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Posted on Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Cheers! Chelsea Alehouse Brewery will bring Michigan's craft beer history full circle when it opens

By Janet Miller

Chelsea Ale House Chris Martinson in front of window.jpg

Chris Martinson plans to open the Chelsea Alehouse Brewery this month. A glass wall will separate the brewing and drinking areas at the microbrewery.

Janet Miller |

Chris Martinson will reclaim a piece of Chelsea’s history in a couple of weeks when he opens the Chelsea Alehouse Brewery in the Clock Tower Complex on the north edge of downtown.

While it will be Chelsea’s only microbrewery, it won’t be the first. Chelsea hosted the state’s first microbrewery, the short-lived Real Ale Company, in 1982.

While the Real Ale Company was an idea before its time - customers used to Miller Lite, Budweiser and other nationally bottled beers didn’t know what to make of craft beers - Martinson said he’s confident the community is now ready.

“It’s not always best to be the first,” he said. “There was no built-in market.”

Chelsea has a vibrant downtown and microbreweries are in a huge growth phase, Martinson said. “People know who I am. I was at Lowe’s and someone came up to ask me when we were opening.”

He’s banking on the interest. Martinson, a home brewer for almost a decade, raised some capital, quit his day job in the biotech field last spring, found five silent business partners, and took out an SBA-backed bank loan in order to launch Chelsea Alehouse. He spent more than three years researching and planning for the brewpub, and as a father of two young children, Martinson said he’s not a risk-taker.

Chelsea Ale House taps.jpg

The Chelsea Alehouse Brewery plans to have 10 different beers on tap.

Janet Miller |

Chelsea Alehouse will have a soft opening in mid-Decemeber and an official opening at the end of December.

Martinson found space in the McKinley-managed former warehouse of the Chelsea Teddy Bear Company, northeast of the actual Clock Tower. The open space with high ceilings will keep its industrial feel, Martinson said, but a bank of windows was added to bring in light.

The build-out included a wooden bar made from repurposed school bleachers, as well as track lighting, a painted ceiling and a warm brown color scheme.

The brewery is kept separate from the bar and dining space by a wall of framed glass, salvaged from the old Federal Screw Works building in Chelsea.

Martinson was introduced to craft beers in the late 1990s while in college, where housemates competed to see who could bring home the newest microbrew. Craft beer businesses have grown exponentially in the past decade, with Michigan claiming more than 100 microbreweries, Martinson said.

Martinson starting brewing his own beer nine years ago and it wasn’t long before friends were asking for samples. He even brewed beer for friends’ weddings. But his brewing became more than a hobby when he started to inquire around Chelsea to see if a brewpub would be welcome. “My wife (Aubrey) was director of Chelsea Center for the Arts at the time, and knew a lot of people in town. Almost every one of them thought it was a good idea,” Martinson said.

The Chelsea Alehouse’s microbrew state license allows Martinson to serve and bottle his beer, but bottling won’t come until next year, he said. Once he’s at full throttle, he plans to have 10 different ales on tap, which will be rotated seasonally. A small kitchen will produce light fare such as sandwiches, soups and appetizers. He will employ a staff of seven part-timers.

Chelsea Ale House mugs.jpg

An Albion potter made the more than 400 ceramic mugs that will be used by members of the Chelsea Alehouse Brewery.

Janet Miller |

Public interest has been strong, Martinson said. Chelsea Alehouse is selling annual memberships that provide for six gallons of beer to take home, a T-shirt, a ceramic mug and discounts. More than 430 people have signed up, and he’s expecting to reach beyond Chelsea. There are already members from Ann Arbor, Dexter and Manchester.

“People are willing to drive an hour to try out a new brew pub. I’ve done it,” Martinson said.

The Real Ale Company, which was located in the Clock Tower proper, produced a British style beer that was naturally carbonated and reportedly served by British Airways on its U.S.-to-England flights. Martinson likes the idea of starting a microbrewery steps from where the Michigan craft beer craze got its start, he said. “It’s fun bringing the microbrewery back full circle.”



Wed, Dec 12, 2012 : 4:37 p.m.

Will the Alehouse be opening this weekend? If not, do you have an open date so that I can put it on my calendar?


Tue, Dec 11, 2012 : 1:26 a.m.

Memberships are about $150 for a couple. Comes with mug, beer, discounts, t-shirts, etc. Congatulations to Chris and Aubrey on their new venture. Can't wait to warm a chair and kick back a pint or two!!

Lizzy Alfs

Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 8:05 p.m.

Can't wait to try it, Chris!


Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 7:21 p.m.

What a teaser of an article, please give us a firm date. I've been waiting for months for this to open. I just hope & pray his beer is better than GrizzlyArborTractor. We need a Bell's - Short's - Founder's type of quality beer in Washtenaw County.


Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 11:42 p.m.

I'm pretty sure the reason there isn't a firm date mentioned is because it's dependant on when they finish getting everything ready! I work at the Teddy Bear Factory and they've been working daily for weeks. We can smell that beers are brewing, and we can see more finishing touches to the building every say! Sign up for their email list so you get the announcement when they send it!

Rob Burg

Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 5:23 p.m.

I am looking forward to the return of craft brewing to my hometown and to have a pint or two when I am home at Christmas. The owner of the Chelsea Real Ale Company lived behind us on the other side of the block when I was growing up (I was only 12 or 13 when it was in town). They made two styles: an Amber Ale and a Porter. In fact the owner had an airdale named "Porter", which is how I remember them. If I recall, the company moved to Ann Arbor, but that too did not help them breaking into the beer market and eventually went out of business. Here is hoping Chelsea Alehouse has a longer history!

sun runner

Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 2:07 p.m.

I met Chris at the Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival in 2009 when he was walking around wearing a T shirt that read, "Does Chelsea need a microbrewery?" I ran up and said, "YES!" I live in Chelsea, so this is a dream come true. I can walk to the brewery from my house in eight minutes. My birthday is at the end of December and I can't wait to have a birthday pint in my mug at the brewery!


Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 1:11 p.m.

I'm getting thirsty just reading the article!


Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 1:05 p.m.

Great news, best of luck! I'll be down to join ASAP!


Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 11:47 a.m.

Good luck to them, can't wait to try it out! There isn't any mention of the price for the annual membership, does anyone know how much?

Ryan Vis

Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 1:11 p.m.

I believe memberships were in the $150/yr range ($180 for a couple). You can't purchase them online any longer, but they are/will be sold at the brewery.