I became a home brewer when I moved to Boston after college. I discovered the craft beer phenomenon in its infancy in Beantown, and even began brewing my own knockoff of Sam Adams Boston Lager. About that time, I began to set my sights on bringing the uniqueness of a craft brewery to Detroit, my hometown.
I came home and discovered Atwater Brewery down by the Detroit River. The craft beer fan in me led me to this wonderful place, the entrepreneur in me led me to want to own it.
“On September 16 we’ll … ring in two decades of prosperity with a little oompa music, some Schnitzel and, of course, some German-influenced brews made by passionate Detroiters…”
— Mark Rieth
Owner, Atwater Brewery
In ’97, I was just starting to look at buying a business. When I stumbled upon Atwater, it was like the stars had aligned. I was about to merge two of my passions: business and beer. I was a patron and ended up investing in 2002. I bought out the partners in 2005.
As it began to sort itself out, I started to realize that we were sitting on a really cool opportunity in a really gritty Detroit neighborhood that truly had nothing but potential written all over it. I met the first few years with tenacity, fervor and a deep desire to make Atwater synonymous with the City of Detroit. What I began to realize was that, in order to truly make it work, I had some big decisions to make.
We added tanks to increase production and really began to experiment with our recipes, creating unique beers that were intended to impress a broader audience. Sales of our Dirty Blonde and Vanilla Java Porter saw a significant bump. Demand for our brews was starting to grow as we fortified our distribution channels and put our beers on more shelves statewide. Coupled with the nationwide growth in demand for more craft beer, we were riding a wave of success and popularity.
People were discovering us at their local bars, on grocery shelves and at beerfests across the state. We began to fortify our branded messaging, concentrating on social media and local marketing to spread the word. We even began to change our packaging to reflect our Detroit roots. Atwater was becoming a great story for the region.
We continued to hire good people who truly shared my passion for the business. People we trusted would help move the business forward in an unpredictable economy. We were able to stay the course despite those sacrifices and put enough emphasis on the right areas that would allow us to continue to move the brand.
Our canned Atwater Lager, Dirty Blonde, and Goin’ Steady IPA began to ascend with the younger crowd. Additionally, more robust beers like our Decadent Dark Chocolate Ale and our seasonal Bloktoberfest began to find popularity in the market as well. Our Detroit-themed Purple Gang Pilsner and our D-Light also found their niche. At the end of the day, our lineup was shaping up quite nicely and people throughout the state (and beyond) were beginning to discover our innovative, creative, refreshing and delicious brews at breakneck pace.
Expansion was a big part of our plan. Our first step was to open a German-styled biergarten, just blocks outside of Detroit proper, in Grosse Pointe Park. We took residence in a church and converted it to a functioning taproom, complete with a state-of-the-art brewing system housed right on the former altar.
With the ability to create and test new concoctions on a primed audience (who were, ironically, considering craft beer as their religion), this venue allowed us the opportunity to truly spread our wings. Which led to the creation of our best-selling seasonal product, Whango. In just a few short months, we saw record crowds come back to church to sample the nectar of the gods and socialize with their craft brew-crazy brethren gathering in our garten.
The success continued as we added a taproom in Beer City, USA – aka: downtown Grand Rapids, MI – that gave us presence on the west side of the mitten and increased our brand exposure to that audience.
In the last couple of years, our distribution network began to grow even larger as demand for our beers has grown exponentially as well. Word is out, and this once local brewery has become a bit of a juggernaut in beer circles regionally.
On September 16, 2017, we’ll celebrate the trials and tribulations of the Atwater brand. Like any great German-styled party, we’ll ring in two decades of prosperity with a little oompa music, some Schnitzel and, of course, some German-influenced brews made by passionate Detroiters including our Imperial VooDoo Vator Triple Bock, which was brewed by the original brewmaster who flew in from Germany just to make this special batch. Tapping is at 2pm.