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Interview: indianabeer.com's Bob Ostrander

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Bob Ostrander hangs out by the tanks at Broad Ripple Brewpub. - MARK LEE
  • Mark Lee
  • Bob Ostrander hangs out by the tanks at Broad Ripple Brewpub.

Bob Ostrander has been savoring and promoting craft beer in Indiana for over a quarter century. Over the past decade, he's shared his wisdom with others via Indianabeer.com, a comprehensive guide to all things brew in Indiana. His web involvement led to the printed page with the publication of Hoosier Beer: Tapping into Indiana Brewing History, co-written with beer memorabilia collector Derrick Morris, which he says is currently the “definitive history” of Indiana breweries.

Ostrander stepped aside as head of Indianabeer.com at the close of 2011, handing over the site to a new crop of Indiana beer experts. He sat down with NUVO to take a look back.

NUVO: What brought you to involvement with Indiana craft beer?

Bob Ostrander: In the 1980s a friend and I explored all the new micros and imports coming out in bottles; many came from the stock of Schembre Distributing in Noblesville. For a while we had tried every beer on the shelves at Kahns, then indisputably the best beer store in Indy. I was at Broad Ripple Brewpub (several nights) for the introduction of their first beer. Then, in 1999 I bought one-third interest in a pub on the westside that we stocked with imports and micros including Whitbread, Worthington, and many other British ales.

NUVO: Who else was involved?

Ostrander: Bob Dodson was the friend who got me started. We even had plans for a pub directory book but shelved that because there were too many bars in Indy. He is now deceased. Montana Jackson owned the Silver Fox but when the floor collapsed under the heating stove he looked to move. At the same time the Clark Bar came up for sale and Montana, Rob Stewart and I bought it. A couple of memorable years followed, including some monumental bachelor parties.

NUVO: What craft beer activities have you been involved in?

Ostrander: I was active on the CompuServe Beer Forum in the 1980s. That was cool; hundreds of people posting reviews of new breweries all over America. Since I was traveling a lot for my software company, stops included places from Kelly's in Key West to Lost Coast in Eureka; Martha's Exchange in Nashua, N.H., to BridgePort in Portland, Ore. For those under 40 year old, CompuServe was the Internet before the Internet came around. It had lots of discussion forums, downloads of software and images, and email, all available via your dial-up modem for $10 an hour.

I've been in the FBI [Foam Blowers of Indiana homebrew club] seemingly forever. Never have been much of a homebrewer but have assisted both home and commercial brewers and have made much cider and mead.

By 2005 I'd been to more than 300 brewpubs. That's when my wife and I took a year off to tour Europe. We went to 300 pubs, 100 breweries, 15 beer festivals, 10 beer museums, and had 835 different beers. Quite a trip.

By now I've probably had over 12,000 different craft and foreign beers. It's been quite an adventure.
I never have had a critical role in the beer industry, more a hanger-on. The internet provided a new way to pass news to people and my part is called "news aggregation.” Indiana Beer started as IndyBeer in 2002, covering just the Indianapolis area. The next year Jim Schembre, originally Schembre Distributing and now head of World Class Beverages, asked why I didn't cover the whole state. It was a matter of money. Couldn't afford 20 trips a year to the north or south and still afford to buy beer. As a result WCB bought IndyBeer, which I transformed into IndianaBeer, and World Class Beverages reimbursed my expenses.

NUVO: What has brought you special delight?

Ostrander: Just watching things grow has been great. We're up to 40 breweries in Indiana (from 3 in 1990). Now it’s lots of one- or two-family operations, just like 20 years ago.

NUVO: How have you and Derrick been furthering Indiana craft history with your book Hoosier Beer?

Ostrander: Hoosier Beer tells the history of the over 350 breweries that have been licensed in Indiana since statehood in 1816. While I doubt anyone will sit down and read it cover to cover, it will serve as the definitive history for now. Derrick Morris' massive collection of Indiana brewery artifacts formed much of the book. It needs to become a museum. If anyone has a spare thousand square feet and wants to bring in people to their pub, give Derrick a call.

NUVO: Where will we now find you directing your energy?

Ostrander: A quest for the Nobel Peace Prize. Well, how about a book about the people who made a difference to Indiana. Look for it before the Indiana Bi-centennial in 2016.

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