Legacy Breweries Show That They Still Innovate at Indiana Brewers Cup

Legacy Breweries Show That They Still Innovate at Indiana Brewers Cup

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

Last weekend’s judging and awards for the Indiana Brewers Cup (IBC) were a celebration of Indiana, and in several cases national, craft beer. New breweries did well (we’ll talk about that tomorrow) and growing breweries showed how they have the skill to make beer for their burgeoning crowd of fans, but one intriguing component of the medal list was the great job done by older, more established breweries – what some people call legacy breweries.

When a company is ten years old or more, especially one in a craftsman sort of service industry, its longevity is an objective indicator of its success. Many restaurants, bars, breweries never make a decade of life – there’s just too many things that can wrong, including the fickleness of consumers. Therefore, when a brewery crosses that decade barrier (or thereabouts) there may be a tendency to resort to an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude. They’ve been doing something right, so why take a chance of screwing things up.

Of course, it’s never that simple – companies (including breweries) have to react to changes in the market and try to predict what is going to happen as well. It isn’t lost on established breweries that if they’re not pushing forward then they’re probably falling behind. Breweries grow, they bring on a distributor and a sales staff, they start canning or move from bottles to cans, and they do a New England IPA. But that isn’t the same things as being forward thinking, looking to really cross things up in an effort to keep the business fresh. Keeping a brewery relevant in the midst of all the new breweries in the state is hard and risky.

image credit: Indiana State Fair

That’s why it was great to see several Indiana legacy brewers participating in IBC and even better to see them winning medals. Twenty year old Upland Brewing has been a leader in the field of expansion and innovation, particularly with their sour program. It’s now recognized as one of the strongest sour lineups in the country, and at IBC that was reaffirmed acknowledged with a gold medal in the sour beer category for their Cherry Lambic. This is just one in a long line of medals they have garnered and will continue to win because of their persistent innovation.

In a similar way, Bloomington Brewing Company was equally impressive with their three medals this year at IBC. The gold for their American IPA called Simcoe Kid, silver for the Ruby Bloom, and silver for Back Country in the IPA category all indicate that BBC is not satisfied with just serving up the established beers they have made for years. General Manager/Director of Sales & Operations Mike Layman has brought renewed energy to the brewery, from a recent signing with Monon Beverage Brokers for brand repping to new clients, to increased packaging of beer and tweaking of recipes, to that completely new Simcoe Kid – BBC is not resting on their laurels.

Founder, Co-owner, and CEO of BBC and One World Enterprises Jeff Mease said this about being a legacy brewery and still looking to move forward, “There are more than 6,000 breweries in America now, but when I worked for many months in 1993 to get the Small Brewery Act through the Indiana General Assembly, there were less than 400.  We opened the Bloomington Brewing Company in 1994 as the first Indiana craft brewery south of Broad Ripple. It’s been quite a thing to watch this industry take off, and the thing about producing beer is that it gets SO much cheaper to make as you get big, but getting bigger has never been our main goal.  The craft beer ethos when we got started was almost totally about local, and that ethos has never really left me or left the Bloomington Brewing Co.: He added, “We’re very interested in getting better.  Making better beers, more beautifully made beers, and bringing those gifts to the people we care about.  Our Backcountry IPA which just won the Silver for English IPA is one of our newer beers.  We developed it as a fundraiser for the Indiana Forest Alliance who were raising funds in 2014 to help protect the Backcountry areas of our Indiana State Forests.”

image credit: Bloomington Brewing Company

Head of Brewery Production and Development at BBC Nick Banks was humble about their success this year, and highlighted both BBC’s recognition of what works with their desire to keep innovating. He said, “The Bloomington Brewing Co. was very proud to showcase our hard work at the 20th Indiana Brewers Cup Competition. Ruby Bloom has been brewed for the 24 years the brewery has been open, signifying that good beers remain good beers. On the other hand, Simcoe Kid took a gold medal. This is our 4th year of developing the recipe and brewing technique of this offering from our Single Hop Series. We used all Simcoe hops and specialty aromatic malts. With great established brands like Ruby Bloom Amber in our portfolio, we are able to experiment with exciting hops on our small batch brew house at Lennie’s Brew Pub.  We continue to use a scientific process with high quality ingredients to creatively express our identity as a brewery. We are a craft brewery, it’s a lifestyle for us and we celebrate being craft every day.  Cheers!”

This is how well known names in Indiana brewery remain fresh in the company of so much new competition, even when consumers are always looking for that next new thing. Congratulations to Mad Anthony Brewing in Fort Wayne (20 years young) for their silver and bronze medals and to Shoreline Brewing in Michigan City (13 years old) for their bronze (Benny’s in American Ale). Likewsie, we would be remiss not include Crown Brewing in Crown Point as well (a solid decade old) for their two silvers and a bronze (see all the results here); these are all breweries that are working hard to please the Hoosier craft beer palate. They’re succeeding.

(Same warning today as in the previous stories – don’t use medals as your only criterion as to what beers are good and what breweries are worth visiting or buying. Talk to your fellow craft drinkers, they know who is doing it well, with or without medals.)


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