Bring on the new
Bier Brewery’s fifth anniversary the night before Thanksgiving 2015 was noted, but it was NOT an opportune time for a party, explained Bier’s co-founder Jerry Connor, as we visited in the Taproom at 5133 E. 65th St., on December 30.
Bier is in the midst of building out a new production facility to accommodate long-range growth to 12,000 barrels by their tenth anniversary. “Our first five years the total focus was on quality and consistency. Our second five years has to add incremental growth,” said Jerry. “It’s the nature of any business. The push to our growth comes with the demand of our great customers.”
The original space will continue as a small batch brewery, already a notch up from Bier’s origin as a nano-brewery. The homey barn siding-décor Taproom has grown from a stop in for tastings and carryout growlers into a programming venue with live music, game and book discussion nights. Yet the space remains much the same as it was when first I stepped into it five years ago—with one huge exception: the wall to the left as you enter now showcases 60 medals.
Earning medals is the physical manifestation of the commitment to craft brewing that Jerry and co-founder/brewer [and son] Darren Connor set when they opened as Indianapolis’ first modern day nano-brewery and taproom. It was a goal akin to that of Sun King when they opened in 2009 as Indianapolis’ first modern day production brewery — a total change from the brewpub model that began with Broad Ripple Brewpub, and that was the norm for every other new craft beer operation opening from 1990-2009.
Entering competitions is a way of testing the quality according to industry standards. People coming back to drink the beer shows consistency.
RELATED: Last week's Beer Buzz — Girls Pint Out turns five, too
Sun King and Bier have grown at their own paces, on their own comfort levels, and each has become a model for newer brewers with a passion to open a business. Sun King essentially started from day one with an outreach into the community that Bier came to in their third year when Ryan Connor, as a sibling support team-of-one, made Bier’s first keg delivery to Flatwater Restaurant on the Canal.
With Flatwater still prominent at the top of the list, Bier’s website currently identifies over 130 sites where Bier is available on tap around greater Indianapolis. Sun King, in addition to having a presence throughout Indianapolis also can be found in every corner of Indiana. Jerry doesn’t expect Bier to reach that distribution spread until 2020. Being small remains O.K. for Jerry, Darren and Ryan—three of the total Bier staff you can name off on fingers of two hands. “Being small,” says Jerry, “allows the utmost control over the many variables that go into each hand-crafted batch,”
From its beginning Bier’s plan was to build a customer base coming to the Taproom to enjoy a totally new line up of beers every week. “We weren’t looking to establish ourselves with flagship brews in the way Sun King did with Sunlight, Osiris and Wee Alec. We wanted to establish an identity as experimental.” Bier’s motto “Taste our Awesomeness” translated into “we’ll make it, you drink it, we’ll make more—of something different.”
Darren, who began his apprenticeship at Bloomington Brewing Company under the guidance of Floyd Rosenbaum before moving to Great Fermentations to work into master brewing status under Anita Johnson’s mentoring, developed a wide-ranging palate across styles. Ten medal winning beers that collectively earned Bier the 2011 Indiana Brewers Cup Brewery of the Year Award, included Golds for Kolsch, Fruit Beer and Belgian Dubbel; Silver for Blond Ale, English Standard, Roggenbier and American Barleywine; Bronze for Belgian Style Pale Ale, Belgian Style Tripel and English Style Barleywine.
The fifteen beers that sealed the 2012 Indiana Brewers Cup Brewery of the Year award showed an even more expansive range. However, patron preferences began to surface. Gold winning Weizengoot became an early favorite. The demand for “Goot” on a regular basis has not wavered and three years later led to its being Bier’s first entry into canning. “Weizen Goot” in bright yellow 12 oz. 6-pack cans depicting a handful of wheat under a bold BIER Brewery imprint appeared on the shelves of 54 Central Indiana bottle shops during the closing days of 2015.
PDG (“Pretty Damn Good”) American Pale Ale, on the other hand, hasn’t yet won industry awards; it’s a patron favorite for the flavor of the grains as much as for the flavor of the hops. Reviewers describe PDG as “multi-layered, full-bodied, carefully balanced.”
