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The Shifty, Episode 1: Land Stewardship at Bell’s Brewery with Jake Grevenstuk

Jake Grevenstuk harvesting hops

Here at Bell’s, we’re constantly trying to foster the relationship we have between what we do and who we do it for. In an effort to strengthen the connection between brewing beer and the people who drink it, we're inviting you to meet some of the people who help make some of your favorite beers.

The Shifty is a new podcast we’ve created to tell the story of Bell’s through the stories of the people who work here. We share a post-shift beer and great conversation with people from several different departments in order to show you how our beer goes from tank to table through a short series of approximately 20-minute-long episodes.

In episode one, we speak to Land Steward Jake Grevenstuk about his work on the hop yard and sustainability at Bell’s. This episode shows you where it all begins: the land and the people who take care of it. We also speak to Land Steward Bonnie Steinman and Director of Operations John Mallett about their contributions to Bell’s.

The Shifty can be found on iTunes, Google Play and  Spotify. We’re hoping this series will give you a fun look at Bell’s that you’ve never had before, and you might even learn a thing or two along the way.



Jake Grevenstuk: Or if I see a sweet jaguar and I take a picture of it, I will literally text it to Larry. Be like, “hey, this one's pretty sweet.”

Maddie Parise: Hello, and welcome to The Shifty: The official podcast of Bell's Brewery. Every episode we sit down with a member of the Bell's crew during their post shift beer, and figure out why they came to work today. I'm Maddie Parise-

Nick: And I'm Nick Lancaster.

Maddie: And today, we're talking to Jake Grevenstuk, and land steward at Bell's. So can you tell us a little bit about your journey to start working with Bell's and what happened there?

Jake: How far back do you want to go?

Maddie: As far back as you want to take it.

Jake: I feel like all my experiences kind of culminated in this role. I grew up on a farm in Martin, about 20 minutes north of here. I spent five years at a greenhouse. So for timeline sake, I started there when I was in seventh grade. My grandma would pick me up from grade school and take me there. It started as a summer job, and then I just kind of stayed through high school. Then, I got into residential landscape construction and did that for about 12 years or so. Spent a brief snippet of time at a nursery in Ann Arbor. A landscape nursery, did a lot of tree planting, bulk deliveries, and stuff like that. Ended up coming to Bell's as a facilities tech, with a little bit of a slant to the outside, back when global services was still a thing. I started working for Jeff Carter as that facilities tech. And then a couple of reorgs later we had Evan Meffert, I was working under him, and then Walker Modic, and now with Ralph Stocker in the products and engineering department. It's going really well so far.

Maddie: So your current career has been kind of a long time coming?

Jake: Yeah, kind of a long time coming. Kind of like all these different things that I've done in the past, it all just really added up to this. I used to do the landscape construction, and in the winter time I'd plow snow or whatever. I feel like I'm just kind of a well rounded individual, a chameleon at times if I need to be. I can do a lot of things.

Nick: I kind of like the idea of leading with the question, why did you come to work today?

Jake: Why did I come to work today? That's a pretty good question. I've got people, plants, that rely on me to be there. If I don't show up then like things die, and the place starts to deteriorate.

Maddie: You have a big impact.

Jake: Yeah, there's kind of a big impact I guess. Not that the world would crumble if I weren't there.

Maddie: We don't know for sure though.

Jake: Yeah, we don't know. But we do have a hop yard, and it needs a lot of care. It's been a huge help just having Bonnie this year, this is kind of the first spring that I've had an extra set of hand, so that's been huge.

Bonnie Steinman: It's great to be here because we take care of everything that is Bell's outside.

Nick: That's Bonnie Steinman, one of the land stewards here at Bell's.

Bonnie: It's like the gateway to the brewery, and every entrance we take care of it. Then the hop yard is just like a bonus.

Nick: Okay.

Maddie: What is the backstory on the hop farm?

Jake: Back when Evan was running global services, Larry wanted to get some hops in the ground. I say Larry, I don't know, I assume Larry, but it could've been anybody.

Nick: Someone up there.

