GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — On Thursday and Friday, beer fans can finally step inside a gluten-free first for Grand Rapids: Brewery Nyx.
While the taproom at 506 Oakland Ave. SW is still a few weeks away from offering beer tastings, Brewery Nyx is offering a sneak peek inside while selling its new blonde beer on a first-come, first-served basis.
“(It’s) what we call your grandfather’s lawn mower beer, just very basic. It’s perfect for the summer. And then we have a version of that that is a salted lime blonde. It’s nice and refreshing,” said Jessica Stricklen, founder of Brewery Nyx.
The brewery released its first cans of gluten-free beer at Bridge Street Market in December. The cases sold out in hours. Nearly six months later, Stricklen says the excitement is still there.
“We’re still getting… the people who are having it for the first time, or their kids are turning 21 and they get to have a beer because their kids are gluten-free and they haven’t had that experience yet and they still get to experience it. Even though they’re gluten-free, they can still have a great beer,” she said. “(There’s) a lot of excitement about when we’re going to be opening the tap room too, and people can come in and come to a space and not have to worry about cross-contamination or anything like that. (They can) just come in and have a beer.”
BUILDING BREWERY NYX
Brewery Nyx moved into its new home on Oakland just south of Wealthy Street near US-131 in February 2021. The building previously served as a furniture building shop and still had a paint booth in the back, according to Stricklen.
“It’s been quite an adventure,” she said. “It was just concrete floors with pillars and we had to dig up a lot of the concrete to run some water lines and drainage. The production space, we removed all of the concrete there so that we could slope the floors and get those floor drains in. There were piles of dirt everywhere. In this corner of the building, it was like, 5 or 6 feet deep, the tunnel was just to get to where the water comes into the building. So it was quite a mess.”
The renovations included installing a boiler and pipes to feed steam to the brewhouse, adding bartops, the brew system and a walk-in cooler, and building out the mill and product rooms.
“The investors even came in and volunteered their time and built out the raised floor,” Stricklen said.
She said family, friends and people from the brewing community also showed their support by creating the wood, metal and painted artwork adorning Brewery Nyx’s walls.
“The past few months have been very stressful and there’s just been some really great people in the industry that have kind of come out of the woodwork — no pun intended — and have helped us, have worked with us,” she said.
‘LIKE CATCHING A MOVING TRAIN’: STARTUP STRUGGLES
Like many new businesses, Brewery Nyx ran into contractor and supply chain issues, which led to mounting materials costs and project delays. But Stricklen said one of the biggest challenges has been the state’s licensing backlog. Brewery Nyx received a partial license in December to allow production and wholesale distribution but is still waiting on a taproom license a year after Stricklen had hopes to open the space.
A few months ago, Stricklen also parted ways with Brewery Nyx’s then-brewmaster. About two months ago, head brewer and production manager Nicholas Lavelle took over the tanks.
“And it’s been a bit like catching a moving train,” he said. “When I first started with Jess here at the brewery, we already had beer on the shelves, we already had product that needed to get rebrewed, and she had just recently gone through a change of staff with her brewing. So right off the bat, you’re thrown into working with somebody else’s equipment, a whole different mindset with the gluten-free grains and readjusting everything to that style of brewing in that fast of a pace was pretty tough. But we got through it and now we’re really close to opening.”
Lavelle said meeting Stricklen was serendipitous because he was ready to start a new chapter in his 10-year career, shifting from big breweries like Bell’s and Founders to “break out on my own.”
Lavelle said he’s excited to provide gluten-free beer that tastes like what the gluten-free community has been missing, including his good friends who recently suffered “harrowing conditions” from celiac disease.
“Knowing that I’m making a beer now that he can drink and not have to worry about whether or not it’s going to put him into the hospital, it’s a really good feeling,” Lavelle said.
REDISCOVERING CRAFT BEER CULTURE
For Stricklen, this is the culmination of a 12-year gluten-free journey that started with a visit to a naturopathic practitioner about longstanding gut issues. Using an elimination diet, Stricklen quickly found out gluten was the problem.
“At the time it was a huge challenge going grocery shopping, going out to eat, going to friends’ houses for meals or having people over, but thankfully it’s gotten a lot easier. There are a lot more options out there for us, but there weren’t a whole lot of beer options. That is one thing that was really hard for me because I was a huge craft beer fan,” she said.
That is, until she moved to the Portland, Oregon, and came across Ground Breaker Brewing — a brewery that was gluten-free.
“They even had a taproom that I could go to and it just kind of brought back all these feelings and emotions of being able to be in that craft beer scene,” said Stricklen, who was a previous fan of Bell’s Two Hearted Ale and Founders’ Red’s Rye IPA.
Stricklen said a couple other gluten-free breweries also popped up in her neighborhood just outside Portland.
But when she moved back to Beer City, USA, for family reasons, gone were the gluten-free destinations for beer. That’s when she came up with Brewery Nyx.
“I didn’t want to go back to that because beer had become a part of my life again,” she said.
“The city of Grand Rapids is craft beer, anywhere you go, any festivals — Festival of The Arts, ArtPrize, there’s so many,” Stricklen said. “And then there’s still… a lot of gluten-free people out there… they don’t have the choice to make. The choice (for them) is either beer or no beer. And so what we’re doing here is providing that option.”
Stricklen said she is excited to soon expand Brewery Nyx’s gluten-free beer distribution beyond select Meijer and D&W stores in West Michigan to artisan markets in Lansing and Detroit. She and Lavelle are also starting to talk about growing into their 8,500-square foot space by adding larger fermentation tanks.
“I’m excited to grow this business and hopefully get us to a place where we are able to service a good chunk of the country with gluten-free beer from right here in Beer City,” Lavelle said.
His wish list also includes using his expertise and passion for food science to develop “more wild and wacky flavor profiles” for beers using ingredients like peppers, fruit and Michigan honey.
Eventually, Stricklen would like to expand the taproom beyond its 49-person capacity and open it for private events catered by approved gluten-free vendors.
For now, Brewery Nyx’s taproom will be open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday only during the beer release. The brewery’s gluten-free lager, double IPA and stout will also be available for pickup.
Gluten-free beer fans are encouraged to follow Brewery Nyx on Facebook updates on when the taproom will officially open.