Craft Beer At Carmel’s Flix Brewhouse – Who Needs A Movie?

Craft Beer At Carmel’s Flix Brewhouse – Who Needs A Movie?

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

Way back in the day, when I was studying chemistry at Indiana University and the universe was young, I did a bunch of stupid things. Some were sparked by or included beer consumption, and at least one involved both. My friends and I tried to sneak a twelve pack of cheap beer, Blatz or something similar, into the Indiana Theater on Kirkwood Avenue. I don’t remember what the movie was, but we apparently felt that there was no use sitting through the film if we couldn’t make it much worse with terrible beer.

It should have been apparent to Matt, Steve, Cactus Bill, and I that our plan had been seen a thousand times by every theater worker in a college town. Two minutes into the previews – not the movie mind you, the previews – we got busted. I’m glad they were cool about it, they just took the beer and let us stay for the movie. After the movie was over, Matt wanted to ask for the beer back  – he was out voted.

Nowadays, going to the movies is still big, but if you want to drink beer while watching a movie it’s a lot easier to just stream something and have some good craft brews at home. Wouldn’t be great if there was a place that showed movies and had great craft beer and food? It’s been tried a few times in Indianapolis; Hollywood Bar & Film Works was the first in town. It lasted for 15 years on South Meridian, closing in 2006 because the downtown parking became so expensive that patrons dried up. There was also a theater and restaurant in Greenbriar for a few years, although they didn’t have quite the same bar attitude.

The bar and restaurant table at Flix Brewhouse tell everyone that they can stop in to have a beer or food without seeing a movie, but more people need to take advantage of this opportunity. Photo credit: Fox 59

So, if a bar/restaurant/theater has been tried before and hasn’t lasted, what would make the difference and turn a business into a winner, especially in the age of decreasing movie ticket sales? How about adding a brewery? Flix Brewhouse in Carmel is succeeding where the others failed, and at least some of the credit should go to Chris Knott and Josh Miller, the brewers at Flix. Good beer and a good film is a dang near perfect combination – add in a barbeque chicken pizza and I might as well just sleep on a cot in the back because I’m never leaving.

Here is where we get to the interesting portion of our story. Walter and I have been to Flix several times to see movies with the kids; once we even attended a showing there sponsored by Indiana On Tap of the Indiana beer documentary by Jonathan Hoyt entitled Hoosier Brew: The Past, Present, and Future of Indiana Craft Beer. Despite this familiarity with the lay out of the bar, restaurant area and theaters, I had never considered going up to Flix just to eat and/or drink beer. I didn’t even have them in my database of Indiana breweries – I only saw them as a movie theater. This was a big mistake, and one I am hoping to correct with this post. More people should begin thinking of Flix as a destination for good beer and food without attaching a movie theater to the description – who needs a movie to enjoy a well made saison and a good tuna poke?

Convincing you, dear readers, to make a stop at Flix in the next weeks, shouldn’t be all that hard. I can point to the head brewer’s pedigree – Chris Knott brewed for Ram downtown, the mother of most Indiana brewmasters, before becoming the first head brewer at Scarlet Lane in McCordsville. After a short stint there during which he and Scarlet Lane won three Indiana Brewer’s Cup medals a mere ten weeks after there first brew day, Chris was contacted about the lead brewer position for Flix Brewhouse, Carmel. His pedigree isn’t enough? How about awards? Chris repeated his three-fer at the Indiana Brewer’s Cup in 2015 exactly ten weeks after his first brew day at Flix – that’s unheard of.

I don’t know that we will ever destroy the idea that Flix is a movie house, and why should we? Beer, movies, and food – where’s the problem? Photo credit: Flix Brewhouse

I asked Chris about his awards and he had a hard time remembering them. As we talked more, I gathered that the reason he couldn’t remember all of them was because there are so many. He would talk about a beer and then say, “Oh yeah, that won a bronze at the 2015 Festival of Barrel Aged Beers.” All told, Flix has taken 14 medals and won last year’s brew bracket under Chris’ watch.

Chris is the head brewer at this Flix, but he has also been serving as the interim corporate brewer for all the Flix sites since the corporate brewer left a few months ago (note: as of Mid-May, Chris is the official corporate brewer for all the Flix Brewhouses). He is in charge of planning the brewhouses for the next three Flix operations (Phoenix, Little Elm, TX, and Madison, WI). We better appreciate him now, because it is apparent that the corporation knows what a resource they have in him and he will soon be promoted. The reasons for this include his beer, but also have to do with his understanding of the unique issues of making beer for a movie house. I had no idea how complicated this was until he started talking about the timing of movie releases and trying to predict how many people are going to come see a specific movie 4-6 months from now so that he can have enough beer on hand.

Chris said that Hollywood holds less popular movies until September and October because kids are going back to school and fewer people are buying movie tickets anyway. So at these points, he has to cut back production while still trying to keep his yeast samples alive. On the other hand, a big movie debut may call for a special beer release and their system might become taxed to within an inch of its life just to keep the movie patrons in beer. For example, they had a heck of time keeping beer on tap when Star Wars: Rogue One came out last year, and this situation might be repeated two or three times each year. These are issues that most brewers just don’t have to worry about.

