Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The lucky number is 74: BIGnews from the Brewers of Indiana Guild.

With a bit of snipping, here's a snapshot of craft beer in Indiana, courtesy of BIG executive director Lee Smith. Pay special attention to the 2014 dates and the 74 active breweries.


Brewers of Indiana Guild 
October 29, 2013

2014 Important Dates

Winterfest: February 1
Bloomington Craft Beer Week: April 5-12
Bloomington Craft Beer Festival: April 12
Annual Meeting in Indianapolis: April 19
Circle City Beer Week: July 12-19
Indiana Microbrewers Festival: July 19

BIG on the road
November 13 NORTH Region, Iechyd Da
November 14 NORTH WEST Region, Three Floyds
More on the way!

Here we GROW again…
As of today there are 74 active breweries (including permitted second-location breweries) in Indiana, with 16 "in-planning"

ATC: Big Brother?
Just noticed this on the ATC website. Has it always been there? The Alcohol & Tobacco Commission Mission Statement includes the following:
“To protect the economic welfare, health, peace, and morals of the people of this state.” Good to know — Thank you, ATC, for keeping us moral!

Beer at the State Fair
Executive Director Lee Smith and Guild counsel Mark Webb appeared before the State Fair Commission last week regarding our proposal to have Indiana Craft beer sold during the Fair. Our discussion and PowerPoint were very well received. The Commission voted to endorse the proposal, and urged the General Assembly to pass legislation making it legal to serve/sell beer during the Fair. One commissioner abstained from voting, but all others voted in favor--a great sign! If our bill is adopted in the upcoming session, it could take effect in time for the 2014 Fair. Indiana is in a very small minority of states whose Fairs do not include beer.

BIG in the news...

BIG celebration in Lafayette last month! Lafayette Brewing, Indiana's second-oldest brewery, celebrated its 20th anniversary. Congratulations to Greg and the entire LBC team!

BIG Treasurer Chris Stanek, Crown Brewing, is featured in the "20 Under 40" series in this great article from the NW Times.

 "Aliens" Invade... Does their arrival complement our own great craft beer industry, or eat into your business? Oskar Blues comes to Indiana this month, as does Destihl. 

Two pieces on how the Government Shutdown affected our breweries, featuring People’s and Triton.

Clay Robinson & Barnaby Struve on Inside Indiana Business with Gerry Dick.

Halloween beers--cool concept!

New craft beer bar at Lawrenceburg casino.

Are you reading Beer Buzz every week? You should be! Rita Kohn covers Indiana craft beer from around the state in her weekly blog and in NUVO, Indy's alt-weekly. Make Rita happy by feeding her info about new beers, special events and honors, and she'll do her best to get the word out.

Chris Sikich continues his great series on Indiana's breweries in the Indianapolis Star.

Interesting Inside Indiana Business re: Hamilton County firm developer ready to launch iKeg, a tech product for brewery and distributor inventory management system.

“5 Things We Adore Right Now” features Bier Brewery’s Pumpkin Ale and Thr3e Wise Men’s Farmivore Pizza

And finally… if you enjoy frat-house humor, you may like this short video from Conan O’Brien, who sent “Triumph the Comic Insult Dog” to GABF this month. The aging frat-boy your Executive Director lives with thought this was hilarious. Check it out yourself.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

There's one fewer prohibitionist in the legislature today. Amen.

The Brewers of Indiana Guild has been informed that Representative Bill Davis, Chairman of the House Public Policy committee, has resigned his seat to become Executive Director of Indiana's Office of Community and Rural Affairs.

Why is this of significance? First, BIG's Lee Smith explains the legislative procedure:

All alcoholic beverage bills are automatically assigned to the House or Senate Public Policy committees, and must make it out of committee "alive" to continue through the legislative process. If a bill dies in committee, it is indeed dead and cannot not be debated or amended.

As chairman of the Public Policy Committee, Davis was in a position to squelch legislation to advance craft beer, and as a teetotaling prohibitionist of the old school, this is precisely what he did -- not always, but often enough. Given that Indiana's Republican legislators in the main have been rational about the craft beer business from the pragmatic standpoint of statewide "homegrown" economic development, Davis stood out like a sore Baptist with his self-professed hostility toward beverage alcohol as a valued component of a truly civilized society.

It's hard for me to imagine a successor s hostile, so fingers are crossed. It's morning, but somewhere, it's beer-thirty.

Bill Davis Resigns House Seat To Take Position With Gov. Administration

Monday, October 21, 2013

Gravity Head 2014: The Bullet Train to Blackout Town leaves the station on Friday, February 28.

Yes, already.

Gravity Head 2014 (the 16th such bacchanalia in a whacked-out series that began in 1999) commences at 7:00 a.m. on Friday, February 28. What is Gravity Head? If you gotta ask, you’re never gonna know.