Jake: Somebody wanted some hops on the grounds, and so Evan planted a couple dozen plants. Ya know, we had some hops, we checked that box. When I came on board we kind of had more conversation like, "we should do something with the old little hop spot there, can you dress that up?" And I was like, "we should go a little bigger cause I'm a big dreamer." I got big plans, big ideas, I got my agenda I want to push. I thought it'd be cool if we had enough we could use for something, and that kind of developed into, "how big do we go then?" - and that sort of thing.

It was fun, that was kind of my first project, designing the hop yard and getting that installed. Worked really close with Bonnie at that time, when she was with Hop Head Farms. The hop yard itself sits on a portion of land that we have a geothermal field. So that was kind of unbuildable space, and as landscaper, "let's put in a hop garden." In quotation marks there. So I had some conversation with Evan and Mallett, and got in touch with Jeff and Bonnie at Hop Head Farms. I came up with that idea, pitched it, and it flew. Larry liked the idea. I think it's a good thing. Employees love pulling in and seeing it, you know the tour people.

Nick: It's very aesthetically pleasing I've noticed.

Maddie: Right.

Nick: Sure, there have been some great photos that I've seen of it, but it's like you walk out there, and I don't know we shot a little video the other day for Two Hearted, and we had John Mallett out there. It was funny, every time we were trying to film the hop would swing right in front of him whenever they tried to film him. You pull up and you don't really notice how massive it is, and then you walk out there and it's like there's a ton of hops out there.

Jake: Yup. There's about 2,300 hundred plants on that two acres. So, yeah, you got double that on the number of knots I tie each spring for the ropes hanging down. Trying to get my clove hitch down to a science with both hands.

Nick: So what does into the planning of that, like the hop field? What sort of technology do you have to use in order to plan that stuff out? Is it hand drawn schematics almost or is it like some sort of computer program that sort of lets you do that?

Jake: I'm sure there are computer programs, I just hand drew it on different scales and tried to come up with something that worked. It's basically a square with a little knock out for the little tour pavilion that's there now. I'm glad I planned for that little tour pavilion that we put in this spring. Hopefully, we can get some more people using that space and eventually maybe we do something a little bit more. I basically just hand drew it and then started inaudible materials and that sort of thing and that sort of thing. Ended up putting in black locust poles, they're untreated so there's no chemicals on those. They're just basically cut down trees, but they're superior in rot resistance so that kind of why they get used. They get used in smaller form for a lot of fence posts, and it's kind of the old farmer's thing to use them for fence posts and put a rock on top, and when the rock falls off you need to replace your fence post.

Maddie: How big of a deal is being sustainable to the work that you do?

Jake: I would say that it's a big impact. So, basically the design of the landscape around the brewery is somewhat dictated by the engineering that has to take place for parking lots, roads, and the building itself. So, we have to have drains in certain areas, and this, that, and the other thing with that. But, the landscape itself, we're a brewery, we used a lot of water, but we don't want to use anymore than we have to. I think that goes into our beer, it fits with all that, ya know. We want to reduce that, and in the landscape, it's the same way. I did a case study, if we did have your typical sports turf grass or just a turf grass that needs high maintenance. Grass is typically your highest maintenance perennial landscape when you think about where you spend your time. You mow your lawn once a week, but how often do you trim your shrubs? There's kind of that. I did this case study, we would be using 4 million more gallons a year if we had irrigated turf, that required the high maintenance.

Maddie: That's incredible.

Jake: Yeah, and it's just that we don't need to do that. I don't want to waste my time. I don't want to be like a slave to that, I guess.

Maddie: It's a waste of time and resources.

Jake: Absolutely. To me that's kind of where the land steward part fits, because you're a steward of the land, but you're a steward of the resources of the company as well. We don't need to waste money, and we don't need to waste resources like, water.

Nick: Exactly. What are you drinking?

Jake: Two Hearted.

Nick: Two Hearted, classic.

Jake: I kind of froze up there for a second, I've been drinking a lot of Larry's Latest IPA.

Nick: It's so good.

Jake: Super delicious, of course. I was just having a conversation with Drew, the land stewardship intern, and she's like, "I really like the darker beers, like the Ambers." I was like, "Man, I do not drink enough Amber." That is for sure, so I kind of wanted to get an Amber, and I kind of wanted a Larry's Latest, but when in doubt there's Two Hearted, it's the best IPA in the country, ya know.

