The more, the merrier: Local brewers embrace industry growth
By Linda Lipp | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly
For a city with a strong German heritage and a history of nationally known, old-time breweries like Berghoff, Centlivre and Falstaff, Fort Wayne didn’t have much in the way of local craft brewers for a very long time.
Until recently. The Northern Indiana Brewers Association, which officially formed just a few months ago, already has 17 brewer members in Fort Wayne and the northeast part of the state. And more breweries are in development and on their way.
Founded in 1998, Mad Anthony Brewing Co. is the granddaddy of the local craft brew crew. One brewer came and went within a few months before Mad Anthony opened, and another couple opened and closed afterward, but for most of its history, Mad Anthony was the city’s only local craft brewery.
Rather than resent the newbies, Blaine Stuckey, president and co-owner of Mad Anthony Brewing Co. said he’s glad to see the local craft brewing industry grow.
“It’s good for our business,” Stuckey said. “It’s good for the whole state of Indiana, realizing how far behind we are in the market compared to the rest of the country, realizing that there’s going to be a huge upward slope in craft beer education and demand for local craft beer, not just craft beer from elsewhere.”
Currently, craft beer represents less than 3.2 percent of beer consumption in Indiana. “That needs to be up in the middle 30 percent,” Stuckey said. “So we all need to brew a heck of a lot more more beer, educate our local customers and coordinate those efforts as we’re doing now, realizing that it’s a huge opportunity.”
One of the newer breweries in Fort Wayne is Hop River Brewing Co., which opened last February. Owners Ben Jackson and Paris McFarthing, both of whom had done some home brewing, believed there was a lot of potential in the local market.
“Fort Wayne has a lower number of breweries per capita compared to other cities of our size and demographics,” said Mary Corinne Lowenstein, an investor in Hop River and its first employee.
Lowenstein previously worked in the nonprofit world and was a stay-at-home mom for seven years before moving to Fort Wayne to reinvent her career. She sees a lot of similarities between the nonprofit world and the local craft brewing industry.
“Nonprofits are very collaborative and work together and create networks and that’s the same with beer culture,” she said. “Being able to have those very open honest conversations...with other breweries is very natural.”
The owners of Mad Anthony visited other breweries to learn the business when they were preparing to open, and Stuckey said he’s happy to have newer brewers come visit Mad Anthony to learn what they can.
“We’ve had several brewers through the facility, even their contractors have reached out and asked questions about water volumes, filter systems, air quality systems, expansion, just like the folks that helped us out that we used to go visit years ago,” Stuckey said.
Jackson and McFarthing also went around and introduced themselves to other breweries, walked around brewhouses, saw how systems worked, “and we have done the same for other brewers as well,” Lowenstein said.
That help even extends to understanding the most basic needs.
“We’re here if they need to borrow a wrench,” Lowenstein said. “Our tool box for our festival is stocked with extra things because we want to be able to help people. We want to be able to provide that extra clamp or whatever.”
The Northern Indiana Brewers Association is actually an extension of the Brewers Guild of Indiana, which Stuckey helped found. Its mission is to promote quality, standards and unity within the industry.
Local brewers have collaborated more informally for the last few years. The formal establishment of the organization came because the group wanted to create a Northern Indiana Beer Trail “passport” program that would promote all the breweries in the area by providing information and maps to help people visit as many as possible. To handle all the financial steps involved, the association was created to be the third-party fiscal agent, Lowenstein said.
The launch of the passport coincided with the joint release of a collaborative brew crafted by several brewers and the annual Brewed IN the Fort Festival in September.
Mad Anthony started the festival as an OctoberFest 20 years ago, initially including craft brewers from Michigan because there weren’t enough in Indiana. And its timing in September, despite the name, followed the legend of the king who created the festival to honor his daughter’s marriage beginning in the second week of September and continuing into October.
Now the festival is all Indiana craft brewers, Stuckey said, and no ringers — major commercial brewers that call some products craft brews even when they’re not. The potential for Indiana craft brewers is almost limitless right now, so the more, the merrier.
“We want everybody to succeed because we want the general public to enjoy craft beer,” Lowenstein said. “When looking at the taps, we want them to choose a local beer rather than one not from the area.”
Although the plans are still very tentative, Stuckey said, the local brewers may host another beer festival of some sort in June, near the Electric Works redevelopment project on Broadway.
“I think the thing is we recognize that this is a really great thing and this is just the beginning,” Lowenstein added. “We’re excited to push forward, as an association and a local industry, and come up with some really great ways to engage the people in our community on various levels. And who knows what we’re going to do next?”