For the preliminary list of festival-eligible kegs, go to the permanent link at the NABC web site:

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Panic attack: "Craft Writing" symposium coming in February, with me as a speaker.

I was asked some months ago to participate in a symposium called "Craft Writing: Beer, The Digital, and Craft Culture," to be held at the University of Kentucky (my mom's alma mater) on February 15, 2014.

Now it's dawning on me that among a group of stellar and high-powered craft beer luminaries, including personal heroes like Stan Hieronymus, Mitch Steele and -- gasp -- Garrett Oliver, I might well be the most recent call-up from Double-A ball.

Will I be hazed?

A Twitter friend suggested mild intoxication as a coping strategy, but why depart from the tried and gonzo habit of "full" intake? Perhaps breakfast at West 6th would do the trick.

But seriously: My usual last-minute improv routine may need some polishing for this one. If I remain the localist and embrace the radicalism inherent in being an unknown, it should be okay.

Practice, practice, practice.

Do they still make Mr. Microphones?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The PC: I’m not kidding. Downtown New Albany is a craft beer destination.

(Published at on September 15, 2013)


I place little stock in seemingly ubiquitous on-line reader polls, and I don’t personally encourage anyone to vote.
In like fashion, the New Albanian Brewing Company refrains from asking its customers and fans to cast dozens of ballots for the sake of the cause. Some of the time we are mentioned in such polls, at other times not, but as a perennial underdog from unappreciated New Albany, to win, place or show in the absence of chest thumping and similar varieties of narcissistic campaigning always provides sweet vindication, especially if the voting is being conducted by a Louisville-oriented publication.
That’s why this year’s LEO Weekly Readers’ Choice poll results are pleasing to me. After finishing first in 2012, Bank Street Brewhouse placed second in the Best Restaurant (Southern Indiana) balloting, trailing Feast BBQ, and finishing just ahead of The Exchange. What the three of us have in common is a location in New Albany, where such a trifecta would have been unthinkable a few short years ago.
As Metro Louisville slowly awakens to the notion of downtown New Albany as a varied, quality “food court” worthy of attention, what may not be as obvious is the pervasive extent to which craft beer reigns supreme in these newer dining establishments.
Take it from me; it didn’t happen overnight.
The late, lamented Bistro New Albany opened in 2006, and closed roughly a year and a half later. It occupied downstairs space in an otherwise shuttered former hotel on the corner of Bank and Market, where the bar and restaurant used to be.
In rooms once filled with Sunday lunchtime churchgoers, local grandees and hotel patrons, most of them sipping sweet tea and nibbling at Salisbury steak with standard-order mashed potatoes, the BNA’s David Clancy conjured a contemporary bistro menu. Perhaps it wasn’t as daring as similar spots in Louisville, but the concept was revolutionary for a downtown largely moribund, and the effect was electric.
Better yet, Chef Clancy kept ten good beers on tap, all of the time. Some were imports, and others regional. Usually there were a couple of drafts from NABC, at a time when our outside distribution was quite limited. When BNA started, “craft” beer was about as unknown in downtown New Albany as nylons in Leonid Brezhnev’s USSR, but in the bistro’s wake, modernity gradually began creeping into the vacuum. Some of the establishments have since gone (Connor’s Place, The Speakeasy), but the food and drink generation to follow has made my city’s historic business district a place to go for craft drafts.
These thoughts first occurred to me one day in September, when I decided to have a beer for lunch, which I do quite often, occasionally varying the routine by including an edible morsel or two. Granted, the beer’s (somewhat) free for me at Bank Street Brewhouse, but it’s nice to maintain a schedule of visitations in the neighborhood to greet fellow operators and sample their wares.
On that day, my choice of venues for a purely liquid lunch revealed a masochistic streak, because it is almost impossible to sit for any length of time at Feast BBQ’s bar and resist ordering food.
