Hoosier Hospitality Demands an End to Indiana’s Beer Deserts

Hoosier Hospitality Demands an End to Indiana’s Beer Deserts

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By Mark Lasbury for Indiana on Tap

Walter and I had tickets to see the documentary film, Hoosier Brew: The Past, Present, and Future of Indiana Craft Beer at Flix Brewhouse a few weeks ago night. It was a very nicely conceived and shot film that brought up many topics in Indiana craft beer and introduced the viewer to numerous individuals with expansive craft beer knowledge.

As part of the discussion afterward, film maker Jonathan Hoyt addressed a question about a possible craft beer bubble. Everyone talks about saturating the market and hop crops not being able to expand rapidly enough, but Jonathan was much more upbeat about the situation. He pointed out that while big production breweries may be near saturation (although that may not be true either), there is still room for neighborhood or town-based brewpubs all over the state. You don’t have to make 30,000 barrels of beer a year to be successful at craft brewing; a pub with some good food and three or four finely crafted beers will offer people in small towns a place to gather and commune – just like in the old days.

As the situation stands today, there are swathes of the state that are over 20-25 miles from the closest craft beer brewery or brewpub, areas that I call the beer deserts. Deserts don’t have to be just areas of hot temperatures and sand; any locale that is devoid of some needed resource can be considered a desert. Antarctica is a cold desert, the forms of life there are few and far between because of the lack of available water to drink. Logansport is a city of 18,000 with the closest craft brewery being 25 miles in Kokomo (Half Moon or Tin Man tap room). This definitely represents a desert when it comes to getting a good drink.

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This is a conceptual map showing the distance one must travel to an Indiana brewery. Blue is a short distance, pink is the fringe of having a local brewery, while red and yellow mean that you are definitely craft beer starved. Image credit: Boring Nerdy Stuff

For any entrepreneurs in the western portion of Indiana, here’s your chance. If you were to drive south from Crown Brewing in Crown Point on Highway 41/150 (the road that basically parallels the western border of the state) you will come close to exactly one oasis, with just one open brewery (Terre Haute Brewing Company) and one planned brewery (Gnometown, just north of Terre Haute) before you reach the beer sanctuary of Evansville. From the western border, you have to go east to Greencastle (38 miles), or Lafayette (50 miles) in the central portion, or further south east all the way to Jasper (45 miles) in order to find a hand-made beer. This creates a 10,000 sq. mile Great Western Indiana Beer Desert with only nine breweries or brewpubs as a small oasis!

Chris Weeks opened Wasser Brewing in part of a so-called desert (Greencastle) just this year. The town welcomed him as part of the downtown revitalization, and it must have been a good idea, because his establishment is being closely followed by a craft beer bar with dozens of taps, even though they don’t make their own beer. This is proof that smaller towns can welcome the brewpub concept and will rally to support new local businesses.

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Madison is a quaint town on the Ohio River with significant history, a local college, and a state park. How can it be that a brewery has not located there? Righteous Brewing had plans to open, but I haven’t heard anything since April, 2016.

In the southeast, Indiana has a smaller beer desert; I’ll call the Madison Gobi (gobi means desert in Mongolian, just play along). Can you imagine a tourist town like Madison, with Hanover College next door and a Kentucky beer desert just across the river – Madison doesn’t have a single brewery or brewpub. The nearest Indiana craft beer is 45 miles away in Jeffersonville (Red Yeti or Flat 12 tap room) or 50 miles northeast to Lawrenceburg (Great Crescent). Seymour (Twisted Crew) may only be 35 miles as the crow flies, but it is a bear to drive, so basically, you can’t get a fresh-poured, talk-with-the-brewer craft beer if you live in Madison. And Madison is just the center of this desert, it basically extends west to English and north to Greensburg. Towns like Scottsburg, Salem, North Vernon, Vevay, and Versailles would all welcome a small brewpub with good food and good beer. Someone, somewhere is going to learn from Chris and open a brewpub in this desert.

Finally, along the eastern border of the state there is a barren wasteland of beer ending in the north at Fort Wayne broken up only by Muncie (Guardian and New Corner, and soon to be Elm Street) and Richmond (New Boswell, Noble Order, and the soon to come Campbell House). Anderson (population 55,600) hasn’t a single brewpub, although it does have a beer festival – figure that out. In truth it has to do with local ordinances (come on Indiana’s Brewers Guild, attack). Marion, Rushville, New Castle, Hartford City, and Wabash are all within this region that requires travel to Muncie, Richmond, Fort Wayne or the Indy area to enjoy a craft beer. This desert is only slightly smaller than the one on the west side of the state, and has significantly more towns with substantial populations. Something must be done!

If you live in the Indianapolis area or the Region (Hammond, Gary, Michigan City, South Bends, Elkhart, Valparaiso), you are blessed with many choices for your craft beer fix. In Indy, it is only a short drive to an all Belgian brewer (or two), an all Brett brewery, an experimental brewery, etc., and the northwest area has numerous innovative breweries with equally awesome food (try Sunday brunch at Evil Czech or the deviled egg of the moment at Crooked Ewe). For Walter and I, distance really isn’t a factor, we’ll drive three hours just hit a brewery we haven’t been to before, but for most people this issue is about having a local place to hang out with friends on a Friday night and get a good beer at the same time.

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In 1977, the city of Indianapolis held a telethon to save the Indiana Pacers. You can see Mayor Bill Hudnut and Slick Leonard in the picture, The lady is Nancy Leonard, Bob’s wife, and to the right is local sports anchor Chet Coppock. Is bringing craft beer to the deserts of Indiana a less noble cause? I think not! Photo credit: Vigilant Sports.

Maybe we could organize a telethon, a fun run, or a bake sale to raise money to bring craft beer to the deserts of Indiana. It’s a good cause, although we would have to investigate whether the donations would be tax deductible. A World War II –like airlift of craft beer to the starving locals might also be an idea, but a falling half barrel could do some real damage. OK, perhaps, it would be easier to just convince a few home brewers to go pro and build brewpubs in the under-served regions of our fine state. Hoosier Hospitality demands that we do something for our craft-beer starved Hoosiers.


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