Zack Bigelow (left) and Joe Kesselring (right) are two of the three co-founders of Ram­shackle Brewing Company. Collegian|Julie Havlak

If you can’t get a pint of craft beer in Jonesville, blame snakes.

Ram­shackle Brewing Company remains but a cement slab in a downtown alley of Jonesville because its builder got bit by a rat­tlesnake.

But walking on the cement foun­dation, Zack Bigelow and Joe Kesselring picture a brewery with white-washed walls, indus­trial decor with a col­orful spin, and a bar with five or six taps. They hope to open the doors of Jonesville’s first com­munity-owned brewery by January, when they hope to realize the work of the last four years.

Bigelow and Kesselring started brewing in 2009 with hand-me-down equipment, sawed kegs, and a repur­posed turkey burner — a makeshift system that coined the brewery’s name one Sunday.

“Zach and Joe were brewing in the garage, and Zack’s dad walks up and goes: ‘What kind of ram­shackle stuff you got going on here?’” Jessy Bigelow, co-founder and Zack’s wife, said. “And it just kind of stuck.”

But after they spent most fair-weather Sundays brewing, random people began pes­tering them for beer, and even the “noto­rious Bud Light drinkers” at the sheriff’s department tried to buy their beer, Jessy Bigelow said.

“We knew we got some­place when all of the other deputies were trying to buy beer from us — and it was very illegal for us to sell beer at that time,” Zack Bigelow said. “We had to tell them, ‘That’s boot­legging’.”

They decided to open a brewery in 2014, the same year the Michigan Invests Locally Exemption leg­is­lation opened business’ crowd­funding to Michigan cit­izens. But the ink was barely dry on the law, and it only allowed them one year to raise $200,000.

“At the time, no one knew how to handle it,” Zack Bigelow said. “The lawyers were being super cau­tious with it, the banks didn’t know how to handle it.”

Their lawyers forbade them from saying “investment” or “oppor­tunity” until they were in the room with potential investors, effec­tively cutting them off from any pro­motion on social media.

So they cor­ralled potential investors by dis­guising business meetings as beer tastings — with mixed success. At their first meetings, they had to evict out-of-state guests because of the reg­u­la­tions, and they met mostly blank looks.

“That was an inter­esting expe­rience,” Jessy Bigelow said. “Zack and I got ‘Business 101’ slapped in the face.”

But after missing the deadline in their first two attempts, they suc­ceeded in raising $200,000 and becoming a 47.5 percent com­munity-owned business.

“We’re trying to get investment into the com­munity by letting our investors own a piece,” Zack Bigelow said. “We didn’t just mortgage every­thing to the hilt. We said to the com­munity, ‘Let’s share in our expe­rience, share in our wealth. As we grow, so do you’.”

Ram­shackle Brewing Company will spe­cialize in Dead Ales, or rare his­torical beers that fell out of favor during the Pro­hi­bition or during various wars. Their Brown Ale, Cream Ale, and Ken­tucky Commons will each own a per­manent tap, and one tap will feature a foraged beer made with pro­fes­sionally foraged ingre­dients.

“What they would have done 100 years ago, before the advent of all this modern tech­nology is go out and forage for the beer,” Zack Bigelow said. “One of our goals for his­torical beers is going into it full tilt.”

When the trio met with the Brewers Pro­fes­sional Alliance, an orga­ni­zation that assists brew­eries in the process of getting started, they won the help of the alliance because of that drive, said Dan Slate, accountant at the Brewers Pro­fes­sional Alliance.

“One of the cri­teria we are looking for when we work with folks is a real drive and passion. We help bring the business skills…but we can’t create passion,” Slate said. “One thing really unique about Zack is that he’s very stu­dious about his beer-making…Most home­brewers are just out there throwing things together. Zack is very stu­dious, almost sci­en­tific.”

Jonesville City Manager Jeff Gray hopes that Ram­shackle Brewery’s his­torical beers will earn it a niche in the craft brewing scene in Michigan and bring vis­itors into Jonesville.

