New businesses are brewing throughout Johnson County, bringing specialty beers and more dining options to local neighborhoods.

While Oaken Barrel has operated for several years in Greenwood, the market for beers brewed in-house and the food to pair with it is quickly expanding. Small brewers have opened near downtown Greenwood and on State Road 135, a new Belgian-inspired gastropub opened this fall in Bargersville, and two brewpubs are scheduled to open in Franklin this year.

Johnson County’s large suburban population is ripe for small breweries, local brewers said. Residents earn a higher-than-average income, which allows them to eat out a few times per week. Cozy downtowns are ideal locations for breweries, which can become a destination for diners who want to check out what’s new on tap. And less congestion on the southside makes it easier for people to make a trip, compared with the north side of Indianapolis.

At the same time, the popularity of craft beers is on the rise. Instead of grabbing a case of beer from the supermarket, more and more beer drinkers want to try something new and unique, brewers said.

“One of the reasons that some of the bigger breweries had shied away from coming into Indiana was that the population as a whole wasn’t very craft-beer focused. But that trend is changing. The consumer is really driving the growth. It’s location, it’s demographics, population, household incomes,” said Nathan Huelsebusch, co-owner of Taxman Brewing Co. in downtown Bargersville.

Local, community brewing was common before Prohibition in the U.S., but even after the alcohol ban was repealed, home-brewing wasn’t allowed until 1979, said Phil Warrenburg, who plans to open a brewpub in the former city hall building in Franklin this summer.

As small breweries began to operate, beer drinkers became exposed to more types of beer, which has led to a higher demand and more brewers opening, he said.

“The renaissance is appearing now,” Warrenburg said. “The swing is coming that flavorful, fresh beer is coming back around.”

A heightened interest in craft beers has helped create demand, but the county’s location and population make it a good fit for new breweries and brewpubs.

Average income in Johnson County isn’t as high as other parts of central Indiana, such as Hamilton County, but still high enough that residents are able to afford eating out a few times a month or even a few times a week. A casual dining restaurant serving steaks or barbecue paired with a unique beer can be affordable and attract interest from both local residents and people outside Johnson County, said Fred Paris, who is renovating two buildings in downtown Franklin for a brewery and restaurant.

The county also has less congestion than Indianapolis or the northside, so instead of driving north to an area like Broad Ripple, southside residents can travel south to Greenwood, Franklin or Bargersville, Huelsebusch said.

Historic downtowns, such as Franklin or Bargersville, also offer a small-town atmosphere that fits a niche local brewers want, as opposed to opening on a highway, Taxman Brewing co-owner Leah Huelsebusch said.

When she and Nathan lived in Belgium, just about every town, regardless of size, had its own brewpub. Each was distinct and became a highlight of the town, she said. The small community is one reason they chose to open in Bargersville, instead of a more high-traffic location in the Center Grove area or Greenwood, she said. Taxman has been distributing beer since last January, but opened the pub in September and the dining room has been consistently busy, they said.

Paris said he has heard talk of a third brewpub that might be interested in Franklin. The renovations the city has done to facades and the downtown are drawing more visitors, and having Franklin College nearby makes downtown an attractive option for new brewers, Mayor Joe McGuinness said.

More breweries in Johnson County will create more competition, but brewers can create a wide variety of drafts by making small changes to ingredients, temperature or cooking style to create vastly different products, Warrenburg said. If the beers are distinct and each restaurant serves a different type of menu, they likely will be able to coexist, owners said.

For example, Taxman offers Belgian-style beers and a pub menu of tacos, burgers and pomme frites, while Paris said the brewery and restaurant he plans would focus more on steaks, chops and barbecue.

“If we don’t fill a niche, we’re not going to make it,” Paris said.

Not all of the brewers have in-house restaurants. At MashCraft Brewing on State Road 135 or Planetary Brewing in Greenwood, customers can sample a beer, have a drink while there or take some to-go. So those brewers aren’t the same type of competition as a restaurant or pub.

Having multiple breweries operating in Johnson County could open up opportunities such as beer tours, similar to what people can find in Indianapolis, Nathan Huelsebusch said. If the county had a dozen small brewers, beer tourism could help expose new customers to the county’s brewers and make Johnson County a destination, he said.

Restaurants brewing

Two new brewpubs are coming to downtown Franklin this year. Here’s what’s on tap:

Old Post Brewpub

Where: Former city hall building, 55 W. Madison St.

Who: Phil Warrenburg, owner

Opening: Summer

What: Beers brewed in-house and pub-style food, such as soft pretzels, sliders, pub burgers. The pub will have outdoor patio dining.

Fred Paris building

Where: 176-188 W. Jefferson St.

Who: Fred Paris, building owner. Brewery/restaurant has not been named yet.

Opening: Building renovation expected to be complete by summer

What: Brewery and restaurant focusing on barbecue, steaks and chops. Restaurant will have outdoor dining under a retractable glass roof.