21 Feb NEW Brews, New Spaces Coming to Bloomington Beer Scene
Bloomington has a pretty good beer buzz going right now.
A dizzying number of brewers are flowing into the city. New brewpub Function Brewing opened downtown at the end of January. Quaff On Brewing Co. of Brown County plans to start serving from a nearby tap room in a month or two. Bedford-based Salt Creek Brewery wants to open its own tap room in Bloomington this spring.
Meanwhile, the town’s old guard doesn’t want its offerings to go flat. Bloomington Brewing Co. is about to start a bottled beer line for the first time in its 20-year history. Upland Brewery is hard at work on a new series of pilot beers, upcoming packaging changes and a set of renovations to its Bloomington Brewpub.
Those changes come to Bloomington as waves of craft beer continue to sweep the country. The number of breweries in the nation has been on the rise for much of the past 20 years, according to the Brewers Association. Total U.S. craft breweries jumped from 1,970 in 2011 to 2,347 in 2012, its statistics show.
Waves of locally brewed suds have hit Indiana, too. The state had 39 breweries when Lee Smith took over as executive director of the Brewers of Indiana Guild in January of 2012. Today it has 82, she said.
And Bloomington tends to be toward the front of the state’s craft beer industry.
“Bloomington has been a leader in the craft beer movement in Indiana from the very beginning,” Smith said. “I think Bloomington is among the communities in the state that are very, very well prepared to accept increased activity in the professional brewing community.”
That doesn’t mean the new beer locations are pouring into the area overnight. Function opened at 108 E. Sixth St. on Jan. 22 after years of rumors and anticipation.
Brewer Steve Llewellyn has been brewing his own beer for the better part of eight years. He and his wife, Arlyn, decided to open a brewery and restaurant about four and a half years ago. They bought brewing equipment in October of 2009, then signed a lease in 2012.
“Steve happened to be on the mailing list for a brewery out in Idaho,” Arlyn Llewellyn said. “We looked at it, ended up deciding to buy it and drove across the country in a Penske truck with the brewing system in the back. We spent those days driving figuring out what our brewery was going to look like.”
Function’s restaurant and bar are on the ground floor of the Rogers Building on East Sixth Street, with the brewery equipment in the basement. The restaurant space is about 2,400 square feet and can hold 98 people.
The Llewellyns aren’t bottling their beer, and at the moment aren’t filling growlers for beer to go. They’re working hard to keep up with the brewpub’s demand — it’s been swamped Fridays and Saturdays since it opened.
“We’d love to be able to sell a few kegs around town,” Steve Llewellyn said. “That’s a ways off. Growlers are a first step, and then I’d love to do special releases in bottles.”
Quaff On Brewing Co. of Nashville in Brown County does bottle its beers, and it’s working to grow its distribution presence east to Ohio and south to Kentucky. But it’s expanding its physical presence into Bloomington with a tap room that will serve food and beer in the former Cafe Django building at 116 N. Grant St.
Quaff On wants to open its Bloomington tap room sometime between St. Patrick’s Day and April Fools’ Day, according to founder Jeff McCabe. The beer brand grew out of the Big Woods Brewing Co. brewpub in Nashville, a location that’s undergoing some renovations and expansion.
As a result, Quaff On wasn’t on track to put a tasting room in Bloomington until this fall, McCabe said. But it couldn’t turn down the opportunity to move into the former Cafe Django space.
“We have been collaborating with the owners of the Cafe Django for almost four years on different projects, including the Grant Street Jazz Festival, which we helped sponsor,” McCabe said. “We just think it’s an incredible location, one of the best locations in town.”
Quaff On wants to build on Cafe Django’s well-known association with jazz music, according to McCabe.
“We’re not going to be a niche jazz place, but we would like to honor that tradition,” he said. “We like all forms of music, including jazz. We’ll have some other kinds of music as well.”
Upgrades are currently underway at the future Quaff On Bloomington building, including extending its existing bar from roughly 8 feet to 35 feet. The tap room will be able to hold about 60 people inside and 25-30 in outside seating. McCabe hopes to retrofit its cellar so it will also be able to hold customers by fall.
Salt Creek Brewery of Bedford also wants to open a Bloomington tap room this spring, although it’s not as far along in the process as Quaff On. Salt Creek is working toward securing the necessary permits, according to owner Brad Hawkins.
The Bedford brewery has yet to settle on a space in Bloomington, although it could end up on the west side, Hawkins added. He originally wanted to have the new location open by the first of April, although he’s not sure if that’s possible at this point.
“The plan is to keep brewing in Bedford, then have the tap room in Bloomington,” Hawkins said. “It’s a larger demographic.”
Longstanding Bloomington brewers are working on changes of their own. Bloomington Brewing Co., which was founded in 1994 and serves its beer at the Bloomington Brewpub at Lennie’s Restaurant at 1795 E. 10th St., is about to start regular bottling for the first time.
“We just took possession of a brand-new bottling line,” said Jeff Mease, BBC cofounder and CEO. “We did a very small novelty hand-bottling project last year, but this is our first real foray into bottling.”
BBC will start by producing 22-ounce bottles of just one of its beers, Rooftop IPA. It will make those bottles available in Bloomington for about a month at the beginning of April.
After that, Mease plans to slowly increase distribution to Indianapolis and possibly other areas of the state.
Later, once Mease is comfortable BBC can consistently bottle its beer without problems, the brewery will start putting out some of its other brews in bottles. Mease hopes to have three styles on shelves by the end of the summer.
The move to bottle comes after BBC’s draft sales jumped by almost 30 percent last year. Mease doesn’t want to become a large regional brewery, but he believes BBC needs to grow and produce more beer to stay afloat.
“The challenge, for small breweries like us, we’ve got to get enough volume that we can stay competitive,” he said. “You can only take drafts so far when you’re not in a bottle.”
Upland Brewery is trying something new on tap with a Side Trail Series of small-batch brews. The first one, an IPA called Coast Buster, came out at the beginning of February, according to marketing director Andrea Lutz. The series, which will have eight different beers, is meant to be experimental, pilot batches.
The brewer has also been working on renovations at its Bloomington brewpub at 350 W. 11th St. They’re adding a second bar, more taps, increased bar seating, increased dining seating and a new kitchen. They should be done sometime this year.
New Upland beer packaging is also on the way. Lutz predicted it will be out sometime in the second quarter of this year.
“We don’t want to give too much away at this point,” she said. “It’s all very exciting.”