31 Mar How the craft beer scene in Indiana has changed in 20 years: A personal history
Although I am not originally from Indiana, I came to college here over 20 years ago and have never left. I turned 21 at what seem to be the very beginning of Indiana’s craft beer boom. I became aware, and quickly became a fan. It was very different then, and over the past 20 years, I have seen a lot of good breweries and brewpubs come and go. Now we have a plethora of breweries, and a vibrant scene with events nearly every day of the year. I am glad that we’ve come this far, and I’d like to focus on how we got here using my memories of the journey.
I was not beer’s biggest fan in college, but growing up, the mass produced domestic product did not suit my palate either. The first six pack I purchased was Sam Adams Cherry Wheat. It wasn’t at all what I expected, yet by the end of the six pack, I was beginning to understand the nuances of fruit flavored beer. Consequently it was Killians that I turned to next, and my untamed taste buds were blown away by the hops and malts. These two experiences would come to shape me and my taste in beer for years to come.
Right out of college, I took a job in South Bend. This was in 1998, and I quickly learned about South Bend Brewing Company right on the river. In due time, I convinced my office to go there for a Friday lunch, and on that fateful day, I had my first sampler flight. It was nothing special, but I remember one beer was an IU Red. This brewery closed soon after sadly, and I remember running a few months later past the leveled building.
Mishawaka, the next town over, had the Mishawaka Brewing Company with two locations, and their beer became my craft staple over the next several years. The head brewer did a one off barrel every week, and for a span of a few months, I tried a new specialty every Friday. The food was good too, and I remember their Scotch Eggs. The first growler I ever purchased was full of their raspberry wheat ale.
Three trips to Belgium sparked my interest in beer even deeper as I sampled styles that would not be replicated in Indiana for a few years. I scoured the specialty shops in northern Indiana to no avail, for a true Belgian White was hard to find back then. I explored my resources and tried beer from Back Roads in La Porte, and drank a lot of beer from Michigan.
In 2003, I moved to Indianapolis after spending the summer in Pennsylvania, hooked on Yuengling. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were a lot more producers of beer in Indiana. I tried Upland Wheat my first night in Indianapolis, and discovered Barley Island, and the Broad Ripple Brewpub shortly after. I was an avid biker, and the Monon Trail gave me great opportunities to enjoy Indiana’s oldest brewpub, especially their Lawnmower Ale.
My friends and I were regular attendees at the festivals including Festive-Ale and the Brew-Ha-Ha. I remember trying New Albanian, Three Floyds, Bloomington Brewing, mhers. The problem back then was only several of of the breweries had bottled beer that was sold in stores, so apart from the festivals, the Hoosier beer I could drink at home was limited in 2004. In downtown Indianapolis, the Ram, Rock Bottom, and Alcatraz were serving up good food and beer, but I lived on the northside. So I went to festivals, and spent the time in between exploring styles of beer from around the world.
I took a job the next year at a bar in Fishers serving only American craft beer. The Old Town Ale House was ahead of its time, and I discovered Warbird and many others working there. Upland was now doing Lambics, and I served Three Floyds and New Albanian. These beers had been hard to find, and never served in places I worked until now. The tap list changed frequently, and it was a thrill to be around a product I loved so much.
The winter of 2009 marked the first Winterfest. It was a blast. I tried Crown Brewing for the first time, and was really pleased to see Warbird there, and really wish they would have been able to keep going. This was an exciting time, and it was very obvious that the idea of craft beer was changing in Indiana. I traveled a lot back then, and was drinking beer in places with awesome breweries, and now there was more than a handful of quality producers at home.
I did not know it at the time, but the mood was right for massive expansion. I heard the rumblings about Sun King, and soon they were turning out beer. Many other enterprises were starting up including People’s, Flat12, and several others. This was a new era, and from this moment on, I never worked anywhere that didn’t have craft beer on tap!
The story speaks for itself from this point. Within four years, the number of breweries in Indiana topped the century mark, seeing expansion statewide. In 2007, an enterprising person could be fully abreast of most beer made in the state. Now there are more breweries than this writer will have time to visit. I have been all over the state from Bare Hands in Granger, to Great Crescent in Aurora, as well as dozens in between. It’s a far cry from 1999 when I felt blessed to have a brewpub nearby. Now many people can visit multiple brewpubs within a short drive, especially if you live in central Indiana. Truly Indiana is a beer lover’s paradise.
Ed. Note: Want to see just how big the Indiana craft beer scene has become? Check out Indiana On Tap’s brewery map to plan your next adventure!