Indianapolis International is Adding a Local Beer Garden – Could We Spread the Love?

Indianapolis International is Adding a Local Beer Garden – Could We Spread the Love?

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

The Indianapolis International Airport is opening a new restaurant called Circle City Beer Garden. They intend to feature local craft beer, which is both commendable and smart because Indiana craft beer is very good.

They have put out a survey link on their Facebook and “X” accounts (here) asking for your input on which breweries should be featured. There is a very nice list of breweries from which to choose three (3), but you also have the opportunity to go off the board and pick a brewery which isn’t listed (I think you can list multiple breweries in the write-in section, but I’m not positive). I can’t tell you if the airport is looking to serve only the top 3 or top 5 vote getters, but I do think that they are looking for a very limited number of breweries to feature (based on the list given, likely those with distributors).

I personally would like them to rotate the breweries that are featured, so that all the breweries in Indiana (the ones that have the brewing capacity) could get the publicity and sales from this, very probably, popular location. True, rotating the breweries would take more work on the part of the buyer for the Beer Garden, and there would be some logistical headaches getting beer delivered by the smaller and farther away breweries, but it would lift all of Indiana craft beer in a way that having just a few representatives all the time wouldn’t.

Sun King already has a place at the airport, so maybe a 2nd set of taps wluld be redundant? Or maybe they would just sell a lot more beer. image credit: Sun King Brewing

In principle, the Tomlinson Taproom at the City Market would function in this capacity, but in practice it is more often a taproom for the same 15-20 breweries about 90% of the time (over the 2 years I tracked them). Understandably, they are hampered a bit by the fact that the taproom is owned by the breweries that make up the Brewers of Indiana Guild, so they can only serve guild members’ beer, but I’d love it if we had a place that would feature most, if not all, of the Indiana breweries throughout the year. Heck, HopCat has 25 Indiana breweries on right now, but even they stick to the same 30 or so. The Pint Room has 15 Indiana breweries pouring right now, but I think of them more as a place for regional./national beer – you need those places too.

I get it, the Indianapolis Airport Authority isn’t a not-for-profit group. They need to sell beer that’s going to sell well. In many cases, this means stocking brands that everyone knows – you know – the breweries that have the most SKUs on the shelves in local groceries and liquor stores. They sell a lot of beer for a reason, they’re good and they’re consistent, but it still results in a “rich get richer” result, and I know better than most people that there is a lot of good beer in Indiana.

Perhaps a hybrid model could work? Half the taps (of which I don’t know how many there will be) could be for the larger footprint breweries, and the other half could rotate amongst the many breweries of the state. This would reduce the volume of beer needed from the smaller breweries, opening up the opportunities to smaller producers, but would also allow the profit motive to thrive via bigger names – at least for Hoosier airport visitors.

Som people list the airport beer as one of the best beers you can have. I’m a bigger fan of the free beer. image credit: Washington Post

I wonder what percentage of the patrons for the Circle City Beer Garden will be from central Indiana. People from all over the world pass through the Indiana International Airport, so if more than 50% of the patrons were arriving in Indy from faraway lands or returning to those exotic locales via IND, then they likely wouldn’t know most of the brewery names or reputations, whether well known here or not. In that case, featuring smaller, lesser-known breweries wouldn’t necessarily hinder sales. After all, if people are from out of state, they’re either go to buy a local beer they don’t know based only on style and beer name or a national beer they know well. And if they’re looking to buy a national beer, then the Beer Garden is in trouble before it even opens.

But just like most automobile accidents occur within 10 miles of home, you have to imagine that over 75-80% of the people lifting a beer in the Beer Garden will be from Marion and the surrounding counties. Therefore, they may likely have breweries they recognize and know. To stretch another analogy, core beers are most often core beers because they sell well, and similarly it is likely that certain Indiana breweries would sell better in the Beer Garden because they are better known to Indiana drinkers.

In the end, there’s going to be good beer in the Circle City Beer Garden, but I suggest that you give more than a passing thought to who you choose or write in for the survey. Perhaps, just perhaps, if enough different breweries show up in the survey results, we could convince the Airport Authority to do the extra work to open up the opportunity to many breweries. Indiana has a lot to offer in terms of beer, and I’d love to see more breweries rather than fewer breweries get the chance to serve to a national/international audience.

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