Nick: The old stand-by.

Jake: Best, beer in the country-

Nick: Yeah.

Maddie: Yeah.

Jake: Number one.

Maddie: What do you think makes Bell's different than any of the other jobs that you've had? Or just even the other craft breweries you know about, like what makes Bell's different than other places?

Jake: Well, I haven't worked at any other breweries, so I can't speak to some of those other cultures. But, I think the culture that we have here, the family culture, everybody can hangout together. That's why I like being a Bell's employee, it's still kind of a badge of honor, I think. You gotta be a certain person or a certain type, but we can all hangout together. So I think like, I don't know if it's psychologicaly or whatever, but we're all similar in certain ways, but we're all so different in a lot of ways. But we've got great diversity and when we come together we can do really awesome stuff. We've got this pub and we can come down here and hangout and drink some beers, and share our stories. I think that's pretty sweet.

Nick: Yeah, exactly. It's like, there are so many different people, and so many different perspectives at work that you know while you're working you might not be able to get into, but then the way culture is, it's like, "Alright, well we're done working now. Let's do downtown and have shifty." And then you start talking about one thing and than everyone is just talking about their own passions and interests. From my perspective, the jobs that I've held, I've never really been this close with coworkers before, to the point where's after 8 hours I still want to have a beer with them at the end of the day. That's sort of a rare thing, I think, for a company to have, that I still want to hangout with this person 8 hours later.

Jake: Yeah, we have our professionalism, we wear that hat when we're at work, and we can do that. And then we can take that hat off and let our hair down. You learn the other side of that person or just more about them.

Nick: We learn about other departments too like, "what did you do today?"

Jake: Yeah. Dr. Luke was probably a good example, he comes down here a couple times a week, or once a week. I love talking hops stuff with him, and watching the fire in eyes light up. He's like, "Oh, I got this experiment kicking in my head. Oh that would be sweet, we gotta do that, we gotta do that." And like, I think we're all driven that way, where we have great ideas. I think that comes, part of like that Bell's ethos, where we're all driven that way.

Nick: It's also culture where the people will listen to those ideas if you have them. It's definitely not like, "You are my subordinate, and I'm the higher up and what I say goes." If you have an idea for something or you think maybe something should be done differently or could be done better, it's definitely culture of listening. It's like, "Oh, okay, that's actually a good idea."

Jake: Yeah. I think that's a strong case within the leadership. I think it's really important to listen to everybody. You're not gonna get that fresh idea yourself, most likely, that's gonna come from somebody on your team or somebody else or some other interaction. Like, to have that light bulb moment, it might flip something for you, but it takes fresh pair of eyes sometimes.

Nick: Yeah, absolutely.

Maddie: I think the big thing I've noticed about Bell's is the way the morale is here. It's different than most any other place I've worked. People are excited to come into work, and you can tell people like their jobs and they're not just doing this because they need the money. They're actually passionate about it-

Jake: Oh, totally.

Maddie: It just makes coming to work so much better when you know the people you're sitting next to are thrilled to be there as you are.

Jake: Yeah, definitely, and no matter what they're doing too. I know we had the 12 barrel system was kind of commissioning a little bit yesterday in there, monkeying around with that. The new system out at Comstock, the specialty line I guess you'd call it. Lou, Mallett, and Straz, they're all kind of staying there and watching their little baby grow, and we all do that in whatever our little way is. It's exciting to just look around and see people doing the same thing.

John Mallett: The whole idea for the 12 barrel system came up as part of a much larger discussion.

Maddie: That's Director of Operations, John Mallett.

John: And that larger discussion was always, we have a fantastic brewing program here at the brewery and as we develop beers from small to big, the route that we've used is brewing beers downtown. That system downtown, that system's been around for awhile. Bell's Brewery has had it for at least 25 years now, and it brews 15 barrels, we often run it as a 10. It could run a little less. That system's is good, we make good beer on it, and then when we bring those beers to Comstock they change a little bit. It's just the difference from the ways from the level of automation, the way that the way mash and the wort are handled.

