New Digs and New Model for Hoosier Brewing: Get Ready for Taproom Can Releases and Flying Axes

New Digs and New Model for Hoosier Brewing: Get Ready for Taproom Can Releases and Flying Axes

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

There are many businesses models for craft breweries to forge or follow. Some want to get big and do lots of distribution, some want to stay very small and service their neighborhood. Some look to do a few number of beers and make a lot of each, some choose to make many beers and when they’re gone they’re gone. Often times a business model will shift a bit over time; small breweries get bigger, breweries that swore they would never do food add a restaurant – nothing is set in stone.

More rare is the brewery that switches things up radically, and it’s even rarer to make big changes in a very short period of time. However, in business as in life, change is sometimes necessary. You just hope that the changes you make are big enough to matter and small enough to preserve the bulk of who you were before. In some cases, you get lucky and a big adjustment to a model is transformative for your business, and the challenges open new doors to opportunities that you hadn’t seen before.

That’s where Brian Nentrup and Hoosier Brewing are right now. Brian and his partners are getting ready to open a taproom called Tap & Axe with a limited menu of great food, with supervised axe throwing, and with a new model for selling beer – moving from distribution-based to weekly or bi-weekly small batch can releases of beers that focus on being fresh, being innovative, and using very high end production and ingredients. There will be new beers in the pipeline all the time for Friday releases, and they will be available from the taproom only.

image credit: Hoosier Brewing

So, how did this radical change in business model come about? Brian opened Hoosier Brewing in 2015 as a distribution only brewery. They had success with several beers popular on many accounts. As time went by, the opportunity to modify the business came along, and they opened a restaurant and taproom in Franklin. Early results were great, with Brian investing heavily in the business, and Franklin also getting him a grant to improve the property.

Then things changed. The restaurant part of the brewpub started to swallow everything else. Brian always said that he brewed beer not to sell food, but because he loved to brew beer. The food end wasn’t what he wanted to be doing, and yet he was spending 65% of his 80+ hr. work week at the restaurant instead of back at the brewery in Fairland.

Then things changed more. Roads started getting shut down for repair, expansion and renovation. Revenues dropped because people found it increasingly hard to get to the location. At one point, there was basically just one way for people to get to them. After a tough cycle of slow sales combined with additional road construction closures, Nentrup found himself unable to stay afloat and had to close up shop with the Hoosier Brewhouse. Wooden Bear Brewing were able to step into the Franklin space and use the improvements Nentrup made to the building. Wooden Bear Franklin is now up and running.

A few month after leaving Franklin, a group of partners who desired to start a distillery purchased a building and reached out to Nentrup for a partnership in Greenwood. This partnership allows the Hoosier Brewing name to live on. The new location is in the heart of downtown Greenwood at 147 South Madison Avenue. Considerable renovation is being done on the three retail slots that will make up the entire property. The front doors are in the middle section, opening on to what is the bar. Tables for food and drinking will be in front with the bar top in back and the kitchen behind. A look to the left will show the distillery through a large glass window…….yes, Hoosier will be distilling white spirits and bourbon from this new location. A pot still with an 18 foot, 15 plate stack is being ordered as we speak. Barrel aging of bourbons will likely be done off site, but just think about how those barrels might then be used for beers!!

Front doors to left, window to distillery to right, rustic touches like exposed rafters & brick all around. image discredit: Walter

The brewhouse will be behind the kitchen, but the fermenters will be near the still, so everyone will still be able to see the beer making process at work. The new set up will include a huge water treatment plant, with an RO system and a software driven mechanism to rebuild water for every beer. It’s no secret that water is important for good beer, with slight changes in water profiles brining big changes for each style. With the new system, Brian will be able to dial in and optimize a water profile for each and every new beer on the system. It will lead to great beer, and consistent beer – thanks to Martin Brungard and his Bru’n Water system.

Throughout the establishment, there is exposed brick and open rafters that give a nice rustic look to the place, and that’s probably appropriate for a brewery which offers axe-throwing. After all, the name of the place is Tap and Axe, the axe part had to come in in there someplace. To the right (south) of the front doors and taproom are the eight side-by-side axe throwing lanes.

It will be uber-safe; these lanes have chain mail to protect throwers in other lanes and every participant is under the constant supervision of an axe throwing coach. Too many beers and you’re grounded, but that’s OK, there will be tables, couches and TVs let enjoy watching other people throw the axes. They might even show it on TV – just last weekend an axe-throwing competition was shown on ESPN. This activity is becoming a big deal.

Many bars have axe throwing now, it’s especially popular out west, but as far as we can tell, Hoosier Brewing will be one of the first craft breweries to include it in their repertoire. Wild Barrel Brewing in San Diego does have axe throwing, but they also have a bunch of batting cages, so apparently there’s nothing they won’t add.

