Griffin Claw: the Newest Brewing Company on the Michigan Craft Scene
What do you do when your award-winning brewer is always leaving the restaurant to win awards? Build him a brewery with all of the bells and whistles, of course.
“The increasing demand for (brewmaster Dan Rogers’) beer and his growing fan base were instrumental in why we decided to open Griffin Claw Brewing Company,” says Bonnie LePage, who owns the Birmingham, Mich., brewery with Mary Nicholson. Their husbands own popular local spots The Reserve, Got Rocks Diamond Crown Cigar Lounge and the Big Rock Chophouse where Rogers built his brewing reputation.
The latest addition to Michigan’s hot craft brewery scene is a state-of-the-art, 12,000-square-foot facility where Rogers can really ramp up production.
“I’ve brewed more in the first week here than in a year at Big Rock,” Rogers says as he proudly showed off the new features in his brewery during a recent tour.
The crown jewel of the facility is the mash filter. Griffin Claw is the only brewery in the U.S. to have a Meura mash filter of that size. The custom-made filter system holds a half-ton of malt and produces 500 gallons of beer every 90 minutes. Only 25 percent of the world’s beer goes through a Meura mash filter system.
With the custom-made equipment now at his disposal, Rogers has been able to experiment with new brews, such as the popular Tripel Lemon Shandy and an Oktoberfest beer. He’s also introduced a bourbon imperial stout.
The new brewery has also opened the door to another opportunity: distribution. Four of the beers – Norm’s Raggedy Ass IPA, El Rojo Amber Ale, Grand Trunk Pilsner and Grind Line Pale Ale -- will be available for distribution in 16-ounce cans. Half of the beer produced at the brewery will be canned. The new canning line allows the brewery to can 30-35 cans a minute.
Beer is not the only thing on tap. There are also two 90-gallon brandy pot stills brought from Germany, with plans in the works to distill spirits such as vodka, gin, rye whiskey, bourbon and absinthe. A rectifying column will be added over the next couple of weeks, which is crucial to reach 195 proof for the vodka. The vodka will be a key ingredient in the martini bar Russian V Room next door slated to open in the fall.
Rogers began his career as a chef in Las Vegas, where he discovered his passion for brewing beer. He was working for Holy Cow Casino in Las Vegas and was home brewing at the time. The owner was looking to open a brewery so Rogers brought in some of this brews. After the owner tasted them, the job was his.
Over the years he has racked up numerous awards, from the Great American Beer Festival to the World Expo of Beer.
The kitchen is run by chef Brian Henson, who was named Chef of the Year by the Michigan Chefs de Cuisine Association, the local chapter of the American Culinary Federation. The menu allows Henson to try dishes that he hasn’t been able to do at the other restaurants, such as the Creole Shrimp Bucket. This New Orleans inspired dish boasts shrimp, Andouille sausage, redskin potatoes and fresh corn, which soaks up all of the flavors in the broth. Rogers’ favorite is the clam strips: healthy portions of seafood paired with crispy fries with a little bit of a kick. Other beer-friendly sides include the Bavarian pretzel sticks with Mucky Duck mustard (a Michigan-made favorite) and the fried pickle chips, a tangy and crispy starter to any meal.
But as the menu declares “we solemnly swear it’s all about the beer,” the beer is the star here.
Here are some tasting notes from beers we sampled during a recent visit:
Tripel Lemon Shandy: This citrus-forward shandy is made with pilsem malt, Belgian candy sugar and fresh lemons with hints of banana and clove. Even drinkers who are not fans of shandys (because it can taste fake) will enjoy this.
Bonnie’s Raggedy Ass Ale Double IPA: This mellow double IPA is not only a great introduction for someone who wants to try a double IPA but also offers a lot for an experienced IPA drinker to enjoy. This beer is “brewed and dry hopped with American, centennial, Columbus, cascade and bravo.”
Saison St Clair: This Belgian hybrid honors the tradition with American black pepper flavors. It’s made with pilsem, wheat and rye malt and refermented with brettanomyces.
Berlinerweiss: It’s great to see this low ABV making a comeback. It’s a classic German wheat beer fermented with lactobacillus and tradition German yeast that lends a crisp, tart sourness. If you are a classic sour lover, don’t sully it with syrup, as suggested on the menu.
White Cap Wit: No need to shoot for the Moon, hints of citrus are already in this brew. It’s brewed with unmalted wheat, barley and oats.
Platinum Blonde Lager: This is a very traditional lager that’s clean and crisp with low malt and hop character.
Rojo: This one is a standout. It has a slight sour finish and has a rich, ruby red color with caramel and roasted malts.
Go Figure Black IPA: Hats off to this brew, which has hints of coffee and dark chocolate.
Griffin Claw is a noble addition to Michigan’s hopping craft beer scene. Definitely seek them out and give them a try!