Microbreweries have been all the rage for a few years now, but Ann Arbor brewer Nathan Hukill shrinks the microbrewery concept to something a bit more personal. Hukill’s brewery, Bitter Old Fecker Rustic Ales
, has so far released beers only a couple thousand bottles at a time from a small brewing facility in Chelsea. There’s no Bitter Old Fecker brewpub, and if you want to snag a bottle you basically have to be in the right liquor store at the right time. But it’s turned into a full-time job for Hukill, 33, who quit his job as a butcher earlier this summer to focus on Fecker. We asked Hukill about learning the ropes and scaling up as a micro-microbrewer.
The following has been edited for length and clarity.
How and when did Bitter Old Fecker get started?
“I was brewing at home a ton and I saw a post on Craigslist where there was a brewery looking for help with packaging. It turned out to be Unity Vibration
, the kombucha distillery. I ended up working with those guys for a little while and got used to seeing their operation and the size that they were at. At the time they were still doing it out of their house, but they were registered and actually a microbrewery in their house. It kind of struck me that I could do something similar. That was probably three years ago. The actual LLC was formed in March 2011 but we got our state license last year in May.”
You worked with Grizzly Peak only 18 months. Was there something about the larger brewery business that turned you off, as opposed to just doing your own thing?
“No. Actually, while I was in the very earliest stages of starting the Bitter Old Fecker thing, months before, I had put in an application at Grizzly Peak. I ended up getting a job there, so while I was still working on the Bitter Old Fecker thing and getting it off the ground I took the job at Grizzly Peak and learned a ton there. Duncan Williams, the head brewer there, is just an amazing, knowledgeable guy. It just got to the point where I was kind of working three jobs at that point, between Grizzly Peak and my old job and doing the Bitter Old Fecker stuff. Once Bitter Old Fecker actually got licensed, I just didn’t have time anymore. So I left Grizzly Peak to just do my own thing.”
How much beer are you producing at this point?
“Right now I’m brewing on a one-barrel system. Our first three releases were less than a hundred cases each. We were probably under 300 cases within this first year. But now that I’m doing this full-time, the next beer that’s coming out in early September will be 200 cases. And then beyond that, we’re in the middle of a big expansion right now, relatively speaking anyways. We’re actually about to get a 10-barrel system that’s going to be delivered probably early October.”
How can people find your beer?
“We kind of purposely designed it to be kind of small. I’m not trying to take over the world with this beer. As far as getting it, the best way is following the social media stuff. I try to keep people updated as much as possible on the Facebook page as far as where the beer is going to be. It’s basically about fostering that direct relationship with the people that want it and interacting with them and telling them exactly where they can get it.”
You initially learned to brew from your grandfather, an avid home brewer. What does he think of Bitter Old Fecker?
“He loves it. He’s kind of a gruff old dude and not a guy who seems to really be impressed by very much, very often. But from what I can gather he seems to be pretty proud of me and the whole thing.”
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Metromode and Concentrate.
All photos by Doug Coombe
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