The Importance of Craft Brewery Anniversaries

The Importance of Craft Brewery Anniversaries

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

Walter and I had a great Saturday. It seemed to be everyone’s anniversary party, some newer, some older, even one as a zero year anniversaries (otherwise known as a soft opening). I looked through my super-secret master list of Indiana brewery information and found out a few things about just when Indiana breweries tend to open.

Of the breweries for which I have information on the month they opened, the spread over the year is fairly uniform. June and October both have 17 anniversaries, while March and October have 16 apiece. The rest of the months have from 15 down to 8 anniversaries each. The second half of the year leads the first half by a mere six birthdays, while the span of October to March leads the middle of the year by more than a dozen. I guess if there’s a take home message, more Indiana breweries have opened around the first or last of the year than in the spring and summer.

Saturday was evidence of this trend; just as spring was beginning, we had three anniversaries to attend. And this got me to thinking about the value of the anniversary party or acknowledgement. Over the course of the day, we figured out that it’s more about the people that make the brewery rather than for the brewery itself. We started in the early afternoon at Metazoa Brewing for their 2nd anniversary. Big things have been happening on College Avenue recently, and this was a great time to celebrate what they have achieved and where they are going. The new addition to the brewhouse looks great and still leaves a few narrow paths for John, Zack, Greg, and Nick to move around.

Metazoa’s taproom is inviting for both man and beast. photo credit: Metazoa Brewing

Metazoa has undertaken a rebrand, well not so much a rebranding as an additional brand. The merchandise is being switched out to a new logo, as is the website, something a bit simpler, but much of the old animal based graphics will remain at the brewery. The mug club wall is getting filled up, even if most of the room is taken up by Walter’s bathtub size beer container. Really, who uses a pitcher for the mug club glass?

Metazoa is busy just about every evening with all the vents that Lauren has brought in, and of course there are always the dogs. It’s nice to see that the vast majority of the pooches are well behaved and like being around beer drinkers; the occasional rambunctious animal is quickly ushered outside by owners that understand the dynamics of a dog-friendly brewery. However, in Metazoa’s third year to come, we want to see some funkier pets hanging out at the brewery. Where are the angora rabbits, the iguanas on leashes, and the occasional socialized pussycat. OK, that last one may be a stretch.

For the 2nd anniversary, there were food trucks (Muay Thai), special beer releases, and music. The small batch brewing system had been put to good use for the anniversary party. Greg and Nick turned out at least nine different small batch beers for the party. The majority went on tap early, with others following later in the day. We tried the Sweet Leroy, a cherrywood smoked red that was very mild, any more smoke and it could have gotten harsh – a nice use of restraint by the brewers. I also had the Dodo, a wheat IPA that was added to the list early in March. Easily defined as west coast, this Dodo should never go extinct. Walter did the Poodle Jumper, a version of the better known Nap In The Hammock. The hibiscus color and flavor did the beer proud. She also got the Second Citranniversary, another hoppy offering that pleased her palate.

Metazoa smoothed out the process of getting a beer at the bar by clearing out some of the seats and selling beer tokens at the door, reducing the need to keep track of tabs. We were there early and the place was packed, so we can’t imagine how the place must have rocked later in the day. The live music was just getting set up as we were leaving – such is the price of covering several events in a day. But it was apparent that the party was about the animals and the patrons; more of a thank you than a “look at what we did.”

After stopping at Ash & Elm for a cider as part of another writing project, we headed north to Books and Brews on E. 96th St. for their fourth anniversary celebration. By 4:30 there were people all over the place, grabbing beers, playing games, listening to the live music….you know, what goes on all the time at Books and Brews. The mothership opened on April 21st, 2014 with furniture that Jason Wuerfel made with the help of dedicated volunteers and $50 bowl of soup on the menu.

From day one there was a vibe about Books and Brews that wasn’t/isn’t easy to explain, but puts people at ease. It isn’t a place that doesn’t demand beer geekiness, social adeptness, stylish clothes, or a need to be cool, although it’s OK if you’re like me and have all of those things, you’ll still be welcome there. Books and Brews is more about comfort and non-judgment, although it’s not a preachy kind of place. Four years of this welcoming attitude has translated into three more corporately owned taprooms and four franchise stores with more to come, all with beer supplied by Books and Brews and its contract brewing partner.

