Rise of the Red Salamander

Brewing aficionado and Grand Ledge businessman Karl Glarner will be the first to tell you that, when it comes to crafting a crisp India pale ale, rich dark-chocolate porter or tangy raspberry wheat beer, timing is a key ingredient for success.

Glarner will also tell you that timing is the essence of most successful business endeavors, and it's how he reached his goal of opening a 10,000 square foot brewpub in Grand Ledge, MI.

Home for Home Brew

Businesses like to harp on the old “location, location, location” adage, which is why Glarner’s putting his pub in a—church?

Glarner and long time business partner, Tolin Annis, recently purchased the former Trinity Covenant Church building, located at 902 E. Saginaw Highway, for the pub. The cool, old red brick building is undergoing renovations that will allow it house not only Grand Ledge’s new brewpub, but also Glarner’s other business: the well-established brewing supply store known as the Red Salamander.

Glarner moved the Red Salamander into the church’s basement in September of last year.

“The Red Salamander caters to people who like to make their own beer,” Glarner says. “We carry all of the supplies and ingredients needed to pursue this hobby. We’ve also expanded the wine and cigar selections, and are now looking to get into supplies needed to keg beer.”

The Red Salamander has been a top choice for home brewing enthusiasts across Michigan since 1997. It not only supplies local brewers but, since the advent of the Internet, does a booming mail order business as well, adding another component to Glarner’s ever-expanding beer breadth.

Glarner grew up in Lansing and has lived in the Capital region most of his life. He owned two other businesses before opening the Red Salamander—an autographed collectables company, and a screen printing shop in Olivet.

He also worked as a technical support person for a Lansing Internet service provider that was later sold to ACDnet.

It was during this period of his life that Glarner started getting into his home brewing hobby. When he and his wife married, they were looking for an affordable home with a nice backyard.

During their search for the perfect place to live, they stumbled upon a quaint, little town a few minutes west of Lansing called Grand Ledge.

“Grand Ledge just grew on me,” Glarner says. “It’s a nice, quiet little town.”

Grand Ledge is also where Karl Glarner met up with a group of other home brewing enthusiasts and joined the Red Ledge Brewers Club.

There are many home brewing clubs like the Red Ledge Brewers all over Michigan. These clubs are formed by craft beer fans to foster a better understanding of their craft, swap recipes and put on events like the free beer-making classes Glarner sponsors to promote his home brewing supply store.

The Business of Craft Beer

Craft beer has become big business in Michigan. Today, there are close to 100 brewpubs successfully operating throughout the State. And that number continues to rise.

Many of these pubs are thriving in small towns like Webberville, Ludington and Alpena, which is why Glarner feels Grand Ledge is a perfect fit for his proposed brewpub.

“Everybody enjoys a night out, regardless of the economic times,” Glarner says. “I think it is a valid business concept. Plus, a brewery and pub like this will end up creating 12 to 24 new local jobs in the form of wait staff, hopefully a cook or two, people to work in the brewery and some office jobs.”

If you want proof of exactly how big the business has grown in the state, just swing the Summer Beer Fest held in Ypsilanti every July, or the Winter Beer Fest scheduled for February 29 at the Fifth Third ballpark in Grand Rapids.

The popular winter festival moved to Grand Rapids after it outgrew the Old Town Lansing location where it was held in 2006 and 2007, according to the Michigan Brewer's guild.

People who enjoy and purchase craft beer are not afraid to travel a little for the experience. In addition to festivals, many fans will plan weekend-long visits to brewpubs all over the state.

Brewpubs have become destinations in their own right, although it never hurts to have a population center like Lansing nearby.

“One niche that our proposed Grand Ledge brew pub will fill is everything will be Michigan-made,” says Glarner.

“Our plan is to keep things as local as possible. Michigan shines nationwide in the quality of its beer, so we are going to not only carry our own beers, but maybe 25 to 50 taps of other Michigan-made beers as well as wines made in Michigan. We have to support Michigan as much as we can. We’re not bailing or turning out the lights. We’re going to stay here and make it work.”

Glarner says he hopes to have the brewpub up and running by June.

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Rick Steele is a local freelance writer who has written for many local and regional publications. This is his first article for Capital Gains. He can be reached here

Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.


Karl Glarner on bags of beer making grains (with a great beer of course)

The future home of Karl's brewpub

Cigars fill the humidor

Pint glasses with the store's logo

Cooler full of fine hops

All Photographs © Dave Trumpie

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