As one of the newest kids on the block in the growing world of local craft beer, Cultivate Brewing Company is working to create an atmosphere that is distinct and fulfilling. The brewery opened in July of 2015 in Berrien Springs. Prior to moving to Niles, my commute from Bridgman would take me daily past the field on Shawnee where the brewery is located. At the time, it seemed much like any other in the area, isolated, full of growth, and surrounded by trees, but it was those very traits that attracted owner Nick Kuhn to the lot.
What exists there now is a culture of invitation. The attractive tasting room and brewery building, set intentionally off the road, rests near a pond and a field of six varieties of hops that connect the visitor to the source of the product they have come to enjoy. Kuhn refers to it as “Cultivate State Park,” noting the walking paths through the plants and pedestals with explanations of growing and harvesting processes. He explained that the lay out of the grounds was deliberate from his first conception of the brewery.
“I wanted to get people real close to the ingredients,” he said.
Kuhn enjoys seeing people purchase a pint of their beer and wander through the fields, learning what hops are and seeing them grow. He explained the importance of connecting people with the ingredients, especially in Southwest Michigan, a region poised to continue increasing to over 100 acres of hops in the next few years. The grounds are built for more than beer lovers, though. Another intentional part of the lay out is an area for kids to play, with a soccer net, a playground, and a “ninja warrior course.”
The concept of a brewery that is open to family is a part of the philosophy of Cultivate. We discussed the negative aspects of alcohol consumption and Kuhn explained that he wanted a venue for true beer lovers who are there to taste and enjoy. The brewery makes an extra effort to respect their neighbors, with earlier closing hours than that of an average bar. His goal is to bring people in to stay and enjoy a relaxed atmosphere, making the brewery their own.
“When people are tasting beer during the day, it's a different approach to going out at night,” Kuhn said. “People have adopted the front porch like it's their own.”
Kuhn came up with the concept for Cultivate in 2013. Already, many breweries were coming online, so he set out from the start to create something different. One of the most important aspects of the brewery was to create a destination, taking advantage of the booming beer culture, but doing so with an atmosphere and experience more similar to a winery.
“The goal is to merge those two cultures,” he said, noting the decades of success in the local winery industry.
We discussed the fast paced nature of a world focused on moving quickly and building bigger and noted a recent shift in culture to make space for things that are more meaningful. Kuhn's desire in life and his work is to be a part of that more purposeful shift. His goal is not one of creating volume or achieving large distribution or mass quantities. His interest is in creating an experience that requires your presence, one that can't be put into a bottle or a tap handle.
“Michigan has this culture and a dynamic that says come and visit because you'll experience something different,” he said.
Kuhn and his family moved from Chicago to Baroda three years ago. He describes the city, their home for twelve years, as a place of energy, life, and challenge. He described plenty of positive aspects of living there, but also expressed the desire of he and his wife to try something different, especially in respect to raising their children. They knew the Southwestern Michigan area from camping trips in the dunes and, as he describes it, came up with the “crazy idea to move,” doing so within three months.
“We said 'let's get some land.' If we're not going to be in the city, let's go completely opposite. Let's go on an adventure.”
He recounts making friends within a few weeks of moving to the area and realizing a new bond with his family. He is enjoying seeing his children grow up in a slower environment, one that allows him to experience the fleeting moments of their childhoods that could be missed in a busier lifestyle. Those regional traits apply directly to his hopes for the brewery.
“We love it,” he said. “It's been an amazing couple of months.”
Kuhn and his five employees at Cultivate plan to continue weaving those traits into the brewery. It is encompassed in all aspects, from the intimate tasting room to the simple, one word names of each beer. The goal of Cultivate is to nurture an atmosphere, an experience, and relationships. You can find more information on Cultivate Brewing Company at cultivatebrewing.com.