Hop To It: Alumni Make Beer a Career


Danny Ranville ('08), co-owner of Bière de Mac Brew Works in Mackinaw City, Mich., is one of several Northwood alumni who are tapping into the booming industry of craft beer.

“It’s going back to the way it once was, with small breweries popping up all over,” Ranville said. “Beer is cool. And kind of glamourous. And sexy.”

On Jan. 3, Ranville and his father opened the doors to Bière de Mac, which serves craft beers brewed on site and gourmet food prepared by a classically trained chef.

“We started with a 2.5-barrel brew system, which produces 100 gallons at a time. It takes two to four weeks to, as we say, go from grain to glass,” Ranville explained.

“We were selling out of our beer faster than we could make it by February. We said, ‘Wow, what’s going to happen in the summer?’”

What happened was continued success, followed by the acquisition of additional land for the installation of a larger brewing system that will increase Bière de Mac’s capacity eight-fold.

Mike Gross (’03) has a similar story. “A buddy and I were at a brewery in southwest Michigan. It was packed, on a Tuesday at 4 o’clock,” Gross recalled. “It started us on this long discussion about business opportunities. A discussion that started with a beer.”

Gross and his friend spent the next few weeks visiting local restaurants watching people – how much they ate, how much beer they drank – to build a business plan.

In 2016, they opened Silver Harbor Brewing Company in St. Joseph, Mich.

“It’s been very successful. In the first seven months, we surpassed our five-year business goals,” Gross said, adding that they recently broke ground on an expansion that will almost double the seating capacity.

Owning a brewery is not the only way to make a career out of beer. Andrew O’Connor (’12) is a sales rep for Bell’s Brewery, one of Michigan’s oldest craft brewers. He represents the Kalamazoo-area company in Midland, Bay, Saginaw, Genesee, and Lapeer counties, working with the regional distributorto increase awareness for the 20 different varieties that Bell’s produces throughout the year.

“It’s definitely a fun industry,” O’Connor said. “Craft beer in Michigan is still growing. We have close to 300 breweries in Michigannow. It’s competitive, but it’s not cut-throat competition. Everyone gets along. It’s a lot of fun to be a part of.”

George Boler (’10) has a similar role with New Belgium Brewing Company, which began 27 years ago in Colorado and now has a second brewery in North Carolina. Boler works with nine different beer distributors in a Michigan territory that stretches from Monroe to the Thumb and also includes the Upper Peninsula.

It is a business that continues to grow across Michigan, which brings challenges of its own.

“The hardest part with so many craft beers out there is getting customers to try your beer,” Boler said. “We are always working to figure out how to showcase a wide variety of our styles of beer.”

You could say that beer made an honest man out of Boler.

“Midway through my college career, I didn’t know what I was going to do professionally,” Boler said. “It’s nice to see that there are different options available, and lots of ways to use a Northwood education.”