To walk into this historic, lovingly restored tavern is to be wrestled to the ground by the visceral aroma of smoky meat; to pick oneself up and proceed to the bar provides a pleasing vista of one hundred or more bourbons, as well as a dozen taps devoted exclusively to beers brewed in Indiana and Kentucky. My choice was a Workingman’s Pilsner by Fountain Square Brewing Company in Indianapolis, and it was cool, crisp and tasty.
Before Prohibition, Feast’s space was designed for watering people. Their horses were cared for in the adjoining building, known as Shrader Stables, where The Exchange restaurant quickly has become downtown New Albany’s crown jewel, both architecturally and in terms of delicious gastropub cuisine. The cocktail program is extensive, and the draft beer selection tilted toward nationally distributed American craft brands.
On my first visit to the stables some years back, it was a grim picture of roof cave-ins, mildew and all-purpose decay, but on a more recent occasion, I enjoyed a hoppy Daredevil IPA (Shelbyville, Indiana) and admired workhorse local developer Steve Resch’s stellar building renovation, which is an attraction in itself, and arguably second only to Patrick O’Shea’s on Whiskey Row in downtown Louisville. The sleek modern lines of the YMCA’s building across Main Street reflects the refashioned stables in its windows, and the juxtaposition of urbanism is striking.
A few blocks west of Exchange and Feast is JR’s Pub, housed in a comfy, utilitarian building astride Main Street (i.e., the route to Horseshoe Casino), with outdoor volleyball courts in back, plenty of sports on television, and a half-dozen NABC beers on tap – making it the brewery’s largest draft lineup outside our own two pubs. JR’s fried fish sandwich is second to none, and the blue plate specials provide solid midday value. The vibe is purely egalitarian, and it’s a clean, well-lighted place with Bud Light bottle babies and Beak’s Best pint lovers mingling together.
Perhaps the most pleasing outgrowth of downtown New Albany’s transformation is an expansion of international flair. Dragon King’s Daughter (corner of Bank and Elm) offers sushi and Japanese-Mexican fusion cuisine, and follows in the noble tradition of the late, lamented Maido by pouring a half-dozen American craft beers at all times.
Habana Blues (Cuban), La Bocca (Italian) and Louis le Francais (French) are clustered on one short block of Market, which also boasts Toast on Market for breakfast, house-roasted Quills Coffee, a cigar shop and smoking lounge called Billow, and DP Updogs, a corner hot dog stand. Both Habana Blues and La Bocca have short draft lists with multiple NABC taps and other crafts and imports, although opting for a Mojito at Habana Blues can be forgiven.
On the other hand, while stocking very little beer, Chef Louis’s little slice of France specializes mostly in good wine, pointing to the availability of quality vino in downtown New Albany. River City Winery is located on Pearl Street, makes excellent pizza, and sells only its own house wines, as produced by the owner in the basement when he’s not on duty as a city policeman. JR’s, mentioned earlier, shares common ownership with the Old 502 Winery in Louisville, and of course those wines are featured at JR’s.
But there’s even more good beer downtown: On draft at the New Albany location of Wick’s Pizza (State Street across from Schmitt Furniture), in bottles at CafĂ© 27 on Main, and both ways at Irish Exit, a few blocks east in the direction of Mansion Row. Lastly, permit me a tout for my own business: Bank Street Brewhouse obviously features NABC’s beers of proven merit, a dozen on draft at a time, with another (or sometimes two) on hand pull, as well as the full range of 22-ounce bomber bottles. We arrived in 2009, and it’s been one hell of a ride so far.
For many years, downtown New Albany was a food and drink wasteland. Now, surveying the preceding list, I’m guessing that within easy walking distance of each other, there are 75 or more “good beer” taps from breweries ranging from Hoosier stalwarts NABC, Flat12, Sun King and Three Floyds to national brands like Boulevard, Stone, Bell’s and Shipyard – and don’t forget Keg Liquors on Pearl, only a few doors down from perhaps the one business downtown that really has seen it all: Kaiser Tobacco, operating since before the American Civil War.
Since 1832, in fact.
There’s a turn of local phrase: We’re all here because we’re not all there. But there’s much more here than before. Come over and check it out. Catch me on a liquid lunch day, and I may even be offering tours.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

