Royal Oak Brewery turns 20

We'll drink to that

It's time to celebrate — but there's no room for complacency at Royal Oak Brewery, which is gearing up for its 20th anniversary this month.

That's because of the cut-throat competition in the craft beer industry today. And the company seems to be well aware of this fact, investing in a $300,000 remodel two years ago.

When it first opened in 1995, Royal Oak Brewery was the first craft brewery in Oakland County, and ninth in Michigan. Today, with the craft beer trend in full swing, there are over 150 breweries in the state.

"We are fortunate in Michigan that a number of breweries started opening in the early '90s and laid the groundwork for craft beer in our state," owner Drew Ciora says. He says the main challenges for the beer industry today are the availability of quality ingredients and rising costs. But Ciora believes competition and the growing number of breweries have also been helpful for Michigan's beer industry.

"We have a strong industry organization, the Michigan Brewers Guild, which I was involved in developing that helped spread the news about great quality beer that is made in the state," he says.

Before moving to Royal Oak, Ciora operated three brewpubs in Southern California. He moved to Michigan with his wife Michelle to build and open the 5,000-square-foot brewpub.

"I really enjoyed the craft beer movement in California and wanted the opportunity to own my own brewpub," Ciora says. "The chance presented itself in Royal Oak, and my wife and I jumped at the opportunity."

He renovated the 90-year-old building on East Fourth Street and converted it to a working brewery and restaurant.

"The concept was so new to the area that people did not believe we made our own beer," Ciora says. "They thought the tanks were just for show. But the great food and great beer encouraged them to keep coming back."

Twenty years later, the Royal Oak Brewery is still operating as a neighborhood brewpub, where families and friends can gather to enjoy each other's company and to celebrate good times.

"It's incredible to see generations of families coming to ROB," says general manager Stephanie Atias. "It's not uncommon to see guests that said their parents brought them here when they were children, and now they are bringing their kids here. Two to three generations sharing a great brewpub experience."

Another trademark of the Royal Oak Brewery is its longtime staff, with a number of employees who have worked at the pub for 10-15 years. At present the company employs about 50 workers, including 30 full time at the brewery. The company also owns three other restaurants, and it is building one in Lake Orion.

"It's great to be a part of something with so much personal history," says head brewer Tim Selewski, who has been with Royal Oak Brewery for 15 years. "It's like an extended family here."

Selewski has been the brewer overseeing the majority of the nearly 25,000 barrels of beer that Royal Oak Brewery has produced — that's over 6 million pints of beer sold. And as the palates of the guests have evolved, so have the beer styles offered at Royal Oak Brewery.

The latest beer adventure has been to barrel-age small batch beers. These are being released one per month this year to commemorate the company's 20th anniversary. The barrel-aged beers have been aging for 10-16 months and have lasted only a few days at a time after they are released.

Royal Oak Brewery celebrates its 20th anniversary with a party from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 29 at 215 E. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-544-1141; The celebration will feature an outdoor tent, beer specials, live music, and a 6 p.m. beer tapping with Royal Oak Mayor Jim Ellison. There is no cover, and the event is family-friendly.

Farhan Zaheer is a Karachi, Pakistan-based business reporter who works for The Express Tribune and the Pakistani affiliate of the International New York Times. He joins Metro Times as one of 16 journalists visiting the U.S. as part of a three-week International Center for Journalists fellowship.