Blake and Brant Austin of Austin Brothers Beer Company
As the brothers of Austin Brothers Beer Company in Alpena, California transplants Blake and Brant Austin are contributing to Michigan’s robust craft beer industry
The story of Austin Brothers Beer Company all starts with a cross-country road trip. The Austin family – Dana, Julie, and sons Blake and Brant – hit the road in a motorhome, traveling from their home in southern California to all different regions of the United States over summer break.
On their way to see the Great Lakes, they ran out of daylight in Alpena and decided to stop in the small Michigan town to have dinner and set up camp for the night. They spent the next several days enjoying Alpena, marveling at its proximity to Lake Huron and the small-town feel, so different from what they knew back at home.
When Dana retired from his career as a fire captain in San Bernardino in 2014, the Austin family was looking for a change of pace and scenery. Their time in Alpena a decade before was such a fond memory that they decided to make the big move east – and start a family business in their new home.
The Austins opened Austin Brothers Beer Company in 2015, tapping into son Brant’s brewing education from the Siebel Institute of Technology and experience at California-based breweries. In the time since Austin Brothers Beer Company opened, the number of craft breweries across the state has doubled, signaling continued growth and demand for Michigan’s beer industry.
As head brewer and CFO, co-owners Brant and Blake Austin are embracing their roles as new Michiganders shaping the state’s beer scene, one brew at a time.
What has the experience been like working as a family business?
Blake: We’re used to working with each other. My background is in business, so I oversee the business part of it. My brother obviously knows the beer parts. I’m an avid beer drinker so I know a sneaky amount about beer, but I can’t go jump on the equipment and brew on our system. I can do the homebrew stuff – I did that nonstop, testing recipes and all that. Then my dad likes to come in and wave at people, being the social guy. He’s semi-retired and comes in to check on things each day and make sure everything’s going well.
What did your dad think when he learned you wanted to go into beermaking?
Blake and Brant (simultaneously): Oh, he was pumped!
Blake: He would be out in the garage messing around with us when he was off because he was still working at the time. He was working 96 hours straight on the fire department. When he was home, we would get friends over to hang out and do big one-group session days and hang out in the garage. And yes, he was not foreign to it. He was the leader in our craft beer experience.
Brant: He was always kind of an entrepreneur, as well as always had side businesses or projects always going on when he was a fireman. So, we would always help with that.
You’re part of Michigan’s robust craft beer scene. How did you succeed in breaking into that industry?
Brant: Good beer. (laughs) I brewed at Ballast Point for three years, went to master beer brewing school, and I also worked at one of the fastest-growing microbreweries in Southern California too, which was Mother Earth Brewing Company. So, we started out leg ahead of a lot of people just based on the commercial experience I had, how to brew on big systems. A lot of the home brewers have problems scaling their recipes from five gallons to 100 gallons or even 50 gallons, because you can't just times it by two or four and have it turn out right. So, I already had all that experience building recipes and stuff like that. We already had all the standards there for how it should be made and quality control, and I think that's what helped us come out pretty strong out of the gate.
What is it about Michigan that led you to wanting to build a business – and a future – here versus California or anywhere else you visited on your road trip?
Brant: Clean air, lots of fresh water. The people. My parents were born and raised in Southern California, we were born and raised there, and just kind of got burned out on all the people. A lot of people are just all about themselves and just don't care about other people. And we came to Michigan and started talking to people when we stopped in Alpena, and everywhere we stopped, everybody was so friendly and curious about wanting to talk to you. It was different.
Blake: I would say the biggest difference is the communities. With Southern California and San Diego County, you start driving and it's almost like you can't tell the difference between each city because there's no stop. When you go down to Flint and go down to Ann Arbor, there's a bunch of trees, there are breaks. In Southern California, it's just all the same stuff.
Brant: Concrete jungle.
Blake: And so, you go around Michigan, you have the pockets of like Ann Arbor and then you go just like 15 or 20 minutes out of town, it feels like you're in what to us would be like the forest in Southern California. It feels rural and there's elbow room, you can go mess around and there's property. Your backyard is bigger than a sidewalk. It's just got a cool feel. It's got character; the state has its own identity. My aunt lives in Idaho, and she came out here to visit. She lives in a super small town and it’s super pretty there, but she was just floored by all the trees and all the water. I think it’s easy to take it for granted. What people call creeks or streams here are like rivers in California. So, it's pretty cool to be here. I love water. I live on the water now. I never thought I would be able to do that. That's because Michigan is super affordable where we live.
Brant: Yeah, the real estate prices were also enticing.
Blake: We could not have done what we did if we were in California. Not even close. As far as size of production and stuff. The cost of rent on a building would make it impossible.