The PC: Can we really have it all?

(Published at on October 1, 2013)


Just the other day, I heard the news that executive chef Reed Johnson had parted ways with Against the Grain. Actually, I read the news at the Eater Louisville web site, and this merits a brief digression about changing times.
It strikes me as noteworthy that a full week later, the transition at AtG still hasn’t been mentioned at the Louisville Restaurants Forum, for some years the city’s go-to place for such a story.
NABC’s well-documented tussle with the Floyd County Health Department, which began in mid-June and was given ample coverage at Eater Louisville and elsewhere on-line, hasn’t hit the forum yet, either. Granted, I never thought to flog it, although you’d think someone would have. In a larger sense, a generational shift probably is under way, and discussion boards like the forum have become somewhat outmoded in the age of knee-jerk social media, yielding to any number of purely dismal Yelp-like ratings aggregators.
But this isn’t my topic today. Rather, it is my personal reaction to comments appended to the Eater notice of Reed’s leaving.
First, the departure. We all like to believe “it’s only business” and “there’s nothing personal,” and yet emotions naturally run high when change comes around. There are no right and wrong answers, only the inevitability of flux. Ironically, it turns out that I stopped by Against the Grain on what quite likely was Reed’s last day of work, scoring a growler of delicious Spezial-like smoked beer, and regretting not having enough time on the day in question to have a leisurely pint with one of his excellent barbecue sandwiches.
What’s funny is this: At the time, grasping my sweating growler and trying not to think like the businessman I’m ostensibly supposed to be – albeit it with supreme reluctance – it occurred to me that with baseball season over, cooler weather on the way, and AtG (the brewery) working so hard on its designer export beer model … well, how was the restaurant coming along, anyway?
It’s what owners do, after all. We think way too much, compare and contrast, and seldom are able to just go out and enjoy a beer and a bite. Even worse, as much as the leftist in me would like to avoid them, numbers generally end up dominating the conversation – and they have dollar signs attached to them. It is profoundly bothersome.
Now, I’ve no way of knowing the answers to questions like these. Furthermore, it’s none of my business. I consider myself to be friends with the quartet of AtG owners. What’s more, Reed worked for Bank Street Brewhouse for a bit, pre-AtG, when Josh Lehman was in our kitchen. I know and like everyone involved, so case closed. Better if we could all drink happily ever after, because beer cauterizes all wounds.
At the risk of pondering aloud, what I do know from personal experience – after almost five years of trying to achieve it at BSB – is that while a first-rate, chef-driven kitchen with a marvelous brewpub in back is a wonderful idea in theory, and even has been known to succeed (Swiss bank account style) in practice, it isn’t very easy to make money with higher level food when you’re trying to grow an export-driven, quality brewery at the same time.
It’s an echo of the time-honored refrain: You say you want to make a million dollars in brewing? Just start with $10 million … and that’s just the brewery, not the food.
There is much validity to that. If you don’t have a considerable pot of money from which to draw, it’s quite possible to learn that capitalizing both an evolving brewery and a top-flight kitchen is fiendishly difficult, here on the ground, out in the real world.
RateBeer never told you anything about this, did it?
This might explain my irritation at two of the (typically) anonymous comments beneath the Eater article announcing AtG’s kitchen change. One of the comments decried the absence of freedom for chefs, who always are at the mercy of brutal, bottom-line-driven owners, and lamented the overall lack of chef-driven kitchens in Louisville, encouraging culinary stars to own their own restaurants. The other predicted the imminent arrival of the Sysco truck at AtG, now that the brewery’s first chef was gone.
Does the world really need more such surreptitious advisors, these expert sidewalk superintendents who evidently have no clue about the food and labor costs involved with providing them with the best of ever-changing menu items at a price point they’re willing to pay, given microscopic consumer attention spans and vicious competition from the chains that typically receive the big-time government subsidies … and must I mention the monolithic agribusiness entities putting gasoline in those accursed Sysco trucks?
Dudes, you simply have no idea, do you?
Consider other infuriating stressors: Garden-variety wine snobs refusing to believe mere beer can accompany such elevated cuisine, demanding the highest-rated Chilean, Californian or (gasp) French vino, and refusing to even sample regional examples of the vintner’s art … customers who can’t pay $65 for a meal without multiple refills of Diet Coke … and don’t forget those who expect chicken fingers and periodic floor vacuuming for their free-range children.
If it was so damned easy, don’t you think all of us would be in clover? What was that? We’re already in clover? It isn’t clover at all. Think of a later stage of the digestive process, and you’d be closer to the mark.
This rant may or may not have anything to do with Against the Grain, or for that matter, to Bank Street Brewhouse. It’s just my story, and I’m sticking to it. However, this much is axiomatic, at least to me: Unless AtG, BSB or any other brewery in their relative positions comes independently stuffed with cash, there comes a point when traditional sources of investment glare first at the restaurant side, and then at the brewery, curl their lips like bankers so enjoy doing, and say something along the lines of this:
“Can you please decide which one you’d like to be, restaurant or production brewery, and once you’ve done so, we’ll consider possibly maybe helping you – unless, of course, we do not care a solitary jot. And we don’t. See that door over there … ”
Yes, those of us in the food and drink business have been known to creatively embellish the truth, and for good reason. To blink publicly or otherwise show any sign of weakness is to invite self-perpetuating calamity of the rumor-mongering variety – on the Internet, spread by word of mouth, or scratched onto the restroom wall (and guess who pays to fix that?)
Besides, no one on the planet wants to hear about our problems. We chose the lives we lead, and understandably, customers merely want to be reassured that their favorite joint is still going to be there, slinging hash and filling pints, the next time they go out. It’s only something to think about, and probe a bit more deeply than the time it takes to make ludicrous comments at a restaurant news web site.
I wish Reed Johnson the best in whatever career path he pursues. He’s a great and entirely authentic guy, with oodles of talent.
And, I also remain an unrepentant fan of AtG, even if it’s sometimes far too enjoyable for this curmudgeonly elder to refrain from giving them a hard time. I hope they can have it all, and the smoked beer — wonderful.
So, folks, give everyone some space. Try to remember that marketplaces can be unforgiving. Support independent local business whenever you can.
And: Death to chains!
It’s my traditional ending, eh?