Detroiters generally love the following: cars, beer, music, sports, salt trucks, Vernors and bicycling. Not all at once, mind you.
Surprised by that last one? Don’t be. Cyclists have this cultish devotion to Detroit, and the feeling is becoming mutual. What happens if you combine the city, cycling and beer? Perhaps one of the most ingenious business plans next to Google.
Meet Steve Johnson. He quit his full-time job to run Motor City Brew Tours, a business he and a partner started in 2009. The partner has moved on, but Johnson is growing the business thanks to new partnerships, repeat customers and – get this – expanding his Oakland County-based enterprise into taking bicycles through Detroit.
That’s right. Beer and bikes. Effectively, Johnson has combined two of Detroit’s favorite activities. Let us raise the Joe Louis fist in tribute.
Johnson said he wanted to combine his passions: craft beers and cycling. The first Motor City Bike and Brew Tour, which covers Detroit’s brewing history, modern microbreweries and the brewpub culture, will ride off on April 23. Monthly tours will follow through October. Tickets for the relaxed 9-10 mile loop is $24.99 each; it includes lunch at a local pub and a drink voucher for the last stop.
A typical tour is 3-4 hours and goes through former and current breweries sites. The group will make stops along the way for the guide to describe the brewery’s historical background. Then, you get to sample. Of course, you could get soda. Don’t.
“I’m an avid biker, so I wanted to see if I could take what I was doing with the bus tours to a bike,” Johnson told me. “I’d been on wine and bike tours in Napa, and I’ve done rides across Michigan. I wanted to figure out how to do a longer version of that here.”
Participating breweries and pubs include Motor City Brewing Works, Traffic Jam and Snug, Detroit Beer Co., Atwater Block Brewery and Foran’s Grand Trunk Pub. Others will be added as Johnson has a chance to catch his breath. And he is working with other Detroit businesses that specialize in bicycle rentals, maintenance and such. (His bus tours also come through Detroit if you’d rather ride in a comfy eco-friendly van.)
“This was a new way to get people into the city. It’s putting more of yourself into it. You see everything differently when you’re on a bike,” Johnson said. (And it’s relatively safe…I know, I’ve done some tipsy bike-riding when I lived on Mackinac Island for a summer. But that’s a far different blog post. Buy me a beer if you want to hear more.)
Johnson said doing the research for the project has been fascinating. Yes, there was the tasting. And many meetings inside the breweries. But he also enjoyed reading up on the city’s amazing and lengthy history. His favorite read so far? “Brewed in Detroit,” which looks as far back as the early 1800s. (Told you we love our beer.) His tour will focus on the post-Prohibition era, brewery consolidation around Stroh’s and beyond to today – an epic time for Detroit beer.
Indeed, there is a huge investment in Detroit and surrounding areas in that tasty adult beverage. Did you know Michigan is the fifth largest in terms of the number of breweries here? We have about 80 here now. Craft beer in general is a growth industry. In recent months, there has been $70 million of investment in the brewing and craft-beer business, Johnson said. He expects that number to climb even higher as lending eases and more small owners can get their start.
“Part of this is breweries have had to increase production to keep up; our state has gained a reputation for good beer,” Johnson said. “That’s made this market as a whole stronger. And with larger investments, there will be more jobs and more production. Everyone benefits.”