Full of Hops and Dreams
As an LGBTQ business owner and a woman disrupting the status quo in a male-dominated industry, Kim Collins has come up against a challenge or two during her career. But for this owner and head brewer of Guardian Brewing Company, having talent, tenacity, and the support of an encouraging partner and inclusive community is what has helped transform her passion for craft beer into a successful must-visit Michigan brewery.
What began as a hopeful dream for Kim in 2012 has since evolved into a destination brewery here in Saugatuck. First opened in December of 2018, the Guardian Brewing Company features 22 taps of flavorful in-house made craft beer. An establishment that prides itself in welcoming everyone, Guardian also serves over 14 wines on tap and by the bottle, hard cider, a variety of cocktails, and a full food menu featuring meat, vegetarian, and vegan dishes. Each month, Guardian offers its popular Beer School—classes taught by Kim, who is a Certified Cicerone (think sommelier for the beer world.) These classes range in subject matter and beer styles and are designed to be enjoyed by non-beer drinkers and beer nerds alike.
Of all the places to start a brewery, why did you choose this specific area?
My business and life partner, Kate Bishop, and I looked at over 100 properties throughout Michigan, and we just kept feeling drawn to the Saugatuck/Douglas area. It’s the Art Coast of Michigan, the unofficial Provincetown of Michigan, and such a welcoming, bustling summer town right in the thick of this awesome Michigan beer industry. So, when the former Red Barn Theater property went up for sale in April of 2017, we knew it was the place for us the moment I stepped onto its stage. This incredible mix of history and art tied to an iconic barn that has seen so many different uses is just not repeatable. There’s simply no other place like it in Michigan and no other brewery like it in the world. We felt it was meant to be.
We also felt an instant connection to this unique community which has such a fierce passion for local business, art, drink, and food, unlike many other areas we’ve experienced in the US. There’s this sense that when one business succeeds, we all succeed. I love that feeling you get when you walk through the two downtowns, where each business is so distinctly different, and yet they all work together in harmony.
Have you found Saugatuck/Douglas to be a welcoming community for LGBTQ+ business owners?
The Saugatuck/Douglas area is so open and welcoming to folks like me from the LGBTQ community. It’s seen in the Pride flags flying around town and in the actual presence of residents, business owners, and visitors who are members of the LGBTQ community and its allies. As a business owner, I feel encouraged to tell my story and share a bit of myself without fear of hate or violence. I know it sounds extreme, but I have loved other places where I would not have felt as accepted. Here, Kate and I were physically welcomed with handshakes and hugs even as we began construction on Guardian’s building in 2017. This community made it clear that we were welcome, and we have felt that support every year—especially so during the pandemic. We know we’re in the right place.
There are a lot of fantastic craft breweries in the area. What is it about Guardian that makes it unique?
We offer a very diverse selection of styles on tap, all brewed by a female brewer with extensive experience brewing both in and outside of Michigan. We’re also proud to have Head Chef Abby Gleason on our team, who focuses on using fresh, local, and regional ingredients in our food. It’s this combination of great food, exceptional beer, and being able to offer cocktails, wine, and cider on a 27-acre historical property that makes us a stand-out craft beer destination.
Out of all the various flavor profiles your brewery offers, what’s the one beer you feel everyone who walks through your door should try?
I recommend that everyone try our “Nessie” Imperial IPA with Mosaic hops and Blue Juniper Berries. This is my oldest professional recipe from 2012. It is brewed to be maltier and more balanced than most IPAs today, with a citrusy and gin botanical aroma.
What do you think some of the area’s best-kept secrets are? Where do you like to hang out when (if) you have downtime?
Kate and I love being outdoors whenever possible. The Saugatuck Dunes State Park is our favorite place to wander any time of the year. And, of course, we love visiting the local breweries, wineries, and distilleries here and throughout Michigan.