Brewery Nyx LLC owner Jessica Stricklen recently unveiled plans for what will be the first gluten-free microbrewery in Michigan, to be located at 506 Oakland Ave. SW in Grand Rapids’ Roosevelt Park neighborhood. Stricklen, who previously worked in management roles for wine labels in Portland, Ore., plans to initially launch the new brewery as a production space and small tasting room. Teaming with veteran brewer Sebastian Henao Van Bommel, Brewery Nyx will also sell cans of its beers out of its home facility in addition to maintaining self-distribution. Stricklen, among the few women owners of craft beverage companies, spoke with MiBiz about the new venture and navigating the craft beverage industry during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What sort of demand for gluten-free beer do you anticipate, especially when gluten-free drinkers have cider, wine and seltzer to choose from?
Almost everyone I have talked to about the project has said, ‘Oh, I know somebody who is gluten-free that would love that.’ What’s so sad is that there are so many people who are gluten-free either by choice or by necessity. Just because (gluten-free beer) is not available does not mean people don’t want it. Beer is its own thing. Cider is great. Wine is great. And then there is also spirits and seltzer. They all have their own place, but nothing is a replacement for beer.
Some brewers offer beers that reduce or remove gluten. What’s the difference between those
products and what Brewery Nyx will offer?
That is gluten-removed or gluten-reduced beer. It’s not 100 percent gluten-free. It’s made from grains that contain gluten so it’s still made from wheat, barley and rye and they put an enzyme in it to drop out the gluten protein and it’s still not 100 percent gluten-free. Our product will be — from grain to glass — gluten-free. All of our ingredients are gluten-free and our whole facility will have no gluten on site.
Is there a stigma surrounding the taste of gluten-free beer, and does that make you hesitant to
prominently promote the fact that your beer is gluten-free?
We’re not going out of the gates screaming with our arms raised up, ‘Hey! We’re gluten-free!’ My brewer and partner makes fantastic beer and it happens to be gluten-free.
The majority of gluten-free beers available are mostly made from sorghum grain, which leads to sort of a bitter, metallic aftertaste that we’re going to avoid. We don’t want to go out of the gates saying, ‘We’re gluten-free, but I promise it’s good — please try it.’ We’re making great-tasting beer. It’s a premium brand because we have premium ingredients and all of our ingredients are 100 percent gluten-free.
You’re also pursuing a distiller license. What are your plans with that?
The plan is to start with gins, agave spirit, and bourbon — all produced and packaged in our dedicated gluten-free facility.
The craft beer industry has made strides toward diversity and inclusivity, but are there any barriers for you as a woman in a male-dominated industry?
Absolutely there are barriers — I am a woman in a white male dominated industry. Yes, I hit a few extra bumps in the startup process, but there has also been overwhelming support from people who understand the vision and have gotten to know me. I really don’t yet have much experience in the local beer industry — we’re not even open yet. You can ask me again in a year or two. Even with the inclusion and diversity efforts within the local industry, I really just don’t have the experience to comment one way or the other.
With so many craft breweries located in and around Grand Rapids, is market saturation a concern for you at all?
I’m not worried about market saturation. We have gluten-free beer. We are bringing people into the mix who can’t drink any other beer. Or, the beers that they have drank are not local craft beers. Most people don’t really enjoy the (gluten-free) beers available right now, anyway. We’re pulling from a completely different population that is currently not a part of the craft beer scene and not at their own fault. It’s really exciting for us to bring everyone back to the table.
Has your past experience in the wine industry helped you navigate the unprecedented industry
conditions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic?
It has helped just by having experience with startups and understanding you need to be flexible and figure out what works. If something’s not going to work, you need to change.