Loco Boys Brewing Company is where heritage meets passion, and artistry merges with craftsmanship. Tucked away in the Slabtown Neighborhood of Traverse City, this one-of-a-kind brewery not only tantalizes the taste buds with its innovative brews and food but also mesmerizes visitors with a rich tapestry of personal stories and local history woven into its very walls.
Brewing Local: Loco Boys Brewing Company
Our first introduction to Loco Boys was during the Michigan Brewers Guild Spring Beer Festival in Traverse City. While talking to the Perrin Brewing beer ninja, Jay Green, we mentioned having tried Loco Boys beer and thought it was really good. He replied, “You should see their mural.” So we stumbled our way down Front Street to their door. Oh man, was he right! It is spectacular.
It wasn’t just a painting – it was a vivid slice of history. At that moment, we knew we were determined to delve into Loco Boys Brewing’s fascinating story.
Emails were exchanged, and soon, we found ourselves chatting with Mike Mohrhardt, the owner, and Andy’s Largent, the co-owner and brewer.
Loco Boys’ Name Story
The name for one of the newest Traverse City breweries came to owner Mike Mohrhardt while he was sleeping. He woke at 3 am with the idea and jotted it down before it could slip into the forgotten corners of his mind when he went back to sleep.
The next morning, his wife found the scribbled note. Mike shared the story of her finding the note, “She’s like, what is Loco Boys?” Smiling, he continued, “I really wanted something fun with a little bit of edge to it. Something tied in the fact that I’m a local boy, and that also paid homage to my heritage.”
When Andy joined us on the brewery’s patio, Mike was just finishing up the Loco Boys’ birth story. Mike said, “Meeting him (Andy) was serendipitous, just because he’s a local boy and one of the best brewers this town’s ever seen.”
Loco Boys Brewing Vision
Mike’s concept for Loco Boys Brewing has evolved beyond his initial expectations.”Since I went down the path of researching and looking into a brewery as a business, I wanted to do something different,” Mike said. He knew he wanted it to be unique, even though he wasn’t sure what that uniqueness entailed.
The business plan underwent multiple iterations. The initial concept didn’t involve food, perhaps a food truck, but Mike was unsure about venturing down that path. Mike shared, “And then looking at what helps drive beer sales as well and getting people in. I just quickly realized that there needs to be some sort of a food operation.”
So, the idea of food emerged. Mike contemplated the ambiance he wanted to create and reflected on his time spent in Mexico and California and all the incredible Mexican food he had in his life. He hoped to recreate some of that magic here. “I knew that doing a specialty cuisine would be different than a lot of breweries,” Mike said.
He found Chef Bryon Figueroa (yet another local boy) and discussed his vision for a menu. Then Chef took the reins. Andy does his thing in the brewery, and Chef does his thing in the kitchen. Mike said, “It’s harmonious that way and works really well.”
His vision for Loco Boys Brewing Company has evolved into a unique brewery and restaurant in Traverse City.
A Building Steeped in History
The building, built in 1932, was originally home to Olson’s Grocery Store. It still echoes the spirit of its previous life as Olson’s original grocery store. The building’s walls seem to whisper tales from the past, while the basement holds secrets, reminding us of the Olson era’s unique character.
Memories of childhood visits to the store abound, as many Traverse City natives, including Mike and Andy, once visited the store’s isles as youngsters. Mike shared, “There are a ton of people that come in here on a daily basis and say, oh, I remember coming in here shopping. Old Mr. Olson would stand there.”
We asked Andy if he had visited Olson’s as a child, and he nodded, “I did. I have vague memories. I didn’t get to spend as much time as I would’ve liked to, knowing we’re in here now. I don’t have the vivid memories that some people have of coming here.”
A Grandmother’s Legacy
The mural that drew us to Loco Boys Brewing after the Spring Beer Festival holds a personal history for Mike. It is based on an old family photo of his maternal grandmother, captured in her mid-to-late twenties, on a Mexican beach.
Mike asked if we’d seen the actual photo. He quickly finds it on his phone and shows it to us. “She looks pretty spectacular, “ I say, looking at the picture. Mike agrees. In response to our observation about his grandmother’s striking beauty, Mike says, “She was a spectacular lady. She was very much a presence in my life.”
The mural was just something he knew he wanted in Loco Boys. ”I always wanted it somewhere; I just didn’t know. And then that space lent itself,” he said.
Complimenting the mural, we express how well the artist captured the photo’s essence. Mike nods in agreement. Sophia Franco from Detroit spent three weeks transforming the image into the mural in Loco Boys. They built her a scaffolding above the tanks using the wood removed from the ceiling during the renovations.
Turning to Andy, we asked if he was present during the painting process for the mural. “I was,” he confirms, “I bowed out of the scaffolding project. I actually didn’t think Mike had the…”.
Before Andy could finish his sentence, Mike interjects, “the engineering skills,” both chuckling at the shared memory. Andy admits, “I had very little faith in that. That was the first time he proved me wrong. It wasn’t the last.”
