23 Feb Knapptronix Brewing in Lafayette: Overcoming Challenges and Making Beer
It’s not easy to start a brewery. It’s kind of an audacious undertaking if you think about it. You like beer and/or like to make beer, so much so that you convince yourself that other people will want to give you money for the experience of drinking your beer.
You also have to believe that enough people will come that you will be able to make money from the venture. It takes confidence and a willingness to look beyond the thousands of things that could (and will) go wrong. Government, landlords, vendors, suppliers… the number of challenges to overcome is astounding; you can’t pull this off if you have doubts.
Opening a brewery is hard under the best of conditions, so imagine trying to accomplish it while dealing with the aftereffects of a stroke. But that’s just what Brad Knapp is doing in Lafayette. He’s getting ready to open Knapptronix Brewing on Main Street, just a couple blocks east of Lafayette Brewing and Thieme and Wagner Brewing.
Brad was born and grew up in Lafayette and graduated from Purdue with a degree in Chemical Engineering in 2001. I can’t even begin to tell you how many brewers are chemists or engineers. He traveled around for a while, working in food/chemical manufacturing processes. This field brought him back to Lafayette recently, and he brought back a passion for brewing that he picked up during his travels.
Home brewing is one thing, but it takes that extra push to think about doing it professionally. It’s both a sad and empowering thought that it was while recovering from a stroke at only 37 years of age that Brad consolidated his thoughts about opening a brewery. The plan served as both a goal and therapy for him, and can’t be underestimated as a factor in his recovery.
As Brad told me, “During the long recovery and rehabilitation, I felt myself pondering life’s big questions, like what I wanted to get out of it, leave behind, etc. A couple jobs in my career fell through and I found myself unemployed for the first time ever so I began the process of putting together a business plan and numbers in order to pursue a small business loan and start my own brewery.”
“It was most important that I didn’t live my life carrying around regrets. One day you’re trying to figure out why you’ve fallen on the floor, a week in the hospital and 5 years later, you’re scheduling the delivery of your brewing equipment. You just never know when your last day is going to be so take some chances/risks in your life. ”
He added, “After getting turned down due to lack of industry experience for an SBA loan, I made the decision to invest my accumulated savings into this venture. The remodel started fall 2020 and is complete. Now we are hoping to be open in March or April of this year.” There have been long term sequelae from the stroke, and Brad says that coordination and muscle strength still present challenges (he was a top notch athlete), as well as the mental struggle of accepting those pieces of him that were now gone. He found therapy in making beer and now celebrates what he can do rather than lamenting what he cannot. Fortunately he has help from friends and family for recovery and support for the brewery – from helping crunch numbers and making spreadsheets to being guinea pigs for new recipes.
Despite these challenges, Brad says his two biggest challenges have been moving to a larger brewhouse from his homebrew system and looking to fill a void in Lafayette beer. He said, “I feel the biggest challenge I’m facing with the exception of the financial investment, is the learning curve brewing on a larger scale. There’s so many challenges out there it’s hard to narrow it down to just one. I feel Lafayette could use a place that pushes the boundaries of beer that is brewed. There are not currently breweries in the area offering a regular selection of new England IPAs, milkshake style beers, or kettle sours for whatever reason and I’d like to fill that void. Creating a product the community will enjoy is likely the biggest challenge.”
Creativity is paramount in Brad’s philosophy of beer, and he hopes to impart that spirit to Lafayette. He said, “My engineering background compliments my experimental nature so providing a beer that showcases an experimental hop or maybe creating a stout featuring a different girl scout cookie might find its way onto the menu.” Novel concepts in beer will be used to showcase bold flavors.
Brad told me, “I plan bring together art and science and create enjoyable tasting beer that is both sophisticated and accessible to everyone, while continually rotating the taps to bring in new styles. I also believe in supporting our local community, and that means sourcing as many of our ingredients, products, and materials as possible.”
To style beers will play a role as well. If something is a fad and will fade away quickly, is it worth investing the time to make that beer as good as it can possibly be? When you care about your product, it’s a matter of making sure that the work to make great beer will pay off with longevity. As Brad say, “I remain self-critical and am always thinking of ways to continuously improve. Is a style of beer going to be a trend that rises but then quickly fades away? I want to have smooth styles without overdoing it. I don’t want my customers to question what style of beer they are drinking, as each style will be well balanced.”
To produce that creative beer, Brad is bringing in a 3.5 bbl Blichmann all electric brewhouse. Josh Miller at Blichmann Engineering has hooked Brad up with four fermenters and a brite tank for packaging beer. Yes, Knapptronix is already planning to can beer, because that’s the world we live in today.
With this new equipment Brad will be offering eight taps of Knapptronix beers, each a distinct style and which will cross the “wide array of beer styles.” These will be offered in his intimate taproom, one that will, “hopefully project one of science and music. I have a love of both so it is my goal to share this passion of learning and knowledge with the community as we fellowship over beer. Music will be on all the time, as I believe the things that pairs best with great beer is a great song.”
To that point, the name Knapptronix also has a musical origin. Knapp told me, “It’s a rather stupid story but I got the nickname during my time at Purdue because I was always ‘that guy with the music.’ I have a genuine love of music and I’ve found it’s critical to establishing a good time. If you’re like me, great times you’ve had in the past always started with great music. I thought if people liked the music being played, they’d have a better time.”
He added, “I was always turning it up unnecessarily, and a guy in my fraternity would comment, ‘Watch out everybody, DJ Knapptronix is here’ when I’d start messing with the tunes and it just sort of stuck. I bought turntables and records when I moved to Georgia after Purdue and at one time considered a career as a terrible DJ. I grew up on Run-DMC. Knapptronix was going to be my DJ name but decided to name my brewery that as I thought it was unique and different.”
Fitting in didn’t seem to be Knapp’s problem then, and so it would seem he is fitting right in with Indiana breweries too. I asked if he has reached out to Lafayette breweries for advice or suggestions and he said, “I’ve been in contact with David from Thieme and Wagner, Josh Miller from Backstep Brewing, and Tom and Michelle from Crasian Brewing. I’ve patronized the local/state breweries so often and I’ve asked them so many questions, I’m surprised they still let me in. During my time in Illinois, I had opportunities to meet/chat with a lot of individuals in the Chicago brewing scene. I even got to help on a canning run with Liquid Love Brewing. It was great to get this kind of exposure and to be allowed a peek behind the scenes. As a way of deciding if this was really for me, my experiences and the advice of other brewers have only it reinforced my decision to pursue opening a brewery of my own.”
In summary, Brad admits that this venture has been a pretty rough road, but he’s seeing light at the end of the tunnel. He know that his Lafayette customers are going to know what a great beer is supposed to taste like and the pressure is on to measure up. “This makes for a very short learning curve, as I will need to come out of the gate having eight amazing beers on tap.” Through his beer, Brad looks to, “empower the community, delivering beer in a friendly manner while maintaining a casual atmosphere suitable for any occasion.” Keep your eye on Knapptronix Brewing and make sure to visit them as soon as they open.