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Craft breweries growing locally, nationally

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Indiana’s craft beer scene is overflowing.

As recently as 2008, Indiana had fewer than 10 craft breweries. But as craft beers have become more popular, more and more small-batch brewers are selling their creations to the public.

By the end of April, 71 breweries were in operation in the Hoosier state, with another 32 planned to open this year. Local enthusiasts sell double India pale ales and bourbon-barrel stouts, Belgian dubbels and fruit-infused lambics.

Johnson County is catching up. Three craft brewers are open in the county, with another coming online by the end of the month.

Beer lovers are ecstatic about the choices; and though concerns exist about the market supporting so many craft brewers, those making the beer see plenty of room for everybody.

“The state itself is going through a huge boom, and Johnson County is starting to catch up,” said Andrew Castner, head brewer at newly formed Mashcraft Brewing Co. “There’s no reason, with enough of us, it can’t lead to tourism down here.”

Craft brewing, or producers who make less than 186 million gallons per year, is flourishing across the country.

Outside of Prohibition, U.S. brewing reached its lowest point in the late 1970s, when only 89 breweries were operating domestically, according to the Brewers Association, a craft-brewing trade group. Most of those were the large-scale facilities owned by Anheiser-Busch and Coors.

But as regulations on home brewing and small-batch production eased, more people became involved. By 2000, about 1,500 U.S. breweries were operating. As of last year, that number had reached 2,538. About 97 percent of those are craft brewers, according to the Brewers Association.

“It’s been fun to watch because it had been a gradual growth. But then it started shooting up, and it’s really skyrocketed in the past few years,” said Jason Larrison, one of the contributors of the local beer blog Hoosier Beer Geek.

Larrison has been involved with craft beer since about 2000 but started seriously following it about nine years ago. He’s watched since the first brewpubs in the area grew into a nice niche market.

“People started looking at what is local and looking at what is independent. Just like that, people started looking differently about where they buy their food. People started looking at beer the same way,” he said.

Started in 1994 locally

In Johnson County, the craft beer pioneer was Oaken Barrel Brewing Co. The brewery and restaurant opened in Greenwood in 1994. At the time, it was one of the first microbreweries operating in the state.

It’s flagship beers — Indiana Amber, Gnaw Bone Pale Ale and Razz Wheat — are available in bars and carryouts throughout the state. Head brewer Alan Simon continually plays with new variations and recipes that can be purchased at the facility’s tap room.

Until recently, Oaken Barrel was the only craft brewer in Johnson County. But in the past two years, that has changed.

Andrew Groves opened Planetary Brewing Co. in Greenwood last year, offering outer-space themed beers such as its Chemtrails Creme Ale and its Parallax Vanilla Porter.

The brewery has a small tasting room that shares space with its fermenting tanks and other brewing equipment. But Groves and business partner Doug Goins are renovating the space next door into its own sampling room.

The hope is that, later this year, they can have a dedicated space where people can relax, taste one or two of the brewery’s nearly 20 offerings and fill up a growler if they want, Goins said.

Nathan Huelsebusch and his wife, Leah, hope to open Taxman Brewing Company this year.

Their beer is featured throughout central Indiana, including being served at restaurants such as Shoefly Public House, Ralston’s Draft House and Twenty Tap, noted craft beer hubs.

Construction is underway on a brewing facility, tap room and restaurant in the heart of Bargersville. The facility will take advantage of an existing building at Harriman and Baldwin streets, turning the interior into a rustic seating area where people can taste-test Belgian-style dubbels and tripels.

Workers are in the process of creating another wing to the building, which will house the brewing equipment.

Craft brewers increasing

The location in the relatively craft-beer scant Center Grove area, as well as their unique take on brewing, hopefully will set them apart from other brewers in the area, Huelsebusch said.

The latest entry in the craft beer competition is Mashcraft Brewing, which was co-founded by former Oaken Barrel brewer Andrew Castner. Together with business partner John Lee, they are in the process of creating a brewing center and tasting room in the Center Grove area.

They have been renovating a former restaurant with 6,000 square feet of space to fit their needs both to make beer and sell it to the public, Castner said.

“We’re exclusively interested in having a space in the neighborhood for people to enjoy. Our goal was to do a large amount of to-go beer. For safety purposes, we were really focused on coming in, tasting a sample or two, then getting a growler and enjoying responsibly at home,” he said.

The increase in the number of craft breweries is a response to the beer-drinking public. Though craft beers remain only a sliver of overall beer sales — 3 percent in 2013 — that share is increasing.

Through the first half of 2013, 226 million gallons of craft beer were sold by craft brewers in the U.S., according to the Brewers Association. At the same point in 2012, people had bought 198 gallons.

“I’ve looked around and seen craft beer change. It started as a house-beer makeup, where people come in and want to have their same beer each week,” Castner said. “But craft beer people are very, very transient. They don’t have as much brand loyalty or type loyalty. They want something different.”

With more people opting for a quality, locally made stout or robust pilsner as opposed to the typical domestic light lager, the market can support these new breweries, Larrison said.

Battling for survival

The main concern in the craft beer community is that local craft beers will lose out on opportunities to be featured in restaurant and bars.

Because most businesses have only so many taps or so much shelf space to sell items, local brewers have to fight to be one of the chosen.

Craft beers aren’t going to push out more established brands, Larrison said.

“For breweries who produce and depend on packaging their beers for survival, there’s only so much space available from that standpoint,” he said.

But with craft beer still making up only about 5 percent of all beer sales in Indiana, there is room for these new brewers to offer their goods.

The public taste will help determine which breweries survive, Larrison said.

“If a brewery is producing good beer and producing it at a price the consumer likes, they should be all right. If it’s good beer, they’ll keep coming back, especially if it’s local,” he said.

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