06 Mar Evansville’s german roots reflected in beer and brewing
Evansville has a proud German heritage. The city is filled with numerous historical reminders, including its beautiful Catholic churches and cathedrals, and other landmarks like the Germania Maennerchor.
Evansville’s German roots also are reflected in the city’s love of beer and brewing. By the late 1800s, Evansville hosted numerous breweries within its city limits. Most of these businesses were located in proximity to Pigeon Creek, in order to take advantage of the plentiful water needed for the brewing process.
According to the coauthor of “Hoosier Beer,” Bob Ostrander, who wrote the book with fellow author Derrick Morris, most of these early breweries consolidated before the start of the 20th century. These mergers left two key competitors, Cook’s and the Sterling Brewery along Fulton Avenue, as the dominant brewers in Evansville.
Cook’s founder, Frederick W. Cook (1832-1913), was part of the German migration to Evansville in the 1850s, which was the start up of large-scale beer production, a carry over from the long German tradition of brewing fine pilsners. Cook’s was eventually purchased by Tony Hulman, of Indianapolis Motor Speedway fame. “The Hulmans of Terre Haute, Ind., had a number of distilling interests in those days,” explains Ostrander. “Unfortunately, Cook’s got into a labor problem, because they were paying their workers significantly less than their competitor (Sterling) across town.”
Rather than resolve the labor dispute, the Hulmans closed the plant and ceased operations. The Cook’s plant was shuttered after the final beer was bottled, and the facility was eventually razed. The downtown Civic Center complex now stands on the old property.
The Sterling facility went through several owners before closing in 1997. Ostrander credits its final owner, the Evansville Brewing Company (EBC) with a number of innovations, especially in marketing the product. “They recognized how marketing and beer went together. EBC worked with several casinos to sell custom products and also collaborated with Harley-Davidson on a branded beer,” continues Ostrander.
Today, Evansville has seen a renaissance of brewing. Jason Carson owns and operates Carson’s Brewery on Lynch Road. As a youth, he had a fascination with chemistry and “fooling around” with chemicals at his father’s businesses. “I got the opportunity to try a lot of different things, and some things that I probably shouldn’t have,” he laughs.
Carson’s approach to brewing is similar in many ways to his predecessors, but with a modern twist. The brewery doesn’t utilize Pigeon Creek water, but it does depend on the local water supply. “City water works just fine. We’ve experimented with spring waters, but we really couldn’t tell the difference,” he adds.
Carson’s is only one example of the microbreweries that have sprung up across the nation in the past two decades, a trend now evident in Evansville.
Turoni’s Main Street Brewery started brewing in 1996, making it Evansville’s oldest microbrewery in continuous operation. Jack Frey, the head brewer at Turoni’s, started home brewing as a hobby before he lost his job at Old National Bank in 2003. He started as an assistant brewer in fall 2003 and became the head brewer a year later.
Turoni’s offers six different types of beers on tap, and brews around 30 different kinds throughout the year. Frey says because of the popularity of its beer, Turoni’s brewing has “doubled in production” in the last 10 years.
Turoni’s brews can be purchased at each of the three restaurants around Evansville and Newburgh, Ind., but it does not have any bottling or packaging services. Customers can buy a half-gallon glass jug to take home at the bar.
Also a microbrewery, Tin Man Brewing Company opened on Franklin Street in November 2012.
Like Carson, Tin Man President and owner Nick Davidson got hooked on brewing early in life. “My parents bought me a home brewing kit when I was in college,” he says. “I’ve always had a love for cooking, for working with my hands.”
Davidson also recognizes the importance of protecting the environment when brewing his product. Tin Man uses a specialized mash filter that reduces water usage and waste product. “Even though this equipment costs more, we think it will save money on water use in the long run,” he says.
Tin Man’s decision to sell its product in cans was a business decision, but it also was environmentally conscious. “Canned beer stands up better to oxygen and light. By canning the beer, we not only deliver a better product, but also do more to protect the environment,” Davidson says.
Both Carson and Davidson appreciate the spirit of cooperation within the fraternity of microbrewers. “I’ve visited more than 30 breweries, and most are more than willing to share their ideas,” Carson says. Davidson agrees. “Even though we’re competitors, we’re just trying to grow the business of micro brewing,” he adds.