PDG, in a lime green with a visual of hops, hits shelves the third week of January, to be followed by cans of Roggenschnizzle and Special “K” Kolsch. All are easy drinking beers, different from the expected line-up but fitting into what Jerry defines as a balance between how Bier wants to distinguish itself, what Bier’s loyal customer-base wants, and the realities of what’s viable for a small production brewery.
Jerry concludes that while it was “a labor of love” to hand-bottle a limited run of 500 22-oz bombers of Sanitarium Belgian Quadrupel, winner of Great American Beer Festival 2015 Gold and 2014 Silver medals, along with Gold at the 2014 Indiana Brewers Cup, contracting with a mobile canning operation is a better option in Bier’s “considered growth” plan than is installing an on-site canning system.
Conferring with store managers to learn about their concerns, Jerry says he learned how best to “Marry our needs with theirs. You want to make it easy for customers to find your product. Designing the can label has to be a marriage between art and marketing. Store employees have to feel invested in a product to make sure it is properly handled. Generally, beer is best when fresh. What happens between delivery from the brewery and in-store handling affects taste. Production brewers have those extra points of consideration beyond what a brewpub brewer has to think about. When a patron orders a beer on tap at a brewpub it’s moving from the tank to the glass.
The wide-ranging conversation on Dec. 30 at the Bier Taproom covered the obvious and not so obvious aspects of running a business that happens to be brewery. Educating store sales personnel is becoming an imperative as more production breweries vie for shelf and display space. There are different consumers at different stores. People shopping at package stores, grocery stores, a place like Trader Joe’s, each have different expectations. You have to be aware of that to get the best sales.
Jerry says when he talked with Taproom patrons canning won out for convenience. However, managers of upscale restaurants without tap space told him their customers still perceive bottled beer as having higher quality than do canned beers. So if Bier wants to grow into that market, bottling might have to be part of the next phase.
“”Who ARE we as a whole?” Jerry asks rhetorically. “We are BIER Brewery. Quality Quality Quality” is the mantra that continues to underlie every decision.”
Darren pulled away from brewing long enough to ask if he was needed to supplement anything Jerry was offering.
“Yes, a local farmer still picks up our spent grain,” confirmed Darren, and “Yes,” if a batch of beer doesn’t meet his standards, even though in reality it’s not a bad beer, it gets pitched. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does self-analysis takes precedence.
Darren points out that while growth is essential for a business to stay in business, you never forget from where you started. Growth is more than increasing size of brewing capacity—there’s also growing the passion to keep learning and improving, and growing the circle of collaborations. The newest is just a few steps away in a 1,000-foot coffee roasting operation., Liz Laughlin, retired Rock Bottom brewmaster whose new calling is the entrepreneur of Limelight Coffee, which is finding its way into Darren’s recipes. Darren’s English-style Brown Ale called Coffee Dred, recently reported by a customer as “the best glass of coffee,” proves there’s always something new to spark the fun under the sheer hard work.
Darren led us through the build out plan that allows for incremental additions to increase brewing capacity. The immediate challenge is in testing the new system, getting comfortable with a larger space. While a lot will change, keeping close to their customer base remains a constant. To let their loyal customers follow along with the build out, Bier is posting their “Natural progression of growth” at http://www.bierbrewery.com/index_files/Page389.htm
And to remind everyone that the initial impetus for “something different” hasn’t been lost, the list of 82 names, type of style and awards for each BIER brewed over the past five years will continue to grow. You can check it out at: http://www.bierbrewery.com/index_files/Page500.htm
And, in case you hadn’t noticed, Sun King—as part of their growth plan—has created a small batch brewery and taproom at their Fishers location.
You’ll find more NUVO coverage about Bier here.
New brews and other news
Indiana City, newly tapped Son of War is a “crisp blonde ale crafted with Belgian Ale Yeast, that’s heavily dry-hopped for big tropical fruit hop aroma.” At 9.8% ABV and 20 IBU, “it’s a smooth beer that’s light on the palate with fresh hop character.”
