Since opening in 2016, Watermark Brewing Company, 5781 St. Joseph Ave., Stevensville, has become known as a destination for beer lovers, with a wide variety of brews on tap from classic lagers to fruity sours and adventurous stouts. Less known, however, is that the brewery is also a popular destination for dog lovers in the Michiana region.
“We are big dog people; we love dogs so much,” says co-founder Chris Mason, as his trusty furry sidekick, Theo, lays at his side, attempting to sneakily lap up a glass of beer that sits in his owner’s hand. When Chris notices, he lets out a big laugh before patting Theo on the head.
“Theo’s favorite beer is IPAs in general,” he says. “When he was a puppy, he had a couple Two Hearteds [from Kalamazoo’s Bell’s Brewing Company] in his day.”
One of Watermark’s most unique selling features is that it is dog-friendly, allowing animals on its large outdoor patio in the warmer months. To add to the dog-friendly vibe, the brewery sells dog bandanas and other dog-themed merchandise and almost always has a jar of dog treats available for the furry friends that visit the watering hole.
“Sometimes, our dogs are even out here,” says co-owner Justin Schaul as he watches his dog, Bodie, run laps around the brewery’s greenspace. “I think it is fun for everyone.”
The idea for Watermark was conceived in 2014, when Chris, a Stevensville native, moved back to his hometown and met Justin, who was also newly moved to the area. Within days of meeting, the pair had home-brewed a batch of beer together and gone sailing on Lake Michigan, which is where they met David Cockell, Watermark’s head brewer and third co-owner. Soon enough, the trio moved in together and was researching how to start their own business and testing out home-brewed beer recipes. It was during this research phase that Chris, Justin and David visited several dog-friendly breweries in Colorado, which inspired part of their business model.
“This just kind of became our brainchild,” Justin says. “This was definitely a gamble, but this was a risk worth taking.”
“Being family-friendly and community-driven, we saw that as an opportunity in our area,” Chris adds, sitting next to Justin around Watermark’s firepit, which he says is the highlight of summer nights at the brewery. “Ultimately, we designed this place with the idea that there aren’t many good places around here to drink a beer outside, so we wanted to build off that and be the best place to drink a beer outside.”
For Chris and Justin, that means having man’s best friend by their side. By the time they opened in 2016, with the support of the village of Stevensville, Chris and Justin say they knew they wanted their brewery to be family, community and dog-friendly.
“We wanted to create a fun space where you could take your dog,” Chris says. “It’s important to have a place to drink a beer with your dog because it’s important for dogs to be sociable just like humans. I think dogs make you happier.”
On an average summer day, the brewery’s owners can expect to see at least 10 dogs accompany their customers outdoors to enjoy a cold beer. Chris says more than 90 percent of the dogs who come into the brewery are well behaved. To ensure a pleasant experience for all, Watermark enforces a “three-bark policy,” where after a dog has barked three times or is causing trouble with other dogs, the owner will be asked to remove their pet from the patio.
“Our officially unofficial rule is after three barks, you’re out,” Chris explains. “At that point, the dog is clearly uncomfortable. … We want everyone to enjoy themselves, dogs included.”
In addition to allowing dogs on its patio, Justin and Chris say they promote Watermark’s family-friendly atmosphere by giving back to the community. Last year the brewery contributed to and helped host events that raised $83,000. In January, Watermark hosted its first charity event of 2020, which raised $60,000.
“The community has really rallied behind what we are doing, so we think it’s important to show that we are really a part of the community,” Chris says. “We love it.”
Both Chris and Justin say that Watermark will continue to host community events in 2020. Also this spring, Watermark will open a new wedding and event venue, the Solarium. Its first event is scheduled for May.
While 2020 will see changes and growth for the brewery, Chris says that no matter where Watermark goes in the future, it will remain committed to the community, to families and to Michiana’s furriest residents.
“We just want to continue to hone and refine what we are doing here,” he says. “Every day, we are still figuring it out and learning something new.”
Photography by Emily Sobecki