As interest in craft beer continues to grow locally and nationally, enthusiasts in the Metro Detroit area are lucky to have a long list of breweries to visit. Emily Miller wants to capitalize on that interest and cultivate it with her pitch for Detroit retail, the Collective Tap.
A Comerica Hatch Detroit semifinalist, Miller and the Collective Tap are competing for $50,000 to open a brick-and-mortar shop downtown. Banking on craft beer enthusiasm -- Michigan is a top beer state with more than 100 breweries -- the Collective Tap would serve as a hub for beer lovers.
The 10 Hatch semifinalists will be whittled down to four with a round of online voting ending Sept. 18. Then, four semifinalists will present their business plans to a panel of judges at the Sept. 26 "Hatch Off!" event, who, along with one last flurry of public voting, will select a winning business.
As the first round draws to a close, HuffPost Detroit asked Miller a few questions to find out how her store will engage the community, why she's compelled to share her love of craft beer and what brew pairs best with a mid-September day.
How your store would satisfy a need that the city's numerous bars and breweries can't?
Right now there isn’t one comprehensive space in Detroit specifically devoted to offering a diverse range of high-quality beers, from as many Michigan-based breweries as possible, along with a focus on Belgian and English beers.
We’re going to have a small tasting bar in-shop so people can sample new styles before spending the money on a purchase. We’re also offering small classes about beer: how to pair beer with food, flight nights where we walk through samples of a specific style and what makes it special and even homebrewing classes.
You've been living in Alaska. What's your connection to Detroit, and why do you want to open a business here?
I’m originally from Michigan and was in Alaska for a few months this summer to learn about the retail industry there while also exploring the state’s beer culture. But most of my family is from southeast Michigan, so Detroit’s always been a presence in my life. I’m related to the Beaubien family of Beaubien Street downtown, and it’s hard to not want to invest in and connect to a city where you have physical reminders of where and who you come from.
Detroit’s always felt less restrictive to me than other cities, like you have the space and the room to experiment and be a little different. I appreciate that, and since my idea is a little unconventional, it feels like a good fit to me.
When did you realize that you wanted to take beer from a hobby to a profession?
When I was living in Brussels, my job was to integrate U.S. university students into Belgian culture as much as possible, and you can’t really do that unless you literally bring them to the dinner table.
One of the best parts of my job was taking students who told me that they didn’t like beer on the first day of our program and helping them to discover the world of Belgian beer. One day it clicked that this is something I love doing, so why not continue doing it -- but in my own style?
Why is the "Tapped into Detroit" program, which would raise awareness and donations for one nonprofit each month, part of your business plan?
I don’t think you can survive as a local business unless you invest financially and emotionally in a place, because your business is the people in your community. The Belle Isle Conservancy, Declare Detroit and the Heidelberg Project are three projects that I always go back to for inspiration because they’ve done such a good job of bringing people from different backgrounds together, involving them in specific neighborhoods and a wide range of activities. To me, that level of engagement is needed to make a city really vibrant, and I love that it exists in Detroit at such a grassroots level.
What would your space in downtown Detroit look like?
Aesthetically, the space will echo my European experiences, which means that it will be a store that feels like a good ol’ neighborhood English pub and Belgian café. So basically, a lot of brick and dark wood and decorated with the odd bits and bobs of historic beer paraphernalia I’ve collected throughout the years.
But it’s important to me that the place is designed in a non-gendered way. I think too often people write beer off as being a "man’s" drink. I want everyone who is interested, from the first-time beer drinker to the seasoned homebrewer, to feel like they can come in without showing credentials. I think design has a lot to do in creating that atmosphere.
And, most importantly, what beer would you recommend for a perfect September day in Michigan?
Michigan in September means you still want something refreshing because of our "Indian summers," while also letting you mentally slip into autumn with an element of warmth and spiciness. I like Belgian-style golden ales because the carbonation gives the style a nice, light feel that’s zippy enough to perk up your palate while still letting the silkiness of the brew shine through. The alcohol content is high enough to warm you up when the weather starts to turn, but it’s not so heavy that you feel like sitting next to a fire or hunkering down with a roast.
I would recommend Oro de Calabaza from Michigan’s Jolly Pumpkin or Unibroue’s La Fin du Monde from Québec. These styles come in large bottles, or as they Belgians call them, convivial bottles, so they are perfect for sharing!
Check out this slideshow of all 10 Hatch Detroit 2012 semifinalists, and vote for the Collective Tap here.