BY GREG KITZMILLER
When you feel like having a beer, grab a cold pint or bottle of a local brew. Every time you do, you are helping someone who lives here, works here, and raises kids here. Down a Bud or Bud Light and you are (surprisingly) supporting a Belgian company. Nationally, those mainstream beer brands are declining in sales while the popularity of craft brews is booming. Generally, craft beers are more flavorful than those big brands because most artisan brewers pour their heart and soul into creating brews that will stand out and attract attention.
The craft beer scene has exploded here in Bloomington, and with that has come a beer community within our larger community. All the local brewers know one another, and if one runs out of a yeast or a grain, he or she can call for help, and — like a good neighbor proffering a cup of sugar — a member of the beer community will come to the rescue.
Back in 1994, the first Bloomington brewpub opened at Lennie’s restaurant, and the Bloomington Brewing Company (BBC) was born. Co-founder Jeff Mease even had to help craft the law that would govern local breweries because back then there were so few of them in Indiana. He researched laws in other states and worked closely with Mark Kruzan and Vi Simpson, local legislators at the time, to write a bill that spelled out how breweries in Indiana should operate. BBC was the first small brewery in Indiana to open following the bill’s passage.
Today BBC is on tap all over town and throughout central Indiana, with such offerings as popular Ruby Bloom Amber, with its caramel flavor, and the newer seasonal hit, 10-Speed Hoppy Wheat — a bright, crisp, tropical citrusy beer. Both are brewed and even bottled in the BBC’s new brewery on the west side — a further investment in our community.
From Bloomington’s biggest, Upland Brewing Co. on West 11th Street, to the smallest, Function Brewing just off the downtown Square on East 6th Street, you’ll find 10–12 taps ready to serve up unique local beer.
Stop by Function weekly and each time you are likely to find the selection has changed. Owner and brewer Steve Llewellyn says sometimes he does not decide what his next beer will be until he starts the brewing process. In just over one year since Function opened, Llewellyn has brewed more than 60 unique beers. The tasty Milk Stout, when on tap, pleases my palate by combining a nice roast flavor with just a hint of the lactic notes you find in milk. The Tangent IPA is the most popular, bursting with flavor.
Just slightly more than a diagonal block away, over on West Kirkwood, you find similar variety since The Tap Beer Company opened as an expansion of The Tap beer bar. Tap brewer Jarrod May has brewed 45 different beers in less than a year. Both the quiet brewpub on West Kirkwood and the noisier beer bar on North College feature 15 rotating Tap brews, while the beer bar also offers 50 additional guest craft choices. Bluebeard, a Berliner Weisse and a once-rare slightly sour and fruity beer, has been one of the best Tap Beer Company sellers in the months since their opening. There is usually a Belgian-style brew there, such as Nefarious Nectar, which gives a peppery, spicy flavor that starts sweet and ends dry. Bloomington’s second brewpub to open was Upland Brewing Co. This brand is now one of Indiana’s largest, selling beer in five other states. This summer, in addition to well-known Upland Wheat Ale, Dragonfly IPA, and other regulars, they are serving up new Sundial Farmhouse Ale, only available at their brewpub and tasting room on the west side. Reminiscent of a beer brewed on Belgian farms years ago, this spicy ale, with hints of mandarin orange flavor and bitterness, is made for easy drinking in the summer sun.
Upland has also become known for its specialized sour beers, so sought after they are sold via lottery. Prospective purchasers sign up for a drawing, hoping they can win the right to buy these limited beers. Sour Ale Program Director and brewer Caleb Staton says, “VinoSynth Red and White are my favorite Upland Sours. They really encapsulate our sour program full circle, beginning in 2006 — when we originally traded for some Oliver wine barrels to start the program — to 2013 — when we received Oliver Creekbend grapes to incorporate into our beer.” Local, craft, community!
With four Bloomington brands yielding six tasting locations, our neighbors have joined the party. Salt Creek Brewery of Lawrence County now operates a tasting room on West 3rd Street as well as Salt Creek at The Depot at North Morton and West 7th streets. Quaff ON! Bloomington, owned by Big Woods Brewing of Brown County, is a brewpub on North Grant Street in the building formerly occupied by Café Django. Thr3e Wise Men Brewing Company of Indianapolis is owned by the same company as Scotty’s Brewhouse on North Walnut, which serves its craft beer.
You can pick up a “passport” at most of these locations and follow the Bloomington Ale Trail to earn a reward. So the next time you are thirsty for a brew, think of the local choices. While 84 percent of beer in Indiana is sold by foreign-owned breweries, you can choose local, choose flavor, and choose to support your community.