, we estimate we might need to move beyond self-distributing by summer 2018.
JN: Fortunately, we’re set up in this building with the opportunity to expand our brewing operations footprint if we need to increase production. But, if you jump the gun too much, you won’t be able to fill your own shoes.
In addition to the draft list growing over the last couple months, I’ve noticed that the food menu has done the same. It’s pretty eclectic, Mexican-inspired. How come?
JN: Scott and Vince knew they definitely wanted to have a full-service kitchen, and liked the idea of tacos, burritos, empanadas… We hired our chef, Dan Cook, formerly of The Gilmore Collection, to come in and push the limits of the original menu’s vision, which he’s done. He experiments with features regularly, creating dishes that you wouldn’t expect from a brewery—often inspired by ideas Vince and Cailin bring back from their international travels. And, Dan does an amazing job bringing those cultural inspirations to life, sourcing his ingredients from a number of MI farms and farmers markets.
Creston seems like a welcoming community for artists. It sounds like you’ve also started to scratch the surface by hosting live music, too?
AB: Molly actually curates all the artwork that’s on the walls, refreshing it every 3-4 months, showcasing different Grand Rapids artists. And, we’ve started with hosting live music. The current plan is to feature them weekly, stripped down acoustically. And, it’ll be in the round, staged in the middle of the dining room floor.
JN: We’re also hosting live comedy nights, a rotating lineup of local DJs spinning vinyl, and guest speakers doing interactive spoken word. It’s going to be a really nice, engaging environment for anyone who enjoys our beer, our food, or the building’s ambiance.
Final last words?
JN: Although we’ve already touched on it, we’re just excited at the opportunity to create something the neighborhood needs. Regardless of where our growth takes us, whether that includes expansion, it’s important to us that we continue to contribute to developing this community, making the entire area thrive as much as it deserves.
All photos courtesy of Steph Harding, MittenBrew