By Kathy Gibbons
TRAVERSE CITY — Brewery Terra Firma is finally on its way.
Construction has begun on the approximately 5,500-square-foot building that is key to John Niedermaier's ambitious plan to create an agritourism destination on Dracka Road where specialty ingredients produced on site will be used to produce beer. An apiary on the property will house bees. Ingredients that can't be produced there will be obtained from local farmers or other nearby sources.
"All said and done, I've been working on this for probably 20 years off and on," said Niedermaier, who honed his brewing skills at the now-shuttered Traverse Brewing Company and then Right Brain Brewery in addition to experimenting extensively with his own creations.
"I have 900 different beers I've brewed over the years," he said. "The bank made me count them."
Finding the right property was the first hurdle. Niedermaier found it in the 10-acre historical Dracka Farm.
Then it was a matter of clearing all of the permitting hurdles, some of which ventured into new territory when compared to traditional construction and agricultural projects.
"We do have special use zoning "¦ because there's nothing like it, no models to go by," he said. "It allows us to do agriculture, it allows us to do production in the brewery and it allows us to do retail in the taproom."
It also allows Terra Firma to take a sustainable approach to waste. Breweries tend to use about five times the amount of water per volume of finished product, though Niedermaier said Terra Firma's process will reduce that by about 30 percent.
"We're taking that clean process water and we've designed a building so we can divert it from our wastewater stream "¦ into agricultural land," he said.
Bran is another byproduct of the brewing process. Niedermaier said that while typical practice might be to give the byproduct grain to farmers, he's been working with the Department of Environmental Quality and local authorities on a plan that will have the grain spread on land at the brewery.
"It's a phenomenal fertilizer," he said.
Nels Veliquette, treasurer of Cherries R Us in Elk Rapids and the keeper of the bees on Terra Firma's property, served as agricultural consultant for the project. He said its innovative model is exciting — not just for the business, but for the neighborhood.
"I think it's a very progressive model in terms of developing ag destinations around beverages," Veliquette said. "And this was a spot that could have easily turned into another 10 or 12 houses. Even though (the farm) is expanded, it's still looking like a farm, acting like a farm and a producing farm for the commercial nature of the farm."
The new building will house production facilities, taproom and offices. Niedermaier hopes to be operational sometime in early 2013.
"It's just so exciting to finally see something physical happening," he said. "I'm tickled to death."