WOW! You guys made our Michigan’s Favorite Stout poll yesterday a nailbiter – it really came down to the last minute! With hundreds of votes counted, the Michigan stout with the most votes, and therefore Michgan’s Favorite Stout is……Right Brain Brewery’s CEO Stout!
Every single stout in our poll could have taken top honors – they are all fantastic. What this really shows is how Right Brain, one of Michigan’s newer breweries, is making really high-quality beer and building a loyal and active fanbase around it. I talked with Leif Kolt, Right Brain’s marketing guy, this morning about taking the title, and what’s going on in the Right Brain world.
Congratulations on being the big winner in our Michigan’s Favorite Stout competition. How do you feel about that? Can you tell us a little about the beer?
We are completely honored to be included on a list of such great and well established breweries. It’s hugely encouraging for the future to see that the people of Michigan like what we’re doing, and especially since we currently only distribute on tap and pour at festivals. It’s amazing to see how many people have heard of our beers in areas where we don’t even distribute, and because of this additional exposure, now even more people will get turned onto CEO.
CEO Stands for Chocolate, Espresso, Oatmeal – the main ingredients in this full bodied and uplifting stout. We take a creamy chocolate-and-oat malt-based stout and infuse it with Brazillian Beija Flor coffee beans, French roasted locally by the Great Northern Roasting Company. Bitter and sweet notes interplay in a surprisingly balanced interpretation of a coffee stout. (And, yes there are trace amounts of caffeine in every pint… your welcome.) As usual anything your tasting in our beers is because we put that ingredient in there, we NEVER use extracts (cause they are for sissies).
Tell me a little about the history of Right Brain. When did you open? Who’s the genius behind it, and what inspired him?
We opened our doors in 2007. Russell Springsteen is the owner and founder. He was the head brewer at the very beginning, and he always finds himself back in the brew house, along with his team of 3 other brewers.
Russell had worked in breweries before, but just prior to opening Right Brain he was busy starting up and running our sister business Salon Saloon. One of his original passions (of many) is hair. So he started the Salon and occasionally had micro-batches of his beer on tap. Shortly thereafter he realized that there was a demand for his brews and sold the salon to current owner, Cecilia Mafonko, and opened Right Brain next door. The businesses have been attached at the hip since then.
What made Russell decide to open his own brewery?
He saw the look people got in their eyes when they tried one of his beers. I think that’s what turns on all beer makers – seeing the reactions to something they created from scratch. However, Russell is also a very smart businessman who listens to his gut, and is adept at seeing opportunities and manifesting that into an end goal.
You recently moved into a brand new space in Traverse City. What made you decide to move?
Shortly after opening our doors in the Warehouse district, we realized that because of space constraints and other limitations of our building, it would be nearly impossible to keep up with demand for our beers, both in the pub and in the market. So, in order to keep our business healthy and growing, we had to do just that. So we grew. Our old space was 3,500 sq feet, our new complex is 36,000. We’ve now expanded almost every aspect of our business and have opened up a lot more possibilities for the future. We also love Sofo! (The Sofo District, South of Fourteenth Street)
What’s awesome about the new space?
Is that a trick question? LOL. Umm… EVERYTHING! We’ve got 10 times the space overall and have tripled our production capacity. There are lots of shiny brand new tanks in our brew house and most everything in our space is custom. We now have room for things we’ve always wanted to do, like a canning line, live music venue, more yeast science, and bigger crazier events. However, above everything else, because of all the improvements in the new building, the quality of our beer has gone through the roof. Obviously that’s our focus and main motivation in everything we do.
We love Traverse City and being part of the community. We work with as many charities and events as we can and have donated thousands of dollars’ worth of brewery tours and tastings to silent auctions across the state. We just finished working with the Zombie Run, which helped raise money for Traverse City’s TART Trail and featured over 1,000 people running through town in Zombie costumes.
Coming up we’re going to be hosting Traverse City’s Art Bomb, an event which gives local artists who wouldn’t normally get into galleries in town, a chance to be able to display their art commission free in a community setting.
Since we’ve opened in SoFo we’ve been taken aback by the amount of neighborhood meetings, birthday parties, and community events that people have been holding here, both organized and impromptu. We hope that as more people become aware of us, that we’ll be known not just for being a brewery and cool place to come hang out, but as a positive force in the community promoting creativity, compassion, and raising the overall quality of life for residents in the surrounding neighborhoods.
The number of breweries in Michigan is exploding. How do you feel about the state of Michigan beer? Are you happy to see all the growth, even if it means more competition?
We love Michigan!!! Besides it being our home, any Right Brain employee will let you know that we think it is THE Beer State. The rampant growth of the craft beer industry has obviously been part of our rapid expansion… the more people who become turned onto craft beer the more things that we can do creatively with our beers and have them be accepted by the general public. It really just expands the bounds of what we can do. For instance, look at what the Wine Trail in Traverse City has done for all the wineries here… it’s only built up the scene and garnered nationwide and worldwide exposure for the area. Brewery expansion in Michigan will only do the same. As far as competition, you’re going to face that in all walks of your life, no matter what you do, and if you’re afraid of competing than you most likely won’t ever win. Besides that, we don’t think there are many other breweries that do exactly what we do here at Right Brain and we’re confident the product speaks for itself.
Let’s talk beer. How many beers is Right Brain making?
Currently we have 21 of our own beers on tap. Eight are our ‘Classics’ and are always on tap. The rest are a rotating barrage of Signature and Premium beers that are always changing. We have space to expand up to 42 taps and we should reach that number sometime next year.
What’s the lineup look like this winter?
We don’t want to spoil too many of the surprises, but one of our winter beers that always comes back is Naughty Girl Stout, brewed with real mint. We also have several new whiskey barrel aged products coming out and a specialty beer mix-ology menu for the true crazies. We’re always coming up with ideas on the fly that we can’t wait to try so I’m sure you’ll see some one-off batches of whatever piques our creativity.
What’s your personal favorite in the Right Brain lineup?
I could say the cop out answer that parents use and tell you that their all my favorite in their own special ways (which they are). I really do love them all. However, I’ll be honest and at any given moment I can feel like one thing is the best and then the next, I move to something on the other end of the spectrum. That’s why I think Right Brain is really special, because at any given moment no matter what your craving, be it hops, fruit, whiskey, veggies, spice, or pig heads, we have a beer just for that mood. I know you’re looking for some beer names here though, so at this point in time, my current addictions have been:
- Steve the Imperial Brown Ale, Aged in Whiskey Barrels, 10% ABV,
- Thai Peanut Amber Ale, Made with Real Peanuts and Thai Spices, 7.2% ABV
- Firestarter Chipotle Porter, Spicy and Malty, Amazing to cook with.
- Mangalitsa Pig Porter, Gold Medal Winner, Great American Beer Festival 2011, One of my longtime favorites.
Anything big we should know about coming up?
We are debuting CEO Stout in 22 oz bottles on Black Friday with a release party at the brewery! We’ll have live music, drink specials, and 100 limited edition packages that come with two bottles of CEO, some of the coffee it was made with, a RBB mug, and some miscellaneous swag.
Another bottle series of specialty brews should be ready sometime in February. Our main goal is to start canning as soon as possible. At this point we can’t say too much about that, except that we will be using cans and we’re very excited to get our product out into the market.
After talking with Leif this morning, I’m absolutely certain that Right Brain not only brews Michigan’s Favorite Stout, but is well on its way to becoming one of Michigan’s most beloved breweries.