21 Feb Still room for new craft beers on the bloomington scene
Craft beer lovers who appreciate a freshly pulled pint must feel like their mugs are about to run over. But when it comes to locally brewed beer, nobody knows the Bloomington area’s limit.
There does seem to be one consensus: The region has room for at least a few more breweries.
“A town of that size can support multiple breweries,” said Bart Watson, staff economist for the national industry group the Brewers Association. “The key is, what size are the breweries? If you have enormous breweries in town you’re not going to be able to support 10 or 20. But if they’re brewpubs, who wouldn’t love to have a high-quality brewery down the street?”
New brewpub Function Brewing opened down the street from downtown residents in January. It’s located at 108 E. Sixth St., and it’s soon to be joined by a nearby tap room operated by Nashville-based Quaff On Brewing Co. Salt Creek Brewery of Bedford also hopes to open a Bloomington tap room in the near future.
Those new options will join mainstays Bloomington Brewing Co. and Upland Brewery. But Watson has seen other cities of Bloomington’s size support even more breweries.
He cited Asheville, N.C., which has a population of nearly 86,000 — just a tad above Bloomington’s 82,000 residents. Asheville has 14 breweries.
Bursts of brewers tapping into a market are common, Watson added.
“Often the places with the fastest growth are places that have a lot of breweries,” he said. “It’s a self-fulfilling cycle where breweries start brewing and consumers start demanding fuller-flavored local beers.”
The brewers hitting the Bloomington area have some unique features. Take the planned Quaff On tap room, set to open in the former Cafe Django space at 116 N. Grant St. in one or two months. It’s going to have eight taps pouring Quaff On beers, eight with Indiana craft beers and eight with nationally known craft beers.
That should appeal to consumers who want to compare different beers, according to founder Jeff McCabe. He didn’t only mean suds enthusiasts.
“I think it helps people who aren’t beer geeks,” McCabe said. “The best thing you can do is compare beers and highlight them. Taste this one against that one. It elevates everybody’s game.”
Function Brewing co-owner Steve Llewellyn is more concerned about making the jump from home brewing than he is about butting up against Bloomington’s other breweries. He thinks the city could support at least two more breweries than it currently has.
Llewellyn isn’t bottling his beer, and bottling doesn’t figure heavily into his plans. He’s focused on pouring pints and eventually adding beer-to-go by filling growlers. Ultimately he might fill a hundred or so bottles once or twice a year for special releases.
“With the model we’re going with, we’re not competing for tap handles,” he said. “We’re not competing for shelf space. If anything, we’re adding to the beer community as a whole.”
That local beer community has been helpful, Llewellyn said. Several area brewers have come in to try Function since it opened. Some, like Upland, BBC and Avon-based Cutters, sold the upstart brewpub equipment and ingredients to use as it makes beer.
Right now, at least, the Bloomington brewing industry is more about camaraderie than cutthroat competition.
“A while back I needed some tap heads for an event and I called BBC and they had no problem,” Upland Marketing Director Andrea Lutz said. “There’s plenty of love to go around. We’re all friends.”