Saturday, March 09, 2013

Griffin Claw Brewing Company: “The Beer Is Not a Myth”

Written by  Jeff Priskorn
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Coming Soon Griffin Claw Brewing Company

Two blocks south of the Big Rock Chop House in Birmingham, a glorious 12,000 square foot glass-enclosed structure is arising, though not from the ashes like the mythical phoenix. This new edifice will soon house the entirely unmythical Griffin Claw Brewing Company, the new home of Big Rock’s former brewing operation. Recently, owners Norm & Bonnie LePage and well-known and oft-awarded brewer Dan Rogers hosted a tour of the nascent facility, and it was truly inspiring.
Norm, Bonnie, and Dan have pulled out all the stops in order to make Griffin Claw one of the premiere breweries in Michigan, if not the entire Midwest. Money can buy a lot of pretty things, of course, and Griffin Claw will surely be a gorgeous operation. But without knowledge and passion, it’s not much good. Fortunately, they’ve got all that and more in spades.

Griffin Claw will be primarily a brewery, but there will also be a distilling operation on site. Dan will be making high-end liquors like vodka, gin, whiskey, and rum, along with his celebrated brews. A canning line will be installed, enabling them to can and distribute 16 oz. snapshots of their work throughout Michigan. They will have four standard beers always in distribution, along with a seasonal. Dan prefers cans to bottles for a couple of reasons: the cost, as procuring and storing cans is cheaper than bottling, and his belief that cans are better than bottles for preserving the quality of the beer.

There will be three separate and distinct areas for patrons: a taproom/restaurant with seating for 100, a traditional outdoor German-style biergarten in a gravel-covered yard with seating for about 75 at mostly communal tables, and a 40-seat speakeasy-style taproom for liquor and high-end beer tasting. The main taproom will have 8-10 beers on tap, and a new menu is in development. There will be something for everyone (of drinking age, naturally) at this new gem of the Birmingham Rail District.

For the ground-up construction of the building and the sourcing of brewing and distilling equipment, it was paramount to Norm, Bonnie, and Dan that Michigan resources be used whenever possible. The state-of-the-art 20 bbl brewing system was purchased from Craftwerk Brewing Systems in Lake Orion, and most of the other fixtures are Michigan-based as well. The only exceptions are the canning equipment (purchased from a company whose owner grew up in Birmingham), and the distilling equipment, which will be retrofitted on site.

For an operation of this size, the principals decided to install their own grain silo and milling room, and added an enormous walk-in cooler for storing kegs, cans, and other perishable commodities. And with parking in Birmingham always at a premium, the loading dock was kept at surface level in order to preserve as many parking spaces as possible behind the building.

Dan is excited about the installation of a specialized mash filter tun which will promote water conservation and enable him to brew much more frequently (up to 4 times a day!). It’s a very efficient system and will allow for smaller batches as well. His hope is to brew 5,000 barrels in the first year, with the goal of doubling production in the second year.

Topping off the tour, a specialty beer and food tasting was held at nearby The Reserve, also a LePage property. We had the opportunity to sample nine amazing Belgian beers, including selections from Brasserie d’Achouffe, Dupont, Bosteels, and Liefmans. All had ratings of at least 95 from Rate Beer, so needless to say, it was quite enjoyable. There were also three of Dan’s beers on tap: Berliner Weisse, Saison St. Clair, and Red Rock Flanders Red Ale. The Saison was the best of that style that I’ve tried, and the others were excellent as well. All in all, it was a great way to end the evening.

The planned opening of Griffin Claw is April 2013. And it will definitely be must-see, must-drink territory for craft beer mavens statewide.

Jeff Priskorn

Jeff Priskorn

Jeff Priskorn is a guy who didn’t even like beer until he was 25, which isn’t all that surprising given that the family fridge was stocked with Goebel and Carling Black Label during his tender years. Now an elderly young man, he can finally say that Bud Light is swill and is a proud proselyte to the microbrew world and a loud (and sometimes annoying) advocate for Michigan-made beer. Jeff’s goal is to visit all 100+ Michigan microbreweries and brewpubs, and he’s at least 60% there. In addition to drinking and writing about beer, Jeff is a software guy, actor, voice artist, and musician. Check him out at, come see his band Mad Rabbit (Michigan’s Live Jukebox™) at a bar near you, and sample his fledgling beer blog at