When it comes to beer, Jerry Tubbs has an unwavering and robust vision. He wants to make no-holds-barred, full-flavored brews.
As owner of Stony Lake Brewing Company, Tubbs has made a name for himself in the local craft beer market with substantial, hop-forward recipes that are highly regarded among aficionados.
“That’s kind of my thing,” he said. “I want to be that guy that does the big beers.”
Tubbs said his hop-heavy varieties are what keep people coming in the door.
“The IPAs are crazy; those are the ones people journey from long distances to have,” he said. “All of my IPAs currently are American IPAs, which are real in-your-face hoppy.”
There are about a half-dozen mainstay hops at Stony Lake that help make the beer what it is.
“I have like 26 recipes,” Tubbs said. “We use probably about 14 or 15 varieties of hops, but within that there’s probably about six that are more mainstream ones, especially since I do a lot of IPAs, a lot of Citra, a lot of Centennial.”
One of Tubbs’ recent creations is called God’s Wrath, a 13.1 percent ABV combination of Simcoe hops and honey that flew out of the taps the last time he made it.
“I brewed it once before and I’ve been harassed to do it again,” he said. “Those kind of IPAs are hard because they really max out my system, so I really kind of push my system to the limit with the amount of grain that I fit in the batches.”
The Brewing Process
On Tuesday morning, Tubbs was in the process of brewing a slightly less intense beer that also sold well the last time he made it.
“So this is a pale ale I call Too Late Pale, and I named it that because it’s all late edition hops. There are no early bittering hops, so even though it’s as hoppy as an IPA it’s all aroma and flavor,” he said, standing over the mash. “There’s no bitterness or bite of a big IPA.”
The portion of the brewing process in which hops are added dictates quite a bit of the taste of the finished product.
“Depending upon the beer, you add hops at different times,” he said. “Hops you add real early give you that bitterness. Hops you add later in the boil give you the aroma and the flavor.”
For Tubbs, brewing days are lengthy days.
“I get in here at about 5:30 in the morning, but I get everything prepped the night before,” he said. “The night before I get everything weighed out and get my water ready, my kettles and stuff. It fires up in the middle of the night so when I come in all the water’s the right temperature.”
Tubbs said he and his wife will then often stay at the taproom until an hour or so after closing in the evening.
“The days that we’re not brewing, we’d probably be getting up about now,” he said, during the 10 a.m. interview. “It feels like we’re back in college as far as our sleep. We used to be early risers and early to bed, but it’s actually kind of nice.”
Tubbs said his son and his son’s girlfriend work weekends, along with another couple, and that gives he and his wife a little rest and time to themselves.
Though the required hours are long, it is easy to see Tubbs enjoys the brewing process. He yields just under 100 gallons of beer per batch,
“I brew two to three days a week,” he said. “It’s actually three barrels, or about 93 gallons, so I get six of these half barrels out of every batch.”
Fermentation then adds at least two weeks until the beer is ready for the taps.
“Typically it takes two weeks, almost exactly 14 days, to ferment completely,” he said. “But since this is a hoppy pale ale, the same with my IPAs, I do what’s called a dry hop. Once it’s about 12 days in and it’s just about done fermenting, I’ll throw hops on top of the fermenter and let it sit there and give it about another five days.”
Ensuring Full Taps
Keeping up with demand for certain sought after beers has taken a bit of adjusting, Tubbs said, but he is getting pretty good now at keeping taps full.
“All my taps move at about the same rate, except the IPAs tend to move a little bit faster,” he said. “What I hadn’t counted on is that if I lose a tap, the other taps ramp up. I’m getting that down a little bit now.”
Tubbs said he might eventually buy a larger brewing system if demand dictates that he do so.
“Maybe what I’ll do eventually if I stay in this location would be to maybe upgrade my system to a larger five or seven barrel system,” he said.
Sticking with a three barrel system for now does have its upside, however.
“One of the advantages to a system like this is that I still brew like I did when I was a home brewer,” he said. “It’s almost like the difference between a boutique restaurant and a big chain restaurant. I’m able to do a lot of small batch stuff and use a lot of the same techniques as when I was a home brewer.”
