Success stories

Four Leaf Brewing

Clare, Michigan

The whistle of trains mixes with the clop-clop of horses pulling buggies in downtown Clare. Outside of Four Leaf Brewing, it also mixes with the sound of Irish music.

Amy Shindorf opened Clare’s only brewpub in 2015 and contributes some of the success of the brewery to a connection with the fermentation program at nearby Central Michigan University. Four Leaf Brewing is now serving wine, cider, mead, and kombucha as well as beer, and Shindorf is employing 16 people.

It’s that last part that makes her the happiest.

“I always knew I wanted to own my own business, where everyone gets out of it what they want,” she said, after years of working in government. “Humans are the most important resource and there’s nothing more satisfying than being able to give them what they deserve.”

The other business move that makes Shindorf happy is her decision to buy a former car dealership in downtown Clare. “I almost overlooked it,” she laughed. “There’s nothing square about this building … and it fits me like a glove.” The building was built in 1915, Shindorf bought it in 2017. “It waited 100 years to become what it wanted to be.”

Her initial startup loan from Northern Initiatives helped spiff up the building and buy brewing equipment. “My relationship with Northern Initiatives has become so secure and established,” Shindorf said. “I initially went to two banks and … didn’t have a positive experience. Now, I can’t imagine having to go to a traditional bank.”

Since January 2020, Shindorf has had her dream head brewer, Steve Swaney, a retired biochemist, working full time. “Brewing is very cooperative and he creates community,” said Shindorf. “Some people call it business connections or networking. I call it community.”

Taking care of that community, and the planet it inhabits, is also important to Shindorf, whose previous work as a resource specialist informs her every decision.

“Businesses can be easier on the environment if ingredients are locally sourced, and transportation is kept to a minimum,” she said. All of Four Leaf Brewing’s ingredients are American grown. It also helps that her building now has super-thermal front windows and “insulation within an inch of its life” to improve the fermenting environment as well as the planet’s environment.

Amy Shindorf, owner of Four Leaf Brewing, and her husband, Gordie Risbridger

And boy, are they fermenting. Originally, Four Leaf Brewing had a 3-barrel system with 12 barrels of fermentation capacity. They quickly outgrew that and now hope to keep up with demand with 25 barrels of fermentation capacity. Two new fermenters are moving in. “We needed more capacity, so we had to increase efficiency,” Shindorf said.

Because Four Leaf Brewing has that brewing capacity, they’re often asked to brew beer for others who don’t have the space or are just getting started. Shindorf delights in passing it forward to other startups and champions their efforts. “We cooperatively brewed beer for an up-and-coming brewery in Ann Arbor and they sold out in one day!”

In order to help with the seasonal aspects of owning a business in Clare (“Summer flips a switch,” Shindorf said) she’s hosting events in the glorious not-square building she owns, from baby showers to bridal showers to retirement parties. Taco Tuesdays at Four Leaf are legendary, with a revolving seasonal menu that has included Beet Poke tacos and Southwest Stroganoff tacos. Clare’s lively Irish Fest, celebrated for at least a week straight around St. Patrick’s Day, also helps by bringing 10,000 people to Clare, all primed to drink that year’s Irish Fest Beer, made by, you guessed it, Four Leaf Brewing.

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