The above discussion proves that, for now, most of the beer sales at Flix are driven by movie ticket sales. Most people that end up there are going primarily for a movie, and the demand keeps Chris from pushing much beer out the door. They made just under a thousand barrels of beer last year, but none of it was on tap at places other than Flix, and they are cutting down on festivals because it puts so much of a strain on Chris and Josh’s time. Because of these limits, it is even more important that we get the word out about Flix beers and increase the number of people coming in to get there beer – it’s just about the only way folks are going to find their brews.

Chris Knott has won awards at the Festival of wood and Barrel Aged Beer Competition in Chicago. That alone should tell you that you should be drink ing his beer. Photo credit: Guys Drinking Beer

The beer at Flix is a mix of corporate house beers that can be found at all four Flix locations in the US (Carmel, Des Moines, Round Rock, TX, and just recently Albuquerque), while the seasonal and small batch offerings are completely the work of Chris and his assistant brewer, Josh Miller. That isn’t to say that Chris doesn’t have some say in the house beer recipes. He recently made some changes to their Lupulus IPA, and those changes were adopted by the entire Flix chain. So anywhere you go in the US and drink Flix IPA, that’s Chris’ recipe.

The brewhouse is a pretty thing to behold; it can be seen from the street, and the brite tanks are displayed above the bar, with sprays of colored lights shining on them throughout the day and night. A dozen or so barrels are evident upstairs – this is the domain of Josh. I was able to sneak a taste of an upcoming beer from Josh and Chris – a mulberry and mahlab (cherry kernel) version of their 10 Day Scottish ale that was also aged in second use bourbon barrels for six months. It wasn’t just good – it was great! The vanilla and oak were in the background, and using second time barrels was a great idea to keep the bourbon addition low. The mulberry wasn’t too sweet but added a great mouth feel and the mahlab led just a hint of tannic cherry taste. It was a very complex beer that I am heartily suggesting that they enter into the 2017 FOBAB competition in Chicago in November.

Needless to say, the beer is worth the trip – so explain to me why General Manager Ron Hahn told me that people not seeing a movie account for only about 5-7% of their bar sales. That’s ridiculous – Monday’s are $2 off all Indiana beers, of which they have a great selection – and that’s on a day when many of the other breweries are closed. The guest tap list is better than most beer bars; the day I was there last week they had Bier, Bells, and Black Acre – and that was just the B’s. There were over twenty guest beers, everything from Sierra Nevada Otra Vez to Noble Order’s Ragnar Belgian dubbel.

A great guy named Jason has been behind the bar at Flix for almost a year now. He says that while most people come in because they are seeing a movie, he likes the looks on their faces when they try a beer and realize how good it is. The beerslingers do more than there fair share of beer education for the people at the bar – either waiting to go into a movie or having one to discuss the movie afterward – and I can tell you from personal experience that this education comes with many free samples (please don’t abuse the privilege people). Despite the obvious fact that these are primarily movie patrons, Jason still thinks of the Flix as a brewery first, a restaurant second, and a movie theater third.

Flix serves their beers right off of their brite tanks above the bar (see first image in article) while the top image here shows the brewhouse right by the front doors. The bottom image shows the barrels that Josh is in charge of – he is a barrel aging wizard. Image credits: Walter

Is my job done here? OK, how about this – I can also attest that the kitchen is putting out top-notch food. The food is too good to be served only to movie patrons. Gary Beauregard, the executive chef for Flix Brewhouse, just happened to be in the house the afternoon I was there. He says that the house chef, Kyle Roberts (of Harry & Izzy’s before Flix), does a great job, and they receive excellent feedback on his food all the time. They cook with the beer and they are seriously considering making beer suggestions on the menu for each of the menu items. This is movie house that obviously cares about their food and beer. GM Ron say that this is a corporate must, they will consider opening Flix Brewhouses only in cities that already have a considerable craft beer scene (and he is right, Walter and I know for a fact that Des Moines and Albuquerque are great beer towns).

On this particular day, the sesame oil aroma from the tuna poke was enough to convince the young lady standing next to me to order it when in the movie theater. Her name was Megan, and I asked her if she ever considered coming to Flix to eat and drink when she and her husband weren’t seeing a movie. She tilted her head and thought for a moment, and the answered a different question. Megan said that Flix was a great one-stop destination for when they decide to pay for a babysitter. They can have good food, good beer, and see a movie without taking the time to drive from place to place.

A good answer, just not the question I asked. So I guess the jury is still out – have I convinced people to make Flix a beer destination, not just a movie destination? To be sure, beer and a movie is a great idea (perhaps the most surprising thing is that there are only four of Flix Brewhouses in the US). But I still say that thinking of Flix as a movie house is doing a disservice to Chris, Josh, Kyle, Scott, Liz, Jason Tony, and all the folks that are so passionate about what they have created in Carmel. Go find out for yourself – and don’t look at the movie lineup first. Just go for the beer and the food; you won’t be disappointed.

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