Grabbing the 'Brass Ring': Attorney brews beer, opens community house


By CynthiaPrice
Legal News

Attorney Christopher Gibbons has realized his dream of opening a place where people drink and appreciate the beer he brews, and every detail of that dream reflects his values.

Take, for example, the fact that he prefers to call his newly-opened brewery, Brass Ring Brewing, a community house, in the Irish pub tradition of a meeting place.

“We’re a community-forward brewery,” he said. “I’m not worried about how many beers I sell. My primary goals are that the beer is perfectly made and that everyone who comes in here has a remarkable experience.”

Gibbons said he and brewing partner Joe Welniak “just happened to land in a perfect neighborhood” when Gibbons purchased the building in the Grand Rapids neighborhood of Alger Heights based on its beneficial layout for a brewery. 

The former hot dog stand has concrete flooring in the front where Gibbons and Welniak create their magic, and a comfortable back area that has been packed with customers since the January opening.

“It’s been off the hook,” Gibbons said.

And then there is the beer itself. Everything the brewers use is natural; there are no chemicals in the process. 

“Water, grain, hops and yeast,” Gibbons said, “the four muses. All the flavors come from those ingredients.” 

The decor on one wall consists of murals dedicated to the four.

They share the used grain with a local farmer, who feeds it to animals, and have plans as soon as it can be done to use a pig the farmer raises in the meal preparation.

A telling detail about the beers they brew is that they have a medium to low alcohol content, in a range around five percent. (Though some commercial beers come in lower, there are many craft beers that are higher, even a set of specialty brews that exceed the alcohol content of vodka or tequila.)

Gibbons says Brass Ring does this so that people can stick around a while and enjoy each other’s company — and the delicious food prepared by Chef Derek Scott — with less risk of impairment.

“We’re a style-specific small batch brewing company,” Gibbons said. “There are specific style guidelines for each type of beer, and we follow them with a lot of care and attention to the taste.”

Gibbons started brewing beer in his basement in 2004, and as he became more serious invited Welniak to help him every other Sunday. 

As the beer got better and better, Gibbons decided it was time to serve it to the public.

Despite Brass Ring Brewing’s success, Gibbons has absolutely no plans to abandon his legal career. 

He has been part of Dunn Gibbons Boer for 10 years, and his partnership with Michael Dunn, also known for his role as half of the team on The Lawyers Show radio program, goes back even further than that.

Gibbons has a similar attitude towards the practice of law as he does towards brewing beer. 

“If you focus on money, it’s just the wrong way to go about it. If you want to make money as a lawyer, invest in the client, do things right and prepare, and you tend to win. You beat your client’s expectation, and the word will get out. I just think if you work really hard, the rest of it will follow.”

The firm practices in a wide variety of areas, including federal and state criminal defense, civil and commercial litigation, and divorce/custody proceedings.

Gibbons and the third partner in the firm, Karen Boer, generally work as a team, especially when it comes to litigation.

“She’s the brains and I’m the salesman,” Gibbons said with a smile. “On all of our significant cases, it’s a joint effort.”

The team has done very well.

“We’ve had some nice trial verdicts, and gotten a couple not-guiltys from juries on serious life offenses. We’ve never had a client go down as charged,” he added. “We’ve either gotten a compromise verdict or a not guilty.”

After attending Aquinas College for his undergraduate degree, Gibbons received his law degree from Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, attending the Lansing campus.

He commuted from Eastown because he and his wife had bought a home there as they started raising their family.  The couple has four children, mostly of college age, and the 17-year-old still at home, Patrick, works at Brass Ring Brewing.

Gibbons confesses that he views the brewery as more in line with what he would like to do in retirement than the law.

“I’ll pull back a little as I get older,” he said. “I don’t want to be 75 or 80 and still going to court.”

For now, though, he still loves the law and has no intention of leaving it. Fortunately, the brewing and in-person schedules are compatible with time spent on his legal practice.

Gibbons said that being a lawyer has paid off “with every aspect of this.”

He adds, “We built and licensed the brewery in less than a year. I definitely think my being a lawyer gave us a leg up.”


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