Crafting collaboration: Three Bridges Distillery and Taproom makes final push for 2020 open

Tucked away behind temporary plywood and under brown paper floor covering, there is something brewing on Main Street.

With a focus on using as many Michigan-sourced ingredients as possible, Three Bridges Distillery is a long-awaited edition to Downtown Midland and is set to open in the coming months.

The idea started in 2015, when John Levy caught the bug for making spirits from a class at Michigan State University. Levy started with vodka, and the passion quickly took off from there.

The Three Bridges logo was designed to mirror the blend of a few things including a guitar and martini skewer.

He eventually picked up additional partners in Candy Newcome, who has functioned as the general contractor and official peacekeeper of the bunch and Kevin Thurow, the head brewer. The three launched the Three Bridges Distillery and Taproom effort last year to create a space that make the most of their collective trifecta of more than 15 years of brewing experience.

The building housed Knepp’s department store until the early 1980s and locals will remember the space most recently as Mid-Michigan Music Shop. So far, quite a bit has been done on the overhaul of its next life – Midland’s first nano-brewery and distillery, which the trio affectionately refer to it as a brewstillery.

Bar seating will soon be finished in the taproom on Main Street.

The renovation builds off of some significant history. The space has survived two fires, one in the mid-1800’s and the second in 1967 that resulted in significant damage, but left the building still structurally sound. The char marks can be seen throughout the building and were intentionally left as part of the building’s story. With the help of construction project manager Dereck Evans, the space is on its way to soon serve up Midland’s next cocktail.

The Three Bridges name and logo pay several nods to both the region and the team’s partnership. The name is a reference to Midland’s Tridge, the project itself as they embark on crafting beer, wine and spirits, and also representative of the partnership between Levy, Thurow and Newcomb. The logo draws on building’s musical roots by both resembling a guitar and future as a distillery and taproom with a martini glass and olive skewer.

If you look closely, you'll see the character in a few areas of char left from the building's two previous fires.

Newcomb, whose grandfather was one of the contractors who worked on the construction of the actual Tridge, notes that these themes carry throughout the budding business.

“We’ve worked hard over the last year to bring together all the different aspects of the business, each of our specialties and strengths, to create what will be Midland’s first spot for nano-brewed beer, wine and spirits,” she says.

Levy chimes in that they want to bring the region something they may not have experienced before.

Dereck Evans, the construction project manager with Newcomb, Thurow and Levy.

“We’re excited to soon offer people a new take on a spirit, beer or cocktail that they may not have experienced before,” says Levy. “We can’t wait to show you different nuances and takes these beverages can have.”

You can also expect to see cross collaboration within the brews and cocktails themselves. Whether that is whiskey created from a stout beer mash, a jasmine tea-infused saison conditioned in a wine barrel or a scotch ale aged in a scotch barrel, the trio promises there will be a few twists when it comes to libations. It’s also something they are taking input on – if you’ve watched their social media over the past couple of months, you’ll be keenly aware they are open to taking suggestions from future thirsty patrons. The team is also excited to say they are working on unique serving and presentation as well, like smoked cocktails.  

The 1967 fire in Downtown Midland. (Photo from John Levy, credit unknown.)

Three Bridges Distillery bought their equipment from Beer on Earth, a growing brewery in Providence, Rhode Island who was in the process of expanding their brewing system and moving to a bigger location. That’s likely not the end of the story though, as the two businesses have struck up a friendship over their mutual love of beverages – and talks for a collaboration brew at the very least are in the works.

The equipment purchase and move spurred the help of another downtown business, as the final haul presented a few unique challenges. While moving the brewing equipment, the team discovered they needed a few more hands to help with the heavy lifting – namely a forklift. After looking into options for renting one, they found that Ace Hardware happened to have one handy and an employee drove it over to help with unloading.

All the brewing equipment made it to the back room, thanks to a little help from Ace Hardware.

“We always knew we wanted to be downtown, but the reception, helping hand and overall welcome from other business owners has been wonderful” says Thurow, Three Bridges head brewer. “The help from Ace to move our equipment in was especially useful, plus it’s just nice to be able to walk to the hardware store when we’ve needed something with the renovation.”

For the space, Three Bridges is going back to basics, with the building’s original wood floors and brick already uncovered and exposed. The brick wall was well hidden – under several layers of slatboard, drywall and finally plaster.

Behind Thurow is the building's original front window, which was repurposed as the distillery room window.

“It was a good couple of weeks of labor, but exposing all the original brick was definitely worth it, says Levy. “We were able to find and uncover a bit more of the history of the building. The floors took an additional couple of weeks to uncover and refinish, but seeing the finished product, it adds to the character of the space.”

The team has repurposed quite a few other items, including pallets from Trinity Truck and Trailer in Ithaca, Michigan. Trinity also was able to fabricate the hinged bar stools for Three Bridges after a bit of collaboration. The front window of the space was moved and mounted to be the window between the taproom and the distilling space.

A garage door will soon open to outdoor seating and live music.

Inside, the tasting room will feature two mixology stations and beyond the new garage door front entry Three Bridges is hoping to have outdoor seating to share with next door neighbor Pizza Baker. In the warmer months, they are planning live music, events and more.

The proximity to Pizza Baker is something that Three Bridges plans to take advantage of as well, with the team exploring the possibility of “take next door” pizza orders. And in the name of collaboration, Pizza Baker is looking at eventually having a spent-grain pizza crust as an option.

“We’ve worked with spent grains before and they actually make for a really good loaf of bread or pizza crust, so it’s something we have talked about once they are up and running,” says Jim Baker, owner of Pizza Baker.

The team is making the final push to open in the coming months.

The journey has been a team effort and something Three Bridges Distillery has asked for input on along the way. The floor in the brewing space will be covered with what the trio has amassed from months of saving their pennies, along with several collections and donations. The team just wrapped up collection and soon over 116,000 pennies will be installed on the distillery room floor.

The team will spend the next few months completing the necessary permit requirements and putting the final touches on the space including the penny-covered floor, finishing the bar and seating spaces, which will be floating wood tables with overhead lighting.

Floating booths will soon be completed with overhead lighing.

Look for them to continue to gather feedback from those following their social media channels, including what customers want to see for drinks, food, events and more.

For those interested in special swag, a limited-edition mug club, the honor of having your name on the wall or a fermenter, Three Bridges recently launched a fundraising campaign to help them put the finishing details together while also providing customers with a few benefits.

You can follow along with the rest of the Three Bridges Distillery and Taproom journey on Facebook and Instagram.

Read more articles by Courtney Soule.

Courtney is a longtime Midland resident and enjoys telling the story of the community's evolution. As the Managing Editor of Catalyst Midland, her favorite topics are interesting people, change makers, outdoor recreation and design. Aside from Catalyst, her published work can be found various places including Elephant Journal, Thought Catalog and a number of other websites, papers, menus and the occasional one-liner. 
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