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Posted on Tue, Oct 19, 2010 : 2:47 p.m.

Arbor Brewing Co. adds beer production, plans 'green' building conversion and India franchise

By Sven Gustafson


Matt and Rene Greff opened the Corner Brewery in Ypsilanti in 2006. They now plan to turn the building - and their Arbor Brewing Co. in Ann Arbor - into 'green' building showcases. files

With business bubbling, Arbor Brewing Co. is accelerating plans to expand production and debut three new bottled beers in 2011 while undertaking an ambitious plan to overhaul its namesake Ann Arbor brewpub and Corner Brewery in Ypsilanti into green-energy showpieces.

The company, which recently marked its 15th birthday, is also working on a joint venture agreement to open its first franchise brewpub in Bangalore, India.

“There’s a lot going on right now,” co-owner Matt Greff said.

That may be an understatement.

Greff and his wife and business partner, Rene, plan to spend between $250,000 and $300,000 on the expansion projects, which involve doubling output at the Corner Brewery, where bottling is done, and retrofitting both brewpubs with a hybrid solar thermal and geothermal heating and cooling system.

arborbrew3.jpg files

With cumulative year-over-year sales up 35 percent and the brewery struggling to meet demand, the couple had already been toying with the idea of expanding.

They talked about removing a walk-in cooler at the Corner Brewery to make room for more tanks and building a 1,800 square-foot cold storage unit behind the beer garden to hold bigger inventories. But the project probably wouldn’t take shape until some time next year, they thought.

Then Matt learned of an “extremely nice, very affordable” bottling line that Founders Brewing Co., the Grand Rapids microbrewery, planned to sell as part of its own expansion project.

The bottling line, which has a capacity of 30,000 barrels, would easily allow Arbor Brewing to double production from 3,500 barrels per year to 7,000, and it would allow the brewery to bottle four times faster than under the current system. But Greff said the Founders owners plan to decommission the line in January, which put the crunch on their expansion plans.

“It kind of happened really quickly,” Greff said.

“Ideally, if we can really pull a lot of things together, we would like to have the new storage unit in place, or at least the foundation for it, in place by the middle of November. Any my goal is to have the bottling line up and running and the expansion complete by March or April of next year, because that’s really getting into our busy season.”

Arbor Brewing plans to release three new bottled beers in 2011:

  • The brewpub’s popular Faricy Fest Irish Stout will be in distribution from January through March.
  • Dark Corner, a beer made jointly with Dark Horse Brewery Co., will be available starting April 1, with half of each six pack made at the Corner and half made at Dark Horse in Marshall. Greff describes the beer as an imperial American brown ale with aggressive hops and malt flavoring and nearly 7.5 percent alcohol content.
  • The Mackinac Island Fudge Stout, a light-bodied, full-flavored and low-alcohol stout made with fudge and chocolate, will be available June through August.
  • A green energy showpiece

    For the green-energy makeover, the Greffs are working with Tartan Energy Systems, a Birmingham firm run by Roman Bukowinski, an award-winning Scottish-born engineer who has developed sustainable energy systems for homes and buildings. (View a video of him explaining his work here.)

    Bukowinski described a closed-loop system that relies on solar thermal tubes and tanks, tankless water heaters, geothermal wells and waste heat recovery vents. It will be the first project he’s undertaken for a brewery, he said, though he has installed similar systems for buildings and homes.


    Arbor Brewing Co. just celebrated its 15th anniversary at 114 East Washington Street in downtown Ann Arbor. files

    “This system will increase the volume of beer made while reducing the cost to make the beer by more than half,” Bukowinski said in an e-mail.

    “The beer storage cooler will also use the ground water temperature to cool the beer at around 49-55 (degrees) F. This will reduce the brewery's utility bills by more than 50 percent.”

    Greff said the city of Ann Arbor is looking at funding low-interest loans for similar clean energy projects. He plans to meet with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to pitch ABC as the first showpiece for the program.

    At the Corner, the idea is to replace a massive boiler used to heat the entire brewery, the various kettles and find alternative ways to boil beer, heat the brewery and water, run the bottling line and so forth. The new cold-storage facility would use geothermal cooling and solar light tubes.

    Beers in Bangalore

    The Greffs say they aren’t too worried about spreading themselves too thin, despite all the different pieces in the air. The energy project will share a project design and contractors, and the expansion project is fairly simple.

    “The curve ball thrown in there is obviously the project in India,” Greff said. “We’ll just have to really work on the timing to make sure that these projects are complete, they’re well in hand before we head over to India for two months to get the brewery open over there.”

    The deal with Gaurav Sikka, a University of Michigan graduate and former Arbor brewpub regular, will see the Greffs retain a 5 percent ownership stake in Arbor Brewing Co. India Ltd. The Greffs will also serve as consultants on the project, with audit controls for beer recipes and quality.

    “It’s really their company, their project,” Greff said. “We’ve got very strong stipulations in the contract that all of our mores and business ethos need to be followed.”

    If all goes well, the business could be franchised elsewhere in India.

    “There’s a million different things going on for us in a lot of different directions but it all feels really natural, like it was a natural progression of things,” Greff said. “It feels great.”

    • Contact Sven Gustafson at sventg123 (at) gmail (dot) com, or follow him at



    Wed, Oct 20, 2010 : 11:01 a.m.

    Renee, please, I just ate at ABC last night, I know it could be hard but the smokers stand right outside the door so you have to enter and exit through the smoke cloud :( encourage them to stand in the alley with the other stinky smells.

    Sven Gustafson

    Wed, Oct 20, 2010 : 10:15 a.m.

    @David, nice job on your story as well. The spelling of Gaurav Dollars's name has been corrected.


