Cyclists can forget miles per hour. The Grose brothers have a better way to track progress on two wheels: beers per hour.
Shawn Grose and his brother Aaron are set to open next year Windmill Pointe Brewery in Detroit’s Eastern Market, located in the Motor City neighborhood once home to the Stroh Brewery Co. But rather than rely on beer history to promote their company, they are turning to power generation to help sell suds.
The Messrs. Grose intend to outfit the microbrewery with stationary bikes wired to produce the energy needed to brew beer. They estimate that Joe Sixpack can pedal at a rate to produce two to three beers an hour. Customers can shed calories and save energy before kicking back to drink some of the beer they helped create.
“We are trying to change the mode of biking from recreation and transportation to energy production,” Shawn Grose, a former science teacher, said. “We’ve been talking about this [for] seven years, and there comes a time when you either keep on dreaming or bring that dream into reality.”
Aaron Grose has worked in the beverage industry and is among the many entrepreneurs trying to fuel Detroit’s turnaround by coming up with bright ideas. In recent years, a flood of new Motown startups have emerged, from watchmakers and bike producers to digital-mapping companies and solar-energy engineering firms.
But the Groses’ big idea is hardly a sure thing. They have work to do convincing drinkers that all the extra work is really worth the huffing and puffing.
At a recent event held at an art museum near Michigan State University, the brothers courted volunteers to ride stationary bikes hooked up to 12-volt car batteries. As volunteers pedaled, an account of the electricity being generated was projected on a wall and a nearby pot outfitted with heating coils used the cycle-generated energy to boil water needed to make an India pale ale.
“Honestly, I think it’s a bit of a gimmick,” said Steve Tanner, a math professor at Eastern Oregon University who was visiting Detroit, with sweat streaming down his face. “But it’s a fun gimmick,” he said, having logged 15 minutes on the bike.
Mr. Tanner’s “gimmick” assessment isn’t unfair. Pedal power enjoyed a boom in popularity in the 1970s amid a spike in oil prices and increased enviro-consciousness. Leg-driven power has some allure with environmentalists, minimalists, doomsday believers and people providing simple machines to third-world nations. But there are far more efficient ways to produce energy.
That fact doesn’t square well with Windmill Pointe Brewery’s pitch. Even customers producing 150 watts of electricity, for example, would take 7.5 hours to build up about a dime’s worth of electricity.
“Being a brewer is very energy dependent,” Shawn Grose said. He says he has “done the math,” and said it would take five to seven years to show “significant profit.” To reach that goal, the Grose brothers plan to use solar and wind to provide power that cyclists can’t.
In the meantime, Windmill Pointe hopes to ride the cycling connection as far as possible, knowing that breweries and cyclists typically have a connection. It is commonplace for microbreweries to sell cycling jerseys, and microbrewery cycling tours attract tourists.
Peer pressure could also play a role in getting customers to hop on the bikes. “People don’t have to pedal, but I think once they get there and see other people doing it, they are going to want to jump in,” Aaron Grose said.
Swag will also play a role. Time logged on the stationary bikes leads to award points that can be used to buy things from the gift shop, or to earn a free beer.
Other beer makers have done similar things. A microbrewery in New York uses a pedal machine to grind malted barley, for instance. And other companies unaffiliated with brewing are interested in pedal-power generation.
In Pittsburgh, ZeroFossil outfits homes with pedal-powered devices to provide backup power. Steven Kovacik, the founder and president of the company, says his business has thrived since the end of 2012, when some people believed a Mayan prophecy of an-end-of-civilization event would be fulfilled, causing people to buy pedal-powered generators. Now, he thinks the growth is coming from a desire to be more energy independent.
“I believe it’s a combination of being more sustainable, and a desire for energy independence,” he said. “But also, if you are going to get exercise, why not put that energy to use.”
Andy Wekin, who co-founded a pedal-powered machinery company, Pedal Power, Near Burlington, Vt., in 2008 with the aid of a Kickstarter fundraising campaign, loves the idea of a brewery getting power from cycling, but he doesn’t see a bright future for pedal power in this country.
“There are still two billion people on the planet without any access to electricity, for those people it [would be] invaluable.”