With a dry-erase bartop, tables that used to be windows, and paintings from local artists on the walls, the new Ramshackle Brewing Company in Jonesville that opened July 17, has a colorful atmosphere that pairs well with its craft beer.
Though new to owning a brewery, co-owners Jessy Bigelow, Zack Bigelow, and Joe Kesselring have been homebrewing together for years. Zack Bigelow and Kesselring’s first beer was “10 – 10-10,” brewed Oct. 10, 2010.
After that, Zack Bigelow and Kesselring brewed together every Sunday. And every year when the weather got warm they would brew lots of beer and have big summer beer parties.
Their friends and family enjoyed the beer, and the two got their first inclination to turn it into a bigger operation when a neighbor asked if he could buy a case of the homebrew.
“No you can’t because that is bootlegging,” Zack Bigelow said.
But in 2014, they finally decided to approach the Michigan Brewers Professional Alliance for assistance and to see if it would be feasible to start a brewery of their own.
“We knew how to make the beer, we didn’t know everything else. And we wanted to succeed at it,” Zack Bigelow said.
The Brewers Professional Alliance, which only takes on five clients at a time, took Zack Bigelow and Kesselring on as clients. The two then began the process of getting funding and investment in order to open the brewery.
The Michigan Investing Locally Exemption Act which was approved in 2014, allowed Zack Bigelow and Kesselring to raise money through equity-based crowdfunding. Along with the crowdfunding, they sold 47% of the company to 19 local investors which made it possible for them to open the brewery and make it a comfortable place for the community to relax.
“We wanted this to be a community meeting place,” Zack Bigelow said.
Even in their keg distribution to bars and restaurants, they only distribute within about a 30 minute radius because they want to keep everything community-based.
“Another goal of ours is to make sure that one of the three of us is here at least a couple days a week at minimum so that we can get to know our customers,” Jessy Bigelow said.
Since the community has invested in them, the owners have found ways to give back to the community. With “Pints for a Purpose,” customers get to suggest a charity every month in the community for partial proceeds to go towards. Most recently, customers suggested Ramshackle donate to Hillsdale County’s Court Appointed Special Advocates –– a network that trains and supports citizen-volunteers to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in the courtroom and community.
“We want to be the community brewery. We got to stand by what we do. And if we can help somebody else, awesome,” Zack Bigelow said.
The brewery also has what they call “Beer it Forward,” where customers can prepay for another person’s beer. The prepaid beer can be for someone specific or for a random customer.
The Bigelows and Kesselring are trying to create a comfortable atmosphere where customers are not daunted by craft beer.
“There is nothing worse when you go into a brewery and they make it so intimidating,” Zack Bigelow said.
The Ramshackle Brewing Company wants people of the community to be able to relax and enjoy a beer at their venue.
“Nine times out of ten if someone is uncomfortable they aren’t going to come back, no matter how good your beer is,” Kesselring said.
The brewspot is pet-friendly and allows customers to bring their own food and board games. Or if there is a wait at a restaurant nearby, customers can grab a beer at the Ramshackle Brewery while they wait.
“And you won’t see a TV in here ever because conversation is what you need to have,” Zack Bigelow added.
Along with a comfortable, community-centered atmosphere, the Bigelows and Kesselring’s beers set them apart. For inspiration and recipes, these brewers look to the history books.
For example, the No. 1 seller is the “Pushmower,” a Kentucky common-style ale that was popular in the Ohio River Valley before it was forgotten during the Prohibition.
“We kind of specialize in reading a lot of history and seeing what they were drinking back then, because it wasn’t water, and we would start building a recipe based on location,” Zack Bigelow said.
And if customers are unsure what style of beer they want to try, there is the “beer wheel” for them spin and leave their decision to chance.
So far, the Ramshackle Brewing Company has had almost a full house every night as the word gets out to locals and beer tourists.
The Bigelow’s and Kesselring are happy to see the enthusiasm.
“We just want people to like craft beer,” Jessy Bigelow.