15 Dec What Do Climbing Knots Have In Common With The Grateful Dead? More Than You Think For Figure Eight Brewing Co.
“Our goal is to always make the best beer we can – with a growing number (currently at 7%) of people in Indiana drinking craft beer, we don’t want people drinking craft beer for the first time to have a bad experience, especially at our location” – Tom Uban
Precise, exacting, thoughtful – three words I’d use to describe Figure Eight Brewing, its owner, and its brewmaster. Located on the courthouse square in downtown Valparaiso, Figure Eight Brewing is located in what used to be a Sears Auto Center – which is not as strange of an outfit as one may think, given the viewing window (formerly used to view vehicles rather than brewing), storage space (good for a beer cooler and bottle filling), and ample seating area (perfect for small or large groups). Now you can see why owner Tom Uban decided this was the place for the relocation of Figure Eight back in 2012.
Twenty-five years of home-brew experience and a binder full of recipes, Tom decided to open the first rendition of Figure Eight Brewing as a small taproom on Valparaiso’s west side in 2010. Tom’s beer recipe originals are Ro Shampo, Snake Pro, Rye Knot, Solar Collector, and Date Night. He served as the first brewer for Figure Eight until he hired Mike Lahti, who has 15 years of experience in commercial brewing, as head brewer. Of Lahti (as he is known), Tom states that Lahti’s skill as a brewer is finding the right balance in a beer – to precision brew delicious beer batch after batch, with extreme consistency. This attention to detail has produced a multitude of complex beers designed with all beer drinkers in mind, from the aficionado to the newbie.
The taproom at Figure Eight Brewing features thirteen beer taps, with six of those reserved for the standards and the remaining seven for seasonal offerings. Additionally, Figure Eight brews its own root beer and places it on the fourteenth tap for enjoyment by patrons of any age. The dining area has many tables, including high-top tables, perfect for a couple or large group gathering. Although the space has many solid surfaces, the addition of acoustic tiles and draped fabric from the ceiling has dampened the volume of the room to allow for easy conversation in a busy environment. Another interesting feature of the brewery is how they fill growlers. While many breweries refill direct to your growler, Figure Eight takes this process another step further – growler trades. Each Figure Eight growler is “traded-in” for a new counter pressure filled growler. The counter-pressure process purges all oxygen out of the growler before it is filled and sealed. This process keeps beer as fresh as possible as long as possible, and fits my description of Figure Eight perfectly – a precise process, with an exact goal of the best beer experience possible coupled with a thoughtful eye to their customers both at the brewery and at home.
Figure Eight Brewing was named after a climbing knot that rock-climbers use for safety and many of the beers reflect that same naming tradition like Ro Shampo, Snake Pro, Rye Knot, Solar Collector, Raven Tor, and Where Lizards Dare. Other beers have been named by Lahti, a devotee of the Grateful Dead with names that reflect that devotion such as Lost Saint and Devil’s Drip.
An innovative series of beers at Figure Eight is the “hashtag series,” as Neil calls it, or “pound program,” as Tom calls it. These beers are made in collaboration with a local business, Brewhouse Supplies, which gives them a new, upcoming, trending hop to add to an American Pale Ale base. What results is a specialized beer, uniquely its own. The current offering is #Calypso. In another innovation, Figure Eight has taken their Devil’s Drip, a Belgian-style trippel, and aged it for two years in an Oliver Winery chardonnay barrel with Bretanomyces. This beer, named Devil’s Funk, will be unveiled in mid-January.
One of the “Top Ten Beers for Fall,” so named by www.visitindiana.com, is Rye Knot, a full-bodied, very rich, Baltic-style porter. It is an 8.5% ABV beer which really “warms you up,” according to Tom. It was bottled in bombers and the artwork on the label was created by Tom’s brother. Apostasy is a black Saison with a “roasty-toasty malt that almost hides the fact it is a Belgian until the notes come out,” according to Tom. Coming in mid-December is Intergalactic, a Belgian-style brown IPA. Another notable beer for hop-heads is Where Lizards Dare, a hoppy IPA with light malty body. This month, with each Where Lizards Dare purchased, a donation will be made to the Susan G. Komen 3 Day Walk. Figure Eight has a tradition of charitable giving with beer purchase, featuring a different beer and different charity each month.
Distribution, Social Media Outreach, and Collaborations
Figure Eight is like many other Hoosier breweries in that they self-distribute their beer – a call to Neil Davey, Purveyor of F8 (pronounced fate), will ensure that restaurants and beer-selling establishments will have access to the beers produced. Recently, Figure Eight has signed on with an Illinois distributor to break into the Illinois market, with liquor stores and bars ready to take bombers and taps respectively.
The other side of Neil’s job description is that of social media director. From Instagram pictures of the latest beers, to Twitter updates of brewery happenings, to Facebook postings of upcoming events, Neil has taken Figure Eight’s social media outreach just as seriously as Lahti and Tom take their creative brews. Other than social media, Neil also makes sure that Figure Eight is represented at the various beer festivals throughout Indiana. Upcoming appearances include the Indiana Brewer’s Guild Winterfest, the Lafayette Winter Warmer and J.K. O’Donnell’s Winter event in Fort Wayne.
Collaborations with other local breweries are a means to participate in the greater Indiana brewing community. So far, Figure Eight has collaborated on a Scottish Ale with Hunters Brewing, a Chocolate Stout with Strawberries with Burn ‘Em Brewing, and a pumpkin beer withIronwood Brewing, another Valparaiso brewery. Figure Eight hopes to continue to collaborate with other breweries in the future. Of Indiana breweries, Tom says he, “likes everyone that makes good beer in Indiana – and there are a lot of great beers in Indiana.” Please join me in drinking some great beer from Figure Eight Brewing – cheers!