By Mike Fossano
In a move that’s sure to give local beer aficionados pause, Applebee’s, one of the most prominent chains in the country, has started to serve up Michigan craft beer in seven metro Detroit locations, including Auburn Hills, Harper Woods, Madison Heights, Roseville, Warren, Westland and Utica.
Patrons can look forward to sipping on brews from breweries such as Bell’s, Frankenmuth, Saugatuck, the North Peak Brewing Company and the Michigan Brewing Company.
The grassroots craft beer movement is one that is relatively unique to the Applebee’s brand, according to Gary Zehr, manager at the Roseville and Utica locations.
“When I first joined the company (in April 2011), even though we advertise ourselves as the ‘neighborhood grill and bar,’ our lineup was really more like ‘domestic alley,'” Zehr said.
Zehr, along with Jason Heenam and Tracy Brooks–both general managers at local Applebee’s–took it upon themselves to inject a bit of local character into their restaurants by taking the matter to the people. They started by asking guests and bartenders what “neighborhood” meant to them and what new products they’d like to see.
Given that the calls for Michigan-made goods have become more pervasive of late, perhaps it comes with little surprise that respondents asked to see more craft beers from the Mitten State.
It also doesn’t hurt to have several critically-acclaimed in-state breweries to turn to.
“It’s exciting to see more and more restaurants discovering that it really makes good business sense to offer local, fresh Michigan craft‐beers which helps create jobs and puts money into the Michigan economy, while at the same time offering current guests an enhanced experience and attracting new customers,” says Scott Graham, executive director of the Michigan Brewers Guild.
The beer drinking experience has undergone a metamorphosis of sorts in recent years, shifting from knockin’ back a few cold ones with some buddies to a thought-out complement to a good meal.
“Beer has become like wine,” Zehr said. “People want a good, drinkable beer to pair with their overall dining experience.”
Not only was the entire idea hatched and carried out on a local grassroots level, but the management team also utilized social media tools as the primary sources of gathering feedback from their communities.
“This is pretty unique in that the social media and word-of-mouth efforts have been marketed 100% by the restaurants–and it’s been very successful.”
From a dark rich bite to citrus tang, Applebee’s guests can chose from a variety of Michigan brews which include:
• Kalamazoo‐based Bell’s Oberon Ale and Best Brown Ale
• Michigan’s original craft beer, Frankenmuth, brews American Blonde, Dunkel
Lager and Hefeweizen Ale
• Michigan Brewing Company in Webberville provides Mackinac Pale Ale, Celis
White and Celis Raspberry
• Kid Rock’s BadAss American Lager, also created by the Michigan Brewing
• Douglas‐based Saugatuck™ Brewing Company’s Oval Beach Blonde Ale
Selections may vary by location.