    Wed, Oct 20, 2010 : 9:17 a.m.

    Great to hear that ABC is going to more energy efficient. Watched the video from Roman Bukowinski of Tartan Energy Systems. In his video he does NOT come off as especially knowledgeable of the totality of his installations. For example, he talks about capturing the exhaust heat of the carbon monoxide exhaust from his gas fired tankless water heater. Water heaters don't create any or perhaps minuscule amounts of carbon monoxide. If creating CO, they are burning extremely inefficiently. And are hazardous. All I can say to ABC is vet your green energy contractors carefully. There are good quality smaller contractors with decades of experience available locally.


    Wed, Oct 20, 2010 : 7:58 a.m.

    Beer is good,that is whey God made it. @ atticus: But if I did not feel proud of my "views" they I would certainly conceal my identity.

    rusty shackelford

    Wed, Oct 20, 2010 : 7:25 a.m.

    Hey Patti, I'll watch out for your beer! Actually, their experimentation is one of my favorite things about ABC. I mainly don't like the practice of actually dumping food materials in a brew (as opposed to evoking those tasting notes through malts, etc).

    David Bardallis

    Wed, Oct 20, 2010 : 7:18 a.m.

    Great article, Sven, and definitely exciting news. I have more details on the India franchise in an article today:


    Wed, Oct 20, 2010 : 7:14 a.m.

    Good news all around! But...but...I thought all businesses were holding off due to "instability" in the tax codes and the new health insurance rules? Maybe the Greffs are some of the few business owners that can read tax code and understand upcoming changes in insurance? Perhaps they should hold a conference for the FOXxy businesses that use these excuses to prop up stock prices instead of investing and growing their businesses to create jobs? And Green Tech? We all know that it is a waste of money and useless technology! Communism, that's what it is! Oh, well, even though they are bucking the Establishment and TP reality, I will continue to visit AB, and enjoy Sacred Cow.


    Wed, Oct 20, 2010 : 7 a.m.

    GO GO GO!! Matt and Rene, keep going! Whoot - this sounds like solid planning AND great fun.

    Hot Sam

    Wed, Oct 20, 2010 : 6:37 a.m.

    My job enables me to sample brewpubs all over Michigan and Indiana. Michigan is in the top five in awards won for our beers. The Sacred Cow IPA on the hand-pump is the best of the best! Keep up the good work!!!

    Patti Smith

    Tue, Oct 19, 2010 : 8:09 p.m.

    Atticus, I second (third?) the suggestion that you try again. I've never had a bad time there. I've also never had anything but love at the Corner for that matter. If I'm there and you recognize me, please say "hi" Rusty, the novelty beers aren't for everyone and there have been a few "misses" for me (and I know and love beer). The Rat Pads are cool because they give homebrewers a chance to try their own recipe or a "weird" recipe in small batch form. Nevertheless, I hope that you (and others) will try the Rat Pad that my husband and I made in honor of our 10th anniversary...hopefully will be out in November :)


    Tue, Oct 19, 2010 : 5:01 p.m.

    This city definately needs more backyard beer gardens like the Corner's. How about bottling the Ypsy Gypsy?

    Atticus F.

    Tue, Oct 19, 2010 : 3:57 p.m.

    Mark, because of my strong beliefs I choose to remain anonymous. I just think that I would rather keep my oppinions private from my coworkers. If you want the world to know your private thoughts, or what your children look like, that is certainly your right. But I would never broadcast my name or photos of my children on a public forum.


    Tue, Oct 19, 2010 : 3:44 p.m.

    You know Atticus, your allegations of failed customer service might have some more weight to them if they were made by an actual person, rather than a quaint alias. I have been to the Corner Brewery. I have experienced good customer service. And people know where to find me.

    Atticus F.

    Tue, Oct 19, 2010 : 3:25 p.m.

    Good to know rusty. I might give them another try.

    rusty shackelford

    Tue, Oct 19, 2010 : 3:17 p.m.

    Atticus--I've always had great service there (been going less than 2 years)--I suggest you try it again. Turnover in the food industry being what it is, I imagine the bad folks are gone and they have good staff now. They also made their food menu a lot better in response to Jolly Pumpkin's "gourmet bar food" schtick.

    Atticus F.

    Tue, Oct 19, 2010 : 2:50 p.m.

    They do have great beer. On a side note... Worst Service Ever!!! We waited almost an hour for 2 burgers. Then upon discovering that my order was wrong, I sat there for another 30 minutes with food I didn't order sitting in front of me, waiting for a server to check up on me. That was 2 years ago, and I haven't been back.


    Tue, Oct 19, 2010 : 2:48 p.m.

    These are two great people who care deeply about their community. Add to that their beer making skills and it's almost too good to believe. If only green were blue...sigh. @rusty: My SO loves the Mackinac Island Fudge, but she's just working her way to to IPAs at this point;-)

    Patti Smith

    Tue, Oct 19, 2010 : 2:46 p.m.

    Congrats to great people! Looking forward to spending many more hours at ABC or the Corner :)

    Top Cat

    Tue, Oct 19, 2010 : 2:31 p.m.

    They are creative brewers, smart business people and good citizens of the community. The return of their Dark Corner beer makes 2011 a great year already.

    rusty shackelford

    Tue, Oct 19, 2010 : 2:20 p.m.

    Good for y'all. Most of your beers are great but forget about these cilantro and fudge etc novelty beers. It's just wacky and they're not good.


    Tue, Oct 19, 2010 : 2:17 p.m.

    Any story about Matt and Rene Greff is invariably positive. It is so nice to see them do things the right way and prosper in doing so. They really are great for Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. I have no doubt that their plans will succeed.