21 Mar Indiana Craft Beer Is About To Get Happy
Every brewery has a story; that’s probably the one thing that Walter and I like more than the beer. Here is a group of wonderful people (the vast majority) stepping into the unknown and taking a huge risk to pursue a dream that many have had for decades. Some have business experience, some have brewing experience (surprisingly, a good portion don’t) and some have construction experience – a very important factor when trying to do the build out for a taproom on a strict budget.
In a small number of cases, a new brewery contains all that experience in just a couple people. Such is the case with Happy Brewing (3902 N. Illinois St.) and its owners/brewers, Gabe Soukup and Dave Bellar. Happy Brewing is opening this Wednesday (March 21), with beer and food for cash only (card reader is on the way). Gabe had been home brewing for years when he decided that it was time to open a brewery and sell beer with his long time friend (more than 25 years), Dave Bellar. Gabe has work experience in microbiology, having done fermentation research with Eli Lilly for several years, and work experience in owning a business as well.
He has owned a moving company and a truck washing company, so he has experience in marketing a business, but this time it will be his business. That explains the name. Eli Lilly was way too stodgy and corporate for him, and his moving company was a franchise that became corporate as well. He wanted out from under the corporate thumb in a place he could be happy – ie. Happy Brewing.
Gabe is the co-owner/manager, but he acknowledges that Dave is the head brewer. Together, their philosophy for their beer is similar to that of a chef. Dave says, “Beer, like all culinary items, is a very personalized thing.” As such, they plan on two main goals for their beer. They want technically solid beer, and they want beer that they themselves and their friends enjoy. They understand that you can’t please everyone with every beer, so it is best to be true to yourself and make beer you can be proud of. And for sure, they don’t plan to follow fads.
Dave has been brewing since the late 1990s. He has helped friends brew in commercial breweries even though he hasn’t had a previous head position himself. St. Joseph Brewery came calling when they first opened, but the timing wasn’t right for Dave. Here at happy, everything has come together, including what Dave calls a very well loved 7 bbl system that has been in the industry since the 1990s at Gilgamesh Brewing in Salem, OR and two others before that. Dave jokes that their brew house is old enough to drink the beer.
The hot liquor tank and mash ton are old pieces of dairy equipment, while the big old kettle is direct gas fired. They do have a hopback for late additions and dry hopping, but other than that they don’t go much for bells and whistles. Dave and Gabe like the low tech brew house, “You feel like you’re brewing, not just pushing buttons.” They have four fementers to start, but the layout of the building and available space will make it easy to expand.
Gabe has a great attitude about the project, so the Happy logo is very appropriate. I visited Gabe a couple of times in recent weeks, and even though he could name off a hundred things he still needed to do and was sweaty and tired, he showed me around, told good stories and always had a smile on his face. This is a labor of love and Gabe is indeed happy and contented to be doing what he is doing.
Happiness doesn’t just apply to the brewery either, Gabe and Dave are wanting to bring happiness to the community as well. Early in his life, there wasn’t a lot of happiness for Gabe; he received help from different homeless shelters when he was young, and worked hard to put himself through college. Now he has a goal to repay the generosity of the city he loves. The core values of Happy Brewing are centered around this idea of helping others; using the beer and the brewery to do the most good for those in the neighborhood and beyond.
The neighborhood of Happy Brewing is Butler-Tarkington at 39th and Illinois St. This area has been part of s small desert within Indianapolis, and is also on the edge of an economically challenged district. Gabe is looking to become part of the neighborhood – Butler-Tarkington Neighborhood association meetings, Nuvo’s offices are across Meridian St., United Way is across Meridian as well, and North United Methodist Church is on 38th Street. All will provide opportunities for Happy to bring the neighborhood together. The happiness has already begun; new businesses have begun to open on the block to the south since Happy put up their sign. Tarkington Park has undergone a huge facelift right across the street, and this is bringing families back to the area. As such, Gabe will have a family friendly area and menu to cater to all that visit the area.
Gabe knows that there is still much to do and the issues are many, but he isn’t obsessing about menu and such other problems; these things work themselves out over time. However, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have ideas for food – wings, soups, and importantly Chicago dogs. These won’t be the plain old Chicago dogs, he is buying the short dogs so that people can try more than one, with different and varying toppings. It will be sort a of hot dog flight to go with the patrons’ beer flight (not unlike the pizza flight from The Mitten Brewing in Grand Rapids, MI). Eventually, Gabe wants to add Valpo Velvet ice cream from Valparaiso, his personal favorite.
The building on North Illinois has a history in sales and food. Built in 1947 as the Walter Hiser Inc., automobile sales dealership for Ford and Lincoln-Zephyr, it soon became the Hiser-Feeser and then just John Feeser auto dealership by 1957. After a short vacant period, the Seven-to-Eleven Food Market moved in in 1963. They changed their name to just Seven-Eleven a few years later, but occupied 3902 N. Illinois until the late 1990’s. In 2004, Double 8 Foods occupied the space and remained there until all five stores closed without any public notification in 2015.
This brings up an interesting bit of trivia. The site for Happy Brewing is an old Double 8 being turned into Happy Brewing Co., while the previous Double 8 warehouse on E. 46th Street is now Black Circle Brewing and the previous Double 8 store on N. College Ave. will soon be the Next Door Eatery of Kimbal Musk (Elon’s brother) with a nice craft beer selection at all times.
The construction of the building indicates that Mr. Hiser thought he would be selling Fords late into the 22nd century. It is a concrete building from roof to basement, most walls are solid concrete from 15-24 inches thick, and has a huge freight elevator/garage door in the back that has allowed Gabe to get his brewing equipment in easily. The very high ceilings help if Gabe wants to bring larger fermenters in the future and adds to the character of the taproom.
The building was built back from the street to give ample area to display automobiles. This area will serve Happy Brewing well for front patio seating, directly across from Tarkington Park. Likewise, the large flat roof of the 17,000 sq. ft. building will make for a wonderful rooftop lounge, perfect for evening drinking and conversation or to listen to a band. Finally as an automobile showroom, the original construction included floor to ceiling windows on the front façade. Happy Brewing will benefit greatly from the natural light and the great view of the park and North United Methodist Church on Meridian St.
Repurposed wood and an antique industrial look highlight the taproom, with large soft light Edison bulbs over the bar. As a tribute to the Indiana brewing community, Gabe is hanging empty kegs on the wall and covering them with Indiana craft brewery stickers. Gabe has done all work himself – plumbing, electrical, interior design, most of it through or into that thick concrete.
Gabe told me that they would probably already be open if it weren’t for the conditions in the building when they took over. But it is important to get this right. Gabe said, “If your brewery is a start up, then you have no brand – your location will be your brand until your beer becomes known. So get the location right.” Along those same lines, Gabe thinks it is important for him to be behind the bar for the introductory period. He and Dave need to be accessible, and then when they are known, maybe a taproom manager can be brought on board.
We welcome Gabe, Dave, and Happy Brewing to Indianapolis and Indiana. They have built a special story with their bare hands and created something worth sharing. Now we get to share in the rewards of their hard work and become part of the community that they look to serve, both in terms of beer and good works.