When Short’s announced Heineken (through Lagunitas U.S. Holdings) had purchased a 19.99% stake in the Northern Michigan brewery on Thursday, I wasn’t the least bit surprised. Michigan always seemed like the next logical place for big beer to purchase its next craft brand and Short’s was the most logical target. In 2015 it produced just over 41,000, putting it right in the range of other acquired breweries. It also opened several new markets in the past year, a surprising departure from its “Michigan Only, Michigan Forever” approach. The brewery announced an expansion of its production facility last September. The signs were all there.
While the sale has drawn some ire, it is nowhere near the level a deal with AB-InBev would have reached. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Michigan is fiercely loyal to its local breweries, perhaps even to a fault. But AB-InBev-owned 10 Barrel and MillerCoors-owned Hop Valley, in similarly local-loving Oregon, have only seen growth within their state since being purchased. And we often forget that Founders, with a 30% stake acquired by Mahou San Miguel, is no longer considered craft by the Brewer’s Association definition, yet is still doing fine. (Fine is an understatement.) Plus Short’s still owns 80.01% of the brewery and still meets the craft definition. It’s fairly safe to assume it will be business as usual with a quicker than anticipated period of growth and new markets.
In the meantime Short’s continues to pump out an eclectic and eccentric collection of beers. Included in that lineup are a couple of shandies, the summer favorite beer/lemonade hybrid. He shandy and its cousin the radler have seen a bit of a resurgence as of late with a greater emphasis on sessionable beers. And while the best are light, thirst-quenching treats, far too many are cloying and obviously artificially flavored. Treetops Shandy and Power of Love fall into the first category.
Treetops Shandy is the more classic example of the two, a simple light lager blended with Northwoods Syrup & Soda Co. lemonade. Mailing in the two bases is what typically results in a subpar shandy, so it’s uplifting to note the components of both. Short’s makes one of the better light lagers out there with its Local’s Light, while Northwoods has been hand crafting lemonade and soda for over 20 years. Treetops is fairly standard, a touch sweet with a large lemonade presence but also a malty edge that’s a reminder of the beer in the background. It’s unfussy and would pair perfectly with a round of golf on its namesake course.
Power of Love, on the other hand, is world class, the number two rated shandy on RateBeer. It adds a twist of raspberry and rosemary to the mix. The raspberry is not heavy-handed, complementing rather than dominating the flavor and supplying a secondary tart element. The rosemary imparts a tinge of herbal and pine flavor and the use of a wheat beer as the base increases the body slightly and runs a undercurrent of malt through the pink liquid. It’s a phenomenal beer that at only 2.7% can be sipped all day and still remain interesting and only slightly intoxicating.
Whether you go with the traditional Treetops or the eccentric Power of Love, there’s no wrong choice for a hot summer day. Perhaps selling a minority stake will change Short’s, but chances are the biggest change will be an increase in distribution and an added ease in procuring a six pack. In the end we can expect more off-the-wall beers in more off-the-wall places.