The idea was, "Wow, if we could develop beers on a smaller scale than 50 barrels, that then translates to 50 barrels, that makes it's a lot easier." So, the decision was then made like, "If we're going to do this, we should do this in Comstock." So, we've got good translation through there, and be able to use these spaces. Once that decision was made we said, "We're going to build this new system. Who's going to build it for us?." Pilot systems are kind of quirky things because we're really trying to emulate something that is big, on a smaller scale. The problem with that, if you think about baking a cupcake versus baking a regular cake versus baking a really big cake, there're some things that change there. So, designing that system from scratch, to get it to the place where we'd be able to translate it through was our real goal.

After determination who was going to build it, all of the engineering concerns that go in there like, what are the ratios and sizes? How are we going to do this? What are the controls look like? This new system is running all of the same software, even the base technology behind it is the same as those larger systems. Overall, it's been a fantastic project. I was just overjoyed to see us finally making wort out of the system. I mean, it came in and it got set up and installed, and it started up very quickly. So far, everything looks fantastic.

Nick: Well, I think we got time for maybe one more question and then we can wrap it up. What do you think if the future of craft beer?

Maddie: That's a loaded question.

Jake: So loaded. I think the future of craft beer is going to continue to rise. I think it's gonna slowly rise though, and not everybody's gonna make it through. But, I think, especially Bell's, I feel like we're just super well positioned in the market.

Nick: In a market that's becoming more and more, I feel, homogenized, I guess.

Jake: Sure.

Nick: Like, I feel like the big corporations are starting to try to scoop up craft breweries.

Jake: Yup.

Maddie: Hm-uh (affirmative).

Nick: That's kind of the rare thing about Bell's is that we wear that badge of like completely independent and family owned very very proudly.

Jake: Yeah, I sent an email to our president and CEO today, and I had response within hours.

Nick: Right.

Jake: I don't know if that's the case everywhere.

Nick: Right.

Maddie: Yeah

Nick: That sort of access to be able to be like, "Hey, I have a question for you."

Jake: Or if I see a sweet Jaguar and I take a picture of it, I will literally text it to Larry. Be like, “Hey, this one's pretty sweet.”

Nick: Get a response like, "Hell yeah, that's awesome."

Jake: Yeah, pretty much, ya know.

Maddie: It's cool that we're doing such big things, but still has that feeling of closeness and community that you don't get at a larger corporation.

Jake: Right. Right. Absolutely. But I think beer is here to stay, it's been around for a long time, I don't think it'd going anywhere. It weathers the storms in all markets. Wine's been around probably equally as long, like they've got more wineries than there are breweries. There's no reason that all those wineries are just gonna disappear.

Maddie: Right.

Jake: We'll see, but I don't we're going anywhere. Like I said, we're well positioned in the market. I feel confident with my career here.

Nick: Awesome. We would like to thank Jake for stopping in and kind of taking part in our little experiment here.

Jake: Thanks for doing it. I think this is awesome. I would love to do this, on the reg.

Nick: Once you get bit by the podcasting bug, you don't get unbit.

Maddie: Right.

Nick: You just want to do it all the time, and I think it's just a great medium for conversation and explaining to our fans, kind of giving a little behind the scenes look at what we do and what we stand for.

Jake: I tried to do a blog once, because I just wanted this kind of creative outlet. I was going some photography, and trying to just write about the photos and that sort of thing. Now, that I've got this position here, I'd love to just write or talk more about what we do at Bell's that way. I think that'd be just awesome.

Maddie: The kind of work we do kind of pushes you to be creative, because you just want to share with everyone.

Jake: Yeah.

Nick: Yeah.

Jake: Absolutely, and build so more. I know I've got some room to improve the awareness piece on how we manage the grounds and the hops, and everything else. We're going to be working on that over the next year or two.

Nick: Awesome.

Maddie: Well, thank you so much for talking to us about this.

Jake: Absolutely, it's probably time for another Two Hearted.

Nick: This has been The Shifty with Nick,

Maddie: And Maddie.

Nick: Thank you for listening, we'll catch you next time. Cheers.

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