After six years of planning and preparing, co-owners Zack Bigelow, 37, and Joe Kesselring, 31, have announced groundbreaking for Ramshackle Brewing Company will begin in April, once the Small Business Administration loan has been processed. It will tentatively open around September.
Located on 208 E Chicago St. in Jonesville, Ramshackle will be a family-friendly environment specializing in old-fashioned craft beers.
“We’ve been homebrewing for quite a while and we really developed a passion for the craft, and everyone that’s tried our beer said they wanted to buy it,” Bigelow said. “We decided we’d take the plunge.”
Bigelow and Kesselring decided they wanted to open a brewery in 2011 but didn’t begin flushing out their plans until a few years later. When the Michigan Invests Locally Exemption legislation was passed in October 2014, allowing small businesses in Michigan to raise capital for their businesses by finding community investors, Bigelow and Kesselring seized the opportunity.
“A brewery will bring the community together, and what better way to do that than to offer ownership so the community grows with us?” Bigelow said.
The partners aimed for 49 percent community ownership, but Bigelow said because the law was so new, many people confused the investments as GoFundMe and other fundraising ideas. Ramshackle did not receive enough support, and the two were forced to return money to everyone and put the project on hold.
In 2016, Bigelow and Kesselring decided to try again, with much greater success. They completed their goal within three months with 19 investors who own about 47.5 percent of the company, a total investment amounting to $200,000. The furthest investors live in Grand Rapids, but all have ties to Hillsdale or Jonesville, Bigelow said.
“There are some people we know and some people that we met along the way, and they have become great friends,” Bigelow said.
Both Bigelow and Kesselring have retained their full-time jobs while establishing Ramshackle.
Jonesville City Manager Jeff Gray has been interested in helping them since he received an email from Bigelow in 2013. He said Bigelow and Kesselring have helped educate Hillsdale citizens about MILE legislation and have built ownership and excitement in the city about the brewery, even before breaking ground.
“It’s obviously a really new concept for the state, and a concept they’ve helped educate folks in Hillsdale about how that works and what it is. It’s a really exciting concept that they’ve described themselves as being a community’s brewery,” Gray said. “We have some of the premiere food services established now, so it really is a complement to what exists in Jonesville. They hope this is the start of a long-term business plan that will allow them to eventually get to big production and distribution, and we hope to see the next round of expansion in Jonesville, too.”
Expanding the business would allow for more jobs and investments within Jonesville, as well as to help build recognition of the city around the country, Gray said.
“Craft brewery is a big, growing industry in Michigan and people will travel from brewery to brewery to experience different craft brews in the state,” Gray said.
The brewery will have five to eight different taps, with four of them as mainstays that will tentatively sell for four to five dollars a pint — a price slightly lower than the specialty beers. Patrons should be able to buy two beers and a snack for $20, Bigelow said.
Bigelow said Ramshackle will offer food, but patrons are welcome to bring in their own food as well.
“Most of our beers have a history behind them. Some of them are beers that are no longer being made commercially that we’ve kind of stumbled across — recipes, flavors, descriptions, and old texts that we’ve read,” Bigelow said.
Many of the beers that interest them — such as the Kentucky Commons or the French Farmhouse Ale — disappeared early during the twentieth century during the prohibition or World War I. Beers that used to be extremely popular are now only made by select breweries, such as Ramshackle.
Ramshackle’s brewing process is fairly straightforward, though they sometimes opt for older styles of brewing, preferring to “emulate the way they would have been doing it years and years ago” to the faster, modern method, according to Bigelow. Most beers are made with two-row barley and occasionally corn. Other ingredients are grown locally when possible.
Kesselring said he thought Ramshackle would stand out for its unique product — the most important aspect, in his opinion, since people always recognize quality.
“The brewing industry is a very high-risk and high-reward investment industry. Our margins are extremely low because we’re taking a bulk grain and turning it into a profitable craft drink,” Bigelow said.
The building will be decorated with a full-wall mural by a local artist. Rather than carrying bar hours, Ramshackle will most likely close around 11 p.m. but will most likely feature trivia nights and board games. Bigelow and Kesselring are also experimenting with soda for patrons uninterested in beer.
“It’s kind of an everything goes, welcome-to-everybody type environment,” Kesselring said. “We have a lot of very eclectic tastes whether it be in food, music, art, all that stuff, we try to embrace that in everybody and to get everybody else involved too. We want to be a community-owned brewery where everyone can come in, feel welcome, and those who have been investing can take pride in what we’re doing.”
He and Bigelow originally met through a mutual friend and bonded over a shared love of craft beer. They’ve been brewing beer almost every Sunday for nearly seven years.
“We’re just a couple of big nerds. We dive into these really intricate things; beer, obviously, creating music back and forth, exploring new things,” Kesselring said.
Located on the main strip in Jonesville between Olivia’s Chophouse and a hardware store, the brewery will be made of masonry construction with exposed wood rafters, according to architect Scott Morrison of S Allen Designs, who has been working with them for several years.
“The biggest challenge there is the urban infield, trying to fit the building between two buildings. It’s a small brewhouse, so the guest occupant load is close to 50,” Morrison said. “They’ve given me specific details for the brewhouse and then the rest of the decor will be quite simple and simplistic.”
Gray said he’s excited to be so close to construction.
“They have had a lot of perseverance and tenacity and they’ve really seen the ups and downs of this through the fundraisers,” Gray said. “I’m excited to have them downtown for many years of success here.”