BY ADAM KENT-ISAAC
Did Bloomington really need another bar? That was the question many were asking last fall after The Tap opened in the building formerly occupied by Talbots at the corner of West Kirkwood and North College, perhaps the most desirable retail space in town.
But The Tap is not just another bar; it has more than 50 high-end craft beers on draft, as well as 400 bottled varieties. There’s no Budweiser or Coors to be found.
While The Tap is a dedicated beer destination, it is not the only Bloomington establishment with a vast selection of beer. Yogi’s Grill & Bar has more than 50 taps pouring craft drafts. Patrons of Crazy Horse Food & Drink Emporium are immortalized on wall plaques after going “Around The World in Eighty Beers.” International grocery Sahara Mart offers 1,300 varieties of imported and domestic bottled beer. Plus there are two breweries in town: Bloomington Brewing Company and Upland Brewing Co. There’s no doubt, Bloomington loves beer, in all its many forms.
The culture of local beer appreciation follows a greater nationwide pattern, says Greg Kitzmiller, distinguished lecturer of marketing at IU Kelley School of Business and an expert on beverage industry trends.
The one crucial catalyst: “The home brewing laws changed,” says Kitzmiller. “Home brewing wasn’t legal until about twenty-five years ago, and it drove both consumer and brewery interest. Then in the nineties, you had a few bold restaurateurs who thought it would be a good idea to sell craft beer. From 1995 onwards, home brewers have been expanding their operations and making them commercial.” It’s been a domino effect, Kitzmiller explains, with each successive brewery inspiring others to try brewing and each new beer aficionado inspiring others to try new beers.
Doug Dayhoff, who opened Upland Brewing Co. in 1998, says Bloomington has been especially welcoming to craft beer. “Relative to the rest of Indiana, Bloomington has been way out in front in terms of valuing locally produced foods, and the microbrewing movement is a part of the larger local food movement,” says Dayhoff. “The anomaly is not the rise of craft beers. It was the nationalization and mass production of beers in the latter part of the twentieth century. What we’re reverting to—local and regional brewing—is what used to be normal.”
The presence of Indiana University also makes Bloomington’s thirst for hops more powerful than in a non-college city of comparable size. The student demographic, historically, hasn’t been known for its appreciation of craft beer; for reasons both financial and recreational, students tend to favor quantity over quality. But this is changing, claims Kitzmiller, and bars are more than keeping up with the demand.
In 2010, Chris Karl, co-owner of Yogi’s, became a certified cicerone (the beer equivalent of a sommelier) to better serve customers who come to sample the myriad brews available. Karl says younger beer drinkers are more likely to experiment. “They don’t have a habit. They haven’t been drinking Miller Lite for the past forty years of their life and are stuck on it. [Their palates] can change quite easily.”
Those looking to expand their beer horizons and refine their palates can attend Yogi’s “Beer School,” held every Tuesday evening at the bar. Admission is free, and a variety of craft beers are offered for tasting. Experts in the field, including representatives from local and regional breweries, are on hand to explain the nuances of each one. After learning the basics and figuring out one’s own palate, the opportunities for exploring the world of beer in Bloomington are virtually limitless.
On April 13, the 3rd Annual Bloomington Craft Beer Festival, presented by the Brewers of Indiana Guild, came to the old Woolery Stone Mill on West Tapp Road. For $35, guests received a commemorative tasting glass that they could fill with the wares of dozens of Indiana breweries, from the darkest stouts to the lightest lagers and many kinds in between.