Mike needed to excuse himself. With Mike’s departure to attend to the bustling demands of the restaurant, it was now time to turn our attention to Andy’s brewing journey. His story was not etched on the walls but in the Loco Boy’s beers.
Andy’s Brewing Journey
Before coming to Loco Boys, he was the brewer at the Filling Station in Traverse City for about nine years. At the Filling Station, it was the first time he could brew his own recipe. Andy said, “I took everything I gained from working at all the other breweries and tried to apply it there. The first year or two was scary, but then it all kind of came together.”
He admitted that it was quite possibly the best position he had. Over the years, he held several brewing positions in this area and had the privilege to work alongside some truly amazing individuals, including Kim Schneider. She was a mentor.
He’d heard North Peak was looking for an assistant brewer. “I applied, and I met Kim. I said all the right things. I want to mop floors and wash kegs. And she’s like, perfect. She was very strict about teaching me. I had to wash kegs for like two months before she taught me how to clean a tank, which was great because I learned. I had to perfect one thing before she’d let me move on.” As Andy relayed this story, I couldn’t help but think of a recent episode of The Bear where the character Richie is put on fork-cleaning duty; perfection comes with patience and determination.
Andy reflected, “She was a great teacher and an amazing brewer. I feel super lucky to have somebody with her skill level up here back then.”
“I met Mike,” Andy said, “and it just seemed like a really cool opportunity to get some ownership. And also designing a new brewery and building it out. It just makes it fun again. I bet in nine years here I’m going to be like, all right, what can I do?”
The Confluence of Food and Beer
I queried, “Do you think about the food they are serving when you are making the beer?”
“I try to incorporate the food concepts into the beer. I’ve known Bryon (Chef) for a long time. When I heard Mike had been talking to him, I was like, this is going to work out well,” Andy replied.
Andy understands the kind of food Chef prepares and the cuisine in general; he has tried to base some of the brews on that. For instance, he created a margarita sour and is contemplating the idea of a horchata stout, incorporating traditional ingredients.
Even with the seltzer, which technically isn’t beer, he took inspiration from traditional elements. During a brainstorming session about the kind of seltzer to make, they decided on agave nectar instead of sugar and incorporated hibiscus, a traditional flower. Andy shared, “One day, I was like, let’s make some hibiscus tea and see how it tastes. And turns out it’s pretty good. We steep the hibiscus tea and make that, and then we add it to the seltzer.”
The same principle applies to the habanero mango pale ale. The kitchen staff process the habaneros for Andy. Initially, he worked with them on the process, but now they char them, remove the skins, and transform them into a puree. “We try to work together in the summer. We lose a little bit of that (due to the extremely busy summer season),” he said.
Loco Boys opened in February, and Andy eagerly anticipates this year’s slow season, hoping to collaborate more closely with the kitchen, possibly creating the horchata stout. He shared, “I brewed a Mexican lager with Great Lakes malting malt. They also malt heirloom corn from Michigan. We use that here in the kitchen, and I use it in the beer. So that’s kind of cool to have the same corn in the beer as in the kitchen.”
Of course, we had to ask, “What’s your favorite beer to brew?”
With a smile, he said, “It’s funny. At one point, I would’ve said my favorite beers to brew are lagers because I hadn’t brewed them. It was new. It’s one of the oldest or, historically, one of the most brewed beers.”
In craft beer, lagers have gained popularity in the last four or five years. “Everywhere you go now, someone’s got a lager. Before, it was almost a specialty thing. I might have three or four on the board. And there were times in my career that I had zero.”
Andy answered, “That really depends on the mood I’m in. I find a particular joy in brewing lagers due to their clean, crisp simplicity.”
With the shift in craft beer trends, many are reaching for lighter beers and IPAs. Andy admitted he enjoys brewing IPAs, but after a stretch of crafting light beers and IPAs, it’s a delightful change to brew something like an amber ale. Just yesterday, he had the pleasure of brewing one. It wasn’t just about base malt and hops but creating a flavor profile with the addition of caramel malt.
You couldn’t help noticing the excitement that lit up his face when he talked about the aroma filling the brewery. Andy said, “With an IPA, you get that hop smell. After a while, I’m like, okay, I want a brew a stout so that I can get that oatmealy, chocolatey aroma in the brew house.”
As Andy narrates his brewing journey and passion for various beer types, one thing is clear: the joy and satisfaction he derives from his work is not just about the process but also the ever-changing nature of beer styles. From lagers to IPAs to stouts, he has an infectious enthusiasm that perfectly encapsulates the spirit of craft brewing.
Head Over Loco Boys Brewing
Loco Boys Brewing Company is a testament to heritage, passion, and creativity. Local boys Mike Mohrhardt and Andy Largent have created a unique establishment that infuses intriguing brews with a Mexican-inspired menu. The historic building adds a touch of nostalgia, while a mural – a homage to Mike’s grandmother – accentuates its distinct character. Andy’s innovative brewing style, influenced by the food served, and his brewing journey further elevate the Loco Boys experience.
There are more pictures in our visit to Loco Boys Brewing. After you take a look, let us know what you think.
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