Centerpoint Brewing’s (Blood) Orange IPA: The Fan Favorite That Almost Wasn’t

Centerpoint Brewing’s (Blood) Orange IPA: The Fan Favorite That Almost Wasn’t

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

The results of the Indianapolis Star Reader Poll for 2018 were published recently, with Centerpoint Brewing in near northeast Indianapolis taking home top honors for the best bar, best brewery, and best local IPA. I was particularly impressed with their win for IPA with their (Blood) Orange IPA offering, there are so many good hop bombs out there now. I thought about why this beer would click with so many people and it became quite clear why it won – it ticks off boxes for so many peoples’ desires in a beer.

Number one, it’s an IPA and most drinkers tend to fall on the hop end of the scale when it comes to beer choices. Then again, it benefits from not being too hop forward; there are those people that love a good west coast IPA that has hops for days, but most prefer a milder hop bite – this sweet spot is where the Blood Orange IPA lives. Second, people who may be newer to craft beer and many folks who drink a lot of beer like the flavor of a citrus addition to an IPA, whether it be from the hops or from added fruit. Again, this plays right into Centerpoint’s hands, with blood orange fruit being used at a rate of……oh wait, that’s the most guarded secret of the Blood Orange IPA recipe. We’ll just have to enjoy the delicious results without knowing all the details.

Third, there are a lot of craft beer fans who have started to pay more attention to the amount of alcohol they consume and the number of calories in their beers. This is especially true for the younger crowd, and as a result, session beers have become much more popular in the last couple of years (see this recent article). Even though it isn’t advertised as such, Centerpoint’s Blood Orange IPA is a session IPA, going off at just 4.2% ABV.

Blood Orange IPA now fits into the Centerpoint theme. image credit: Centerpoint Brewing

With these attributes in its favor, it isn’t too surprising that this beer has become so popular. I recently talked to Centerpoint Brewing’s Taproom Manager, Amanda Wallace, about the popularity of their fruit IPA. She said that there is no doubt that this beer is their number one seller, and that goes for taproom draft pints, taproom package and growler sales, off site keg sales, off site package sales, and even amongst festival choices.

Blood Orange IPA outsells Centerpoint’s second most popular beer (the Centerpoint Gold, a kolsch) by 1.5-2.5x, day in and day out. Amanda remarked that at any point in time in their taproom, three out of every five pints in peoples’ hands will be the Blood Orange IPA. And in recent months, they have been averaging about fifty 6-pk.  sales every week in the taproom alone. At festivals, where high ABV beers are usually the kings, the blood orange still blows first, long before the sixtels of barleywine or Russian imperial stouts are dead.

The phenomenon of the Blood Orange IPA from Centerpoint isn’t limited to Indianapolis either. Out of city accounts in Terre Haute, Muncie, Anderson and elsewhere all clamor for this particular beer. Not surprisingly, the more the beer buyers know about beer, the more likely they are to buy the blood orange; and it’s the same with drinkers. Word has definitely gotten around and people are searching this beer out.

The Centerpoint owners and brewers don’t begrudge people their blood orange IPA. They say, “We’re reaching the people we want to reach, and listening to what they have to say. We want to make approachable beers and if people can approach the blood orange, then great.” That’s saying a lot for a beer that was not really considered a part of their future when they opened, so much so that they didn’t even write down the recipe when they first made it.

Centerpoint bought a 60 bbl fermenter from Sun King in order to keep up with Gold and Blood Orange demand. image credit: Centerpoint Brewing

Yes, the (Blood) Orange IPA was nearly a one hit wonder, never to be seen again. I had heard tell that the first batch was a second thought and that it nearly perished after opening day, so I asked Amanda to tell me the story of the Blood Orange IPA.

Head Brewer Derek Herring originally made the blood orange as one of a dozen or so one-off beers for the grand opening in February, 2017. He made about 15 gallons of each variant, and did the blood orange because everyone concerned wanted to try something fruity. The clues were there that this was going to be something special – the blood orange was the second fastest beer blown on opening day.

While that could have been the end of the story, Derek and the owners had a solid lineup of beers that they needed to be making (Gold, White, Black, etc.), and at that time the brewing was made up of only Derek and…….OK, it was just Derek. But people kept coming to the bar to ask when the blood orange was coming back on the tap list. The longer and the louder the clamor, the more the Centerpoint listened.

The problem – they didn’t really have a recipe for it. It had been a one-time one-off, with no intention to be revisited. Therefore, they didn’t have a written protocol for the variant and they certainly didn’t have the numbers for ramping up the recipe. They had a theme and model they were following which produced a solid lineup and set brew schedule. Why mess with that – why? Because people wanted the blood orange.

Centerpoint decided to do a larger, but still not maximum capacity batch of the blood orange to see if it had some staying power. That sold out immediately, so they made an even larger batch when they could. This sold out quickly as well. It took just about those two batches to get back to the sweet spot with this beer, and the sales told them that the people were still in love with this beer and were happy with the ramped up recipe.

Whether it’s draft or can, Blood Orange is a #1 seller. image credit: Centerpoint Brewing

They considered bringing it on as a spring seasonal, but it was too popular. Then they considered producing it twice yearly, but again, it was just too popular. Centerpoint couldn’t keep up even by doing a 30 bbl (930 gallons) batches in rotation. This led to Centerpoint purchasing a 60 bbl fermenter less than six months after their very first brew day, and now they regularly switch off with double batches of Gold (the kolsch) and (Blood) Orange IPA.

The time to start canning beers for package sales came sooner than Centerpoint could have initially imagined, thanks in large part to the Blood Orange IPA. They started out using iCan Solutions, but the sales of their beers necessitated ramping up the canning operation, so just three months ago they got their own canning line (Alpha Brewing Operations). Back when they started canning, the kolsch was the first canning run in late September of 2017, but they ran a batch of the blood orange the very next day. And now they just keeping running to stay up with the demand.

With the story of the Blood Orange IPA told, I asked Amanda what comes next for this popular beer? Do you try to capitalize on its popularity in some way? Do you make an imperial version, or do a bunch of variants and have a bottle or can release party once a year (ala Double Thai from Bare Hands)? Amanda says that it isn’t really something they have felt the need to do. She said, “The beer seems to be how the patrons want it. It exemplifies that Centerpoint listens to our patrons and delivers approachable beers. If it’s right, don’t change a thing.”

That isn’t to say they might not do something special in the future, it just isn’t their focus. They’re not trying to build the Blood Orange IPA into something else. Centerpoint just lets the beer speak for itself and lets it give the patrons an idea of what this brewery is all about. However…. it was a grassroots campaign that brought this beer back from the brink in the first place, so who’s to say that enough vociferous feedback couldn’t convince Centerpoint to riff on the blood orange and gives us all more reasons to love them.

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