Hop Lot Brewing Co. finds success with Up North vibe

Whether you’re snuggly inside a heated igloo or chatting with friends around a toasty campfire, expect the staff at Hop Lot Brewing Company to place a beer of choice in your hands almost immediately.  

That’s because Hop Lot, as everyone calls the popular brewery, is a family-friendly and welcoming destination on the Leelanau Peninsula. The brothers behind the brewery have created an inviting Up North locale, where family and friends can gather outdoors, underneath towering trees, and enjoy beer and food. 

In the winter, a village of igloos sprouts up among the barren trees, allowing guests to remain outdoors, watching the snowfall and gazing at the sky on starry nights. 

Hop Lot Brewing Company was an immediate success. No wonder. Two words spring to mind about the owners of Hop Lot: ambitious and adaptable.  Still, brothers Steve and Drew Lutke are continually surprised at the successful growth of their business, which sprang from Steve’s hobby of brewing beer in his Chicago apartment.

Their story – in brief 

Both native Michiganders, Steve and Drew grew up in Holland.  As adults, they moved to Chicago but vacationed in Leelanau County as often as possible.  Steve’s wife, Sarah, boasts the Northern Michigan connection; her parents live in the Suttons Bay area. 

In Steve’s college days, he studied pre-med. Drew worked in the finance arena. Drew wasn’t interested in the brewing process, however; but as Steve emphatically recalls, “He would drink the beer, but didn’t want to make it.” 

Steve’s passion for brewing grew, causing some over crowdedness in their small Chicago dwelling. He compares the skill of beer making to that of being a chef – adding various ingredients to make a recipe even better.

A brewery comes into focus

In 2012, Steve married Sarah on the Leelanau Peninsula and he brewed the beer for their wedding guests. The beer was well-received, especially by a local family friend. 

“Out of the blue, this guy approached me and asked me to write a business plan,” Steve recalls.  

The plan was drawn up, property found and purchased, and the brewing business sparked. In the summer of 2014, Steve and his family relocated back to Michigan to begin their new adventure. They always dreamed about the possibility of moving where they loved to vacation, and that dream became a reality.

The business partner strongly suggested that the brewery be located in Leelanau County, home to about two dozen wineries, but, at the time, few, if any, breweries. With the wineries, small towns, Lake Leelanau, Lake Michigan shoreline and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the peninsula is a big tourist draw.

Creating Hop Lot 

Hop Lot sits on about five acres of heavily wooded land, just south of Suttons Bay. 
Drew and Steve, along with family members, worked diligently to clear the property and early on were concerned if they would ever fill the massive parking lot. 

Luckily, Steve’s father-in-law is a contractor, so he planned and guided the brothers on the brewery’s construction. Drew remembers the challenge of building the tasting room because of the massive overhead beams that were used. Both brothers recount trying to secure the beams with “bear hugs.”  Steve and Drew literally had a hand in every aspect of the construction, except for the plumbing and electrical.  Extremely conscientious about saving money, they did a great amount of the work themselves.

Hop Lot has become a popular winter destination on the Leelanau Peninsula.

The owners were never hesitant about jumping into this business. 

“I never thought that we were going to fail,” Drew says.  They made sure not to over leverage and stuck to their business plan. 

Hop Lot Brewing Company opened its doors in 2015 and the business surpassed first-year projections and has continued to grow leaps and bounds since. 

Their original vision was to create an environment like their backyards –  no-wait list for seating, no-wait to check out, and a 30-second wait to get a perfectly brewed beer.

“We are a brewery that wants to offer a well-rounded experience and to have a beer in your hand as soon as possible,” says Drew Lutke. 

Using a QR code has enabled them to meet their goals of speedy service and check-out. They even built a beer hub in the back of the property to make beer delivery to guests even speedier.

About the food

The Lutke brothers never wanted Hop Lot to be a restaurant; in fact, they both jokingly say, “We still don’t.” 

However, after opening, they realized the need to offer food based on community feedback. Initially, the kitchen started out as a tent, which shifted to a covered shed selling paninis and smoked foods.  Their menu and kitchen have expanded, offering satisfying sandwiches and burgers, along with comforting soups like tomato basil and white chicken chili. 

The pork tacos are among the favorite menu items.

A few menu favorites include the crispy chicken sandwich and pork tacos. Hop Lot also offers a kid-friendly menu.

About the beer

Highway Robbery was one of the first beers brewed at Hop Lot. It’s a blond ale that’s crisp and slightly malty. This specialty beer is still on tap along with another popular brew called Uncle Green Guy, a session IPA with light body and a tropical, citrus, pine flavors. 

All of the brew recipes have been created by Steve. Currently, there are 12 beers on tap, including a Mexican lager, stouts, and a red ale. Along with Hop Lot’s stellar beers, the brewery also offers cider and wine. Some of the beers come and go; some are offered only seasonally.

The community 

There has been an outpouring of support from the Suttons Bay community. In the beginning, however, there were a few naysayers, predicting the brewery wouldn’t make it. 

Steve and Drew remained confident and optimistic.

“Hop Lot has built one of the best Northern Michigan destinations for beer, food, and fun,” says Veronica Young, a former Hop Lot employee and fan.   “The year-round fire-pits, summer games, and winter igloos make it a blast for not only the local community and tourists, but also for the employees.” 

Watching the business grow and the brothers' management style has been “truly inspiring,” she adds.

The brewery has become a welcome addition to the community, creating a lot of positive energy. 

”When Hop Lot opened in 2015, they immediately created a place where both friends and families wanted to spend time,” says Amy Peterson, president of the Suttons Bay Chamber of Commerce. “It is such a welcoming and casual atmosphere that it’s enjoyable for all – amongst the yard games, bonfires, live music, and the igloos (before anyone else was doing them).” 

Those igloos

What started out as a solution to create more space for customers in the winter – the tasting room was limited in space – has become an infectious trend across the country, especially since the coronavirus pandemic.

Hop Lot was using igloos long before they became popular.

Well before the pandemic, Steve purchased four igloos, which were not popular with his staff and family. That first winter of 2017, there were some structural glitches with igloos – doors freezing and breaking. 
Steve’s father-in-law stepped in and designed custom doors that match the rustic outdoorsy style of the brewery. The cozy igloos are outfitted with heat and include a space heater and comfortable furniture.

Little did the owners know that in a few years, the glowing igloos – now numbering 18 – would help create a more popular and attractive Up North destination.

The future

Their latest plan is to build a distillery in the building next door to Hop Lot. This purchase was made to help with the much-needed parking space. But, as always, the Lutke brothers expanded on that idea. The distillery will have its own name and offer a small tasting room for specialty cocktails.

“This is the last thing we’re going to do,” Steve kiddingly shares.

The brothers also plan to expand the kids’ area behind Hop Lot with a natural playground. They want to create a family-friendly and fun atmosphere, adding to the s'more's kits, the firepits, igloos, and a play area.

“Come to Hop Lot, listen to music, let your kids run around and enjoy the day,” Drew says.

Lisa Baird is a travel writer and photographer as well as a high school teacher for Grand Rapids Public Schools. She has a master's degree in reading and language arts from Grand Valley State University.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.