A Visit to Tin Man Kokomo Rewards Us With The Lowdown on Evansville Craft Beer

A Visit to Tin Man Kokomo Rewards Us With The Lowdown on Evansville Craft Beer

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

It’s great that you sometimes start out with a plan or an idea, and the events that follow put things in a new perspective or take you in a new direction. In terms of wandering the state visiting breweries, new pathways or trains of thought most often come based on whom you meet.

Who you meet, how you meet them, and the circumstances of the visit can inform many of your opinions and how you see the world (or merely the world of craft beer). Some people become more important to you and the way you think, others are diminished. People can provide information that deepens your feeling or knowledge, or can merely provide prospective on the state of the industry or society.

The important part is to get out there and have the conversations. It’s amazing what you can learn, or re-learn due to a new or renewed acquaintance – opinions/viewpoints based on less than supposition aren’t worth having. Get out there and talk to people to know what they think. This is how Saturday went for Walter and I. We stopped in at a few spots and finished the day at Tin Man Kokomo Brewing, becoming Sun King Kokomo Small Batch Brewery over the next couple of weeks. We wanted to see the taproom one last time before the changes come; not because we lament the alterations coming, but because we feel a connection to the place and the people.

Our first stop Saturday was at Schnabeltier, a winery, brewery, and cheesery in Rochester. image credit: Schnabeltier

Ashley was behind the bar and Jeremy was running around the entire taproom cleaning, running empties back and pouring when we arrived. It was great to see them stressed because it was necessary – the patio and the taproom were buzzing with activity, drinking, and conversation. We looked around to see if I could sneak the Tin Man stained glass window over the bar out to the Waltermobile, but I had to settle for a 50% off Tin Man T-shirt and a $2 branded can glass.

As we had some beers and talked, we noticed a young man sitting at the couches with two other folks. They had Tin Man branded gear on too, but I noticed that it was Evansville gear, not Kokomo. Lo and behold – we knew that young man; that was Dane Riedford from Evansville. He brewed at Tin Man before Nick left, and he brewed at Carson’s Brewery as well. We said hi to him and the conversation took off from there.

We learned the two gentlemen with him were Bryan, Dane’s father, and Todd Huffman. All of them had been involved with Tin Man Evansville at one time or another, and they really do have their fingers on the pulse of Evansville craft beer. They had been drinking Friday night in Evansville and figured out that none of them had anything critical to do on Saturday, so they decided to come up and see the last of Tin Man.

They hadn’t ever visited the Kokomo location before, and they were pleased with what they saw and experienced. But beyond that, we started talking about Evansville beer – it’s a place we don’t get to nearly often enough. They had much information that I appreciated, and they also gave me a feel for the state of beer in Evansville.

image credit: Gerst Haus German Restaurant & Bar

After Tin Man sold to Neace Ventures and then the system was gutted and sent to Falls City Beer in Louisville, it might have seemed that Evansville craft was in trouble. But the beer environment actually blossomed in the city around that time. Gerst Haus was/is still going strong. Doc’s had opened, and Turoni’s still had beer and those breadsticks. Jeff Smith still had the Evansville Brewhouse, and Carson’s Brewery was becoming a regional brewery with beer distributed around the state.

Myriad Brewing opened in 2018, as did Maiden’s Brewpub, which meant that Evansville had a great amount and variety of craft beer for the fans. Dane is a big fan of the beer being made in Evansville, and he pointed out Myriad specifically as a place that is doing special things. Jamie and Jason Elliott do their own thing with Myriad, without entering competitions or selling beer in distribution (to date). However, their brewer, Max King, is a rising star in beer. He also worked at Tin Man and left there to start the brewhouse downtown at Myriad.

Dane compared Max’s beer favorably to much of the beer he has had, and when I offered a possible comparison with Henderson Brewing across the river in Henderson, KY (twice named on of the top breweries in KY, and they only opened in 2018) he said Myriad was definitely at that level. I think we need to stick a bug in the team’s ear about entering a few beers (like that ESB) into competitions in 2021 and getting their name out there a bit more. Luckily, the word is that Myriad is starting to can beers for to-go sales. I wonder if this will lead to distributing some beer – we hope so.

The beer at Maiden’s (now Damsel Brewpub) has also been stellar, with all the beers given ladies’ names. John Mills II’s place does both food and beer in the spacious restaurant and on the patio and we have done both and know they are good. The legal stuff that went along with a name change, the new signage, and other items pursuant to changing something like that put a small hitch in John’s giddy-up, along with a switch of chef and manager to go with a new menu, but now he is going gangbusters and the growth is palpable.

image credit: Jennings Street Public House

Merl Smith is still brewing at Turoni’s Pizzeria in their Main Street Brewery. He took over for Joshua Pietrowski when the “Big Cat” left to take over a sports bar of his own, Doc’s Sports Bar on Stringtown Rd. When Jeff Smith of Evansville Brewhouse decided to retire, Big Cat was re-energized for brewing and bought the small brewing system and taproom and renamed it for the neighborhood in which it resides, Haynie’s Corner Brewing. (UPDATE: Last September Samantha Buente assumed ownership of Haynie’s Corner and has expanded the events and scope of the brewery. Three people now brew for Haynie’s Corner  Jeff Smith has come out of retirement to do a few beers, Joshua Pietrowksi still brews some of the beers he developed during his time there, and home brewer Josh Wuertz has come on to do professionally what he had been doing on a personal level for a while.)

The craft beer bars/restaurants in Evansville have been going strong, including Gerst Haus with their 49 beers on tap. Walter and I are looking forward to some schnitzel and a few pints there in a couple of weeks. Gerst Haus is about to get a new member to their club, the Jennings Street Public House in Newburgh, with Nick Burch being a large part of that enterprise.

Nick had been involved with both Carson’s and Maidens/Damsel before he decided to work outside the industry, but he is a co-owner of Jennings Street just finished the draft tower installation, so he is definitely back. He told me, “With my past experiences, I will run this place like a brewery but without any equipment. I hope to collaborate with Indiana breweries when available and have craft beer on draft, mostly, if not all, from Indiana. I really want this place to celebrate in-state craft beer.” We’ll have more information on Jennings Street as their opening date draws closer.

Finally, the big recent change is how things have shifted around at Carson’s Brewing. Started in 2012, Carson’s grew steadily over the years, until their beer could be found in large swathes of the state and they had bottles, can, and barrel aged beers by the hundreds. But here in 2020, they are taking a step back, becoming a microbrewery again.

I talked to Jason Carson about the changes going on and he’s excited about the shift they have made. Carson’s will be doing almost all on-site sales going forward, with limited canning and keg sales in parts of Southern Indiana. In the past, Carson’s had been doing contract brewing for Falls City Beer – now Carson’s will have some beers canned and kegged by Falls City Beer. Specialty beers will be made on site by Damian Bruner, for sale only in the taproom. Therefore, if you will be looking to get new Carson’s beers, you’re going to need to travel to the taproom.

But the trip will be worth it. Jason says that they will continue to have lots of live entertainment along with trivia, bingo, etc. in the taproom and be a place for people to gather. His final comments to me were about what he is seeing for Carson’s. He said, “We’re looking to be local, support local, and appreciate our local patrons.”

The conclusion we drew from our conversation in Kokomo and my followups with the breweries is that Evansville craft beer has and is undergoing change, much like all of craft beer and all of small business in 2020. Nevertheless, there’s considerable reason for optimism about the quality and availability of Evansville beer. Our new knowledge leads Walter and I to refocus on getting down to Evansville in the very near future – I’d say in the next couple of weeks so we can experience this craft beer town again for ourselves. We encourage you to do the same.

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