SHARE
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!!!!