Up North, Down State: Biercamp Brewing
Walking into Biercamp on State Street in Ann Arbor is like stumbling upon a portal straight to Northern Michigan. Coolers teem with packages of smoked sausages and fish, jerky, pâté and brats as well as containers of Aunt Pam’s Dill Pickles and jerky pâté. Black and white family photos adorn the walls. A stuffed pheasant soars in one corner. An antique weighing scale sits on one of the gleaming wood counters that have been crafted by hand.
“We designed it like a house so people can come in and chat,” says Hannah Cheadle, who owns Biercamp with Walter Hansen. The couple, who opened the artisan meat shop in 2011, hail from Suttons Bay, where they grew up knowing everyone by name.
On a recent busy Saturday afternoon an older couple walks in, and Cheadle greets them warmly. “So good to see you,” she says. Both Cheadle and Hansen have a rapport with the couple, and chat with them as if they were family members.
Since opening in 2011, the pair have cultivated a loyal customer base who not only come for the housemade sausages, hearty sandwiches, craft beer and wine, but also because of the warm and friendly service.
It’s something that Hansen learned from working in his parents’ grocery store. The third-generation butcher also learned how to make sausages from his dad and grandfather. He was about 8 years old when he started learning the craft, and his first sausage was a bratwurst.
The name “Biercamp” is a nod to their fathers, who would go to their annual beer camp the week before hunting season. “They would make really good sausages, make really good food, drink really good beer and wine,” Cheadle says.
Before they opened the shop, the two were living in New York. Hansen went to culinary school in Vancouver and worked at restaurants such as Mario Batali’s Del Posto, while Cheadle worked in merchandising and marketing. Eventually they got to the point where they had had enough of their 300-square-foot Manhattan apartment, and Cheadle was going to have to work overseas full time. It was either put down roots in New York or come back home.
That’s when they got the idea to do Biercamp. Even though it evokes the feel and culture of Northern Michigan, they decided to open the store in Ann Arbor because there was nothing like it in the area.
Everything, except for packaged items such as beverages and crackers, is made by hand in small batches based on family recipes. They source meat from farms where the animals are raised humanely and naturally without antibiotics or hormones.Biercamp started as a meat shop, then the couple pursued their microbrewer license the following year. They continue to add to their store with new products and prepared foods. One day Hansen had some pork he had to use up, so he started smoking it. He thought it would take no time, but then it hit a stall point and he had to wait. Sixteen hours later, it was finally done. Enticed by the aroma, their neighbor came over, bought some rolls and made a sandwich. Other people saw what he was eating and wanted a sandwich, too. Today the 16-hour Pulled Pork is one of their staple sandwiches. There’s also the Backwoods Pulled Pork with slaw and sweet jalapeño mustard; Beef Brisket with onions and pickles; and Backwoods Brisket with slaw and sweet jalapeño mustard. Also on the menu are several varieties of brats, hot dogs and smoked sausages.
While there are more traditional sausage flavors such as Italian and kielbasa, the less traditional offerings such as the Dirty Swiss Bastard—which features Founders’ Dirty Bastard ale—and Argentine chorizo demonstrate their creativity and flair when it comes to flavors. One of their first brats was a Michigan Asparagus Onion Cheddar, which to this day is still a top seller. There are even vegetarian-friendly options, such as the Biercamp Veggie Brat made with vegetarian casings.
Bacon is another specialty with no less than 10 varieties available at any given time. And of course there is jerky. They started off with the classic beef jerky and have since expanded to 100-plus varieties, including pork, bacon, turkey, chicken, duck, elk, bison and venison.
Along with beers such as Vienna IPA and Saison brewed on site, there’s also wine. The quite dry and fruity house red wine boasts distinct chocolate and coffee notes, and the house white is a Chablis-style wine. They are also hoping to get a distilling license and offer spirits. In 2016 they opened Biercamp Market in Ludington, and even though the Ann Arbor storefront is quite packed, they are content with the current site on South State Street. “We love this location,” Cheadle says. “We still have regulars from the first day we opened … they feel like they’re part of it since they’ve been coming from the beginning.”
Learn more at Bier-Camp.