While frequenting the breweries of the Kalamazoo area, it’s easy to let your eyes wander to some of the establishments’ artistic décor touches. Few places possess more eye candy than Bell’s Eccentric Cafe with owner Larry Bell’s collections of maps, masks and historical beer memorabilia, but there are several other unique decorative pieces with intriguing backstories to be found in Kalamazoo area microbreweries. Here are a few of my favorites (along with a suggestion for a beverage to enjoy while there):
Arcadia Brewing Co., 701 E. Michigan Ave.
During fall and winter’s cooler months, the Tulikivi soapstone fireplace from Masonry Heater and Design House in Kalamazoo has exactly the impact Arcadia founder Tim Suprise hoped for.
“It engages the senses,” Suprise says of the large wood-burning fireplace that graces the brewery’s main room.
Suprise says he attended a fundraising event at the Girl Scouts facility on Maple Street before opening the Kalamazoo River location and noticed Doug Hren, of Masonry Heater and Design House, cooking pizzas in a Tulikivi oven. “I fell in love with the wood stove. I started asking questions.”
Suprise coordinated with Hren to create a fireplace design that provides some heat for guests as well as a communal element. The fireplace generates a significant amount of heat and creates a warm ambiance. Surprise says the brewery plans to use the oven more this fall and winter to make flatbreads.
Suggested beer: Shipwreck Porter, a Baltic-style porter (12 percent ABV, or alcohol by volume)
Historical map of Kalamazoo breweries
Tibbs Brewing Co., 402 S. Burdick St.
An impressive piece of Kalamazoo brewing history is displayed on the wall leading to the stairway to the basement bar at Tibbs Brewing Co.
Using a Kalamazoo map from 1890, owner Cindee Tibbs assembled a shadow box depicting where the seven pre-Prohibition breweries of Kalamazoo were located and offering some historical nuggets about their existence. Tibbs used a research project from Keith Howard, web coordinator for the Kalamazoo Public Library, to piece together the visual representation of Kalamazoo’s beer history. The display also contains the years the breweries were in operation and the Kalamazoo Gazette headline when residents voted to go “dry” in 1915.
“People enjoy it quite a bit,” says brewer Kevin Tibbs, Cindee’s husband. “I didn’t know any of that until she put it together.”
Suggested beer: Ben Jonesin’, a chocolate toffee imperial porter (5.8 percent ABV)
Texas Corners Brewing Co. m 6970 Texas Drive
Prominently displayed beside the bar at Texas Corners Brewing Co. is a collage of an American flag, a wedding photo, a series of medals and a black-and-white image of a man standing beside a P-51D Mustang fighter aircraft. The photo is of Victor Schultz, a then-22-year-old pilot standing in an airfield in Tunisia in 1944. Schultz flew reconnaissance missions over southern Italy in World War II as a member of the U.S. Army Air Corps, according to Andrew Schultz, his grandson and the general manager of Texas Corners Brewing Co. Victor hailed from Dowagiac and moved to Mattawan in 1951 to start the family fruit farm, Schultz Fruitridge Farms.
When the Schultzes began producing hard cider and craft beer, they named their first beer P-51 Porter to honor Victor, who died in 2002 at age 80. The beer is a year-round offering and very popular among veterans.
“It’s a tribute to him and starting the family business,” Andrew says.
Suggested beer: P-51 Porter, an English-style porter (6 percent ABV)
‘Happy Brewery’ metal art
Boatyard Brewing Co., 432 E. Paterson St.
While visiting a Vermont brewery in 2013, shortly before opening his own brewery, Boatyard Brewing Co. co-owner Brian Steele noticed an employee there who appeared grumpy while pouring beer for customers. Steele looked to his longtime friend and Boatyard partner, Dan Gilligan, and said, “I never want to be that way. We have to be the ‘Happy Brewery.’” That motto now hangs just inside the Boatyard’s front door. The metal art piece was created by Michelle Zorich, of Things of Steel, for Boatyard’s third anniversary, in June.
“It’s the motto we live every day by,” Steele says.
Suggested beer: Frosted Harbor, a dark raspberry wheat ale (5.4 percent ABV)
Arched tree installation
One Well Brewing, 4213 Portage St.
A wind-damaged white oak in the Bloomingdale backyard of Tim Overhuel has been transformed into a decorative eye-catcher at One Well Brewing’s expanded taproom.
Overhuel, owner of Bad Adz Custom Wood Design, is responsible for much of the woodwork featured in this Milwood neighborhood brewery. The tree was more than 20 years old when it was harvested. It had been “trained” to grow in an arc by Overhuel following a storm on his property and was more than 40 feet long. When One Well decided on a forest theme for its space, Overhuel suggested his tree as a focal point.
“Tim’s thought was to do something he had never seen before,” says One Well head brewer and co-owner Chris O’Neill.
Co-owner T.J. Waldofsky, who helped skin the bark off the several-hundred-pound tree, says it’s very popular on social media outlets.
Suggested beer: Bad Adz, a brown ale named after Overhuel’s company (5.5 percent ABV)