Beverage regulation attorney doubles as expert in zymology

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An accomplished home-brewer, Joe Infante is a senior attorney with Miller Canfield in Grand Rapids.

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Attorney Joe Infante’s expertise in zymology – dealing with fermentation and practical issues of brewing – stands him in good stead in his legal career.

An accomplished and award-winning home-brewer, Infante is a senior attorney with Miller Canfield in Grand Rapids and a member of the firm’s Alcoholic Beverage Beverage Regulation + Licensing interdisciplinary team. The group specializes in legal issues in the highly regulated alcoholic beverage industry faced by breweries, distilleries, wineries, importers, wholesalers and retailers doing business in North America, the European Union and China. The complex legal, business and industry needs include state, federal, provincial, and international issues regarding production (both traditional and non-traditional), licensing, financing, real estate, taxation, mergers and acquisitions, litigation, labor and employment, and marketing/advertising.

Infante’s rather unusual specialty evolved from his home-brewing hobby, where he has become an expert in brewing sour ales.

“I’ve been home-brewing for about seven years and the hobby got so bad that I actually have a wine barrel and a bourbon barrel in a friend’s basement that we’ve filled with sour ales which take from one to three years to make,” he explains.

He has won prizes at the Michigan State Fair for his Belgian Strong Ales, and for his Flanders Red Ales at the annual Siciliano’s Market Homebrew Party in Grand Rapids, where home-brewers compete for awards, sample each other’s recipes, and share tips on brewing.

Thanks to his hobby, Infante learned a lot about the beer and wine industry and saw it was a market that was expanding rapidly – but not well served in the legal industry. 

“The expanding market is especially true here in Michigan where there are over 100 breweries and counting and wineries and not far behind,” he notes. “Also, while most people know about all of the breweries and wineries opening up here, the next big thing for Michigan is going to be hard cideries, a market expanding faster than both beer and wine.”

Serving a hugely growing industry, especially in West Michigan, Infante represents alcoholic beverage groups that are in Michigan or that plan to move into the state.

One such client is the Boatyard Brewing Company in Kalamazoo that hired Infante last spring. The BBC renovated a portion of an old industrial building in Kalamazoo for its brewhouse, and plans on developing a taproom in downtown Kalamazoo that will serve as research and development brewery. Infante is guiding the brewery through the federal and state licencing procedures that should be wrapped up in early March.

Infante belongs to a myriad of brewing organizations and groups, including Alcoholic Beverage Attorneys.

“Since beverage law is very state-specific, we provide networking and referral sources for attorneys in other states,” he explains.

He is also a member of the Brewers Association, an organization consisting of more than 1,500 U.S. brewery members as well as member of the allied trade, beer wholesalers and individuals.  

Infante, who joined Miller Canfield in 2009 after working for Warner Norcross & Judd, is also is a member of the firm’s Commercial Litigation group focusing on corporate and intellectual property litigation. Named a Michigan Super Lawyers, Business Litigation, Rising Star in 2011 and 2012, he has broad corporate litigation experience that includes representing clients in state and federal trial and appellate courts, as well as in mediation and arbitration proceedings. Infante is also admitted to practice before the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

In his practice, Infante also uses his legal skills to give back. 

“Almost from the day I was licensed I took on a pro-bono prisoner in a civil rights action before the Western District of Michigan,” he says.

Infante litigated that case for seven years, through trial and three appellant arguments before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. One of those arguments was a successful appeal an adverse decision before a very rare En Banc panel consisting of all 16 judges of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals – resulting in a change in the law to apply federal law in spoliation cases and a remand of the case. While Infante had plenty of experience in trial court and appellate courts before that argument, he said nothing prepared him for arguing before the entire 6th Circuit bench. 

“En Banc arguments take place in a ceremonial courtroom where there is a large horseshoe shaped bench and all of the judges pepper you with questions. If that wasn’t hard enough, the way they set up the podium some of the judges are actually behind you so you have to turn around to address them.” 

Infante’s original career plan was to be a scientist working in a lab all day. Originally majoring in biochemistry at Michigan State University, and then microbiology, he finally settled on environmental geosciences. 

“Once in that major, environmental law piqued my interest and off to law school I went – where I discovered I was pretty good and standing up and arguing so I began to focus on litigation,” he says.

The “standing up and arguing” at Ohio State University Moritz College of Law included being a National Moot Court Team Region Six Semifinalist; 2004 Herman Moot Court Competition: Best Oralist Runner-up, Best Brief 5th place, Overall 4th place; and a Colley Trial Competition Semifinalist.

The Muskegon native is a graduate of Mona Shores High School, where he played varsity tennis and soccer and was twice a state champion in doubles tennis. He and his wife Niki and 8-month-old son, Nate, now call Grand Rapids home.

“Between Nate and work I’m pretty busy, but I make time for brewing beer and watching Spartan games,” he says.