Take a journey back in time at Brewery Becker in Brighton, where history comes alive as you drink in the story of beer.
Brewery Becker in Brighton
It is shocking and slightly embarrassing that this is the first time we entered Brewery Becker. It would be one thing if they were across the state, but Brewery Becker is only 30 minutes from us, located at 500 W. Main in Brighton. We can thank Annie Zipser of the Ann Arbor Brewers Guild for introducing us to Brewery Becker. She was kind enough to share her insights after Brenda spilled Annie’s beer at the Detroit Fall Beer festival. Annie recommended Brewery Becker’s 1905 Amsdell IPA and their Hornindal raw beer. After tasting these beers, we knew we had to visit.
The outside of Brewery Becker is majestic. The brick on this three-story building catches your eye. Brewery Becker lives in what was once the Western House. In the late 1800s, passengers heading west to Chicago or east to Detroit could stop for the night in Brighton.
Meeting Matt Becker
As we make our way to the entrance, we meet owner/brewer Matt Becker as he finishes putting away the summer umbrellas and getting the fire pits ready in their lovely beer garden. Matt is a lean, tall man with long hair and an easy manner. He is also a self-professed history geek.
“I’m just a history geek in general—everything I do in life kind of falls back into that way. My degree is in paleontology, so digging up dinosaurs and stuff like that. But you can’t make a living doing that. So my other hobby in life has always been automation. So when I couldn’t make paleo work, I did controls engineering, factory automation, and stuff like that.”
A trip to Germany at the age of 16 and a love of history fueled Matt’s love of beer. In particular, getting into the history of beers and digging up old recipes.
“I’ve been brewing since the 1990s. I’ve been brewing for 32 years now. I’ve definitely got years under my belt. Most of that is as a home brewer. But I did a lot of one-offs at breweries around the area because I knew people and was active in the home brewing community. I’ve always had more of a unique bend to what I brew, with the historical styles and beer history. I’m just a big history geek in general. Because of that, I have always done a lot of deep diving into style, history, and background and stuff like that.”
Stepping back in Time
The sensation of taking a step back in time sets in when you walk through the doors of Brewery Becker. From the Edison bulbs and the plank wood flooring to the stenciled wallpaper and beautiful wood bar, you can imagine entering this pub when the Western House was originally opened in 1873.
A new grand wrought iron staircase takes you to the second-floor and third-floor mezzanine. Matt leads us upstairs. The historic feel of the space instantly instills a feeling of welcoming comfort. The abundance of light adds a sense of hospitality and community. If you want to host an event in Brighton, the second floor and mezzanine on the third floor are available to rent.
Building Brewery Becker
Due to deferred maintenance by prior owners, this old house (see what I did there) needed a lot of tender loving care. The Beckers found this gem in the rough in 2010. “This building was basically condemned. It was a falling down wreck. It took me three and a half years to rebuild it.” The Becker’s took the Western House down to its bones. With a historic and meticulous eye, they rebuilt it into Brewery Becker.
Matt’s wife hand-painted the stenciling throughout the building. You can see her beautiful work in the main pub as well as the restrooms. Both bars (upstairs and downstairs) are made using the wall studs removed during the rebuild. The outside of the brewery required work as well.
“I had to do an extensive brick repair of the building. It was crumbling. So the bottom four feet of the building have basically all been rebricked. You can’t really tell because I got all the old brick. Most of it came from Linden (Michigan). Linden burned down, and the buildings were made out of this brick (the same as the Western House). I couldn’t find it in Detroit. This was a locally made brick. Unfortunately, it (the corner of Bridge and Broad St in Linden) burned down nine months earlier. When we found out, I had to dig most of it out of a farm field. Because it was being plowed under for fill.”
Drinking in the Story of Beer
Looking over the tap list, the story of beer is available for the tasting. Brewery Becker has 14 taps, and Matt strives to fill them with as many styles as possible. On our visit, there was a stout, heather ale, Kolsch, IPA, sour, alt, and hefeweizen. In process were a British bitter and imperial stout.
Brewery Becker’s flagship is called Vargdricka. It is a Scandinavian farmhouse ale made with juniper and Bog Myrtle. You’ll feel like a Viking after one or two of these lovely brews.
