23 Apr On Becoming The Guardian of An Indiana Treasure
It’s human to resist change, and it’s human to assume that a change in something longstanding is going to be for the worse. “How could they mess with that? It’s been around for so long!” Or, “That was so important to me growing up, I just know it won’t be the same.” We don’t wait around to see what changes and what doesn’t, if the history is honored and preserved or chucked out for something new – we just assume change is bad.
Well, there was a slight movement in the Indiana craft beer world last week. True, it does represent change, but while important and historic, isn’t bad news for Indiana craft fans at all. In fact, it’s a change that will help to preserve longstanding traditions in the Indiana beer universe.
What change are we talking about – the Heorot Pub & Draught House has been sold.
If you have even a passing relationship with the Indiana craft beer scene, it’s likely you know of or have been to the Heorot. Opened in 1994 by Stan Stephens in downtown Muncie, just about everyone in and around Indiana beer has spent time in the Heorot, slinging beer, drinking beer, talking beer, or even planning future breweries. Stan might not be the father of Indiana craft beer, but he’s a least a favorite uncle.
Stan is a devout fan of all things Viking (Norsemen, not NFL), so the Heorot has always had a distinctly Norse/Dane kind of feel. Stan dressed up like a Viking; he has huge wolfhounds that were synonymous with the Vikings after they started raiding Ireland and other parts of the continent from Scandinavia and Iceland. In fact, “Heorot” was the name of the mead hall in the Viking epic poem, Beowulf. The bar and music venue which is part of the Heorot next door is called Valhalla, the great hall of fallen warriors in Norse mythology.
While The Heorot started with seven taps of draft beer, the variety and number of beer grew right alongside the Viking décor pieces and atmosphere. Now there are almost 70 taps and over 300 bottles and cans of beer. If you want to try something you’ve never had, The Heorot is the place to visit. And so many people in Indiana beer have made it their home away from home – Sean Webster poured beers there during his Ball State days and so did Rachel from A Taproom (her first bartending job), Roderick Landess and Mike Miller both planned Richmond breweries there. Tyler Hutchison has spent as much time there as Stan, and Caleb Staton once said that he probably would not have entered brewing if it weren’t for The Heorot.
The variety, the taps, the atmosphere, even the lack of TVs has made the Heorot a staple in Indiana for more than a quarter of a century. It has been named an outstanding beer bar in America, the best beer bar in Indiana, and had other accolades bestowed upon it by the likes of Forbes, Draft Magazine, CraftBeer.com, BeerAdvocate, etc. Heck, it was named best bar in Indiana for six years in a row at one point! With a pedigree like that, you’d hope that any new owners would already be devoted fans.
That leads us to two other people that revere the Heorot and its history, respect its place in Indiana craft beer lore, and visit as often as they can. They loved it enough to buy it. We’re speaking of Jason Phillips and Bill Kerr of The Guardian Brewing Company, also in Muncie. If there are any pair that understand the meaning behind this venerable bar and want to pay homage to it, it’s Jason and Bill. I talked to Jarrod Case, Jason, and Bill about the acquisition of The Heorot and what it might mean for both The Guardian and Heorot, after all, the two taprooms are only five and a half blocks apart.
Indiana On Tap (IOT): Why buy the Heorot when you already have a successful beer business in Muncie?
Jason, Bill, and Jarrod (JBJ): There were multiple reasons for the purchase. First and foremost, once we were aware that Stan wanted to sell, we wanted to ensure that the history and legacy of the Heorot was protected and continued by someone with an invested history with the establishment. We thought that with our passion and knowledge of not only the history, but beer in general, that we were best suited to be the ones to carry on the legacy.
From a business standpoint, this venture gives us the opportunity to be an active and vibrant business in the heart of downtown Muncie, as well as being more embedded with the greater Indiana beer scene, as an outlet and retailer for other Indiana Breweries.
IOT: When did The Guardian enter into negotiations to purchase The Heorot? Did the idea exist long before you acted on it?
JBJ: The actual negotiations and deal started just recently, in the early part of 2022. However, we’ve long known that if should the opportunity arise and we were in a position to do something about it, we would be interested.
IOT: Talk about the history of the Heorot and how it is important to The Guardian.
JBJ: Stan Stephens took ownership of The Heorot in 1995, when craft beer was still obscure and underground. He was the first to bring independent craft and import beers to Muncie, Indiana and the greater Midwest region. Downtown Muncie was a virtual ghost town with only a few businesses and a lot of empty buildings at the time. His passion and dedication to beer and to the community made downtown Muncie a craft beer destination and was instrumental in the revitalization of downtown Muncie. Now in 2022, we estimate there are 300+ craft beer tap lines flowing within a 2 mile radius of The Heorot and two thriving breweries with The Guardian Brewing Company and Elm Street Brewery.
We have all been patrons and fans of The Heorot since the early 2000’s. Long before we had any aspirations of creating our own brewery, we all would frequent The Heorot for pizza, to chip away at the 100 beer club, card and a chance to get our names on the bar. Long after we completed our cards, we all still frequented The Heorot to try beers that were on the forefront of the US craft beer scene or to revisit some of our old favorite imports.
The Heorot, in large part, can be credited for the love and passion of craft beer that we have, as well as several other Muncie craft beer bars such as The Fickle Peach, Savage’s Ale House and Twin Archer Brewpub. All of whom cut their teeth as either employees, managers or loyal patrons of The Heorot.
IOT: Will the Heorot become a second The Guardian taproom or will it stay as a diverse craft beer bar?
JBJ: Our intentions are to continue The GBC production brewery and taproom like it has always been and to improve and restore The Heorot Pub and Draught House to what it once was as two separate businesses. Although some GBC beer will be available at The Heorot, the majority of our draft portfolio will only be available at The GBC Taproom.
IOT: What is the timeline for any changes to The Heorot?
JBJ: There are no plans at this time for any major changes that the public would notice. We do plan to change some infrastructure things like the coolers, keg structure, draft lines, etc.. but that isn’t fun stuff that the customers want to hear about.
IOT: Will this lead to any changes at The Guardian?
JBJ: We hope that this venture will only help The GBC brand as its own business with no changes planned at this time.
IOT: How will you staff/manage The Heorot?
JBJ: With the way our leadership group is structured, we are able to task one of us to manage the overall needs of The Heorot without taking too much away from The GBC. We are inviting all current Heorot staff to stay on board with us and will likely be hiring more staff sometime in the near future.
IOT: What are your feelings on acquiring The Heorot?
JBJ: We are excited to continue to provide our community and Indiana with the largest selection of craft and import beers in the region. We are looking forward to restoring past relationships and to forging new and fruitful relationships within the craft beer scene, Muncie, and East Central Indiana community.
As craft beer fans, we all have a stake in the continued success of the Heorot. Let’s all wish The Guardian Brewing success in their new venture and please support both the Heorot and The Guardian, it’s doubly important now.