Those chasing Beer City Brewsader® status have yet another box to tick. But, let’s be honest – who’s complaining, right? New Union Brewery, Lowell’s first brewery, quietly opened in mid-November, 2016. Now that the secret’s out, Experience Grand Rapids has extended the radius of the Brewsader® Passport to include New Union Brewery. Brewsader® passport’s extension to Lowell is an open invitation to Grand Rapids beer enthusiasts to make the modest drive in support of this new local brewery.
Beer on the counter at New Union. Photo credit: Jason Ley
Co-owners Tyler Velting and Ryan Stoepker, also the Head Brewer, have been buddies since fifth grade, long before either knew they would open a brewery together. Their early beer experiences include growing up in Beer City, USA, warming the bar stools at Founders Brewing Co.’s original taproom in the Brass Works Building, and watching their friends’ bands play in the local bar. With deep roots in the Grand Rapids beer scene, Stoepker piloted his first batches of homebrew around 2003-2004 on the guy he trusted the most – Velting.
Tyler Velting and Ryan Stoepker, co-owners of New Union Brewery. Photo credit: Jason Ley
In 2015, New Union Brewery was almost a side venture as contract brewers, supplying private labeling for local bars and restaurants. After crunching the numbers, however, Stoepker and Velting decided that if they were going to make the investment, it might as well be in their own brewery. “It was too expensive to be a hobby at that point. We either had to go all in or not at all,” said Stoepker. And that, they did.
New Union Brewery’s soft open in November was to ensure that “the beers were on point, and the service was on point,” said Velting. In hindsight, the owners have been satisfied with their modest, slow-roll open because “we were a lot busier than we expected,” said Stoepker. Lowell’s Chamber of Commerce has recognized New Union’s immediate economic and social impact, recognizing them as 2017’s Most Promising New Business. Sincerely humbled by the outpouring of local support, Velting said, “The City has been very kind to us, supporting us from day one. We’re just so thankful for the people here inviting us into their community.”
Sampling a flight of New Union's brews. Photo credit: Jason Ley
Until New Union Brewery opened its doors, Lowell has been an untapped market for craft beer. Although Grand Rapids is only a few minutes away, New Union puts its faith in the trajectory of the city, positioning itself ahead of the curve and anticipating growing with its new hometown. Stoepker said that he is already challenged with brewing enough beer. “We’re maxing out our capacity just to keep up with the people of Lowell. Right now, our focus is supplying that demand.”
New Union Brewery has 14 taps – two of which are on nitro, and two pour ice cold from a separate, custom ice-frosted tap tower intended for its lightest ales and for those who are looking for a really cold one after work. Out of the 14, Stoepker estimates that six will remain as mainstays, which could be dictated by public opinion. The tap list will rotate by season or for specialty releases such as the currently tapped 9.6% Flat River Imperial IPA, 5.6% Main Street Chocolate Stout, or 6.4% Chai Spiced Ale. Stoepker aims for variety, giving everyone the chance to find something they like. New Union Brewery’s forecasted annual production is 300-400 barrels and could grow to 500 if they decide to bottle and can. In the meantime, the brewery honors growler and howler fills. It also offers house-brewed root beer and birch beer (an “earthier” variant, made from birch tree sap and bark).
Flat River Imperial IPA and Main Street Chocolate Stout. Photo credit: Jason Ley
Because its production facility is literally in the taproom (or vice versa), Stoepker starts his brewing days around 5AM to allow for cleaning the 1,800 sq ft brewery back to showroom-ready by the time doors open. This barrier-free atmosphere creates an attractive, undeniable intimacy for New Union’s 55-seat taproom. The brilliant, warm copper behind the brewing equipment and dark-stained wood throughout don't hurt its sex appeal either.
Beer aging in bourbon barrels in front of the mug club wall. Photo credit: Jason Ley
Waiting list available, sign up in-person at the brewery
- $50 annual membership includes an 18 oz. mug, $2 off fills on Wednesdays, $1 off fills otherwise, $2 off growler fills, $1.50 off howler fills, and 15% off merchandise (some exceptions may apply based on beer ABV or availability)
Very bring-your-own friendly
New Union Brewery provides an array of menus to many local establishments (they might even call in your order, too – if you’re nice)
Main Street BBQ, who catered New Union Brewery’s grand opening and New Year’s Eve party, is an exceptional choice for 100% wood-fired, slow-smoked heaven in your mouth (lucky patrons might even catch owner Erin VanEpps personally deliver the goods)
Main Street BBQ's Star Spangled Pigwich with a side of mac and cheese and their brisket sandwich with gluten-free baked beans. Photo credit: Jason Ley
Currently seeking its entertainment license to host live artists weekly
Brewery tours: Unnecessary. Sit at the bar, just feet from where the magic happens
Outdoor seating: In the future, likely
Pet-friendly: Leader dogs allowed
Parking: Lot on-site