MARQUETTE - Over the years, Wes and Andrea Pernsteiner have made many vacation plans, yet they have never based their trips around five-star restaurants or immaculate beach resorts. Instead, they have always searched for breweries.
"Whenever we did our travels we would look for the closest microbrewery," Andrea Pernsteiner said. "One thing we noticed is that the local brewery always seemed to have a great eclectic mix of the local culture and the local people ... there was always something culturally significant about the area and it always kept us going back."
From Michigan and Wisconsin, to the western United States and even into Europe, the Marquette couple soaked in that small brewery atmosphere.
As Wes Pernsteiner, left, and Nick VanCourt look on, Andrea Pernsteiner discusses construction plans, while standing in an area that will soon be home to the second-floor bar at the Ore Dock Brewing Company. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
Finally, on a trip out west about two years ago, the Pernsteiners began to think about the possibility of combining two of their favorite things: craft beer and Marquette culture.
"We thought it would be really interesting to fuse what we love about Marquette into a microbrewery," Pernsteiner said, her voice reverberating off the walls of the cavernous and still-empty building that will soon be home to the Ore Dock Brewing Company.
The Pernsteiners hope to open their doors officially in early spring and believe a local microbrewery will receive a warm welcome from the community.
"I think Marquette and the Upper Peninsula in general has gotten a lot more cognizant of the 'buy local and know where your food comes from' campaign. I see beer as something that is a natural part of that," Pernsteiner, 33, said.
The idea, she said, is to turn the former auto garage at 114 W. Spring St. into a two-story microbrewery that will be a community center for socializing and live music. The Pernsteiners said they'd like to take the atmosphere of a coffee house or a ski chalet and add craft beer.
"We knew we wanted to be part of this beer culture and the community that is created around craft beer," Wes Pernsteiner, 31, said. "And we knew we wanted to be a part of the Marquette community."
Though the husband-and-wife team are both fond of craft beer and the local brewery environment, Wes Pernsteiner is quick to admit that the brewing process is best left to a trained professional.
That belief led the Pernsteiners to 31-year-old U.P. native Nick VanCourt, who will be the head brewer at Ore Dock.
"What I always tell Nick is that if it's related to beer, that's his job. If it's not, it's ours," Pernsteiner said. "We can operate the business and allow him to create successful beers that can be everything he wants them to be."
After homebrewing for a while, VanCourt, who was living in Wisconsin at the time, became interested in pursuing a career in the field.
He interned at the Great Dane Pub, a Madison, Wis., brewery, attended the World Brewing Academy and began working for Milwaukee Brewing Company at its 30-barrel production brewery. When he heard the Pernsteiners were hoping to open a microbrewery in Marquette, he jumped at the opportunity.
VanCourt will be utilizing a from-grain brewing process and will have the on-site ability to brew 10 31-gallon barrels of beer.
"We will also have a one-barrel sort of research and development system, which is going to be great. We'll have a lot of variety to offer," VanCourt said.
The future home of the brewery has been for many years an auto garage and it is very large, to say the least. Wes Pernsteiner estimates the available first floor space at roughly 4,000 square feet. The second floor is nearly the same size.
While he acknowledged the space will be a challenge at the beginning, he said it will give the business room to expand, if the need exists. VanCourt and the Pernsteiners also hope to use the extra space to reach out to the community.
"It all started for me with homebrewing," VanCourt said. "And that's actually something we really want to foster here. Provide a space, provide help, advice and do what we can to get a homebrewing club started or rejuvenated ... basically, we just want to be a part of that."
The group also mentioned the possibility of allowing community members to use some of the space for varied purposes.
The Ore Dock Brewing Company is slated to include an upstairs and downstairs bar and a wall of windows allowing patrons to look into the brewing area. The old garage door along Spring Street will be replaced by a glass one that will allow passersby to see into the business.
The Pernsteiners seem well aware of the work that will be put into their business over the next few months, but both plan to maintain their full-time jobs, as well. Though daunting, starting a business will be manageable, they said, if only because of the chance to create a destination that they, too, can love.
The hope is that, at some point in the not-so-distant future, when a young craft beer-loving couple from a small midwestern town begins to search for a vacation destination, they won't look to the south or across the ocean. They will look north.
Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.