By Robert Allen
Detroit Free Press
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) “Witch’s Hat Brewing Co.” might never have existed if Erin and Ryan Cottongim hadn’t both lost their jobs in 2010. The Mich.-based brewery was a hit from day one, opening in a 1,600 square-foot former coffee shop in a strip mall.
The kegs are iced in buckets, and high-powered beer flows through plastic chilling coolers, known as “jockey boxes”, to emerge from the taps at just the right temperature.
A Witch’s Hat Brewing Co. crew member takes the first foamy taste from a small plastic cup. “Damn is that good,” he says.
The beer is Dragon Traxxx Night Fury, a big, hearty, bourbon-barrel-aged stout with peanut butter, coconut, vanilla beans, cocoa nibs and a hefty kick, as in 13.5 percent alcohol by volume. It’s the complete opposite of what common sense says you should drink outside on a hot summer day. But this is a Friday night at the highly anticipated 2018 Michigan Summer Beer Festival in Ypsilanti, and this is a beer that fans cheerfully wait in line to taste from small plastic cups.
“You have to bring your A game,” brewery co-founder Ryan Cottongim said of the festival experience, after they’d been preparing for months. “It’s terrifying, because it’s the first impression a lot of people are having. At the same time, it can lead to great reward. And then you’ve just got to figure out, every year, how to do it again.”
Witch’s Hat might never have existed if Erin and Ryan Cottongim hadn’t both lost their jobs in 2010. She’d been a secretary at a plumbing company and an accounting student at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti. He’d been a construction worker installing underground gas lines.
“I’d been home-brewing since 2004, 2005,” said Ryan Cottongim, 38. “When we got laid off, it was kind of the perfect time for us to just dive in and build a business plan and make a run at it.”