Get Adobe Flash player
Rick Schmitt and Brian Confer open Stormcloud Brewing Company. Guests of Crystal Mountain might view nearby Frankfort, with its lake, lighthouse, and beach, as a summer destination, and stick closer to the resort’s communal fireplaces during other seasons. But for the intrepid explorers who want to see the changeable nature that locals know year-round - the mercurial lake and sky - Stormcloud Brewing must be on your anytime itinerary. Rick Schmitt and business partner Brian Confer chose this name to express the motion of the creative process of brewing, also inherent in moods of northern Michigan skies, in a new brewery Confer states, “…must be about the community. Our place. It’s not just blue skies and beaches. It’s more. It’s also hunkering down by the fire with family and board games and great beer.” In September 1995, Chris and Jim MacInnes lured Schmitt from Colorado to head up the new Crystal Center. Schmitt had recently married the daughter of another local family resort owner. (Jennie Schmitt now helps run her family’s Watervale Inn in nearby Arcadia.) 17 years of involvement in all facets of numerous start- up enterprises at Crystal uniquely primed Schmitt for his own bold venture. Sipping a Stormcloud brew, he assures he couldn’t have received better conditioning than what he received in “one of best jobs in northern Michigan, especially in the tourism industry. Crystal is successful, growing, well-respected, doing all the right things.” profile: the malt and hops lend flavor, but the yeast creates personality that seduces the imbiber. This focus on distinctive Belgian yeasts isn’t found thus far in the burgeoning number of area breweries. Hoping to ferment a sense of ownership in a community they aim to serve and support, Schmitt and Confer began soliciting creative input with questions from their rising head of Facebook fans months before the brewery’s opening. This yeasty mixture of crowdsourcing and anticipation was fed by financial backers so eager to fill the tanks that Stormcloud sold 25% of the business before even setting out tip jars. Schmitt witnessed this community vestedness in the support pitched into another successful third space he helped create in the adjoining single-screen historic Garden Theater. When you ask this also-the-school-board-president why he would invest so much into a small, seasonal town like Frankfort, he’ll unflinchingly ask you, “Doesn’t somebody have to?” “Have to’s” aside, Confer and Schmitt want to make a difference in community quality of life, and in a small town, Schmitt testifies, this change is tangible and easily proofed. Pouring a beer from his own tap and watching this change bubble up around him will be his ultimate reward to quaff. In our homogenous land of strip malls, one thirsts for such a distinct sense of place, and the Stormcloud team is infusing just this into the pub, with touches like Confer’s wall-sized photograph of stormclouds brewing over the lake, the bar and table tops repurposed from Beulah bowling alley lanes, locally- sourced products, and most importantly, the complex flavor personalities of 16 taps of Belgian-inspired, Michigan-made ales. Confer, seriously brewing for 10 years, began taste profiling and selecting Belgian yeasts two years ago. This professional photographer, sensitive to the impact of subtle shades and saturation in the overall feel of a composition, explains that yeasts make the difference in the finished taste CRYSTALMOUNTAIN.COM | 29