A Deeper Dive Into the Changes at Bloomington Brewing

A Deeper Dive Into the Changes at Bloomington Brewing

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

Bloomington Brewing Company is one of the oldest, most venerable breweries of the Indiana craft era. Opened in 1994, BBC was the fifth craft brewery to open in Indiana and is one of only three of those five to remain open. As such, it was an item of some import when Jeff Mease and Lennie Busch let it be known that he was looking to sell the brewery, and an even bigger item when a buyer was found and the deal was completed.

Luckily, the new owners are both craft beer and BBC fans, and they are intent on not just preserving the history and reputation of BBC, but growing the brand into the future. The new co-owners that will be responsible for day-to-day operations are Amanda and Jarrod Franklin, of Bloomington. I asked Amanda about how she and Jarrod came to this point and she said, “We’re beer lovers with business ownership backgrounds.  Jarrod and I will be owner-operators. My full-time job will be to run the brewery. I have restaurant and bar management experience, event planning experience, plus an art education which helps with marketing and advertising.”

She added, “Together with brewer Zech Algood, we’ve talked about opening a beer or restaurant operation for years, so when we got word that BBC was looking for new owners it was a little bit like a sign to move forward with this idea.” Negotiations for the purchase started in earnest shortly after they got word of the opportunity in July of 2021, and the i’s were dotted and t’s crossed just before the new year. One thing Amanda wanted to make clear, “We aren’t a group of investors making an investment. We are Bloomington locals who will own and operate the brewery and work really hard to bring keep the brand alive and evolving.”

The ownership team at BBC. image credit: BBC

Speaking of Lennie Busch, it’s probably important to note that Lennie’s Restaurant is a separate entity from BBC.  The restaurant is not included in the brewery purchase, is still owned by Busch and Mease, and it will still serve all the BBC beers, acting (for now) as its de facto taproom. Amanda told me that while a taproom of their own is an idea, it’s probably something for the future, as “the immediate goal is to focus on making the beer the best it can be and getting it out to as many beer lovers as possible.”

The other ownership members involved with Bloomington Brewing are already involved in a central Indiana brewery, Four Day Ray in Fishers. The Franklins are friends with FDR owner Chris Welsh, and he, together with co-owners Brian Graham and Mitch Ackerman, joined their effort to purchase BBC.

I asked Brian what the role of FDR will be with the new version of BBC, and he said, “Four Day Ray will move some production down to the Bloomington location as well as consult and provide assistance where necessary to grow our brands. We will be serving BBC draft and selling cans in our Fishers location and FDR beer will be served at Lennie’s in Bloomington.” He added, “Everyone involved believes BBC has great potential with the right TLC and we all want to see the brand grow beyond Bloomington.”

Brian’s adjectives when describing the new group at BBC, including head brewer Zech Algood, are “energy and excitement. So just what might we expect from the BBC of 2022 and beyond? Amanda tells me that all the BBC core brands will remain and that, “Production will definitely increase. We will brew the BBC mainstays, and seasonals, plus one-offs in the future. As the dust settles on the ownership transition our goal is to grow the brand, make great beer and eventually bring in new fresh recipes as well.”

One of my favorites from BBC, I hope it returns. image credit: Bloomington Brewing

New recipes will be developed by Zech who will also collaborate with Mitch at FDR. Zech said, “We’re also hoping to start introducing some more traditional German beers to the line-up. I’m a huge fan of lager, and we’d like to start having those available regularly. But don’t expect a complete reboot of anything.”

While traditional German beer is their favorite, Zech, Jarrod, and Amanda are intent on brewing all kinds of beer. Zech said, “My vision for BBC moving forward is to respectfully continue the legacy of the brand. We will continue the core beers, but I’ll be trying to improve all the beers we make. I know several people who have brewed at BBC in the past, and I want to respect the work they’ve put into these beers for the past 27 years.  I don’t plan on making major changes to the brands, some may not change at all, but I think a lot of the beers are not reflective of what craft beer drinkers expects in 2022.”

Zech is a Bloomington area native who cut his teeth at Upland Brewing. He related, “I began homebrewing around 2003, and brewed constantly for several years. I immediately fell in love with it. In 2013 I was able to get an entry level position at Upland Brewing Co delivering kegs, cleaning draft lines, and helping out the packaging crew.  Once I got my foot in the door at a regional brewery, I tried to learn everything I could. I spent a lot of time in the lab at Upland learning from the head of QA/QC, as well as the other brewers. In my first 2 years I was able to move up to running the bottling line, then to assistant brewer, cellarman, and in 2015 I moved up to Brewer. For the past 7 years I’ve been focused on recipe development and improvement, and managing Uplands non-sour barrel aged beer program.”

The franklins toast the purchase of BBC with Jeff and Lennie. image credit: Bloomington Herald-Times

Amanda told me that, “Taking over one of the state’s original breweries feel like we have big shoes to fill. We wouldn’t have purchased any other brewery, we bought it because it was BBC. BBC has always been special to us, and Bloomington, we have a love for its history. The history of the BBC is a huge part of our drive to keep it thriving. We hated the idea of the BB brands getting absorbed into another brewery and not being a stand-alone brewery any longer.”

Zech continued the theme, “For fans of BBC, we want them to rest assured the brewery is being taken over by Bloomington locals, who are first and foremost fans of BBC. We’re going to keep making the brands they love, we just hope to make them better. We love the brand, the branding, the art, and the ideals behind Bloomington Brewing Company. Our focus is to continue the tradition of making great, fresh, local beer for our friends and neighbors. And for people who have not been fans in the past, we hope you’ll give us another try. We still have some existing inventory to move through, but new BBC beer will be hitting the market soon!”

It sounds like the venerable Bloomington Brewing Company is in good hands.

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