The lounge area by the axe-throwing are will also come into play on can release days. There is a back door there where people will line up for cans, and then they can make their way through to relax, try the beer, have a draft or cocktail, or grab some food and they move through the line into the taproom.

The side-by-side axe throwing lanes are going in right now at Tap & Axe. image credit: Walter

It really is a radical switch. Brian is moving the brewhouse over from Fairland, a good size direct fire kettle with a homemade brink surround to keep that heat in. But instead of doing everything in his 25 and 30 bbl fermenters, he is ordering in some 10 bbl fermenters. How many people have you every heard of that expand what they do by ordering in smaller tanks? It’s a great move in order to buy into the new model of “keeping it fresh.”

That’s the key phrase for the new taproom and the beer – keep it fresh. That means fresh in terms of the activities and amenities, fresh meaning that small batch always mean new beers at the height of freshness, and fresh as in always innovating. If you want people to drive to your taproom for can releases, you better be giving them something they can’t get anywhere else. The beer will be made with the best ingredients, using a process-driven mechanism to ensure innovation and quality.

Brian is designing the labels; he was a communications major in school with a lot of extra work in graphic design. You can see by the Haze Head can that this is also a mechanism by which Hoosier will grab your attention. He got the idea to make it all on his own from Sam Caglione’s (Dogfish Head Brewing) book, Off-Centered Leadership, in which Sam explained how even after DogFish Head became big, he would still go in and brew a small batch or design a label for a beer. It’s all part of keeping the beer and brand fresh. The next beer, Citra Squeeze, and all the subsequent beers will reflect this freshness. For the future, keep an eye on the website to see what dates, names, and styles will be coming next.

Don’t worry, the Corn Maze Cream Ale and the Red Flyer Irish red will be around most days, they are what you will have to consider Hoosier core beer list. The Red Flyer has been one of my go-to Indiana reds for years, and the new water profile has raised the Corn Maze to a new level. It now drinks as one of the new school cream ales, ones that go for layers of flavor rather than looking to be just an accessible, introductory craft beer for the BMC (Bud, Miller, Coors) drinkers. But all the other beers on tap and in cans from the taproom will be devoted to big in flavor, small in batch size, and moving within a few popular series, like a haze head IPA series, a shake it up series of milkshake beers, etc.

Brian did a great job with the Haze Head label. Click for a larger view. image credit: Hoosier Brewing

There will also be a canning line in the brewery, but canning for distribution won’t be a big item on the list. Canning runs previously had been 6-8 hr affairs, but the new model takes those down from a pallet to a few dozen cases – all that extra time can go to brewing more beers.

In order to preserve the focus on beer, Hoosier Brewing partner Mike Rincker is concentrating on a few foods that will pair well with the beer and satisfy most palates without getting into the three-page menu territory. Pizza slices displayed and sold from a 100 yr. old pizza case will be the main items, but there will be wings, salads, and a few appetizers. Food is not the point of this new model and to emphasize that, service will be at the bar for food, beer, and for liquors and cocktails.

There are plenty of places in Greenwood that offer food, so it isn’t as important that Hoosier offers a full menu. Heck, Planetary Brewing is right across the street at 188 S. Madison, and they are pushing through into the building next door to put in a kitchen and food partner. Andrew Groves, owner and head brewer for Planetary was one of the first people Brian consulted when considering the Greenwood location.

Planetary Brewing is an established brewery across the street from the new Hoosier location. They have different enough model that they act to help each other rather than take each other’s business.   image credit: Daily Journal

Andrew and Brian talked about how their businesses are different enough that they will be complementary rather than adversarial, and that’s a good thing since they are long time friends. Andrew’s wife Stephanie and Brian have been friends since grade school. The renewal that is going on in Greenwood, with the razing of the old middle school and plans for residential as well as commercial additions will work to advance the efforts of both Planetary and Hoosier. Andrew said, “My main focus is that the area in general continues to grow for business, pleasure, and also residentially. When I decided years ago to bring the tap room to Downtown Greenwood, it was because I saw the potential of it all, and the willingness of the city to rejuvenate an area that had long been written off. I want to bring attention to the area, as I’m sure Hoosier does as well, because I think so far we’ve only scratched the surface of what it will become.”

Look for a mid- to late April opening for the Tap and Axe proper, but keep an eye on social media as the can releases from the taproom may start before that. Haze Head, a NE IPA with dank for days and a bit of lemongrass to boot. This is an imperial-ish (8% ABV) juice bomb with hops added in the whirlpool and fermenter only. There’s lots of good aroma and flavor, as the style demands. There will be more cans in this series, as well as opening up other series, so there will be something new every week or two. Drive down to welcome Hoosier Brewing to town, throw an axe, and move around to try other breweries like Oaken Barrel, Planetary, and Nailers Brewing in the same area. It’s going to be a change for the good.


banner image credit: Tourism Whistler

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