Michigan Malt In the MakingBy Kyle Pollock on January 11th, 2013 /
The craft beer industry has seen a recent increase in size despite an overall decrease in overall beer consumption. No one is a bigger fan than Erik May, President of Pilot Malt House of the Greater Grand Rapids area.
Erik started Pilot Malt House over a year ago with business partner Paul Schelhaas. They began conversing while getting together over some craft beers one sunny afternoon about 4 years ago. The two started to go through each ingredient and stopped at malt. They loosely talked about making their own, but after some research, and seeing some space in the market, they asked, “why can’t we do it?” They knew, seeing the competition out there, they could do it better.
Before making malt, Erik had spent 10 years in the Military, which he described as the polar opposite of an entrepreneur. However, he said what the military does well is plan for things extensively. “Strategic planning for the future, and seeing things in different ways.” When entering a growing craft beer market, future planning does help especially when supporting a family. Eric spoke about what it is like to start a venture while providing for his family, but said, “you have to follow your passion.” Erik has great respect for all entrepreneurs and calls it simply, “the purest form of employment” because, “if you don’t sell, then you don’t get paid.”
From the beginning, Erik and Paul have been bootstrapping Pilot Malt House.
“We have been approached by about 10 -12 parties, offering their funds.” Erik says, “If we take them on now, we don’t want to lose control. So we are just stiff arming that for now and getting our feet on the ground.”
Erik did express they would take on backers in a later stage, but currently their highest priority is getting the malting down and making a high quality and most consistent product there is.
Erik said they’re looking to move into commercial space, and things look promising. According to the Michigan Brewer’s Guild, the Michigan brewing industry contributes more than $133 million and ranks fifth in the nation in the number of breweries, microbreweries and brewpubs. While some ingredients need to be bought outside of Michigan, Erik mentioned that in-state craft breweries like the idea of making 100% Michigan beer.
As a small malt house working with Michigan craft breweries, Erik explained they have a good advantage over the bigger companies. Being small means the possibility of a close relationships with clients and customers, so they can truly be a part of the beer making on the front end. Craft beer takes up 5.5% of the total beer market and is predicted to reach 10% by 2020 at its current growth. He also expressed interest in catering to Malt Scotch Whiskeys in the future.
Erik explained what it is with craft beers in Michigan and why so many have recently popped up. He said, “When people have their backs pushed to wall they get creative with ideas and just take off”. Bells being here in Western Michigan, and being a leading craft beer for 10 years helped spawn other people. This gave people inspiration.
Craft beer companies don’t see each other as competition. They see the big domestic brewers as competition, and if anyone can convert one person to a craft beer drinker then that is a win for the whole community. Erik admits he knew very little about the Michigan Agricultural Community, but after working with the Michigan State University Extension Office and meeting farmers around Michigan, it means more to eat fresh foods than rather just picking up a pack up strawberries. For Eric, it means a little closer to home.