Dark fruit flavored Beast of Laureys is coming up Jan. 8, followed on Jan. 15 with the huge Citizen's Right Barleywine (11.5% ABV • 120 IBU]).
Indiana City, established in the original bottling house of The Home Brewing Co., attributed the name of this beer to a Dec. 29, 1917 notice from Home Brewing: “The day will again dawn upon Indiana, when a man can drink what he wants, when personal liberty will be again a CITIZEN'S RIGHT.”
John Templet at Half Moon introduces Hull Melon hops in Lil Sumpin’ Wheat IPA. “This seasonal IPA is a little bit different than most of our IPA's,” reports Templet. “We are using wheat malt and a new variety of hops.” Bred for strong aromatic qualities at the Hop Research Institute in Hull, Germany, Hull Melon is derived from the ever-popular Cascade hop to provide distinct fruit characteristics including honeydew melon and strawberry flavors.
Daredevil invites us to check out their “artfully presented food choices excellently paired with on-tap brews” at their Brewery Taproom in Speedway.
Bloomington Brewing 10 Speed Hoppy Wheat is now a year round beer. Nick Banks reported, “First time ever brewing it in winter!”
Upland Brewing Co. Seasonal Komodo Dragonfly Black IPA is now available on draught and in six-packs. Komodo is described as “a well-balanced, dark, bitter, and a totally unique beer experience,” brewed with a base of fresh Pilsner Malts and Black Malts, and a pinch of English Lavender “Royal Velvet” (from Lavender Valley Farm in Monroe County) added to the kettle. Tropical and floral notes come from Mosaic as a dry hop.
Scarlet Lane Brewing Company is launching Tiberius Centurion Double IPA to join the year-round lineup of Scarlet Lane beers. They report “Tiberius is a Northwest dank style IPA using a selection of high beta hops including Crystal and Horizon.”
Scarlet Lane also has worked with Indianapolis-based Tinker Coffee Co. to develop Tiberius Hopped Sumatra, a Sumatra coffee with Horizon hops. “We wanted to take some of the floral, funky citrus notes of the hops and marry them with the herbal and earthy notes of a Sumatran coffee,” said Stephen Hall of Tinker Coffee. “Tiberius comes in at 100 IBUs and is named after the Roman Emperor who controlled Centuries of 100 men."
Distilling is seeing a growth throughout Indiana. QuaffON! Brewery reports Hard Truth Malt Whiskey is the first product from their Hard Truth Distillery, with more releases coming throughout 2016. Three Floyds is expanding into Dark Lord Whiskey. Stuart Hobson reports that along with partnering with Terlato Artisan Spirits to distribute Heartland Distillers products all over the United States, “We are also in the process of getting the distillery ready to open to the public on a limited basis in the first quarter under limited hours of 2016. We have several limited edition products that have been aging for several years that we will offer directly at the distillery. We also have a one of a kind, herbal liqueur coming onto the market in the 2nd quarter of 2016 and Spring Mill Bourbon will re-enter production.
Jan. 16: Flat 12 Fifth Anniversary Beer Festival, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Free entry; featured menu of 30+ beers including barrel-aged, sour, cask, specialty brews and bombers are for sale; live music from Midtown Madmen, and Hoagie’s & Hops $5 food specials.
“Five years ago, we started the process of making our dream a reality, and along the way made great friends, brewed great beer, and developed great partnerships. To thank everyone who has made Flat12 a success, we're excited to celebrate 5 years in a big way." said Sean O'Connor, Founder and President of Flat12.
“FLIX Brewhouse has been offering a monthly cask night since opening but now is setting a superhero-theme format in 2016 on the night of big movie premiers,” reports head brewer Chris Knott. The new schedule includes: March 24: Batman vs. Superman; May 5: Captain America — Civil War; Aug. 4: Suicide Squad; and Nov. 4: Dr. Strange.
“Each cask only holds 10 gallons of experimental deliciousness, so don't miss each of these one time only offerings,” says FLIX. .