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Michigan Is Crazy For Craft Beer: $133M Industry

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GRAND RAPIDS (AP) - Michigan beers used to be named Stroh, Goebel, Altes and Carling Black Label, among others.

Now they carry labels such as Huma Lupa Licious, Diabolical IPA and Purple Gang Pilsner.

Some folks await the summer’s first Bell’s Oberon with the enthusiasm of wine connoisseurs anticipating the November release of Beaujolais Nouveau.

We’re crazy for craft beer.

Michigan ranks fifth in the nation in the number of breweries, microbreweries and brewpubs, according to the Michigan Brewers Guild.

The state has 118 active brewer licenses, up 27 percent from just a year ago, said Scott Graham, executive director of the Brewers Guild.

Created in 1997, the Brewers Guild just wrapped up its 15th annual summer beer festival in Ypsilanti featuring 60 Michigan brewers and 450 beers.

And the Michigan Legislature designated July as Craft Beer Month.

What’s behind the growth of all the breweries and brewpubs in the state?

“Great beer,” Graham said. “We brew all different styles of beer here. Michigan people are loyal purchasers of locally made products.

“And a six pack is still an affordable luxury,” Graham said.

The technical definition of a craft brewer is one that is licensed to produce less than 30,000 barrels a year.

Graham said he defines craft beer more by quality than quantity.

Bell’s Brewery, headquartered in Galesburg, near Kalamazoo, has a standard brewer’s license, not a craft beer license. Bell’s is the 13th largest brewing company in the United States.

“But I still think of them as a craft brewer,” Graham said.

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Michigan brewers pump $133 million a year into the state economy, including $24 million in employee compensation, according the Brewers Guild.

Despite the growth of craft beer in Michigan, we still drink a lot of Bud and Miller.

Michigan-made beer accounts for just 3.5 percent of the state’s beer consumption. The Brewer’s Guild’s long-term goal is to boost that share to 10 percent.

Graham said the industry is hindered by state regulations that make it difficult for small breweries and brewpubs to grow.

Craft beer producers are seeking various licensing changes that would allow them to more easily distribute their products.

“It’s a heavily regulated industry at the state and federal level,” Graham said. “We sure would like to have easier access to consumers and have government get out of the way,” Graham said.

The state Office of Regulatory Reform recently issued a number of recommendations favorable to the industry, but those recommendations are a long way from becoming law.

Graham said small breweries also struggle to find retail outlets for their products.

“They have a hard time working through those issues,” he said. “There is a lot of competition for shelf space” in retail stores.

But how can you resist a beer with a name like Huma Lupa Licious?

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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