Tubbs said he has had decent success with ciders as well, and that the wines he brings in are a welcome addition for companions and others who don't happen to be hopheads.
House-made cola, root beer and orange cream soda are a hit with younger visitors.
Beer Business on the Rise
Along with the rise of taproom culture in the state of Michigan, Tubbs said local agriculture is experiencing a corresponding uptick.
Hops have made a comeback in the mitten, and Tubbs said he sources ingredients for his beer locally as often as possible,
“Churchkey Farms over in Deerfield is a new hop farm and they have kind of a unique variety of Cascade that’s really flavorful,” he said, citing their use in his Casacade Amber brew. “Tecumseh Brewing Co. uses some of their hops, too, but it’s just nice to have a local source for it.”
Tubbs said hop farmers in Michigan faced significant hardship early on in the 20th century.
“There used to be a lot of hops growing in Michigan and then there was a mildew back either right before or right after Prohibition and it kind of wiped out all the hops east of the Mississippi,” he said.
Current agricultural methods have abated the concern, but Tubbs said hops are just now once again becoming a viable cash crop in Michigan.
“Now they’re just starting to come back because the Pacific Northwest just took over the market,” he said.
Tubbs likened the trend to the vineyards of coastal Michigan.
“It’s the same way that the wine industry in Michigan has grown over the last 20 years,” he said. “The temperatures and a lot of the same conditions, like that moist air from the lake, are really good for hops.”
Tubbs said it has been interesting to watch firsthand as an additional industry grows in the state: beer tourism.
“On Saturday and Sunday during the day we get a lot of people doing the microbrew circuits,” he said. “You meet a lot of cool people. They keep little logs of all the breweries they visit.”
The coming weekend is no exception.
“This Saturday, we have a bus of 35 people coming,” he said. “We’re their first stop at noon and then I don’t know where they’re going after that, but they said they’d be here a couple hours.”
Some Things Change, Some Stay the Same
There are a few changes on the way for Stony Lake, Tubbs said, which guests will be excited about.
“We’re doing outdoor seating here,” he said. “We got all our approval for the seating out front. This Wednesday it’s scheduled to go to the state, but the state pretty much rubber stamps what the city does.”
Some basic, in-house cuisine may also soon be on the menu.
“This year we’ll probably try to do a little bit of food,” he said. “Probably like cold sandwiches, cheese plates and stuff.”
Currently, Tubbs stocks a full set of local carryout and takeout menus, from which taproom patrons can order food to enjoy with their beer.
While Tubbs offers growlers for take-home beer, he said he does not plan to sell his brews otherwise.
“I really don’t have any aspirations to bottle or distribute,” he said. “It’s pretty much everything we can do to keep up with the beer on the taps.”
Tubbs said he really likes the current vibe of the taproom as well.
“We still don’t have TVs,” he said. “We got a lot of resistance on that at first, but it’s just developed into a real nice community space, everybody’s in here talking and playing games.”
Certain regular events are also highly regarded by customers.
“We’re doing trivia on Monday and Wednesday,” he said. “It’s going really well. A company called Sporcle does it and they do a real nice job. They send a host and handle the whole thing.”
Taking It to the Streets
Outside the taproom, Tubbs said to keep an eye out this summer for Stony Lake beers at a couple of favorite local events.
“We’re going to be in the Ypsi beer fest and we’re going to do the Celtic Festival. They’re giving us a tap,” he said. “At the beer fest I’m going to hit it hard with every one of my huge IPAs.”
Tubbs said he’ll tone it down a bit for latter.
“For the Celtic Festival I’ll be doing a pale ale and some of my lower gravity IPAs,” he said, joking, of course, that he might try to sneak in a heftier IPA.
Stony Lake Brewing Company is open Monday through Wednesday from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday from 3 p.m. to 12 a.m., Saturday from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. and Sunday from 2 p.m. To 8 p.m.
Visit www.stonylakebrewing.com for more information. Tubbs said you can also find the taproom on Facebook.