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But there’s a be-careful-what-you-wish-for aspect to owning a microbrew pub. The work never stops—never. “It’s a full time job being a brewer. It’s a full time job running a restaurant. It’s a full time job running a company,” Short says. “I don’t know how much longer I could have done it if Leah hadn’t come along.” Leah Hannan is his fiancée, and she now runs the restaurant and the books, but will begin pursuing a nursing degree in the fall of 2007. “We’re still trying to find the right formula for running the pub,” Short says.
Leah has, for now, freed him up to focus on brewing, but as this winter night rolls around, it’s clear that brewing itself is actually more than a full time job. About 7 p.m., with a light lake effect snow drifting in the night, Joe hefts a half-dozen 55-gallon drums of spent mash grains into the back of his pickup truck so he can take them to his grandparents’ neighbor’s compost pile. As he steers along the Antrim County back roads, the lights of the dash illuminate his face. Snow blows in the headlights. When he turns in the yard, five deer that had been eating the mash pile bound into the darkness. He empties the drums and heads back to work. He’s quiet. Perhaps thinking about when to add the fruit to the mix when he gets back to the brew house. Perhaps thinking about the benefit concert for breast cancer research that happens tonight in the pub. If things go well in the brew house, he’ll be home by midnight. But tomorrow he has to rise at 4 a.m. to finish some beer tap handles—the wood shop skills still come in handy—that some distributors are clamoring for downstate.
Back in the pub, the evening unfurls. By 10 p.m. Seth and Daisy May are on stage, the second act of a three-act night. Beer drinkers pack the venue, listening to the duo’s wispy ballads of love and loss. The talk of the crowd, the guitars, the vocals, it all drifts down the back hall and settles below into the basement, where Joe Short walks among the tanks in knee-high rubber boots. He sprays the floor. He wipes a smudge. He turns a knob. He checks a gauge. He peers into a tank. …
Jeff Smith is editor of Traverse. email@example.com
Turns out that Brian Confer, the photographer who shot this story, is himself a beer maker and a big fan of the microbrew ideal—independent people expressing themselves through flavors in handcrafted brews. We asked Confer for a quick take on the Short’s Brewing Company lineup.
“Well, you have to be impressed with the incredible range of beers on tap. Most microbrew companies—and Northern Michigan has several good ones—have maybe eight beers. But Short’s has 10 in the standard lineup, a whole bunch of seasonal beers and then there’s the Imperial Beer Series [Imperial beers have nearly twice the alcohol content of traditional beers]. That’s 13 more beers, so more than 30 beers total. That just blows my mind. And some of them have things like tomatoes in the recipe.
“It used to be that microbrewers were all about making the traditional styles—a pale ale, a lager, a porter, so on, and brewers would say, ‘Sure, we’d like to make more inventive beers but nobody would buy them.’ Now they’re still making the traditional styles, but more and more people are also saying, ‘What if we do this? What if we do that?’ Really pushing the boundaries, and Joe is right up there doing that.”
Confer’s favorite? “I don’t really have a favorite, and that’s what I like about Short’s. I can get whatever I’m in the mood for.”