More Magic and and Catan has been played at Books and Brews than at most Cons. photo credit: Books and Brews

The theme of Jason’s messages during the anniversary party this year was gratefulness; gratitude for the customers who have made the business a success, a thankfulness to the people who helped start the brewery and built the bar, the tables, the brewhouse, etc., and to all the people who have worked behind the bar or the kitchen of a Books and Brews. On Saturday, this took the form of special beer releases, live music from 1pm through closing, and discounts on purchased items.

Our afternoon at Books and Brews included some of the beers that have made them famous. There was a smoked version of their It was a Dark and Stormy Stout, and the One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Brew Fish always refreshes. However, I also took time to have the Shogun Soba Ale, a beer that was good and has gotten better in recent months. Walter stuck with her go to beer Nancy Brew. There were other special tappings for the day, but we didn’t have time to partake in all.

We listened to the live music on guitar, vocals and bass with our beer in the space adjacent to the bar. And while they played we saw and talked to so many people from the craft beer community helping BnB celebrate. Mike Layman, general manager at Bloomington Brewing, James Dulhanty of craft brewery specializing Kitto Insurance, head brewer Bryan Suter….. and of course there was Walter.

By this time, we needed to head out for our final anniversary party, although it was a bit of a stretch to call Rusted Silo Southern BQ and Brew House’s soft opening and test menu night an anniversary, maybe a one-day anniversary, or a zero year anniversary, but I needed a link to the rest of our day, so this is it. It also happened to be a surprise birthday party for owner/chef/brewer Rob Ecker, with many of our friends from Circle City Zymurgy coming out to support one of their own as he and his partners go pro.

The opening soon part means……today! We have to wait a bit on the Rusted Silo beer, but the food is more than enough reason to go. image credit: Rusted Silo

Rusted Silo in Lizton has been making home-brewed beer for quite a while under that name, but they haven’t gotten their commercial brewing going yet, so Saturday night was BYOB. On the other hand, the food was all Rusted Silo and all great. The rotating trays in the brick oven were apparent once you entered, but the smell got to you even sooner. BBQ chicken, spareribs, brisket, smoked sausages….even the mustard tasted better when it had the smoke to go with it. We did peach cobbler to finish along with the birthday cake for Rob, and then got down to the beer.

Several CCZ club members came out to help with the party and soft open. Kelsey and Kevin Groover have an interest in the business and were diligent in helping out with evening’s events, but they took some time to try some beer as well. Club member Allen Brown brought a great beer he made himself, a black IPA that started out as a Taxman wort for Exemption, their famous Belgian Tripel. The wort share with the CCZ club took place on March 3rd, and this was the first beer that Walter and I had gotten to try from that day.

Allen added some roasted malts and Imperial Independence or Barbarian yeast rather than a Belgian variety yeast, so this was a true American Black IPA called “In The Black.” Good roastiness without overpowering the hops, and a very good smoothness that highlighted the hop bitterness. Nice job, Allen and thanks for the growler to take home.

This is a picture from opening day at Books and Brews four years ago. These are the people Jason looks to celebrate with their anniversary party. photo credit: Books and Brews

CCZ member Nick Boling brought an Odd Side Ales Rye Hipster from Michigan. This breakfast stout with maple and a hint of bacon from rye malt was probably one of the top three beers I have had so far this year – and we tasted this beer just a half hour after we cracked a bottle of 2017 CBS. There were more local beers as well that stood up to anything from anywhere; 2017 Sanitarium from Bier, 35K from ATG, the BBA Imperial Ivory from Brew Link. Everything was great, and it helped that we were amongst friends and had sated ourselves with a great beer. More importantly though, the Rusted Silo folks repeatedly acknowledged their gratitude for people coming out to help them start their adventure. It’s a big event, but one that means nothing if it isn’t shared with those who make it all possible.

In conclusion, anniversaries are important. It is crucial to see where you’ve been, how you got to this day, and reaffirming what is dear to you and how you want to move into the future. Since craft beer is such a community – amongst the brewery people, amongst the craft drinkers that move around from place to place, and amongst the regulars who call a couple of specific breweries home, it’s important to share these days with them, and keep the relationship uppermost.

There are some breweries, especially those that get big and distribute widely, that stop celebrating their anniversaries. I think this is a mistake; it separates you from your patrons and does a discredit to all the people who got you there. As Jason Wuerfel said on Saturday, “The credit for Book and Brews’ success goes to every person who ever stepped a foot inside the door or spent a penny at the register.” Anniversaries are days of gratitude for your co-workers and your patrons; let them celebrate with you. One more year may seem small when you have had many, but it’s not – EVERY year in the books is a big deal, and not just to the owners and brewers.

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