June 17, 2024

Alumni profile: Brewery owner Eric Sokoloski 

person pouring beer on tap

After a career in accounting, Eric Sokoloski found himself wanting more. So he enrolled at Schoolcraft College to learn how to brew the perfect craft beer. 

Real-life experience from his instructors was a critical part of Eric Sokoloski’s education at Schoolcraft College. 

A Dearborn High School graduate, Sokoloski had spent several years working in accounting. But he found himself wanting more. A radio spot he heard advertising Schoolcraft College’s Brewing and Distillation Technology program piqued his interest.  

A passionate homebrewer, he thought combining his business sense with his creative sense would lead to a successful new venture. 

“I have an artistic side, but I also have my numbers side. Brewing’s both,” Sokoloski said. “That worked out for me.” 

Those looking to join the exciting field of brewing are invited to an event this weekend. Schoolcraft College will hold an open house for its Brewing and Distillation Technology program from 3-6 p.m. Saturday, June 22 in the Vistatech Center, 18600 Haggerty in Livonia. There, prospective students can see the brewing facilities, learn more about the certificate program and enjoy a pint of student-brewed beer.  

He’s since found his new passion: Sokoloski is the owner/brewer of Great White Buffalo Brewing Company, which opened in 2023 in the heart of downtown Northville. The brewery boasts onsite brewed beers, seltzers, house made root beer and offers Michigan made wine and ciders from New Hudson-based Whole Hearted Winery located in New Hudson. They also have a full menu, including a kids menu as well as gluten free and vegetarian options. They have a full patio with events going on every week at the brewery.  

 It’s a venture he would not have been able to be a part of without the education he received at Schoolcraft College. 

wall of framed photos
Photos surround the Great White Buffalo Brewery logo on the wall inside the downtown Northville business. 

“The program taught me a lot, honestly. The program’s amazing,” Sokoloski said. “It has amazing teachers that have real-life experiences. Not only can they teach from the book, but they can tell you how it really is.” 

Sokoloski began looking for spaces to open a brewery in 2019 looking across the region before finding the brewery’s current home at Main and Center in Northville. He and his team transformed the space, a former frozen yogurt spot. Understanding all the needs for launching a business – from the utility costs to filing the regulatory paperwork – were skills he learned while earning a Brewing and Distillation Technology Certificate. 

Even after graduating several years ago, Sokoloski still keeps up with the happenings on campus. That includes regularly speaking to Tom Block, the head of the Brewing and Distillation Technology program at Schoolcraft College. That comradery extends not just to his alma mater, but with brewers from across the region. 

That’s just how the industry looks after its members, Block said. It’s not uncommon for either Block or Sokoloski to call each other, looking for advice or some additional product.  

“That’s one of our advantages of our craft beer industry,” he said. “We can reach out to other breweries owners.” 

Opening his own place has been an eye-opening experience for Sokoloski, who said it was always his goal to do just that. Gone are the days of his friends simply trying the beers he brews; now, the beer he creates is examined closely by paying customers. 

“I think it’s getting a better, bigger picture of what you’re doing. When you’re homebrewing and you have a crappy batch, your friends are going to drink it. They’ll support you through whatever,” he said. “Now I have a brand that I hold to very high standards and if we make a bad batch, we choose to dump it rather than serve a inferior product.” 

The drive to open his own shop was something Block saw in Sokoloski right away when he enrolled.  

“Eric was an awesome student. Not everybody comes in and says, ‘I’m going to open a brewery,’” Block said. “There’s a few of them that come in bound and determined.” 

With a year under his belt, Sokoloski said he’s looking forward to the next year as members of the community get to know his product better.  

His advice to those looking to change career paths and join the brewing field? Get ready to learn. 

“Take the class, get to know the instructors. And get ready to work because it’s tough,” Sokoloski said. “I knew it was going to be tough, but I didn’t know it was going to be this tough.” 

Main image caption: Eric Sokoloski pours a beer from the tap at Great White Buffalo Brewing Company in downtown Northville.  

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