Sean Manahan has been at the helm of Flat 12's brewing for the last two years. Having cut his teeth at People's brewing in Lafayette, he has seen the Indiana craft brewing scene shift into a commercial staple while fighting to maintain a creative spark.
"There is a point where you need to be producing high quality beer, and we started doing that at Flat 12," says Manahan. "Once you have a high quality product base then you can really, really expand. Most breweries focus on the balance between sweetness and bitter — we definitely do that at Flat 12 — but we also incorporate savory aspects of beer. It has been a nice whirlwind getting in here."
We spoke with him before the brewery's upcoming five-year anniversary party and before some major design changes come to Flat 12.
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NUVO: What are some of the most interesting ingredients you have been able to use at Flat 12?
We do a lot with untraditional brewing ingredients — like we made the dog beer (a brew that is safe for dogs to drink) that was a fun thing to work on. We made a beer using squid ink; cotton candy sugar. Really the sky is the limit. We have a very knowledgable staff here so it is pretty easy to say 'you know I am ready to make a beer with tomatillos, kiwi and mint.' That's on the table, so we all sit around and discuss the best way to get those flavors into a beer that's ultimately going to taste good. It's a challenge for us all.
NUVO: Is this a turning point in any way? What do you have in the pipeline?
We have been established for five years and have seen a lot of things grow in the brewing community as a whole, as well as East side Indy. So for our fifth anniversary, and kind of moving forward, there is a new look to Flat 12. So with growing up and pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps we have to change the look into a more mature kind of look. As far as the beers, it's just staying on the unrelenting path of pushing the limits. A lot of breweries say this — but we really work on this — we really work on brewing beers that we like to drink and we kind of sell what's left. We have a big group of very knowledgeable experienced beer nerds. Our goal is to keep making beers that we enjoy and hopefully everyone else does too.
NUVO: What are some of the major noteworthy changes you have witnessed over the last five years in Indiana's craft brewing scene?
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Indiana's scene, and Indy's scene more specifically, is just exploding. You know when I started brewing (and this was in 2010, so six years ago) when People's opened, there were only 35 breweries in the state. And now we have close to to 35 breweries within biking distance of downtown. So watching the industry grow and growing with the industry, it's nice to see staples like People's, like Flat 12, like Sun King. And now I find myself getting the opportunity to teach new people as they are coming in and opening up breweries. The relationships within the community, it's such a tight group. People before they open a brewery a lot of times they will go brewery to brewery for help and kind of asking for guidance. That has probably been my favorite thing, watching the industry grow. It's kind of like a homecoming, it's like a reunion every time. Watching that develop has been my favorite part of the industry.
NUVO: What is Flat 12 doing that no one else is?
Right now were are bordering two different aspects of craft brewing. We are a commercial production facility, and we have beer being distributed in all of Indiana and surrounding states. We are the big side of things, but we are also small guys if you will. We all came from a home brewing background. We all like the experimental ... we are going to push the limits on experimental beers in small batches. We are bringing out a whole new line of packaging and we are bottling up our barrel age program. We are working through developing our barrels and our sour program. It's a lot of small side projects that keep us interested — and keeps Flat 12 interesting. All the while doing the day to day rigors of commercial brewing.