A brief history of beer in Indiana 

click to enlarge Home Brewing bottles - COURTESY BOB OSTRANDER
  • Home Brewing bottles
  • Courtesy Bob Ostrander

Artisan beer came to the "new world" with people seeking new territory. Beer was a safe beverage — water was often contaminated by sewage and other toxins. Early settlers coming before the creation of the Indiana Territory brought with them their traditions and tastes as they brewed at forts and outposts, and brewers adapted to local ingredients. They also brought seeds for grains and expertise in milling. Bread and beer co-mingled at the sites of gristmills.

Two breweries functioned at Indiana's Statehood in 1816.

Richmond, settled in 1805, provided a tavern for travelers along the National Road. British Brewer Ezra Boswell arrived in 1816 to establish a brewery, which he continued until his death in 1831, notes Bob Ostrander in Hoosier Beer [History Press, 2011]. 1912 saw the end of Richmond's brewing legacy, along with its thriving bottIing works. Almost a century later, on St. Patrick's Day, 2010, Rodrick and Kiera Landess launched New Boswell Brewing Company. Their recently opened taproom echoes the English pub tradition.

click to enlarge An ABC Brewing label - COURTESY BOB OSTRANDER
  • An ABC Brewing label
  • Courtesy Bob Ostrander

Rappites in 1814 established their Utopian community with the name "New Harmony." Eschewing Kentucky Common, the brew extant along the Ohio River, German brewer/cooper George Bentel made Bavarian-style brews. When the Harmonists returned to Western Pennsylvania in 1825, Bentel left with them. Dan Valas, who founded Aurora-based Great Crescent Brewing Company in 2008, now brews Bentel's original Dark Lager recipe as an Indiana Artisan product. In 2008 Great Crescent re-invigorated Aurora's 1858-1899 Crescent Brewery legacy.

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J. and William L. Coleman established a brewery in 1818 in Vincennes, Indiana's first capital. It closed in the Panic of 1819, America's first economic disaster during peacetime. Breweries in Vincennes ceased production in 1930.

Today, Evansville-based Turoni's, Carson's and Tin Man breweries serve the Vincennes area.

click to enlarge Indianapolis Brewing's Duesseldorfer ad - COURTESY BOB OSTRANDER
  • Indianapolis Brewing's Duesseldorfer ad
  • Courtesy Bob Ostrander

Between Indiana's 1816 Statehood and the approaching 2016 Bicentennial, Indiana's brewing story brims with world acclaim, demise and resurrection. Just about every town and city boasted a brewery loyally supported by the local community. Gaining national and international attention in Fort Wayne were Falstaff (producers of a "Light Beer" before Bud and Miller), Ballantine and Berghoff; Drewery's in South Bend; Champagne Velvet in Terre Haute; Indiana Brewing Association in Marion.

Indianapolis Brewing Co. took Gold Medals at the 1900 Paris Exposition, 1904 St. Louis World's Fair and in Liege, Belgium in 1905, Milan in 1906 and Madrid in 1907. American Brewing Co. sponsored the ABC's Negro League Baseball team, winner of the Colored World Championship in 1916.

  • Courtesy Bob Ostrander

Indiana's bustling pre-Prohibition beer culture included hops farms, wheat growers, and malting and bottling operations. Prohibition and post-Prohibition marked a dry spell. Small breweries gave up against the new order of mega-breweries with huge advertising budgets. The culture of full-flavor, fresh and local beer gave way to bland, fizzy and pale macro-brews. But some Hoosiers remembered traditional quality beers and those people surfaced as homebrewers, bringing back a spectrum of balanced, hearty ales and lagers without fillers like corn and rice. Additionally, they paid close attention to the quality of local water to foster a style. West Lafayette librarian/homebrewer Bill Friday rallied homebrewers throughout Indiana, encouraging them to re-create the quality beers that had all but vanished. Winemaker Joan Easley established Indianapolis' first homebrew supply shop.

Learn about pairing beer and food here.

When John Hill transformed an auto shop into a traditional English pub in 1990, Indiana was roughly two decades behind the national push toward craft brewing. Yet Broad Ripple Brewpub set the standard for growing a neighborhood brewery that offered consistent quality. Hill fostered a "destination place" for artisanal beer paired with quality food. The brewpub model continued with Mishawaka and Lafayette in 1992, Bloomington Brewing and Oaken Barrel in 1994.

click to enlarge An Ajax Imperial tray - COURTESY BOB OSTRANDER
  • An Ajax Imperial tray
  • Courtesy Bob Ostrander

Paralleling the national trend, Indiana saw a surge between 1996 and 2008 with 34 breweries opening — and 18 subsequent closings. Still thriving as brewpubs are: Turoni's, Three Floyds, Mad Anthony, Upland, Barley Island, New Albanian, Brugge, Shoreline, Half Moon, Power House, Crown and Great Crescent. LaPorte-based Back Road is in its 17th year as a production brewery serving northwest Indiana with their original seven-barrel brewhouse.

Moving out of the comfort zone garnered nationwide attention for Three Floyd's with an impeccable Russian Imperial Stout, Dark Lord — sold once a year on "Dark Lord Day." Upland made the national press with a brazen venture into sour brews.

click to enlarge American Brewing letterhead - COURTESY BOB OSTRANDER
  • American Brewing letterhead
  • Courtesy Bob Ostrander

Then everything changed in 2009 when Indy's Sun King opened as a production brewery with a modest five-year business plan that exploded when their initial line-up of approachable brews engaged a new generation of drinkers. Their mantra — fresh and local — doesn't preclude them from building partnerships with breweries nationwide. As Sun King became the first in Indiana to can beer and to interconnect through social media, Indiana's brewing paradigm changed. The class of 2009 reflects Sun King's leadership in differentiating yourself from the norm; witness Big Woods morphing into Quaff On! with a dark beer as its customer favorite and People's direct challenge to the 99 percent of Hoosiers who still imbibe the macro-products: "Our belief is that 'Everyone likes a craft beer... they just don't know it.'"

  • Courtesy Upland Brewing

Into its second decade, Indiana as a craft beer destination place brims with wit; witness Figure Eight engaging rock climbers (the brewery's named after a knot used in the sport), New Boswell's jaunty return to historic Richmond, Bier's nano-brewery model, and Flat 12's audacious outreach and comic labeling. Now that brewers have sprung up everywhere from tiny towns to city neighborhoods, the question on minds of drinkers and brewers alike is, "Are we saturated?" No, we're simply returning to our past heritage.

New models keep emerging. Books & Brews is a thriving anomaly, as are Chilly Water's music theme and TwoDeep's classy sitting room aura designed for sipping and conversation, while Scarlet Lane quips book titles into come-ons and18th Street has turned Gary into a beer-lover's destination. New Albanian serves pints at the site of a former Women's Christian Temperance Union headquarters. And on the bar stools are the homebrewers, pushing the envelope and pointing out anything less than best.

Since 2011 some 50-plus production breweries and brewpubs have opened. There's no way to keep current in print. One must visit the Brewers of Indiana Guild website, brewersofindianaguild.com, to be in the moment.

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About The Author

Rita Kohn

Rita Kohn

Rita Kohn has been covering craft beer and the arts for NUVO for two decades. She’s the author of True Brew: A Guide to Craft Beer in Indiana.

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