Tuesday, July 9, 2013

[EID Preview] Griffin Claw Brewing Company

In the case of great minds thinking alike, my boy Nate Dawg...er, I mean, reporter Nathan Skid from Crain's...ran this preview of the new Griffin Claw Brewing Company opening next Thursday in Birmingham. Normally I'd just scrap my own plans to run something because why be part of the echo chamber, but since I already shot and edited the photos and just haven't had time to post I'll still give you my own sneak peek with some different details. If you look at mine first then his, it's kind of like a time-lapse! (My photos were taken last Friday; looks like Nate probably took his on Monday.)

So, to recap: Griffin Claw Brewing Co. is the lastest effort of the same family that owns Big Rock Chophouse and Clubhouse BFD (to be clear, each of these businesses have different owners, but they are all connected to each other by previous partnerships, marriage and blood: Bonnie LePage and Mary Nicholson own Griffin Claw; they co-own Big Rock Chophouse and the Reserve with their husbands Norman LePage and Ray Nicholson; and the LePages' son Scott LePage owns Clubhouse and Eastside Mario's).

Brewmaster Dan Rogers, who has racked up the awards since taking over as Brewmaster of Big Rock Chophouse in 2004 (see a complete list of his awards below - bear in mind, Big Rock was really just a small brewpub with no distribution and some of these awards are in the biggest categories in the biggest and most respected beer competitions in the world), is moving over to Griffin Claw along with all of Big Rock's brewing operations. All of their beer will now be under the Griffin Claw label.

Griffin Claw is a 12,000 square foot facility and most of that is the brewery (and soon, distillery - though the equipment isn't yet operational). They're looking at a 10,000 barrel production in their first year, and judging from early demand so far they've already outgrown that. Griffin Claw beers will be distributed in kegs to local restaurants, and they will also can four of their signature beers - Norm's Raggedy-Ass IPA, El Rojo Amber Ale, Grand Trunk Pilsner and Grind Line Pale Ale - for distribution to liquor stores through mega craft beer house Powers Distributing.

The taproom will have 12 draft handles with ever-rotating seasonals and speciality beers. Some of these speciality beers will also be canned but only available for purchase through the taproom. Some of what Dan has planned includes lots of Belgie beers - trippels, a Belgian stout, lots of sours (which, if you were at last year's Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival in Ypsilanti, you may be in the elite group of those of us who decided Big Rock's sours were the best beers of the bunch). Dan plans on having lots of events here, including an Oktoberfest and Winter Fest and an annual bourbon-barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout release party.

The mash filter.

The brewery is also a state-of-the-art facility, featuring a mash filter that was custom made for them. (Mash filters are rare to see in craft breweries, long the providence of the macros in American brewing. To Dan's knowledge, this is the only mash filter of its size in the country.) In layman's terms, this is an advantage in several different ways, including in the brewing of high-gravity (read: high-ABV) beers. Which, yes, he will be making. Griffin Claw will also be one of the top 10 largest breweries in the state when it opens, based on projected production.

The space was designed by Ron Rea, who has designed pretty much every restaurant in metro Detroit in recent memory, and includes communal tables inside and in the pretty pretty beer garden, which also has a fireplace and heaters to keep its season going even longer (these might just be the best seats in Birmingham).

Big Rock's Executive Chef Brian Henson, the Michigan Chefs de Cuisine Association's 2012 Chef of the Year, oversaw the menu at Griffin Claw. Both the atmosphere and the menu are a stark contrast to nearby Big Rock - much more casual. The menu will still be of the same high quality as its sister chophouse, just more burgers (and we're talking brisket and short ribs burgers here) than steaks. (They will have golf carts taking people back and forth between the two restaurants though, so you can have a few beers while you wait for a table at Big Rock, have a steak, then come back for more beers on the patio.)

As soon as he has all the equipment he needs, Dan will also start distilling. He'll be making a vodka from spelt and Michigan wheat, gin, rye whiskey, brandies, and absinthe - oh yes, ABSINTHE. To my own knowledge, I don't know of any other Michigan distillers making absinthe. Domestic absinthe has been known to be less than stellar (and that's assuming you like absinthe in the first place and have a palate for it), so I'm interested to see what Dan does with his. Griffin Claw will be opening a martini bar in the corner of building opposite the beer garden later this fall.

This will be the martini bar when it opens this fall.

Griffin Claw opens to the public on Thursday, July 18. The opening draft list is as follows: hefe weizen, wit bier, grind line pale ale, el rojo (red), norm’s raggedy ass ipa, go figure black ipa, platinum blonde, third rail belgian style trippel tripple, lemon shandy, saison st clair, berlinerweiss, red rock flanders red, bourbon imperial. (Emphasis added to indicate level of excitement.)

Brewmaster Dan's list of achievements while at Big Rock:

2011 Brain of Brewers
Gold Medal - Witbier German Wheat Beer
2011 World Expo of Beer
Gold Medal - Red Rock Flanders Red Ale
2011 Internatonal Beer Fest
Gold Medal - White Cap Whit Belgian Farmhouse Ale
2010 & 2011 World Beer Cup
Gold Medal - Norm’s Raggedy Ass India Pale Ale
Silver Medal - Bonnie’s Raggedy Ass Imperial Pale Ale
2010 Great American Beer Festival
Silver Medal - Go Figure American-Style India Pale Ale Bronze Medal - American Brown Ale
2010 World Expo of Beer
Gold Medal - Bonnie’s Raggedy Ass Imperial Pale Ale Silver Medal - Norm’s Raggedy Ass India Pale Ale
Silver Medal - Michigan Sour Cherry Tripel
Bronze Medal - Red Rock Flanders Red Ale
2009 Great American Beer Festival
Silver Medal - Red Rock Flanders Red Ale
2009 World Expo of Beer
Gold Medal & Best In Show - Red Rock Flanders Red Ale Gold Medal - Sour Cherry Tripel
Silver Medal - Jessica’s Raggedy Ass Imperial IPA
2005 World Beer Championships
Bronze Medal – Got Rocks Russian Imperial Stout
1998 World Beer Championships
Gold Medal – Big Rock Scotch Ale
Bronze Medal – Flying Buffalo Oatmeal Stout 

For more photos, view the Flickr set here.