Latitude 42 hops forward with Portage's first microbrewery

Two kids sighted their future dreams down the road. One on a bike, zipping by a brewery in California, on his way to school, and the other on a stepping stool in his mother’s kitchen, preparing a seven-course Thanksgiving meal for his family at the ripe old age of seven. 
 
Those two boys are today the men who are making Latitude 42 Brewing Company, at 7842 Portage Road in Portage, just north of East Centre Avenue, an instant success. The boy on the bike was Scott Freitas, master brewer, and the boy creating a seven-course dinner was Adam Stacey, executive chef.      
 
Freitas is one of three owners. He co-owns the new brewery with Todd Neumann and Joe Stoddard, previously at Zazio’s in downtown Kalamazoo. That is, the group of founders is in the process of buying the microbrewery from Ruth Stoddard, who has invested in giving her son and his partners a running start.
 
Stacey comes to the pub and restaurant after 25 years as executive chef at Bravo’s, a popular fine dining restaurant in Kalamazoo that in recent years had begun to serve its own beer. Not only was Stacey creating the menu, but he had learned the craft of brewing from a brewing kit he received as a Christmas gift.
 
Stacey laughs. "It’s true. But I learned about quality beer as an army chef for four years in Germany," he says. 
 
"If you go to Europe, there are breweries everywhere," Freitas adds. "It’s all about embracing your local beer. We are going back to the roots."
 
Doors to the new microbrewery open seven days a week, onto 11,000 square feet of space that includes at center a granite-topped bar, surrounded by handcrafted, tulip-wood tables and booths. Inside there is a capacity for 243 people, and the outdoor patio can hold another 90. A private dining room and 14-person brewmaster’s table are available for private parties. And a children’s play corner makes it clear: this is a place for families. 
 
Fifteen barrels glint immense steel sides at the glass-walled north end of the building, where the brew magic happens, producing 14 beers with plenty of room to expand. With 60 new hires on board, plans include yet a few more positions on the production line once licenses are in place. Growlers of beer are also available. 
 
"We are partnering with IHS Distributing Company and plan to be canning our beers for production by September," Freitas says. "We chose cans rather than glass because the cans block light and prevent oxygen leaks that can ruin a good beer, and if you’re enjoying your beer at a sporting event and toss the can, it’s safer than glass. We want to be the product for everywhere."
 
Dreams are at stake here, and the enthusiasm is apparent on both Stacey’s and Freitas’ faces. Stacey initially started as a consultant, but that didn’t last long.
 
"You can’t put your heart and soul into designing a menu and then just step away." Stacey smiles. "It’s always been a dream of mine to open a new restaurant. Previously, I was in fine dining. The menu here, these are the kinds of things I cook at home."
 
The pub menu, Stacey says, includes items "from every continent." Burgers, house-smoked sausages, tacos, grilled steaks, jambalaya, seafood, sandwiches, brick oven pizza and small plates are just a sampling of what’s on the menu, and desserts include smoked pineapple cheesecake, dark chocolate stout cake, apple cinnamon tart, chocolate obsession brownie, Plainwell ice cream, and a beer float for those 21 and older. Staff is happy to suggest pairings of food and beers. 
 
"Our four kids were the taste testers for the kids menu," Freitas says. "We gave them healthy choices and listened to what they liked and put it on the menu."
 
Freitas has been brewing beer for about 20 years, and although he grew up riding his bike past a brewery in California where he later had his first brewery job washing kegs, he honed his brewing skills in the Pacific Northwest, then ran the Maui Brewing Company in Hawaii. 
 
"I like to push the envelope," he chuckles. "I had never been to Portage until I came here to open this place. I like the creative freedom I have here, and it’s a win-win, to have a brewery and a production facility."
 
As for the name of the brewery, Freitas says he came up with it while still in Hawaii, looking at a map of Michigan, and spotting Portage on the latitude line of 42 degrees. Down the road, the road along this same line of latitude, he envisions opening more such breweries. "I wanted a global effect."
 
For now, he wakes in the middle of night with epiphanies of creative new names for his beers: Red Beard’s India Red Ale, Beach Cruiser, Lil’ Sunshine Golden Ale, Old Chin Wig American Strong Ale, Spark Plug Pale Ale, Powerline Porter,  Lilikoi Wheat, Poppin’ Pils, Milk of Amnesia, Mike’s Camaro, Spank Dog Pale Ale, and others. 
 
While Latitude 42 Brewing Company is the first such brewery in Portage, Freitas has made his rounds of other microbreweries in greater Kalamazoo and around Michigan. "I plan my vacations around breweries," he says. "My wife and I enjoy seeing what others are doing. I’m not into competition, no. I like to build good relationships, get feedback. It takes all of us to build an industry."
 
Stacey nods. "I enjoy eating at other restaurants to see what’s out there and to get ideas. We each have our own profile. Each brewery fills its own niche."
 
"We are building for the future," Freitas says. 
 
"And it’s great to have so much support from the community," Stacey says. 
 
The two, along with the rest of the founding team, have been putting in long hours at the new brewery seven days a week, and plan on continuing that schedule for some time yet, making sure their dream has wings. 
 
"I trained four people to take over my position at my previous workplace," Stacey says, his face serious. Then, he smiles, wide, and he is off, sleeves rolled up, to run his kitchen his way.
 
Latitude 42 Brewing Company is open 11 a.m. to midnight, Sunday to Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., Friday and Saturday. Call for reservations or information at 269.459.4242. 
 
Zinta Aistars is creative director for Z Word, LLC, and editor of the literary magazine, The Smoking Poet. She lives on a farm in Hopkins. 
 
Photos by Erik Holladay
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