“Craft beer is a big part of Michigan right now. There is a ton of interest from Michigan res­i­dents, it is a source of tourism,” Gray said. “It seemed like a really good com­pliment to the food and arts scene we had here.”

Patrons will be able to get a pint for $4 to $5, and Ram­shackle will serve food. It will likely be open until 11 p.m. on most nights.

“We’re going to throw in a little bit of ram­shackle. You will see things doing things they are not sup­posed to,” Jessy Bigelow said. “Ram­shackle for us isn’t nec­es­sarily dilap­i­dated. It’s making do with what you’ve got to make it work.”

As they look for another mason, they are making it work even as their equipment arrives. The brewery’s cooling system — which filled a semi-truck — is stowed in Jessy’s mom’s garage. But by January, Ram­shackle Brewery should be open for business, said Zack Bigelow.

“For us, a brewery doesn’t mean a bar. It means a place of com­munity,” Jessy Bigelow said. “Beer brings people together. You can be sitting next to a doctor or a guy who just got off of his shift in factory. It doesn’t matter what kind of collar you have, everyone’s getting along.”

  • Jen­nifer Melfi

    this is a great oppor­tunity for the college to step in and help these fellows out. Having a great local brewer would be more important to the school than having a chapel built to a god of stone!!!!

    • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

      LOL. Are you going to pro­claim that on Judgement Day?

      • Jen­nifer Melfi

        Judgment Day was April 19, 2011 — according to Ter­mi­nator 2, which is just as valid as any other book dis­cussing a fic­tional “judgment day”. So yes. I can and would happily pro­claim this. Any god worth wor­shipping would rec­ognize in this world, only a fool would act oth­erwise

        • Jen­nifer Melfi

          BTW, I think that the school should be doing more for local busi­nesses like this, there are mutual ben­efits here that would be very fun and prof­itable to pursue. The more that the school works on cool entre­pre­neurial oppor­tu­nities, opposed to stodgy & backward reli­gious ones, the better off that things will be in the long run. Let’s focus on what has tra­di­tionally mat­tered to Repub­licans — money — and forego some of this weird fundy-stuff that the school has become enamored with.

          • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

            They can work on both. 1600 thirsty stu­dents is cer­tainly a good start. As for me, the older I get the more important my Faith becomes-kind of a natural pro­gression, what?

            You heading to Ann Arbor again this weekend? You better not be, because the game is at East Lansing!

          • Jen­nifer Melfi

            I’m a nebraska fan. So have had a ter­rible year of football so far, but still a com­mitted fan. When I was at hillsdale, more stu­dents attended fra­ternity parties on Friday night than went to chapel ser­vices, not that there weren’t some good souls who did both.

          • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

            Nothing wrong with social­izing or imbibing a wee bit, as long as you have your pri­or­ities in order. Much of that depends on how close each of us are to our final day-that tends to focus our atten­tions accord­ingly.

          • Jen­nifer Melfi

            in my expe­rience people get less reli­gious as they get older and focus more on the things that make them happy as they realize that the religion is pretty much at odds with most of the stuff that it claims to stand for.

          • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

            Some­times true, I tend to sep­arate ‘Religion’ and ‘Faith’. Orga­nized religion has a great many short­comings, of that there is no question.

            I’ll be watching for a Nebraska win this weekend for your sake. I always liked their program, even way back in the days of Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne. They had some great wars with Oklahoma and Chuck Fairbanks/Barry Switzer back when I was in HS and my first college days. Switzer was a real char­acter, but when you look has his per­sonal life as a child you can sym­pa­thize with him-to call it tragic would be under­statement in the extreme.

          • Jen­nifer Melfi

            thanks, we have a lot of respect for oklahoma and coach switzer due to the great program and rivalry they built with us. Same thing I am starting to feel for Ohio State. Those guys just win. (and other bad stuff, but they win).