What’s It Like Running A Brewery In Small-Town Indiana?

What’s It Like Running A Brewery In Small-Town Indiana?

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By Writing & Reporting Community Member Stephanie Rich

This is Part 1 of a two-part feature. Part 2 will run tomorrow afternoon!

Many things can be said about small town Indiana life. For me personally, I graduated from a school in Randolph County (east of Muncie) in a class of 80, so I know small towns. I’ve lived in cities all over Indiana, some big and some small, but nothing compares to the “Small Town” way of life. Everyone knows you, you help out your friends and neighbors, you wave at everyone. Everyone is a friend in a small town.

There are also struggles with living in a small town. Everyone knows your business, there is a fear of the outsider, and there are no secrets. I have talked to several “Small Town” breweries about the positives and negatives of their “Small Town” successes and troubles.

Big thanks to Twisted Crew Brewing, Taxman Brewing Company, Route 2 Brews, 450 North Brewing Company, and Wooden Bear Brewing for the inside scoop into their “Small Towns.”


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What made you want to open a brewery in a small town?
Elizabeth Eaken, brewer/co-owner at Twisted Crew Brewing Company: The brewery opened in 2011, and I joined Twisted Crew as a volunteer in late 2013, so I can not speak directly to this question. On the most basic level, I am a small town person AND a beer lover, so it was just a good fit for me. I feel that small, local breweries are a wonderful thing because they add to the fabric of the community and generally make life and beer more interesting. Twisted Crew has been a stepping stone for many local beer drinkers to try new beer. Also, as beer enthusiasm has increased, Twisted Crew has made Seymour a destination for beer connoisseurs. Plus, having a place to buy Sunday beer in a small town doesn’t suck!
Josh Lakins, co-owner of Twisted Crew Brewery, oversees sales and events: It’s our hometown, we went to school and we work here. When we started over 4 years ago we were the first only brewer in Jackson Co. now we have 2 with another on its way. I didn’t start the brewery, but have been a customer from the start. Over a year ago it came up to become partner and I couldn’t pass it up. The closest brewery to Seymour is Columbus (20 mins north) or New Albany (45 mins south). Seymour is a great place to start a brewery less than an hour from Indy or Louisville.
Leah Huelsebusch, Co-Owner, COO of Retail Operations at Taxman Brewing Company: We live about seven minutes from Taxman and felt that there was a need for a community-focused brewery and gastropub on the Southside of Indianapolis. When we moved to Center Grove, we had a hard time meeting people and there were not really a lot of local restaurants or bars where people could meet up and hangout. When we started looking at a space for our brewery, we fell in love with the old block building that is now our gastropub because it had history and character that you cannot find in a strip mall storefront.
Christopher Fast, Owner/Operation of Route 2 Brews LLC: We decided to open our brewery in the small town that we live in. I’m an Aircraft mechanic by trade and after many years of crisscrossing the country I took a job for Southwest in Chicago. At the time we were living in Greenwood , and after months of commuting to work-my wife and I decided to move closer to Chicago. We wanted to stay in Indiana and we found the small town of Lowell and grew some roots.
Spencer Coleman, Sales Manager at 450 North Brewing Company: David Simmons’ (owner of Simmons Winery, 450 North Brewing, and Gnarly Grove Hard Cider) had been a home brewer for a long time, so once the wine business had established itself, he began work on a 10 barrel brewhouse and restaurant that was built onto the winery. Although, it has recently expanded to essentially be a 30 barrel system. The Simmons have two twin sons, Aaron and Daron, who each have a particular interest. Aaron’s focus is strictly beer, while Daron has a passion for ciders that has blossomed into Gnarly Grove Hard Cider, another addition to the enterprise.
Kurt Sundling Owner, Wooden Bear Brewing: I grew up in a town of 9000 people in Northern Indiana and liked the feel of kinship that develops in small towns.

