Cedar Creek Winery & Brew Co. Brings Destination Drinking To Martinsville

Cedar Creek Winery & Brew Co. Brings Destination Drinking To Martinsville


By Donovan Wheeler for Indiana On Tap

For all but one of the eight seasons I spent coaching Greencastle High School’s boys’ golf team, our final road trip culminated in the winding route from Tiger Cub Land to Martinsville – via 231, 67, and 39. People often ask me if I miss coaching, and usually they’re surprised when I honestly tell them, “No, not really.” But if you’ve ever been in charge of a high school team – and been threatened with a beating, been called “the world’s biggest ass,” or been told that “even though you’re not that smart you’re at least better than the other coaches in the county” – then you understand. Sure, I had a lot of fun, but I spent way too much time wallowing in teenage and parental turmoil. So, when I made my final trip along that route I was happy to put a decade’s worth of drama behind me, and I furthermore vowed that I’d never travel that way again.

Five years later, Wendi and I underscored the pointlessness of saying “never” as we followed the same route almost 90% of the way. But instead of turning north on 37 for the golf course, we crossed the soon-to-be I-69 and wound our way a short distance to Cedar Creek, the family-owned winery which has recently added “brewery” to their ledger. Nestled over a small ridge and tufts of heather along Leonard Road, Cedar Creek beholds an impressively majestic vista. Surrounded by a small copse of woodsy foliage and a virtual sea of soybeans and corn, the inviting nature of the expansive property evoked a powerfully calm sensation. No doubt much of that stemmed from the general familiarity of the place. Growing up in rural Indiana, open spaces, fields, small houses, and barns were a backdrop we knew all too well.

PictureElsner hard at work

What Bryce Elsner, his parents, Larry and Donell, and his wife, Jamie have done with that sense of the familiar, however, has been to embrace it while still exudiE;ng a touch of urban panache. The impeccably manicured grounds proudly show off the family’s accomplishments and boast of the beauty of the landscape around them. As we pulled in, Wendi and I took in the neat, well-kept rows of the display vineyard in front of us. Then, our sight swept to the outdoor shelter to the right – often used for weddings and other festive events. Right of that, we beheld the centerpiece of the property: an attractive little cottage with a cozy single-door entry sat left of a stout barn (the kind with the monitor-style rooftop), and both buildings meshed seamlessly into one structure thanks to the gabled middle sections joining them. At a first glance, Cedar Creek was clearly established to make wine, but as Bryce Elsner noted, a new demand needed to be met.

“My wife and I enjoy beer more,” Elsner explained, “so we decided to add a brewery to the existing winery—which my parents run. About a year ago, I pulled my permits and then just kind of jumped into it. I started brewing five months ago, and I opened four months ago.”

As the five-year gap between the two operations suggests, the expansion from simply “winery” to “winery/brewery”, took some time – more importantly, the younger Elsner had to convince his father that the move would reflect well on the overall business model. “My dad didn’t want me to make crappy beer, especially since I was going to use the same Cedar Creek name. However, I was helping Mark Havens at Big Woods/Quaff On!, and once Dad realized that I knew what I was doing he became more willing to get it started.”

A wine-lover herself, Wendi and I did enjoy free tastings of some very good creations—she’s a pro and went for the dry and semi-dry while I stayed on the novice side with the sweet vintages. But, in short order, we stepped out of the homey wine tasting room (complete with vaulted ceilings, a fireplace, and a snug “Country Inn” feeling) and moved down into the cozy taproom. Holding a handful of small tables, framed by high shelves sporting an arrangement of growlers, painted in a smooth beige above a darker wooden wainscoting, displaying granite counter tops all under the soft emanation of incandescent lighting, Cedar Creek’s taproom struck me as the uniquely perfect place to get away and enjoy some good beer.

We ordered a full flight of all six of Cedar Creek’s house brews, and when I gazed at the display board right of the bar-proper, I noticed that Elsner hadn’t named any of his beers individually.


“I’m not going to name them,” he answered when I asked about it. “If I’m a brand new craft beer drinker (and here in Martinsville we have many of those), I want to look at the menu board and know right away what I’m getting. If I see ‘Blonde’ or ‘Cream Ale’ I’m thinking, ‘Oh, I like those beers.’ It eliminates the intimidation and awkwardness for people who are just getting into more creative beers.”

This marketing mindset and deliberate level of detail (which is the genius of Elsner and his family) becomes equally evident in the beers themselves. Wendi and I started with the Cream Ale and from there moved through the Blonde, the Amber, the IPA, the Double IPA, and ended with the Porter. And with that row of samples, I made note of the most important takeaway from the entire visit: These beers are good.

I’ve written about a lot of craft breweries over the last 15 months, and certainly a huge majority of them produce delicious, well-made concoctions. But not all of them do. A few places—which I will never name—actually, crank out sloppy, lazy, awful pints full of yuck, and even though I avoid sharing those thoughts as a writer (rating beers was never our mission to begin with), I told myself that the next time I really hit the jackpot, I’d sell that point aggressively. Cedar Creek’s beers hit that jackpot. The word Wendi and both used as we enjoyed first our flight, then our own pints, was “smooth.” Each brew glided across the palate, felt full bodied but not overwhelmingly heavy. The balance of flavor, texture, and body struck me as probably some of the best craft beers I’ve tried. And just as the case was with each beer’s generic naming, Elsner’s recipe was intentionally developed to meet his marketing needs.
“This is Martinsville,” he said. “Everyone drinks Bud Light, Miller, Coors… I need beers that are going to attract these people. I need to win them over on their first taste, so every beer has to be prepared to do that.” This kind of quality doesn’t come along by simply wishing for it. Running a very tiny, half-barrel production system, means that—to maintain his supply of six regular beers—Elsner has to brew four times a day. “I’ll start in the morning, and I’ll brew until 2:00 or sometimes 3:00 in the afternoon,” he explained. “Usually my wife is here to cover the front, but sometimes I’m alone out here. My dad makes the wine. But my mom still works up on the north side of Indy five days a week, and I manage everything. So, I’m back-and-forth between the two all the time: cutting grass, scheduling, brewing, and running the tap room and the tasting room.”

As word about Cedar Creek’s balance of quality beer with its inviting atmosphere catches on, demand will certainly grow, and Elsner (who is already planning to increase the size of his production and eventually the physical size of facility as well) is more than aware of that. But as we wait for the fruits of Bryce Elsner’s very hard work to expand to our neighborhood, we can at least make the trip to Martinsville ourselves. For me personally, it means taking an old route I used to dread and transforming it into a trip I now eagerly anticipate: a happy drive to a welcoming place where we can enjoy incredible brews (not to mention the wine bonus), and share in the enthusiasm and energy all bottled up in this family business.

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