2019 Indiana Craft Beer Year in Review

2019 Indiana Craft Beer Year in Review

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

It seems that 2019 was a mixed blessing for Indiana craft beer. There were many openings and great achievements to be sure, but there were also a heaping share of closings and disturbing issues/trends. Craft beer overall is slowing in its growth, but it is picking up a greater share of the total market and is doing great compared to the losses of mega-beer.

Let’s take a look at how things went in Indiana and also peek in on the national scene. After reading it over, you decide if this was a great year, a good, year, a bad year, and whether it portends good or bad times for the future.

Openings. Nationally, the number of breweries is north of 8500 now, with exact number coming out in next April at the national Craft Brewers Conference in San Antonio. There were 7450 breweries at the start of 2018, so going over 8500 may not be such a miracle, in fact the openings nationwide may be slowing a bit.

Westwind opened in Elkhart in November of this year. image credit: Westwind Brewery

In Indiana, we had had 24 openings in 2019, a great number to be sure (see end of article for a listing). But last year we had 33 openings, 32 in 2015, and 2014 had just as many openings as this year. The north and central portions of the state had the bulk of the new 2019 breweries, with ten north of a line roughly from Lafayette through Kokomo and Muncie, and ten in the Indianapolis and environs. Only four opened on or south of a Bloomington to Columbus line.

In truth, the north and central parts of the state have greater population, but considering the success of small town brewpubs and taprooms, I’d like to see more breweries opening in the rolling hills of southern Indiana. Salem, French Lick, Paoli, Milan, Washington… these are all places that could support a small brewpub. I think 2020 will bring a brewery to Huntingburg (Yard Goat Ales), Carbon (Carbon Brewing), and Rushville (Fish Moon Brewing), so we’re biting into that beer desert bit by bit.

Half of the 2019 openings were brewpubs or breweries with food partners on site, which strengthens the idea that having food helps sell beer. Two of the new breweries are in distribution only (for now), those being Pretty Nice Guys and Herrmann Brewthers, but they both look to find a landing spot in 2020 or 2021. Stay tuned for information on a place for PNGs first, and then for Herrmann Brewthers on West Michigan St. in Indy. Finally, five of the openings this year were secondary locations for a brewery, yet they’ll will be brewing on site (Sun King – Broad Ripple, Ellison – Indianapolis, Goodwood Brewhouse & Live Room, Upland – Fountain Square, and Greenbush – South Bend).

You notice that three of those second location openings are from out of state, a first for Indiana. Two of them have ownership in other states, while Goodwood Live Room & Brewhouse is an Indiana-owned brewery. I think this trend may continue, as breweries discover that it is sometimes easier to build a small brewhouse far away than it is to increase the size of a large brewhouse and distribute to your own place out of state.

Goodwood opened in May. It has Indiana ownership and a brewhouse (not yet), so it really is an Indiana brewery. image credit: Goodwood Brewhouse & Live Room.

On the other side of the coin, no Indiana brewery has opened a second brewery out of state. In fact, only one brewery from Indiana has any physical presence outside of Indiana, and that began in 2019. Books & Brews opened a franchise taproom and restaurant location in Oxford, OH. All the beer for that location is made in Indianapolis, and then sold in distribution and rebought by the franchise. Will any brewing entity from Indiana end up with a brewery in Kentucky, Illinois, or Ohio (my guess is Kentucky, and no way will it be Michigan)? I think it will happen, and perhaps sooner rather than later.

It looks like we could have 16 or more openings in Indiana in 2020, the first of which could be as early as the first week of January. And the sixteen are just the ones I know about – if I’ve learned anything in the last three years it’s been that some breweries really fly under the radar until they are nearly ready to open. There could be another half dozen or more breweries in planning that I haven’t heard of…..it happens.

Closings. The national number of brewery closings won’t be available until April, but I’m guessing that it will be many more than the 219 closings of 2018. In Indiana, there were 14 closings (perhaps 15 depending on what Central State is up to), which is a record and the first time we have gone double digits for closings (see the list at the end for all the closings). I’m counting Cannon Ball Brewing and 95ate5 Brewpub that sold to other Indiana breweries and now perhaps exist only as a brand or a few recipes within the other breweries. The final blow was/is on Dec. 31st, when Black Swan Brewpub in Plainfield closed/closes.

Two breweries both opened and closed in 2019 – Hydraulic Aleworks in Elkhart and Logansport Brewing, but I had word last week that Logansport Brewing may be re-opening soon in a new location. Central Indiana had the most closings (7), followed by the northern region (5), and only two down south. This also follows the population, and of course, a brewery that never opened can never close, so the more openings and operating breweries we have, the more closings we will have.

Logansport Brewing opened and closed in 2019, but may open again in 2020. image credit: Logansport Brewing

Just under half of the closings in Indiana were brewpubs while just over half were breweries without food. That isn’t a ringing endorsement for my theory that having food is important for success, but think of it this way, since fewer breweries don’t have food and yet the number of those closings is just as high, it means that taprooms close at a higher rate than brewpubs.

