Community Across The Bar | Cheboygan Brewing Co.
Cheboygan, Michigan had a brewery as early as 1872 when the town was an important part of the state’s logging industry. In 2011, that history was rebooted with Cheboygan Brewing Company. A decade later, the brewery is still sharing the past and shaping the future of the community from behind the bar.
The brewery sits downtown, a block up from the Cheboygan River. Like many small midwestern towns, Cheboygan is transitioning from an industrial past to a future built on the beauty of the area. It is now an official trail town with new businesses opening on Main street and local tourism increasing.
“When Cheboygan Brewing first opened in the spring of 2011 the taproom was focused on German Lagers and was designed for quick tastings with limited capacity,” said Brewmaster Brian Lindsay.
Lindsay has been with Cheboygan Brewing for over seven years. He learned the ropes there and worked his way up to his current role as Brewmaster and Business Leader. In that time, he has seen both the town and the brewery change.
He described how the taproom originally featured large history panels and glass-enclosed artifacts from the 1800s Cheboygan brewery. While the history panels remain on one wall of the taproom, the artifacts were donated to a city historical organization to make room for additional seating.
Time for Change
In 2019, Lindsay and the team started to feel that the beers they made no longer matched the history-focused look and feel of the brand. They created a poll for the brewery’s staff. The poll asked staff to name what was important to the culture of Cheboygan as a community.
“The common thread between all of their responses was outdoor recreation and vacation. We instantly knew we needed to capture those aspects in our branding,” said Lindsay.
The rebrand features a muted, more naturalistic color palette. The rebrand’s focus is on illustrations of outdoor scenes and “up north” recreational activities like fishing and camping. The look is reminiscent of the national parks posters from the 1930s, but with a fun and modern approach to the layout and typefaces.
But Cheboygan didn’t just change their look. They also added four beers to their portfolio and refocused on session-able Ales rather than the German Lagers of the past.
Lindsay said, “We weren’t the brewery that would be known for producing 14% Barley Wines or really funky Sours. We were going to make beers that appeal to all beer drinkers and showcase what we love about northern Michigan and our team.”
A Community In Progress
When the new look and liquid rolled out in January of 2020, it seemed like their local audience was not ready for the update.
“Cheboygan is a community that relishes tradition and can take time to accept changes. There was a slight resistance at first in our taproom because of this culture. However, when our fans realized how the new look captured what makes Cheboygan great, we were embraced,” said Lindsay.
The brewery’s sales, mug club memberships and social media following have all increased since the rebrand. Lindsay believes this is because of the way the new look connected all the pieces of the brand to the community they had become over a decade of brewing.
He said, “The city has had a strong influence on what we do, just as much as we’ve had what we feel is a positive impact on it. [We] hope to continue a collaborative effort with local businesses and community to advocate for tourism to northern Michigan and make sure we continue to focus on our local fans just as much.”
That relationship between a small town and its brewery is at the heart of Cheboygan’s success. The community behind the bar is giving locals and visitors a fresh taste of place and moving Cheboygan forward. As the community continues to evolve, so too will the beer in the glass.
Photos contributed by Eeva Sharp