The Brewing Stylings of Nick VanCourt | Ore Dock Brewery
Marquette, MI – You know those little kids who run around sipping off the beers of their elders at every family get together? Nick VanCourt was one of those small boys at the feet of his grandfather every chance he got. A first generation American from Austria, his granddad often enjoyed European imports like Becks and Heineken brought up by friends and family from Chicago. It was those frivolous sips of curiosity that made up his first experiences with beer and laid the foundation for what would become a long-term passion and career in brewing.
VanCourt left his childhood home in the “Banana Belt” of the U.P. leaving behind cattle shows and fishing in Daggett, MI to attend college at NMU. He earned a degree in media production with a minor in Biology and after graduation moved west to Madison, WI where his new job with the DNR landed him across the street from the Great Dane Pub and Brewing Company, a fated conjunction. Working next door to ‘The Dane’ exposed him to new brewing processes and he was intrigued by the vastly different flavors from those he had experienced in his grandfather’s beer bottles.
It was during this time that VanCourt’s curiosity about brewing began to grow, influenced by the local beer culture and community that existed there, an experience that he says, “extended well beyond the beer itself.” Picking up on his enthusiasm VanCourt’s mom put together his first home brewing kit as a gift and with the of help of his cousin, Corey Gussert, he was on his way to turning his curiosity into a serious obsession.
Brewing spoke to something inside of VanCourt and upon discovering the Siebel Institute, an international brewing academy based in Chicago, he realized just how full and vast a deeper journey into beer production could be. The seeds of a new dream were awakened inside of him; in the pursuit of brewing as a profession.
His next year was spent immersed in the methods and means of brewing as he attended school at the Siebel Institute in Chicago and Munich, Germany. Of course, there was plenty of exploring breweries of the old world while in Europe as well. He saw that there are many ways to do things in breweries, “They can be similar, but no two breweries are the same,” says Van Court.
Graduation from the Siebel Institute led to work as an assistant brewer in the larger Wisconson breweries of the Milwaukee Brewing Company and the Tyranena Brewing Company. This gave him the chance to put his studies to use and refine his techniques while he dreamed of starting up his own brewery back in the U.P.. Little did he know that his fateful response to a question found on brewers.com would soon be the catapult to realizing his musings.
“What comes first; the brewer or the brewery?” the simple post inquired. VanCourt was excited by the prospect of the brewery start-up based in Marquette. It was then that he met Wes and Andrea Purnsteiner, craft beer enthusiasts inspired by recent travels to the west; a journey mapped out by the list of breweries they wanted to visit. The two young entrepreneurs were looking for partners to join them in starting up a microbrewery that would emulate everything they loved about Marquette; hence the two dreams became one as they brought VanCourt onboard to design and run what would soon become the Ore Dock Brewing Company.
Fast forward to 2015, the Ore Dock is now a bustling community epicenter hosting a multitude of events from fundraisers and educational seminars to private parties and musical events. VanCourt sums up the spirit of the Ore Dock in one word, “inclusive.” The business is run by a partnership of several co-owners with the goal of creating not only great beer, but a community gathering place. Says VanCourt, “all decisions are made on the basis of whether the outcome would exclude or include people.”
The microbrewery has become hugely popular and continues to grow in production. Upon opening in May of 2012 the Ore Dock started out with a 40 barrel capacity doubling to 80 barrels in the first year and since then to 120 barrels in order to expand their draft production and bottling.
Behind the scenes running brewery production is VanCourt. Dashing and dodging energetically between tanks, hoses, up and down ladders he orchestrates the production with the precision of a submarine commander. From atop his caption’s bridge overlooking the room of steamy stainless steel vats he finds fulfillment for his deep-seated passions and an outlet for the OCD tendencies that drive his zeal for process saying, “I get excited by creating a plan and executing each step with precision. For me, process is king!”
Of course ‘with knowledge comes great responsibility’ and VanCourt has found that brewing as a profession entails a lot more than the fun and games of home brewing as he is constantly challenged to stay on top of running a business. It’s forced him to be more streamlined in management, maintenance, engineering, and being resourceful. “It’s really all of the stuff that isn’t brewing,” he states as the biggest challenges.
As VanCourt continues to grow in his craft he now finds great enjoyment in taking established recipes and tweaking/refining them. In his words, “honing in on what makes the beer consistent and concentrating on that.” Much of his focus is on brewing his favorite style of beer, saisons. “We try to make it as authentic as possible,” he states and has built a reputation for his true to the classics brewing style.
Most ingredients are sourced from France and he aims to make saisons that yield more citrus, anise, and apricot spices. Yet, the most special ingredient of all he feels is the locally sourced water saying, “we couldn’t have the beer we have without Lake Superior because it is the best source of water on the planet!” Its clean state and soft nature give it the perfect starting point for brewing and allows it to be easily tailored with minerals to the perfect profile needed.
To top it off he says, “Yoopers love beer so the culture here is very supportive of the craft beer boom.” With 16 breweries now producing in the U.P. it’s obvious that people are discovering the exciting flavors of locally made craft beer and the Ore Dock Brewery should be on the top of everyone’s list to try.