23 Jan Brewing A Business: Windmill Brewing of Dyer, IN
This is part one of a series following the development of Windmill Brewing, located in Dyer, Ind., which plans to open its doors in early summer, 2015.
Along the western border of Indiana and just south of one of the largest breweries in the state, the town of Dyer awaits the arrival of a new brewery.
This is how most stories about new breweries begin, right? A city announces plans for a new brewery, and then the community eagerly awaits as the brewing company jumps through the necessary hoops to serve beer.
The best part of this, at least in my opinion, is that no one seems to tire of the story of a brewery’s beginnings. It is a journey, typically fraught with delays and unforeseen obstacles. And I, for one, love learning about that journey.
Having personally investigated the process for myself, I can vouch that an endless supply of literature and information exists online, sourced from brewery blogs, magazines and books alike. Whether interested in getting the jump on the newest brews around or in opening a brewery of your own, experiencing the process from the perspective of a developing brewery lends insight as unique as the brewery itself. So without further adieu…
A Brewery Born: Windmill Brewing
Windmill Brewing, along with almost 50 brewing companies in Indiana, is in the opening stages of development. While the building, equipment and zoning permit have been acquired to begin production, brewer Justin Verburg says he will need federal and state approval before tapping his kegs.
While the vast number of breweries due to open nationwide may imply that it is a quick and easy process, Verburg says, “It’s not an easy thing to start a business in this country – especially brewing.”
Verburg, age 30, became interested in beer during his time in graduate school, working toward a Master’s in Information Technology. “At least one night a week,” he says, “my classmates and I would drive over to 3 Floyd’s after class to talk, study, and work on homework.”
But in 2010 Verburg brewed with his first homebrew kit, and though he was happy with his first batch, he knew he could improve. Along with a friend, Verburg began accumulating more complex equipment to brew better beer: a mash tun to avoid malt extract, kegs to force carbonate and larger vessels for larger batches.
“(When) you research brewing science and equipment,” Verburg says, “you understand the chemistry of what’s going on at each stage, and you realize with each piece of equipment you’re buying, you’re gaining a bit more control over the process. That learning process was really exciting to me.”
Eventually, family life became busier for Verburg, and scheduling time to brew became more difficult with four children. But his interest in beer never dwindled, and he began reading books about brewing as a business and blogs from other breweries to learn about the obstacles they faced in development.
Then in early 2013, Verburg watched a presentation by John Barley from Solemn Oath, a brewery from Naperville, Ill., who spoke about both beer culture and having a passion for your profession.
“At that point,” he says, “I realized I didn’t really have a passion for my current job as a Sr. Systems Administrator for a venture capital company in downtown Chicago.”
Aware that his passion stemmed from sharing homemade beer with friends, Verburg began asking them what they looked for in a brewery. From these conversations, he knew that he wanted to open a brewery that provided a quiet, friendly and knowledgeable atmosphere and a frequently updated tap list covering a wide range of styles.
Before too long, Verburg joined with two friends to discuss opening a new brewery. Scott VanderGriend, owner of VanderGriend’s Farm Stand in Lansing, Ill., and Jeremy Ward, who had been helping One Trick Pony, a brewery in Lansing, Ill. while working as a fuel pump installer.
All three decided, because of their Dutch heritage, to become Windmill Brewing.
But serving great coffee isn’t Verburg’s only goal that distinguishes Windmill from other breweries. A Christian himself, Verburg says he hopes to reduce the stigma regarding alcohol consumption by implementing a three-drink maximum for patrons.
“I want to show that beer can be a good thing if enjoyed responsibly and in moderation,” Verburg says, adding that there are notable advantages along with limiting beer sales.
“As a business owner, I think it encourages quicker turnaround of tables and helps me allocate product in a more predictable way. It also really helps when negotiating a liability policy with your insurance company.”
Like so many breweries nationwide, Windmill began with a vision of what a brewery should look like. Achieving that vision is different for every brewery, though the legal requirements remain the same – and often cause many headaches.
In order to even begin opening a brewery, most breweries start with the basic obvious components of a brewery: a name, a location and equipment.
Through Jeremy Ward’s connections with One Trick Pony, Windmill was able to acquire a 2.5 bbl brewing system, along with 3 bbl fermenters.
Since moving to Dyer in 2012, Verburg had his eyes on a building located at 2121 Gettler St., and the owner, Don Bates, agreed to lease the building to Windmill if the town approved the brewery.
Verburg anticipated a two month delay for such approval. In reality, he says, “Proper zoning approval for our desired location took about 6 months from start to finish.”
Verburg said that the two most important lessons he learned from working with the town of Dyer for zoning approval were that authoritative sources are still subject to human error, and that governmental institutions typically move at a “glacial” pace, often only meeting once a month.
The owners of Windmill Brewing began attending the Dyer Plan Commission meetings, which had zoned the building that had previously been a garage door company, for “special use,” according to Verburg, who added that pubs and taverns needed further approval before beginning development. With the assumption that such approval would eventually arrive, he began working through other details of his lease agreement.
Months later, in August, 2014, the Town of Dyer asked Verburg’s attorney whether or not beer would be made on site. According to Verburg, who assumed the Commission understood that he wanted to open a brewery (as opposed to a bar), brewing was considered by the city to be “light industrial use,” since beer was to be made on the premises.
This left Verburg with two options: either have the building rezoned to “light industrial use,” or get a zoning variance (essentially an exception to zoning restrictions). “We were told rezoning was by far the easier option, so we proceeded with that,” he says.
Every municipality approaches zoning differently, and in the Town of Dyer rezoning requires a public hearing with the Plan Commission.
“I had to acquire a list of all properties within 300 feet of the proposed location,” he says, “and send them certified mail with an official notice of the hearing, what its intended purpose was, and when they could attend the meeting to voice any dissent.”
The commission required an official notice of public hearing to be printed in the newspaper, which cost Windmill brewing $100, plus a $200 fee to the commission for the hearing. On top of all of that, Verburg says, was a packet of forms calling for detailed legal property descriptions. However, upon attending the hearing, a motion was passed to defer Windmill’s rezoning request until it could be discussed further, which ultimately passed unanimously. After speaking with a commission member, Verburg learned that a clause allowed some zoning flexibility, in that special use buildings could be used for “other uses as approved by the Commission.”
The owners of Windmill created a presentation outlining all aspects of the brewery in order to receive approval from the Commission. But in November, after making their presentation, the Commission told them that this approval hadn’t made the agenda for that particular meeting.
The only item that the Commission was going to consider at that meeting was the rezoning request, which they said they intended to deny, according to Verburg, who would have to attend the next meeting in December to receive approval.
That next meeting, Verburg said, they made another presentation, and this time received approval with three conditions: annual production was limited to 3000 bbl, Windmill is required to maintain its three-drink maximum, and the brewery was required to close no later than 11 p.m.
“Overall we spent about $1500 in lawyers fees,” Verburg estimates, “and wasted about $350 in fees for the original rezoning request.”
The zoning approval from the Town of Dyer, despite the difficulty in attaining it, opens the door to the next stage of the process. State and federal approval, both of which require a considerable amount of paperwork, will likely come with their own set of obstacles. The owners of Windmill remain optimistic, recognizing that most of the process of opening a brewery is simply a waiting game. At this point, Verburg says, a lot “depends on Uncle Sam.”
Nevertheless, Windmill Brewing plans to open its doors in the summer, 2015.