Thursday, November 29, 2012

ON THE AVENUES: Hoosiers have the ideal brew waiting.

ON THE AVENUES: Hoosiers have the ideal brew waiting.

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

In the book “Indiana Breweries,” published in 2010, John Holl and Nate Schweber describe craft breweries in our Hoosier homeland. It’s a worthy effort and a fine read, and yet only two years later, their comprehensive work has very nearly become obsolete. Breweries in the state have proliferated from 37 in 2010 to 53 or more today, with at least 18 on the way and others in the planning stages.

But John’s and Nate’s book has something that promises to stand the test of time: A foreward penned by yours truly. Obviously it is self-serving and egotistical to point to reprint it here, so I believe I'll do just that.


In a world driven by cutting edge technologies, I’ve managed to retain certain Luddite proclivities even while conceding ground to my iPhone and laptop.

When I get home after a long day of professional beer drinking, I empty my pockets of small change, smudged Sharpie and trusty cigar cutter. Customarily there are various scrawlings on little paper scraps, magazine subscription cards, package store sales receipts and crusty, beer-soaked coasters.

On a groggy, grumpy weekday morning some months back, a cursory examination of one of these reminders revealed this unintelligibility: “Jahnenollbeerbk.”

After a two espressos and some appropriate reflection, the translation finally took shape amid the haze. Yes, of course; that pleasant fellow from New Jersey, at the pub, asking me questions about the brewery as the empty pints snaked down the bar’s surface like so many glass dominoes waiting to fall and break my liver.

John Holl … right, and the book he was writing – with some guy named Nate. Check.

Wait: A book about Indiana beer. Imagine that!

Hailing from Indiana, otherwise known as the Hoosier State, means living as a stereotype. We’re supposed to be basketball-loving, soybean-growing, corn-shucking, devotees of the Indianapolis 500, inhabiting flat ground somewhere in the vicinity of Illinois, drinking oceans of ice-cold, low-calorie, light golden lager after putting up hay, or downing boilermakers before shifts at doomed rust belt factories, all of which are both true and false, just like all stereotypes.

Hoosiers may not fully understand the meaning of the word “Hoosier,” but one element of our Indiana experience appears to be stealth, at least as it pertains to beer and brewing. Almost unnoticed, three dozen breweries (and more on the way) have settled into their joyous daily routines in Indiana communities large and small, from Indianapolis to Nashville, and from Ft. Wayne to Aurora.

It didn’t seem possible two decades ago, when we’d lash steamer trunks to our hand-cranked, Indiana-made Studebaker and make the long muddy drive from New Albany, through waist-deep potholes and past extensive herds of free-range bison, all the way to Indianapolis, the state capital, eager to experience real beer at Broad Ripple Brewing Company.

It was the state’s very first brewpub, and members of the Brewers of Indiana Guild annually honor John Hill’s birthday by thanking him for his admirable prescience, not to mention patience.

We didn’t call it craft beer in those ancient times. We simply called it good beer, and I believe I knew the name, rank and serial number of every person in the state who shared my preference for it.

At times it was a lonely existence, just me and a few of my closest friends, like Fidel and Che camped in the Sierra Maestra mountains, sifting through the flotsam and jetsam of mass-produced, carbonated alco-pop in search of the stray hop, all the while watching the yokels flee in terror at the mere sight of “the dark stuff.”

Twenty years later, we’re still a minority, but good beer – craft beer – is accepted and available in Indiana as never before. In this book, John and Nate tell you where to find the Hoosier breweries and to drink the beer they brew, and also other prime locations to find craft and just plain good beer from America and all over the world. Never again will you be obliged to grudgingly accept the paltry selections at that familiar chain restaurant’s bar.

Instead, like the authors themselves, you’ll be meeting the regulars at the Heorot in Muncie, or drinking world-renowned ale at the Three Floyds taproom (Munster), or while in Evansville, choosing the perfect beer to accompany pizza at Turoni’s. John and Nate cannot magically render you into the most interesting man (or woman) in the world. However, they provide complete instructions on how to drink the most interesting beer in Indiana, thus lessening America’s dependence on foreign Dos Equis, and immeasurably enhancing the pleasure when the Colts once again defeat the Patriots.

This Hoosier journey in pursuit of better beer is noteworthy because it simultaneously validates Indiana’s historic and cultural 19th-century virtues – think of John Wooden, the late, iconic basketball legend who grew up in Martinsville – while pointing the way forward to 21st-century goals like artisanal integrity, local sourcing and environmental sustainability. Most small brewers were going back to the future, green and local, before the buzzwords started trending.

Just ask Clay Robinson, Sun King’s advocate of recyclable cans, or Jeff Mease, organic farmer, water buffalo rancher and owner of Bloomington Brewing Company, or the pioneering Abstons, who are building trellises and growing hops in the hilly Knobs that rise above the Ohio River in Floyd County.

My favorite single aspect of being in the brewing business in Indiana, and by extension, the reason why the brewing business is the best business in America, is that all of us are like family.

Greg Emig brewed for John Hill at Broad Ripple Brewing, and then moved on to found Lafayette Brewing Company. Chris Johnson brewed for Greg, and now is the owner/brewer at People’s Brewing. Ted Miller also brewed for John before leaving to sell and install brewing systems worldwide. Ted returned to Indianapolis to open Brugge Brasserie, and today Kevin Matalucci, Ted’s high school classmate, is two blocks away from Brugge up the Monon Trail, brewing beer for John at Broad Ripple Brewing, as he has done since Ted left.

Indiana craft brewing is community, not competitive. We cooperate, not connive. It’s family. On those mercifully rare occasions when a brewery goes out of business, we lament and console the survivors, while advising and assisting the next wave. It’s a tall order, but we’re working together to put Indiana-brewed beer in the hands of the many Hoosiers who’ve yet to experience it.

In this book, John Holl and Nate Schweber do more than document the Indiana beer and brewing scene. They convey an overall sense of our brewing community and its ethos. John and Nate came to our places, drank our pints (samples just don’t tell the tale), walked the walk, stumbled the stumble, and deciphered the cryptic notes next morning while searching for Advil in a hotel room on the wrong side of the Interstate.

Read, enjoy and start planning your trip to Indiana. We Hoosiers have the ideal brew waiting, whatever your taste.

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