Mothfire Brewing Upgrades Ann Arbor’s Craft Brew Scene

The front of the Mothfire building.

At some point as a society, we have to get off our devices and gather with purpose. Seemingly everyone enjoys eating and drinking well and luckily for Washtenaw county residents, some of the best places to eat/drink good food are in your own neighborhood.

This is the core mission of award-winning Mothfire Brewing, to provide the best drinks that sustainable local ingredients and sincere, shrewd craft can provide.A photo of three people holding beers.

As co-owners David Becker and Noah Kaplan put it, Mothfire aims to create a “cultural bonfire” around beer, collaboration, artistry and community and their tap room at 713 W. Ellsworth (while already a popular gathering space since it opened in July 2023) is poised to be the epicenter of the Ann Arbor craft brew scene.

Becker, an Ann Arbor native, has worked in bars and restaurants since his days at the University of Wisconsin. While his main gig is creating sustainable energy for low-income housing at DTE, Mothfire is his passion and mission. Paired with Michigan grad and Leon Speakers founder, Kaplan, the two have created their flagship space after buying Pileated Brewing in 2019 and popping up as Mothfire in 2020.

They survived COVID through word-of-mouth and selling their retail wares until resurfacing on Ellsworth. Kaplan went to University of Michigan art school but has the rare analog-age ability to be both artist-and business-minded.

Kaplan and Becker brought in Head Brewer Alexis Jorgensen via Wolverine State Brewing Company. Jorgensen previously worked for such craft brew majors as Stone Brewing (from her native San Diego) and Witch’s Hat Brewing (South Lyon).

Jorgensen was heads-down working on a batch when we made our tour of the Mothfire tap room. She took some time out to tell us that a batch generally “takes about three weeks from grain to glass.” Mothfire tends to have 25 beers in production (40 total brands as of this reportage) at any given time so we didn’t want to take Alexis off-task. 

The first thing one notices about Mothfire’s canned four-packs (16 oz.) is the sleek, elegant design. Kaplan’s brother Dan Kaplan is the artist behind Mothfire’s minimal font and subtle eye-catching colors on every variety of Mothfire can. The Kaplan brothers also collaborated on Mothfire’s signature logo.

Beers brewed by Mothfire.

At the time of this report, Mothfire’s retail stock included seven distinctly different IPA’s, four dark beers (a dark lager, two stouts, and one bourbon-barrel aged offering with Two James, just one of Mothfire’s myriad local partners), two fruited sours and one flagship Pilsner. Varieties are subject to change almost daily and there’s tap-room only specials as well. There’s also hard seltzer on tap for fresh juice/syrup cocktails and mocktails

According to Becker, the focus on intentionality on every decision made and a steadfast dedication to Great Lakes State sourcing (Empire Malting Company, Great Lakes Malting Company and Top Hops Farm) and local partnerships is the Mothfire rubric. While the taproom offers snacks, the food element is handled by rotating food trucks. The mainstay is Carrozza Pizza, an Ann Arbor-based operation that delivers wood-fired goodness Wednesday-Sunday. Mondays and Tuesdays tend to be a rotating truck but the current staple is the delectable Tacos El Mariachi Loco.

Michigan is pretty much a consensus top-five beer state. But Ann Arbor, once a trend-setter in craft beer, has seen its brewery ranks thinned in recent years. Mothfire is looking to fill that void, not just with beer, but with community. Mothfire has been hosting private events and tastings since it opened but by spring 2024, the Ellsworth compound will have an outdoor performance space for bands, DJ’s, art installations and other community gatherings.

An Assortment of beer from Mothfire on pallets.

Mothfire’s list of collaborators is lengthy. Spirit wise, they work with Mammoth and the aforementioned Two James and Norden Aquavit. Mothfire’s tap room is situated in close proximity to Zingerman’s Bakehouse, so their marriage is organic and synergistic. Case in point, as we were wrapping our tour, a baker from Zingerman’s popped in with some Mothfire-infused baked goods. This is the type of old-school business altruism the world needs. Yes, businesses must compete, but it’s better to build and share alike, whenever possible. Mothfire is leading the charge in Ann Arbor for this type of grass-roots experience.

As Kaplan simply put it, “We say yes. We’ll show up to like-minded things.”

Becker and Kaplan consider Mothfire’s tap room to still be a “blank canvas.” But as the Michigan winter finally fades, Kaplan prompts us to “expect color” at Mothfire: murals, the completed performance space and a “bonfire” for all. 

Mothfire beer is available in a number of Washtenaw County outlets and at select retail stores throughout metro Detroit (all Plum Markets, the Foundation Hotel); Arbor Farms Market, Zingerman’s Roadhouse, The Produce Station, Everyday Wines, Stadium Market, Michigan Theater, The Ark, The Blind Pig and more.

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