How has your brewery been received by the community?
Elizabeth: In my experience, Seymour has been great to Twisted Crew! We have people come into the tap room regularly who tell us they have been life-long Busch Light drinkers, but they are still willing to give us a try. Also, I absolutely love how many locals have incorporated Twisted Crew into their life and the changing of the seasons. Drinking Twisted Crew Berry Wheat at a cookout is part of summer here now, and people start asking about our Oktoberfest earlier and earlier every year.  
Josh: Being in a small town (less than 19,000) is hard. We have a lot of “lite” beer drinkers around here. We are turning people onto craft beer and being able to sale beer on Sunday helps get the people in and them trying new things. We do have a loyal crowd that comes in every week.
Leah: Taxman has received a warm welcome from the community. We have more business than we had expected and I think that’s a testament to the fact that other people in the community are excited to not have to make the drive downtown for organic and locally-focused food and craft beer with a fun atmosphere. 
Chris: We had encountered some flak in the beginning- mostly because of the names labels of our beer. We have fun with it, and why not.
Spencer: Our town has rallied around its three breweries, not just us, but Powerhouse and ZwanzigZ as well. We are very fortunate to have the continued support of the folks in Columbus and Hope. 
Kurt: It has been received extremely well. The city officials have been very accommodating, helpful, and supportive from day one. The community has really adopted us and developed a sense of pride as their local brewery. We definitely feel welcomed!


What sets you apart from every other small town in Indiana?
Elizabeth: Seymour has very strong German/Lutheran roots. Our annual Oktoberfest is pretty special, so there is already that association of beer drinking as a form of community-wide celebration and joy. In addition to this, Seymour also has a growing young, progressive population who are working hard to make Seymour grow and thrive. 
Josh: Home of John Mellencamp!
Leah: Bargersville is a picturesque small town. The grain silos that sit across the railroad tracks from our brewery provide an amazing backdrop for enjoying a pint on our patio. Bargersville is closer to downtown Indianapolis than many people expect, it has a wonderful school system and the people are friendly and welcoming. 
Chris: Lowell is like any other small town in Indiana. Full of local pride, especially around our local high school football team. We are on the edge of Indiana farm country and the Lake Michigan steel industry. A town where almost everyone knows everyone else.
Spencer: The architecture is world renowned yes, but more than that, it’s a community where people are truly invested in each other. We wouldn’t be growing as fast as we are without our fellow townspeople taking pride in the beers that are coming out of its native breweries.

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History of your brewery.
Elizabeth: Twisted Crew Brewing Company is Terry and Suzannah Millers’ baby. They did all of heavy lifting (literally and figuratively) to make Twisted Crew a reality. Opening a brewery is no small feat. The brewery opened in the summer of 2011, but I believe the process of renovating the space and getting all of the proper permits took the better part of a year. I joined them as a volunteer working in the tap room in late 2013, and Terry taught me to brew in early 2014. I am a chemist by training, but I did not have any background in brewing so it was (and still is) a lot to learn. Josh Lakins and I both bought in to the brewery during he summer of 2014. I continued helping out with brewing and Josh helps with the sales and marketing. 
Leah: We named the brewery Taxman because two of Taxman’s founders are tax professionals. Tax consulting work took several of our founders to Belgium were we fell in love with the beer, which is why Taxman brews predominately Belgian-style beers. Our skull and bow tie logo was inspired by the Benjamin Franklin quote, “there are only two things certain in life: death and taxes.” In 2013, Taxman purchased a 1930s cinder block building in the center of Old Town Bargersville that had sat vacant for over two years. In September 2014, we opened our full service gastropub with 24 taps and a menu that revolves around locally-sourced, sustainably grown ingredients. We added a modern 4,800 square foot space to the building that is home to our 20 barrel brew house.
Chris: Through out my career I was an avid home brewer and have always dreamed of opening a brewery. In mid 2008 we where close to jumping in-until the economy took a dive. The opportunity came around again in early 2014. We looked around town at a few vacant industrial buildings. I kept coming back to the industrial building we are in now which used to be an automotive research facility. After almost a month of convincing my wife about the location, we decide to take the plunge and signed a lease on May 15th . Route 2 Brews was born.
Spencer: We originally opened as a winery in 2000 on David Simmons’ (owner of Simmons Winery, 450 North Brewing, and Gnarly Grove Hard Cider) family farm situated between Hope and Columbus Indiana. We originally started growing grapes as an extension of our produce and farm efforts. The winery was a natural next step. David and his wife Brenda are both Purdue grads, which are practically synonymous with beer aficionados.
Kurt: We opened in Fall of 2014 with a 5 BBL system. We have a large taproom that has 24 taps. We have been updating our equipment over the last year to increase capacity but we are definitely taking our time and growing organically.

Check back tomorrow for Part 2!

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