There are lots of ways to celebrate the fall harvest, but Sean Marshall Murphy and his friends do so in one of the best ways possible -- with a big Detroit Oktoberfest party featuring their own homebrewed beer.
The Black Bottom Brew Club
(BBBC), Murphy's homebrewing group, has been holding the festival since 2012 to celebrate local culture and benefit community projects. Their third annual event took place
this Saturday at Artist Village
, a gallery and performance venue located in the city's Old Redford neighborhood.
The club's name comes from Black Bottom, a historic African American neighborhood that fell victim to Detroit's urban renewal in the 1960s when it was razed to make way for I-375 and the Mies van der Rohe-designed Lafayette Park neighborhood.
BBBC brews according to guidelines set out in the Reinheitsgebot
, a centuries-old German beer purity standard. They refuse to use adjuncts, the unmalted grains that sometimes supplement the main mash in a batch of beer. Many of their beers consist of 100 percent Michigan ingredients, and some are even made with Detroit-grown hops. Altogether, BBBC members have brewed around 50 varieties with flavors based on some of the world's great beer styles.
Murphy, the group's founder, took his first sip of craft beer in 1996 during a trip to Bell's Brewery in Kalamazoo.
"It was the first time I tasted real beer, and the whole place left an impression on me I never forgot," he says.
Inspired, he began reading up on the subject.
Five years ago, he finally took the plunge and brewed his first batch. Like any convert, he then spread the word, posting a call to form a club in 2011 with hopes of creating a "stronger and more community-involved homebrewing scene" in Detroit.
Open his club to anyone in Southeast Michigan with a desire to brew, Murphy's call was heeded.
Black Bottom currently consists of about 10 brewing members, with a core group of five and 20 honorary members who help out on brew days and volunteer at club events. Their beer-loving crew includes Chad Stojonic, the group's first official member outside of Sean and a knowledgeable craft beer enthusiast; Alex Maggeti, who joined after his band, Much Too Much
, played the club's first Oktoberfest in 2012; and Sean's son Adrian, who's brewed with his dad since the beginning.
Stojonic, a 42-year-old Warren-based computer programmer, heard about the club through a friend. He loves hanging out with other brewers and says the group helped up his craft beer game.
"It's made me want to go beyond a recipe in a book," he says. "I only do experimental brews now. Take a recipe, change it up, make it something new, and see what happens."
Black Bottom Brewing Club at Artist Village
At first, BBBC got together at the Spirit of Hope Church in Detroit's Corktown neighborhood. They now meet at Artist Village, where Murphy is creative director and part-owner with his wife Tonya and John George of Motor City Blight Busters
Murphy is also responsible for launching the Detroit Urban Growers CoHop
, which cultivates some of the hops used in their brews.
In March of 2012, after hearing about Michigan hops growers like Hop Head Farms
, Murphy signed up for a seminar hosted by the Great Lakes Hops Growers Consortium
. He came back from his trip with a pickup truck filled with hops.
"We transplanted them a couple weeks later, and our miniature urban hop yard was born," he says. "I then began taking cuttings off these plants and rooting them in small nursery pots, once they took root I started giving them away by the dozens."
Eight friends now make up the informal "CoHop," which partly overlaps with the brew club. Their plants, 16 varieties of hops, are grown at Diversity Garden
, at the Sanctuary CSA farm, and in members' yards and vacant lots around Detroit.
The Local Homebrew Scene
Jason Osburn, publisher of MiCraftBeerCulture Magazine
, a Michigan publication that covers the scene, says Southeast Michigan has been an active part of the national surge in homebrewing over the last decade. By his count, there are about half a dozen brew supply stores in Metro Detroit, some of which have expanded to keep up with demand.
The American Homebrewers Association
estimates over 1.2 million people homebrew beer in the United States. Judging by the popularity of craft beer in Michigan, which has over 180 breweries, Osburn believes the Mitten State is home to "a decent percentage" of those homebrewers.
As for the Detroit group, he gives it a hearty thumbs up.
"Black Bottom Brew Club is definitely making an impact in the area," he says. "Sean is well respected in the Michigan beer community and his spirit of community and the 'co-op' philosophy behind his starting BBBC are really inspirational."
While Osburn isn't aware of other local co-op hop groups, he says co-op gardens are popular around the country, so he expects that co-op hop gardens will start popping up. He adds that hops, which were a significant Michigan agricultural crop in the late 1800s, are well suited for the local environment. Approximately 400 acres were grown and harvested
in the Michigan this past year.
"This is a great climate for it and the rise of craft beer has created a market for more and more locally grown hops and barley," he says. "Urban agriculture should play a huge part in [Detroit's] redevelopment from here on out, and hops is a perfect crop. It grows up instead of out making it high yield per acre."
Like hops, things are looking up for BBBC too. Right now they're in talks with a local music venue to set up their own Detroit microbrewery -- and Murphy thinks that could be the key to financing an even grander vision.
"Our big picture plan is to eventually build a community center which will offer public art, music, and artisan workshops," he says. "Building a place like this has been my life's dream and vision since before I ever started to homebrew. It was only about four years ago when I began to realize that the way to fund the dream was quite possibly hidden in the arcane art of brewing."
David Sands is a Detroit-based freelance writer. He's covered the news forHuffington Post Detroit as an assistant editor and worked as a staff writer for the transportation news site Mode Shift. Follow him on Twitter @dsandsdetroit.