Before Atwater Brewery opened its location in Grand Rapids, I ventured over to Detroit to chat with then-owner Mark Rieth to see what it was all about for Grand Rapids Business Journal.
Rieth was gracious enough to host me at the brewery’s cool old church location in Grosse Pointe Park. It was a great conversation about the beer, his plans for Grand Rapids and some grandiose plans for the brand.
Well, some of his plans did not end up coming to fruition. Atwater did open in downtown Grand Rapids. Rieth also ended up selling the brewery to Molson Coors’ U.S. craft beer division, Tenth and Blake Beer Company, which has kept its beers like Dirty Blonde and Vanilla Java Porter flowing in Michigan. (I was just in Detroit for the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert, and Dirty Blonde was extremely prevalent in branding at bars across town and at Comerica Park.)
But Rieth now is on to his next venture, the better-for-you beverage company FÜL Beverage. I caught up with him to chat about it.
This interview was edited for clarity.
Pat: For starters, what was the exit at Atwater like?
Mark: So, we ended up closing the sale in June 2020, smack dab in the heart of COVID. Then I ended up staying on for 18 months, departed officially the first of December, and it was very interesting.
I’m glad I had the time to transition and really didn’t know if I’d stay for six months, 18 months or five years, but it seemed to be the right time as an entrepreneur. Being at a publicly traded company, they had a little bit different way of proceeding forward. As more of a serial entrepreneur, it was time to move on to the next venture.
Pat: So tell me about that next step in entrepreneurship? What’s it all about?
Mark: A lot of it had to do with watching trends, seeing what was going on, the better-for-you world going popular and the non-alcoholic space bubbling up. And in doing research and watching my kids come home with energy drinks with terrible ingredients and sugar, FÜL Beverages is all about alchemy — the better-for-you but also finding your zen in life and being part of that, prolonging that life, are all attributes of alchemy.
Going off of that theme … I understand the beer, the nonalcoholic beer is something I’ve always had interest in. So we came out with two: Feel Better Blonde and an N/A IPA. Those are the first of many flavors.
Then, we have the functional beverages, not necessarily energy, though some of them have energy components to them. The concept is I’ve used monk fruit before in beers, that was the main sweetener, because we wanted to make an all-natural beverage. There are great vitamin blends, rehydration and muscle rehab.
Pat: So is this still Michigan-based? What’s the distribution plan?
Mark: We have an e-commerce platform fulbeverage.com. The e-commerce is in place, and we are looking to solidify a distributor network. Come September we should have full distribution in the state.
We are a Detroit-based company. Michigan is our home state, and then we have grand visions, but I learned a lot over the years. Hopefully, I can make those mistakes once, not twice. We won’t be everywhere tomorrow. Our plans are grand but pointed. We will grow market-by-market, retailer-to-retailer and consumer-by-consumer.
Long Road Distillers has created a nice niche for itself in the world of aquavit. Hopefully, by now, you’ve tried it. For some, it might be an acquired taste, but well worth the effort, because it is very versatile in cocktails.
Aquavit traditionally is a Scandinavian spirit that takes its flavors from herbs, like a gin, but is largely caraway-, fennel- or dill-forward. It is an easy substitute in Negronis, bloody marys and a lot of gin-based cocktails.
I received this recipe from the aquavit brand Batch 22 recently, so pick up some Batch 22 or Long Road aquavit and try it out.
1.5 ounce aquavit
2 ounces fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice
3 tbsp brown sugar simply syrup
2 tsp fresh lime juice
Prosecco or sparkling wine
Method: Combine all ingredients, except sparkling wine, in a shaker over ice and shake. Strain into a champagne flute and fill to top with Prosecco.
What Pat’s drinking
Earlier this week, I went to Grove’s Nostalgia dinner — an FYI, my sister is a partner of Grove’s owner, Essence Restaurant Group, and I do my best to maintain editorial objectivity and separation from her joints, though I do frequent them often. I will disclose my conflict of interest anytime I write about it.
With that said, the dinner was great, a fascinating look at the minds of the kitchen and how they grew up — interesting items like a lobster corn dog and a peach ring.
The true shining elements of that dinner, however, were the special cocktails — including a dreamsicle, PB&J whiskey cocktail and a kiwi strawberry Caprisun. The specialty cocktails are just an extension of a really great program going on in that Cherry Street restaurant, so check it out.
At this week’s Whiskey Friday, I’m making the crew Jungle Birds (which is straying from the whiskey theme, as we have been this summer).
A jungle bird is:
1.5 ounces rum
0.75 ounce Campari
1.5 ounces pineapple juice
0.4 ounces lime juice
0.5 ounces simple syrup