The Kalamazoo craft beer industry is welcoming a new kid in town, or at least back to town, as Mark Rupert, owner of Rupert's Brew House recently moved back to his childhood stomping grounds and is inching his way toward opening his business.
Located in the building that previously housed The Strutt, Dino's, and Boogie Records, Rupert's will pay homage to all of the good times, music and people that have made the corner of Michigan and Academy one of the city's funkiest night spots for the past two decades.
"I love music, I love beer and I love people," Rupert says. "I've always been the kind of person who doesn't have an issue meeting and having fun with people. That's the environment I want."
The 34-year-old brewer also wants to craft some of the area's most original and creative beers.
"We're going to have nine taps including one that will be a nitrogen tap for stouts. It gives it the nice frothy beautiful head," Rupert says. "We've had a lot of success doing small batches. Right now we're experimenting a lot more to see what we can come up with. For example, I did a beer that was basically a malt base with apricot puree and sweet orange peel and coriander."
Rupert wants his beers to push the envelope by creating brews for people who don't mind being a bit adventurous with their refreshment. But he's also well-schooled in the basics of brewing.
"We're going to do one that's called the 'M43 Porter,'" Rupert says, explaining that is will be a traditional English Porter, brewed to honor the spirit of all the breweries between Kalamazoo and the lakeshore.
"We'll have a stable of our porter, IPAs, and amber, but those are only going to be four staples. We'll also have ales, lagers, and a lot of speciality stuff," Rupert says.
For a guy who likes to think outside the box when it comes to brewing, it's a bit of an irony to learn Rupert got his first taste of homebrew quite literally from a box--one that held a beer kit.
"When I was 21 some people down the way had a Mr. Beer kit that they were throwing out. I brewed on it just to try it out. It turned out so bad that I think I drank one beer then threw it out," Rupert says.
He's come a long way since those days when he was a Michigan State University Student studying emergency medicine.
"I ended up leaving there, because I just didn't want to be a doctor. I moved out to L.A. and started doing anything I could to make money. Finally I got a good gig doing audio and camera work," Rupert says.
After landing jobs working on shows like "Top Chef" and films such as "Avatar," Rupert decided that he'd seen enough of Hollywood, packed up his things and headed back to Kalamazoo where he had grown up.
He had for some time been dabbling in home brewing, but didn't seriously think about opening a brewery of his own until a friend of his acquired a 50-gallon, stainless-steel kettle, which he sold to Rupert for $25.
"That was the clincher right there," Rupert says.
When the building at 773 W. Michigan Ave. became available for lease he jumped at the chance to turn a hobby into a full-time career.
"We're working with limited funding, but that's the way I like it. I want to struggle in order to get something off the ground so that I can feel proud of it and other people will appreciate it," Rupert says.
Though his bankroll may be tight, his plans are grand.
Initially Rupert is expecting to produce at least 800 barrels in the
first year, but hopes to expand the operation to an off-site brewing facility as the company's popularity increases.
For now all brewing will be done in the northwest corner of the building, the same space where the Kalamazoo Coffee Company once housed its coffee roaster.
"We're going to block the area off with acrylic and wood trimming so (brewery patrons) can see all the way through," Rupert says.
And since the brewing kettles will be next to the windows, motorist on Stadium Drive will get a glimpse of the process as well.
"When people drive by they can see all the kettles and brewing going on," Rupert says.
Rupert wants the brew house to be a "one stop shop" for beer, music, socialization, and general revelry.
"I want to have every single different style of music," Rupert says. "I don't want to cater to only one style. I want to have a dub step night, electronica, I want to do a lot of acoustic sets, rock 'n' roll. I don't care as long as people are loving it."
Since the building was essentially empty when he took over the lease in January, Rupert has had to work hard to get the space ready for his proposed July opening.
"Piece by piece I've just been doing stuff," Rupert says.
He's rebuilt the bar, put in a stage (which will be in the southwest corner, where The Strutt had its stage) brought in new tables and chairs, created the brewing area, set up the back of the house -- the list goes on and on.
But he's had plenty of help from friends and relatives who have been eager to lend a hand.
"I took the extra effort and there have been a few people that have helped me from other local breweries. I feel like I know enough people, and enough people have embraced the idea that this is happening, that I think it's going to be a great success," Rupert says.
Rupert intends to hire a few bartenders and servers once he gets closer to opening, and even hopes to take on a another brewer if demand for his product is high.
"I'm going to put a bunch of people to work and keep it in the community," Rupert says.
Rupert is currently awaiting approval from the Michigan Liquor Control Commission so he can officially open the business, but he was given some good news on Monday, May 20 when the Kalamazoo City Commission granted its approval for the business to set up shop.
Rupert intends to strictly stick by the idea of a brew house, so there will be no kitchen, though he does expect to serve light snacks.
Limited quantities of beer will be available for purchase in bottles and beer on tap can be taken home in growlers.
For more information visit Rupert's Brew House on Facebook
Jeremey Martin is the craft brew writer for Southwest Michigan's Second Wave.