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.”