HOMES Brewery in Ann Arbor was a labor of love for creator Tommy Kennedy. He makes and serves novel beers and Southeast Asian street food in the Jackson Avenue location and shares some exciting news in this conversation with WEMU's Lisa Barry.
Lisa Barry: You're listening to 89-1 WEMU, and this is Art and Soul. This is Lisa Barry, and, this week, Art and Soul is about the culinary arts, and there's a brewery in Ann Arbor with unique and innovative craft beer and not your typical menu. And we're joined now by the owner of HOMES Brewery on Jackson Avenue, Tommy Kennedy. Thanks for talking to us.
Tommy Kennedy: Thanks so much for having me.
Lisa Barry: Let's start with what does HOMES stand for? Is there meaning behind that as well?
Tommy Kennedy: HOMES is the acronym for the Great Lakes. I think a lot of people from Michigan probably know that--Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior. We wanted to have a little nod to our region, but wanted to be a little more of like an inside wink. So, we don't really play it out. But it is a reference to the great state we're from.
Lisa Barry: So whether you've been to HOMES are not been there yet, I can tell you it is definitely not your father's beer. How would you describe what you're serving there and creating there?
Tommy Kennedy: Yes, we are opened up primarily focused on hoppy and sour beers, but really with the thought that we would zero in on a few styles and really try to be innovative and keep things interesting within hours before expanding to additional styles. So we try to really splurge on ingredients and explore new flavors and try to find things that are unique and not necessarily readily available in Michigan and try to find ways to innovate across the industry to draw attention from folks outside of the state as well.
Lisa Barry: Can you tell us about some of your beers and what's in them?
Tommy Kennedy: For the hobby beers, we certainly source a lot of the best hops from around the world and use a lot of them just kind of in the hazy IPA realm that has taken off and in 43 is big in Michigan. We have a lot of hazy IPAs that are kind of in that style. And then our sour program, we have multiple different types of sours from Queen sours to mixed culture sours, a little bit more funky, but a lot of those are just using real fruit and other real ingredients--vanilla beans and cocoa nibs and things like that, just to give it a full, full flavor.
Lisa Barry: Funky is a good word I would use to describe. And, full disclosure, I was there a few weeks ago with my family, who are very much in the craft beer, and they would go get a drink, and they'd bring it back to the table. And I would look at it and I go, "That's beer?" Because it was like pink or orange and kind of thick. And, for those of us who are maybe not necessarily into craft beer, why am I looking at or what am I tasting?
Tommy Kennedy: Yeah, mission accomplished. So much of it is that there is a perception of beer, that it is this one thing, or it's within a range of flavors that not everybody is interested in, you know, bitterness or the flavor of micro beers that everyone's come to know so well. So, you know, often out of the gates, we would have people come in and say they don't like beer. And we would say, "Can you drink beer? You're not gluten intolerant. Just try this, will you please? You know, give it at least a try." And, sure enough, more often than not, people would be surprised. And I think that's a big part of it, expanding people's idea of what they like or what they can enjoy. I think that has been a staple of HOMES and so much of like what the excitement and community building around is people excited to try something new and maybe stretch their own palate.
Lisa Barry: Right. What would you say is your most unusual beer at HOMES?
Tommy Kennedy: That's a good question. I would say the one that we've had on forever is an imperial cream ale with coffee called King Cold Brew that our head brewer Nick had come up with before he even came on board with us. Cream ale style and then basically treating that base beer with coffee the same way you would with cold brew. And that has been a staple for us since we opened. That looks like it should be a normal beer. And then you bring it to your nose, and you're just shocked that it smells just like coffee.
Lisa Barry: Do you make them all on site right there on Jackson Avenue?
Tommy Kennedy: We make most of them there. And then we do have another site. About a mile and a half up the road our production facility that we started working our way into back right after we opened in 2017.
Lisa Barry: And I'm hearing a lot about Smooj. What exactly is that?
Tommy Kennedy: Smooj is our COVID baby. It certainly was something we had talked about doing for a long time prior to COVID, but finally had the bandwidth to tackle it once the pandemic hit. And, essentially, it's taking a lot of the concepts that we use for our heavily fruited sour beers and applying it to hard seltzer. So it is a hard seltzer smoothie, and it really was the first of that category. And we give this an opportunity to really be frontrunners and forerunners and innovators for a whole new thing. That's a subset of an already exploding category of hard seltzer. So, we started doing smaller releases out of our brewpub back in June of 2020, and I just started catching momentum there, selling out quicker and quicker until our servers were crashing. And so, we realized we really had something fun and special on our hands and started pouring some attention and resources and dedicating some staff to understanding how we could maybe make this thing a larger in distribution--a kind of sub entity of HOMES. And that was really important too, just because home so much of our focus is staying small and building community around the brewpub, not being in distribution. When the pandemic hit, as much as that still is our goal for HOMES, it was clear that there are times when we're in a pandemic were to come up again or some other crisis that we really have a lot of eggs in one basket with this very small local audience with Smooj. You can help diversify things and potentially give us another revenue stream to stabilize the business and continue to grow our staff and the community around us.
Lisa Barry: Now, let's talk about the food you serve at HOMES. It's not really a pretzel and burger type menu.
Tommy Kennedy: No, it's not. We out of the gates are challenging ourselves to think differently and make sure that we are adding things to the community that we would want. Yeah, there are plenty great burgers in town. There is plenty great beer and pizza. And we just we're thinking about what really paired best with our food and what was another style of food that would maybe pull people along for a ride with us and expand people's horizons. And so, we were focused on Southeast Asian street food, which is pretty broad, but it gives us an opportunity to kind of the same thing we do with beer is where we introduce folks that maybe would be unfamiliar with the style of food to things that are very approachable and familiar, even though it's not in the familiar taste, even if it's not the familiar form. And so, it's that's really gone well, too. I think we had nervousness out of the gates that we would get destroyed for not being able to have a burger with the beer. But Ann Arbor is such a great town and understands that not everything has to be the same. So it's really gone over well.
Lisa Barry: And, last but not least, you have a big announcement. I'm so excited that we get to share first with our WEMU listeners. What's the big news about HOMES Brewery in Ann Arbor?
Tommy Kennedy: Well, I alluded to the production facility about a mile and a half up the road, but, actually, what we've been doing since 2017 is coming up with and developing a HOMES campus. So it's over at Jackson Plaza, 112 Jackson Plaza. We're about two months or so, I think late summer, early fall, we'll be able to open, but there will have our production facility, another bottle shop, outdoor seating area, beer garden, as well as our new dozer roasting coffee street and cafe and as well as the commissary kitchen. So, the hope is to really have an extension of our our brewpub over off Jackson Ave. out there where it's more room for production for us, but then also just a creative hub to attract other creative talents to our kitchen and, hopefully, to be able to host more events and really kind of expand this community that we love so much here in Ann Arbor.
Lisa Barry: Well, congratulations! Expansion, especially in these times, is pretty significant. Tommy Kennedy, owner of HOMES Brewery in Ann Arbor. Best of luck to you, and thanks for talking to us.
Tommy Kennedy: Thanks so much for having me.
**Special thanks to Paul Keller for providing the Art & Soul theme music.**
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