Cheboygan Brewing Co.

Cheboygan Brewing Co., Cheboygan, MI.

When Mike Eme brewed his first batch of Blood Orange Honey three years ago, he planned on it being a seasonal beer.

“We told our distributors the last order was going to be in October and the phone rang off the hook telling us demand was picking up and we would lose tap handles if we didn’t keep making it,” remembers Mike, Cheboygan’s founder and brewmaster.

Blood Orange Honey remains Cheboygan Brewing Co.’s top seller, with three tanks devoted solely to its production. Mike said once he added it to his list of flagship beers, he needed a stable purée to ensure batch consistency.

Mike brews Blood Orange Honey with Blood Orange Concentrate and Orange Zest from The Perfect Purée of Napa Valley, along with Michigan wildflower honey for a residual sweet and creamy flavor. The result is a silky smooth, medium-bodied American-style wheat beer with an exhilarating nose of citrus.

Mike injects the orange flavor when the primary fermentation is finished and the beer is being transferred to the brite tank, which he says keeps the natural sugars and flavors from being converted to alcohol.

“Being Blood Orange we want some of that “blood” color to come through, plus with the late addition of the purée the flavor stays in instead of going up the steam stack,” Mike says. “Let’s face it, we all would love to use local fruits straight from the farm but there are a huge amount of variables with a crate of fresh fruit, let alone the time it takes to process the fruit. Then we have to sanitize them. Many do that by putting the fruit in the boil, and where does all that great aroma and flavor go? Right up the stack, as mentioned before. A rule of thumb I use is, if you can smell it coming out of your kettle, the flavors are going out of your beer.”

Mike has experimented with The Perfect Purée’s Thai Basil & Black Pepper and Thyme & Citrus blends, again adding them to the brite tank after primary fermentation. “One of the nice things about The Perfect Purée is the ability to get samples, which we use in some neutral tasting beers to get an idea of the aroma and flavors we can expect from the juice,” Mike says. “I can add as little or as much as I need and if I want to make it again there’s no guess work — just add the same amount as before and BOOM! I hit another home run.”

Beer was a big deal for Mike when he was growing up and his father, a farmer, occasionally offered him sips from the adult table. Like many others, when Mike was old enough he started home brewing. He later volunteered for a professional brewer and eventually found a full-time job at a brewery along with being a firefighter medic. He compares his craftsman’s approach to that of a chef in a kitchen. “Each beer is part of my personality,” he says.

History is a part of each beer at Cheboygan Brewing Co., which traces its lineage to 1872 when logging was Michigan’s Gold Rush and the Hentschel brothers from Prussia began brewing beer to satisfy the lumberjacks’ legendary thirst. A decade later, brothers James and Patrick Moloney established the Northern Brewing Company farther up river. James bought out his brother (who opened a bottling company) and changed the brewery’s name to Cheboygan Brewing and Malting Company, which in its heyday produced an impressive 40 barrels a day.

In 1911, with the rise of the temperance movement and the decline of the logging boom in Michigan, Cheboygan Brewing and Malting Company closed. Exactly one hundred years later, Cheboygan Brewing Co. opened in the same riverside location.

Mike says the educated and adventurous community of microbrew enthusiasts keeps him busy experimenting and he considers himself very lucky to wake up every day and look forward to going to work. Ironically, the same brewer who taught him his craft now works for him.“We still share many laughs and a long friendship. Brewing rocks,” Mike says.