Menominee brewery connects the community

New life is being breathed into Menominee’s Broadway District, thanks to the recent openings of several businesses, including Three Bridge Brewing Co.

“Three Bridge Brewing Co. is a nanobrewery that celebrates small batch, grain-to -glass production and is 100 percent a husband-and-wife operation,” says Kristoffer Rusch, the aforementioned husband and the brew master. His wife, Sarah, a part-time Spanish teacher at St. Thomas Aquinas School in Marinette, Wisconsin, has been trained as a brewer and taproom manager.

Kristoffer Rusch and his wife Sarah.It would be an easy leap to assume the brewery’s name is derived from the community’s three bridges connecting Menominee to its sister city of Marinette (on the opposite side of the river), but its name dates to an earlier source. 

“Our name is based on the city of Atlantis as described by Plato. We’re incorporated as Wise Man Brewery, LLC but do business as Three Bridge Brewing Co.,” says Rusch, a native of Escanaba who moved to Menominee eight years ago. The original name was based off a quote by Plato, who stated, ‘He who invented beer was a wise man.’”

The patron side of the approximately 2,000-square-foot brewery features a rustic décor in shades of blue and brown.  On view are hand-lettered signs listing product offerings and merchandise. 

Colorful handmade ceramic mugs hang on the wall, the work of ceramist Julie Huebner of Marinette. Members purchase their own mug and pay an annual fee to join the “Mug Club.”  Membership provides additional volume on each pour and the first pull of the month is complimentary. It’s proven so popular that Rusch is considering expanding the club’s occupancy.

Members purchase their own mug and pay an annual fee to join the “Mug Club.” 
Rusch is understandably proud of his flagship German lagers, which are brewed year-round. “I also have fun brewing our more creative flagships, notably Beno Fino a maple coffee stout as well as some experimental things including a dill pickle gose (a sour salted beer) and a Samoa cookie stout,” he says. 

Currently, Three Bridge is home to over 200 original recipes.
Rusch says the brewing schedule is “a balance of analyzing prior sales and meeting the wide tastes of every craft beer consumer so that our menu always has something for everyone ready.” 

He takes care when determining the availability of his offerings. “We’re data oriented. It demands that we are constantly evolving while always applying our stylistic fingerprint,” he says.

Brewing background

Rusch came to the brewing world from academia. He holds a master’s degree in neuroscience and specialized in behavioral pharmacology. From there he performed grant work for companies like Pfizer where he helped test antipsychotic drugs. Before pursuing his doctorate degree, he made the switch to studying brewing formally.

“When my mentor asked what I would do after my Ph.D., I replied that I would teach for a few years and then open a brewery. He told me not to waste my time if that was truly my goal and it struck a chord because it wasn’t in the interest of his career to recommend that. It was an honest opinion from someone I respected. His words settled in my mind. I was going to take a leap of faith although my family and friends were confused by my decision,” Rusch recalls. 

This career switch required that he start to search for a school where he could study the art and craft of brewing. 

“Although I was a home brewer, I needed expertise,” he says. “I looked at the University of California-Davis’s MS program and at Oregon State at their offerings for a Ph.D. in fermentation science. Both schools were booked for the next decade and were very expensive,” he says.

Rusch then learned that Asheville Buncombe Technical College was to become part of a vocational school alliance in Asheville, N.C., related to the various sectors of the brewing industry. Known for its culinary arts and hospitality management program, the college would soon be teaching courses in brewing, distillation and fermentation, while its sister schools would handle agricultural and engineering programs related to beer production. 

“I was fortunate to get into the program in 2013. I left my car in Escanaba, took my parents' old and rusty minivan to Asheville and found a low-income apartment and three roommates I didn’t know. I was there for almost three years and interned at Lookout Brewing Co. in Black Mountain, N.C, a small brewery, which was a really positive experience,” he says.

“At the time Asheville was known as Beer City, USA for having the most breweries per capita in the U.S. We were able to work at a lot of places, from breweries making 50 barrels to only one-half barrel batches. Coursework was unique and included brewery law, facility development, packaging materials, etc. The topics covered were comprehensive and some of the textbooks were fairly rare prints which I hung on to and still consult,” he says.

The switch from studying and working in neuroscience to brewing might seem unrelated but Rusch shares his work in behavioral analysis and pharmaceutical testing has proven to be valuable. He gained other practical experience by working as the wine and spirits department manager at both the Cleveland Avenue and Roosevelt Road locations of Jack’s Fresh Markets in Marinette. 

“I gained a feeling of confidence managing the cash flow of a business that I didn’t have prior. It taught me to keep business honest and integrity-driven for both the customers and the owners and how to assure that the place of business was inviting and sincere,” he explains.

That hard-won experience has paid off with a welcoming customer experience at Three Bridge. 

Broadway District

Rusch wanted to be in the U.P. because of its affordability and geography. He appreciates Menominee’s beautiful marina, etc. To his knowledge, there are no other breweries in Menominee, but he would appreciate more locating here.

“The more, the merrier. And it’s better for tourism. Tourists like to tour craft breweries so more breweries would be an increased draw to the Menominee area. For those who love the outdoors and activities such as mountain biking, it’s a natural pairing with craft beers,” he says.

And although Menominee’s Broadway District was once a thriving area of town in past years, it’s become quieter with buildings now empty and deserted. 

“People were insistent when I moved here that I had to be on First Street, but I was priced out of that market. Brewing equipment costs upwards of $50,000, which is why breweries end up in areas economically depressed. It’s impossible to afford (pricier) real estate unless you’re blessed with exorbitant capital from elsewhere,” Rusch says.

Along with helping to invigorate the district, he has plans to expand the brewery building sometime in the future. 

“The purpose of a brewery is to build and connect a community and we are proud of the culture that our brewery has cultivated and continues to grow in the area. We’re planning an extensive expansion to the existing structure which will extend both our abilities for production and hosting in the long run,” he says. 

He’d like to feature food trucks more regularly and to operate as a venue for music, events and weddings.  “We’re operating out of pocket for now, but we are seeking out grants for this project. I believe the people of Menominee are hungry for change and we are happy to be the wedge they can throw their weight behind to make it happen in a positive and constructive light,” he adds. 

He sees Three Bridge as a place where people can come together and share ideas and is optimistic about reviving the Broadway District. 

“We’ve got several new businesses here on this side of town since we opened four and one-half years ago,” he says.

Yooper Dogz has been around the longest and we’ve done several great pairings with their creations. They’re an amazing neighbor and partner who are responsible for hiring the polka band for our annual Oktoberfest celebration which we host together. Next year will be the fourth year we’ve held the celebration which includes a Bavarian pretzel maker called Das Brot from the Fox Valley (Wisconsin) area. 

“It takes a lot to put on an event like that and it wouldn’t be possible without the collaboration of local businesses,” he says. “We’re all in this together; it’s exciting to see the continued growth of our community and the pride that comes with it.”

Rusch also serves as chairman of the Menominee City Council’s Planning Commission and Board of Review. 

Three Bridge Brewing Co., located at 2221 13th St., is open 2 p.m. - 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. 

Ann Dallman has lifelong roots in the U.P. She started out as a newspaper reporter/photographer and returned to journalism after retiring from teaching. Her first Middle Grade novel, Cady and the Bear Necklace, received a State History Award (Books/Youth) from the Historical Society of Michigan as well as a Midwest Book Award, New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, was a Next Generation Indie Book Award Finalist and a UP Notable Book. Her second book, Cady and the Birchbark Box, also received the Historical Society of Michigan State Award.
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