By Will Carroll
By now, we all have our favorite local beer. We know where to get it, we know what it’s like, and we’re glad that it’s fresh. However, many of us aren’t always in Indianapolis or even Indiana. This week I was on the road in Dallas, and there’s no Sun King, no Three Floyds, no Two Deep. What’s an Indiana beer drinker to do?
For me, it’s a chance to explore. Dallas has some great breweries and just like Indianapolis, it’s an expanding brew scene. Since last time I was here, two new breweries have opened, but it’s still way behind Indy, at least in volume.
There’s always Shiner, one of those great American local beers. I used to know that when I went to a Rangers game, I’d need to go behind home plate to the stand that sold Shiners and Ziegens. It was a taste of Texas I savored, especially on a hot August day at the ballpark. Now even the Rangers have a couple stands selling several local beers.
They even had Franconia, which might be one of my favorite breweries anywhere. Located north of Dallas in McKinney, Franconia is a traditional German-style brewery with a real German brewer, one with a tradition that traces back to the old country. They make simple beers – a Hefeweizen that is sublime, a Dunkel and a couple more. Nothing fancy, but each so perfectly and passionately done.
New breweries popped up like Revolver, who make Blood & Honey, a sweet red with Belgian spices that people really like. For me, I’m not a huge fan, but tasting one, I get why so many people love it. It’s really well done. There’s also Lakewood, Frisco Grainworks, Deep Ellum and Community.
You may not be able to find your favorite Indiana beer when you leave the state, but it’s an opportunity to find the local beer of wherever you are. We’re at a stage where every major city and lots of minor ones have local breweries. Get a taste of the place and the people. The only downside is that you may wish you could find it at home when you leave.
I’m not one for beer festivals. My taste buds get lost in the mix and my alcohol tolerance is tested by even the small plastic cups you get there, but I get why so many love them. It’s also good for business, especially as the market has expanded.
Dig-IN — A Taste of Indiana isn’t a beer festival by any stretch, but with almost 20 breweries there pouring beer, it’s not just a sideline anymore. Indiana’s beer stands up alongside Indiana’s great local food, so it was nice to see (manageable) lines for many of them on another great addition.
There was only one new-to-me brewery there this year — Valparaiso’s Figure 8 — so it was less about discovery and more about just a chance to taste what the breweries brought. I’m sure Jolene will cover the food side more, but the beers? Top notch.
There seems to be a new shift in breweries. While many have wondered just how many breweries Indiana or the country in general can handle, there’s starting to be a bit of a rollup. This isn’t new in one sense — larger breweries have been buying smaller ones for a while. The best known example is MillerCoors buying Leinenkugel or InBev’s pseudo-purchase of Spoetzel, which brews Shiner.
Now the larger craft brewers are starting to buy up smaller brewers. In some cases, it’s a simple business deal. In some, it’s an “acqui-hire” where some brewer or recipe is the key to the deal. In many, it’s a shrewd move to avoid barrel limits.
In Indiana, a craft brewer can’t brew more than 30,000 barrels. While none are yet at that limit, other states have other limits and can buy a smaller brewery to skirt the regulation without many questions. It works for some, and it certainly makes any “saturation point” discussion early.
There’s still plenty of room for small brewers. Not every craft brewer wants to go national or brew so much beer that it stops being fun. Being a neighborhood brewery is a great goal for a lot of brewers, and it’s certainly good for the community as well.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see some consolidation in the Indiana market. There’s certainly a clear tiering and, as several breweries approach the barrel ceiling, it may become much more attractive.
(I wrote this on Saturday and with Monday’s news that Sun King is opening a new facility in Fishers, some might wonder about that barrel cap. Sun King is doing exactly what I mention here. The new facility will be treated like a new brewery, giving them effectively double the cap.)