For the decade. The 2010s were good to Indiana craft beer drinkers. In 2009 and before, the state had a total of 48 brewery openings and 20 closings. From 2010 through last week, Indiana has had 193 brewery openings and only 40 closings. That’s some substantial growth over a decade – averaging over 19 openings a year and only four closings/year. Will the 2020s match that? I very much doubt it; we have entered a more mature era of craft beer.

Other issues. It was a busy year on several other fronts as well. You can’t say Indiana beer is boring, that’s for sure.

Medals. Indiana once again hauled a mess of medals back to the home state in 2019, from regional, national, and international competitions. GABF recognized the Indianapolis area for great beer by acknowledging that they had the highest medals:entries ratio for their area size. See the article here.

Brewers leaving. This year saw a particularly high number of brewers and owners get out of brewing altogether. A middle of the year article (here) had the number at 15, and I can think of four more examples since that time. What this says about the state of craft beer is up for argument, but it reinforces that craft beer is, after all, about making money while still having enough time for family.

Wilderland Distillery is Black Acre’s spirits brand. image credit: Wilderland Distillery

Diversification. Breweries are finding that second revenue streams are necessary for survival, and there are willing to make investments in buildouts or equipment to do it. Adding event space, a food partner, a distillery, kombucha, hard seltzer, a co-working space…..these are all ways to increase sales and income without making more beer.

Festivals. The number of craft beer festivals continued to be high, with only a small number deciding not to continue. Bloomington Craft Beer Festival and the Columbus Craft Beer Fest returned after a one-year hiatus each, and both were successful. The South Shore Brew Fest was canceled due to low ticket sales, which may indicate that organizers will be more cautious about expanding or creating new festivals.

Off site taprooms. The opening of additional locations continued in 2019, and not just for out of state breweries coming to Indiana. Bier Brewery opened a place in Carmel, St. Benedict’s Brew Works has two places either here or coming (Jasper and Rockport), and Chapman’s Brewing opened their Huntington location. Taxman Brewing and Upland Brewing both opened locations in the southern half of Indianapolis, while Burn ‘Em opened a gastropub in LaPorte, Sun King took over the Three Wise Men space, and Scarlet Lane Brewing blew up with four locations (So Bro, Old Meridian, Beech Grove, and the take over of Cannon Ball).

Craft beer bars. Walter and I visited more craft beer bars in 2019, which is saying something considering how much time we spend in brewery taprooms. Several beer bars opened in 2019 or late 2018, and the beer bar as a source of information has increased. Deer Park Irish Pub, The Pint Room, Growler USA-Jeffersonville, 5’s Taproom, 219 Taproom, and Hop Station all are contributing to Indiana craft beer education and enjoyment.

Hop Station is a newer craft beer bar for Indiana. It is located in Mishawaka. image credit: Hop Station

Nationally. The craft segment continues to grow slowly, but perhaps the biggest national news came in the last two weeks of the year. The excise tax breaks for craft breweries was renewed for another year on December 20, so this reduces pressure on the breweries for at least the time being. There is also a bill being considered that could make these tax reductions permanent.

2019 for Walter and I. We drank enough new beers this year to official warrant an intervention (somewhere north of 3000 unique beers on Untappd), and we got to try beer from 525 different breweries. As far as festivals, we covered 37 festivals this year and 29 other beer events (grand openings, releases, anniversary parties). That’s 66 events for the year, which is probably the most in the state for anyone not named Cheryl McCarthy.

For 2020. Who knows what the year will bring. There’s only one thing that is predictable – we’re going to be surprised at what happens. Anyone who tells you they know what will happen is lying to you.


2019 Openings – Civilian Brewing Corps, City Wineworks, Ellison Brewery – Indianapolis, Fireside Craft Burgers & Brews, Fork + Ale House, Fortlandia Brewing, Goodwood Brewhouse & Live Room, Greenbush – South Bend, Guggman Haus Brewing, Harry Stuff Brewing, Herrmann Brewthers, Hog Molly Brewing, Hydraulic Ale Works, Logansport Brewing, New Madison Brewing, Our Lady of Perpetual Hops, Pretty Nice Guys, Primeval Brewing, Ruhe152, Sun King Broad Ripple, The Chesterton Brewery, Upland – FSQ, Viking Artisan Ales, Westwind Brewery

2019 Closings – 95Ate5 Brew Pub, Black Swan Brewpub, Cannon Ball Brewing, CT Doxey Brewing, Deer Creek Brewing, Hydraulic Aleworks, Logansport Brewing, Noble Order Brewing, Pokro Brewing, Raintree Brewing, Orthocity Brewery & Smokehouse, Powerhouse Brewing, Round Town Brewing, Schnitz Brewpub, Thr3e Wise Men Brewing

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