If you can talk with Matt about beer, do it. He is a treat to talk with, especially if you are a beer geek or budding beer connoisseur. When we mentioned the Amsdell 1905 IPA, Matt added, “So Amsdell is a brewery in upstate New York. A big brewery on the Hudson River, unfortunately, did not survive Prohibition. But a classic example of the Old East coast IPA.”
While touring the brewing facility, Matt showed us the old-school brewing kettle used for the Hornindal raw beer. This setup includes a carved paddle for mixing the grains and water. The Honindal raw beer is a farmhouse ale and gets its name from the Norwegian kveik.
In talking about kveik yeast, we learned about Lars Marius Garshal, who has been cataloging farmhouse yeast strains. His registry has over 400 different strains. Matt calls Lars the “Lomax” of yeast in reference to the ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax who cataloged American folk music. Now you have that bit of trivia to share with friends and family.
We tasted the Victoria Export Stout. Matt told us, “That’s the original recipe from Truman Brewing Company. It was brewed in 1902, and it was originally brewed for Queen Victoria’s 50th Jubilee dinner.”
One beer that caught our eye was called Captain Strawberry. Matt provided the back story.
“Captain Strawberry was originally brewed by a guy named Michael O’Brien. Everyone calls him the Beergyver. He’s installed like 60, 70 breweries in Michigan. He does all the water and sets up all the state guild festivals. Him and a guy, Jake, is one helper that works with him a lot. So anyways, he originally brewed that beer (Captain Strawberry) for Home Brew Con when it was in Livonia back in like 96 or whatever it was. And it was made with Captain Crunch cereal. Because I don’t remember, it was kind of like a theme brew they were doing. And, of course, when you have crunch berries in there, well, what happens when you mix red and green, and blue artificial food colors? You get gray.”
“So he added strawberry to it in order to color it, but it really kind of kicked him, and it was always one of my favorites that he made. So we make it occasionally here as a kind of honor for him. The other one we do of his is called Bean Soup, which is navy bean, garlic, oregano, and onions. It tastes like bean soup. It’s amazing with pizza. By itself, It’s a little off-putting because it’s a strange beer. But boy, you have it with food, talk about a beer pairing.”
Have you ever heard of inverted sugar? Me either. Evidently, if you’ve enjoyed the unique taste of a British dark mild, you may have experienced inverted sugar. In Matt’s quest for historical authenticity, he makes his own inverted sugars. This came up when talking about his contribution to a historic British barleywine brewed at Goose Island Brewery (in Chicago) with beer historian Ron Pattison and legendary London brewer Derek Prentice.
Matt told us, “The beer was brewed by Goose (Island), and it’s a historic barley wine that’s brewed in two batches. The first batch was brewed with extra hop. And uses the dark invert sugar. And that’s where I come in because I manufacture invert sugar for the home brew market and the brewing market. So British beer is pretty much all made with invert sugar. Invert number one, invert number two, and invert number three. You just can’t get it in the US.”
What is inverted sugar, you ask? Matt has the answer. “It’s raw cane sugar that’s been inverted. And by inverting, they mean they took the sucrose and broke it apart into glucose and fructose. So it’s a little more fermentable. How much more is up to argument? Because yeast can also consume sucrose, right? But, it has an easier time consuming glucose and fructose just because sucrose has to be consumed externally. It (yeast) can’t take sucrose into the cell; it will excrete an enzyme that will break the sucrose in half, and then it gobbles it all back up. Right? Well, sometimes it (sugars) floats away because it’s outside the cell.”
“It’s much easier for the cell just to take sugars in directly without mucking around with any of that stuff. Right. So, although a healthy ferment will make no difference, you’re going to have enough yeast in there anyways, actually. But theoretically, it’s a little more fermentable. Obviously, the sucrose and glucose, any residual left, will have a different mouth feel and taste and sucrose does. And then, it’s made with raw cane sugar. So it has quite the unique flavor.”
Now you have learned about inverted sugars and can dazzle your friends at the next beer trivia event. What we assumed would be a one-hour visit turned into a thoroughly enjoyable three hours of talking with Matt. We highly recommend visiting Brewery Becker. If you get a chance, check out their most excellent and funky Chartier lambic in addition to all the other great beers on tap. In case you get hungry, Brewery Becker has snacks and some hearty meat and cheese plates.
We’ve got a few more photos from our visit to Brewery Becker in our gallery. Please take a peek and let us know what you think. Leave a comment and show some love by sharing this post.
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