The Guardian Brewery to Reopen With New “Everything,” but Same Great Beer

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

When most breweries contemplate a change in their brewing system, it means buying another fermenter, or perhaps a couple fermenters and a brite tank. In extreme cases, it may mean raising the roof on your building so that you can fit the new fermenter inside. For St. Joseph Brewery’s new fermenter install, they had to close for one entire day. Usually it isn’t much more than that.

On the other hand, if you’re changing your brew house system at the same time you move your taproom, you might be into some significant down time. The Guardian Brewing in Muncie is just now completing such a move two years after opening, a move that has cost us all months of drinking Frank The Tank and Boudica’s Revenge.

Owners Bill Kerr and Jason Phillips (both their given names are William and the name means “the desire to protect,” aka, “The Guardian”) decided last year that the time was right to expand their production, and this meant moving the brewery in total. Jason and Bill told me, “We knew from the beginning that we would have to expand at some point because of the time and effort it takes to keep up on a two BBL system. However, we wanted to start small and grow into the business, because there are so many other variables that go into a brewery outside of just brewing.” When it came to move, just where to locate the new brewery became the primary questions.

Luckily, the city of Muncie had purchased the building downtown that Cintas had been using, at the corner of Madison and Jackson Streets just about this same time. Rebranded as MadJax, it is now a maker space for entrepreneurship, innovation, creativity, learning and development and as a co-working center.

The Guardian Brewing Company has been in remake mode (new system, new brewery, new taproom) since June, but now it’s time to drink beer. Image credit: The Guardian Brewing Company

You’ll get to see the new brewery and taproom (514 E. Jackson Street) soon. Saturday, September 30th is the grand opening of The Guardian Brewing Company at MadJax, from 11:00 am to midnight. The beers will be flowing and there will be informal tours of the new facility, time permitting. The food will start at 3:00 when the Big Easy Food Truck, offering red beans and rice, gumbo, and jambalaya, along with non-cajun foods as well. The Guardian beers will include ten house beers and six seasonals or small batch offerings – amazing for having been dark since June. If the weather cooperates, the patio will be set up for corn hole and other small activities, while football on the four televisions will reign inside the taproom.

I was fortunate to get to see the new brewery and taproom last weekend during a soft opening that Bill, Jason, and their front of the house staff ran for friends and family. There is a large garage door that will allow for a nice patio and air flow during the warmer months. Inside the building, the brewhouse dominates the south side while the larger taproom is on the north and in front of the brewing system. There is a good view of the entire system from the taproom, so this will undoubtedly lead to some good discussion about making beer as patrons get to see head brewer Sean Fickle at work (previous to that Bill and Jason brewed, starting as home brewers in 2008).

Sean came to The Guardian in the first week of June, which gave him a chance to brew on the original two BBL system and then to help with the design, implementation and breaking in of the new 15 BBL American Beer Equipment (A.B.E in Lincoln, NE) brewhouse at MadJax. Sean previously was the head brewer at Fountain Square in Indianapolis and also brewed at Dry Dock Brewing in Aurora, CO. Sean’s brother, Brian was one of the owners of the craft beer bar, The Fickle Peach, before he passed away at much too young an age.

The new Guardian taproom is spacious and importantly, the patrons can see the entire brew house from many of the seats. This s great for building relationships with customers. Photo credit: Muncie Journal

The Guardian’s A.B.E-Lincoln system has a 30 BBL hot liquor tank, 15 BBL steam-jacketed kettle and lauter tun, four 15 BBL fermenters and a 15 BBL brite tank. Luckily, the space in MadJax gives them the option of moving the fermenters out just a bit, and then having room to put another line of fermenters in behind them. This is important, as The Guardian is looking to produce at least eight times as much beer as they were making out at the White River Plaza location. With this system in hand Jason said, “We’re looking forward to expanding our reach and to continue making great beers for the great state of Indiana.”

They first are looking to self-distribute to local accounts in Muncie and Anderson, with an eye on Indianapolis and Fort Wayne in about a year or so, depending on how fast the new system falls into place. Moving from an electric two BBL system to a 15 BBL steam jacketed system has inherent challenges and a definite learning curve. The efficiency is going to be higher, so tweaks on recipes to make beers we recognize and love may be necessary. Everyone goes through it when changing systems, and the faster that happens, the faster you can begin to ramp up production. But it helps when you start with solid recipes; the tweaks are easier and faster.

The first brew day for the new system was Friday, Sept. 22, with Chirptown session pale being the first beer through the pipes. The new grain mill, the keg washer, the new computer control on all the systems were under load for the first time and all went well. The original system is at MadJax as well, and is being used now to make small batches of many beers for the grand opening and beyond. Bill Kerr basically built their original system himself, he still has a full time job in electrical maintenance. Heck, Jason has a full time job too; the only full time employees right now are Sean as head brewer, and a couple of front of the house experts! However, there are people waiting in the wings to go full time as general manager and sales representative when the time is right.

Guardian paired with Wick’s Pies to make a sugar pie beer early in 2017. Now they are making a pumpkin beer with Wick’s pumpkin pies. The plans are to create a series of pie beers – sounds good to me. Image credit. The Guardian Brewing Company

Eventually the pilot system will be used for recipe development and for perhaps a sour beer or two. But the main change that patrons will see is the big bar and the big taproom. There is room for 170 people inside, and they have seating for 110 right now. This still leaves room for two corn hole set-ups and a dartboard. The room will allow for more and bigger events in the space (like the obligatory beer and yoga that is so hot right now), especially given the multiple other tenants in MadJax and the artists across the street at Cornerstone. Jeff Robinson at Cornerstone Center for the Arts has told me that he is enthusiastic about having The Guardian across the street, as he considers brewing as nothing less than another form of art.

Make some time to go over to Muncie and welcome The Guardian back to the brewing world on Saturday, the 30th. Bill and Jason did a good job of getting ready for the three month gap, putting beer back and working hard to get in to the new system as quickly as possible, but that doesn’t eliminate the problem of not being in peoples’ minds for a long piece of time. However, the guys say that the absence has actually increased interest, with many people asking where they were and when they would be coming back. Now’s the time people, so let’s give them a proper welcome to their new space. I think you’ll be impressed.

 
 

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