While it will likely be several months before Rake Beer Project officially debuts in downtown Muskegon, Josh Rake can already see his brewery playing out before him: the toasts and the gatherings, the friends and families spilling out into the courtyard, the raising of glasses. The growing of a city. The dream that’s become reality.
“I got involved in the [brewing] industry five years ago, and I’ve always wanted to open my own place,” Rake says. “My goal has always been to open something in Muskegon. I grew up here; I was born and raised here. After Pigeon Hill and Unruly opened, I was like, ‘I can’t wait to get down there and be a part of what’s happening here.’”
And that’s exactly what Rake is doing: he’s partnering with his father, Todd Rake, who just retired from the Muskegon Fire Department, and his mother, Kim Rake, to open Rake Beer Project. The brewery and taproom will be located on the garden level of 794 Pine St., where the incoming NorthTown 794 development will feature three levels of dining, drinking and office space in downtown Muskegon.
One of four incoming businesses to be housed in the historic 21,000-square-foot building, previously the home of Al Perri Furniture, Rake Beer Project is expected to make its entrance in mid to late spring. Redmon’s Kitchen & Bar, Capone’s Speakeasy and Pizzeria, and Aldea Coffee will also be located at NorthTown 794. The new brewery will operate in 6,200 square feet—2,250 of which will be used for the taproom and the rest for production space. Additionally, it will share a large outdoor beer garden with Aldea Coffee.
“We took a look at it, and we knew we couldn’t ask for a more perfect space,” Rake says.
Inside, the brewery will be a mix of concrete, wood and black metal in an effort to make it “feel like you’re sitting in the woods when you’re at the bar,” Rake explains.
As for the beer itself, Rake will be focusing on “progressive farmhouse ales.”
“We’re taking traditional brewing methods and applying them to modern beers: there will be lots of sour beers, wild beers, lots of IPAs,” Rake says. “We’ll be focusing on table beers, easily drinkable beers. We’ll make every beer style, and everything we make will have a farmhouse element.”
Particularly influenced by brewers like Mitch Ermatinger at Speciation Artisan Ales in Comstock Park—who helped Rake with his business model, Ron Jeffries at Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, and Nick Panchame at HOMES Brewery in Ann Arbor, Rake’s beer will be innovative and playful—and they’ll always be open to suggestions from the public, the owner notes. Plus, there will be “room to play around with cider or wine in the future,” Rake says.
The owner’s dog, Marley, who was adopted from Noah Project in Muskegon, will be the namesake of Rake’s house table beer, the Marley Biere. Inspired by the adorable pup, the brewery will donate 50 cents from each draft pour of Marley Biere to an animal charity.
Before the official opening, the public will have a chance to taste Rake’s beer: the brewery will be offering pilot batches and giving them away outside their soon-to-be home at 794 Pine St. Each pop-up batch will be announced on their Facebook page and Instagram account; the first pop-up batch was given away at the end of December and was an imperial dark brett beer with vanilla beans. The next pop-up will offer a New England-style raw IPA.
Beer fans will also have a chance to get a glimpse of Rake’s offerings through work with other breweries; Rake Beer Project just did their first collaboration with Speciation Artisan Ales, which is being released this month.
“We plan to collaborate with breweries around the state before we open,” Rake says.
A 2010 Mona Shores High School graduate, Rake originally attended college to study political science and even worked at the Michigan state House of Representatives and state Senate. However, when he nabbed a job at The Gallery Brewery in Portland, Michigan, he quickly fell head-over-heels for brewing—and what the beer scene can mean for a city.
“I enjoyed it so much and saw what it can do for a city,” says Rake, who, after The Gallery, went on to work full-time at Jolly Pumpkin and New Holland Brewing Company. He now works for Old Nation Brewing Co. in Williamston, Michigan.
In his hometown of Muskegon, Rake has seen firsthand how the breweries have helped to transform the area.
“Pigeon Hill and Unruly really did change the city,” he says. “When I grew up here, there were not a lot of reasons to come downtown. The breweries acted like a meeting space for people and brought people downtown.”
“To me, that’s what a brewery or coffee shop can be,” Rake continues, gesturing towards the space around him at Drip Drop Drink Cafe, where we’re interviewing him. “It can draw people to an area.”
Of course, it’s not just Muskegon’s brewers who know this: craft breweries have provided a massive boost to Michigan’s economy—as well as the economies of cities and states across the United States.
Small and independent craft brewers contributed $76.2 billion to the U.S. economy in 2017, according to the Brewers Association. The industry also provided more than 500,000 total jobs, with more than 135,000 jobs directly at breweries and brewpubs.
The Brewers Association reports that the craft brewing industry supported 17,888 full-time employees in Michigan in 2017, providing $772,141,000 in wages that year.
Public support for breweries and an expanded culinary scene in general is good news for people like Rake: after all, that doesn’t only translate to a thriving business for himself but continued economic growth for all of Muskegon. And Muskegon has clearly thrown its support behind its growing brewing scene: Pigeon Hill will soon debut its $2 million, 15,000-square-foot production brewery at 895 Fourth St. in downtown Muskegon, and Unruly Brewing is expanding its operations with a production facility in Muskegon Heights.
All of this translates to Muskegon gaining the attention it’s long deserved, Rake says.
“Now is the time that everything seems to be really rolling here,” he says, lifting his cup of coffee towards Drip Drop Drink’s window overlooking the outside world: a world of construction, of people hurrying through the winter air to nearby restaurants, shops and museums. A world of people who, like Rake, are raising their glass to Muskegon.