From humble beginnings, Joe Short has created a craft beer powerhouse, with revenue expected to jump from about $17 million last year to $20 million this year.
Short's Brewing Co. is on track to brew 55,000 barrels of beer this year, up from 48,000 barrels last year and 39,000 in 2014 in its continually-expanding brewery in Elk Rapids, a tourist town on Lake Michigan north of Traverse City. In nearby Bellaire, Short's has a big and bustling brew pub as well as a popular restaurant and a retail store called Short's Mart, where fans can buy Short's-branded beer steins and glasses, golf shirts, hats, hoodies, jackets and T-shirts.
About 7,500 barrels of Short's beer will be distributed this year in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Short's employs about 150 year-round and 200 in the summer.
Depending on the definition of what makes a brewer a "craft" brewer, Short's is either No. 2 or No. 3 in Michigan. Bell's Brewery Inc. is the clear leader, with a capacity to brew one million barrels a year. Founder's Beer in Grand Rapids has capacity of about 900,000 barrels.
But Short and others in the beer industry, including the national Brewers Association, say Founder's lost its craft brewery status when it sold a 30 percent stake of the company to Mahou San Miguel, Spain's largest brewery group, in 2012. The association limits ownership by larger brewers to a maximum of 25 percent for brewers to retain the craft designation.
When Short began brewing beer, he wasn't thinking craft beer mini-empire, farm-to-table dining or souvenir shops.
He was under the legal drinking age, and he was just thinking about getting beer. As a sophomore at Western Michigan University, he made a practical decision: "It was easier to make beer myself than find someone to buy it for me," said Short.
"Then, I wanted to make it drinkable. And then I wanted to make it really drinkable," said Short, his old-fashioned handlebar mustache seeming to extend his smile.
Short liked brewing his own beer well enough to leave college his junior year, subsequently getting jobs at breweries in Traverse City, Jackson and Webberville.