"I can see sometime over the next ten years where the Midwest will define the character of beer." I'm standing in a corner drinking an IPA with Aaron Koerner — the head brewer of the soon-to-open Metazoa Brewing Company — and his team when he says this. He's soft-spoken and seems nervous, his eyes dart around at the commotion going on in the brewery (which is still under construction). It's hard to believe he's the mastermind behind all of this, and yet, he has an astute confidence when talking about beer and brewing.
He should be confident, considering his history in brewing. He started working at Oaken Barrel in Greenwood at the ripe old age of twenty, before heading to Oregon to work with Fearless Brewing Co. and then Bunsen Brewer. He also received his certification from the Siebel Institute in Chicago in 2010. He's been busy learning and perfecting his craft and now, with Metazoa, he has an outlet to share it with the people of his hometown.
Metazoa was the brainchild of beer lovers Dave Worthington and Rand Wilson, co-owners of the Brewery Tours of Indianapolis. They had the business acumen and a desire to be deeply involved in the craft brewery community of Indianapolis, but lacked the technical skills. They needed a brewer. Meanwhile, across the country, Koerner was feeling stifled in his current position.
"I was in Oregon and I saw this opportunity available ... that area (Northwestern U.S.) is so full of hop heads and all [the) beer, even pilsners are incredibly hoppy and I was ready to do other flavors. Things were winding down, so I jumped at the opportunity." Koerner came home and with his two assistant brewers, Tori Luksha and Zack Holzknecht, began experimenting and creating brews out of three ten-gallon steel vats.
A huge draw for Koerner to Metazoa was the opportunity to be innovative. "I get to make whatever I want ... I have to think about how it will sell and stuff, but that's very secondary information ... the variety of offerings (they have 36 taps, including 8 nitro, and 4 cask ale beer-engines) will help us out a lot. People will come in to see what we have that is new, and we will always have our staples like Kinkajou (a honey weiss) and Frangipana (a Midwest IPA), but we will have one-offs and once those kegs are blown they're gone." This freedom would be exciting for any creative minded brewer and the team at Metazoa is undoubtedly creative.
Clad in a pair of black nitrile gloves, Luksha, who's been working on a fermenting batch since I arrived, explains their creative mentality. "We kind of have a balance," she says, looking up from the vat she is stirring with a mash paddle. "Our balance is between extremely traditional beers," she begins, before Koerner interrupts to show his agreement. "Like the Irish red," he comments, "it's about as traditional as it gets." Luksha laughs and finishes her thought, "to the extremely experimental."
Their unconventional beers so far have been pretty phenomenal, and each brewer brings their distinct flavor to the table. Assistant brewer Zack Holzknecht, for example, has no problem diving into his love for saisons. “We should have a saison uprising,” he declares, with much approval from some others in the room. If you stop by Open Society — coming soon to the corner of 49th Street and College Avenue — you will get to taste the specialty saison Metazoa is creating for the restaurant. If you made it to The Brewers of Indiana Guilds' Winterfest this year, hopefully you opted to sample Tori's creation (the one I'm particularly sad I didn't get to try) a cask-conditioned smoked kolsch, which speaks to my heart and soul. But their creativity extends further than just mixing ingredients together, as shown by their unique use of equipment.
The space that they have been allotted — a large, industrial, open-concept building on the corner of College Avenue and Georgia Street — has plenty of space for them to brew in their classic ten barrel tanks; but it also allows for the inclusion of a special system, which they plan to utilize for what they call the "series batch." Koerner explains it as, "Our system allows us to create a nine barrel batch and then break it down into three separate, three barrel tanks. Say we make a stout, separate it into the three tanks and then add three different styles of coffee. So, they're all similar and come from the same base, but they will be able to have distinct flavor profiles ... I like the idea, so we can teach people how minor differences can affect the flavor in major ways."
Metazoa — in case you were wondering — is another word for the animal kingdom, and the animal kingdom is a major focus of this budding brewery. President of the company, Dave Worthington, and his family, has always given personal funds to charitable wildlife organizations. But, he realized that he was limited by his fiscal situation and he wanted to make a greater impact. So, as he and his general manager — Rand Wilson — conceptualized owning their own brewery, Dave made a decision to use their business venture as a way to mesh two of his passions into one.
Metazoa Brewing Company will be donating five percent of its sales to charitable wildlife organizations, something that sets them apart from any other local brewery. Katie Breden, the company's communications coordinator tells me, the company chose twelve different organizations, eight of which are local to Indiana. She started out as an intern and will be staying on full-time when she graduates from Butler University in May. They will be donating to an array of different organizations from the Planet Bee Foundation, to the Humane Society of Indianapolis, and the Exotic Feline Rescue Center in Center Point, Indiana. She points out it was a huge draw for her to work at Metazoa. Being a vegan and a lover animals, she was excited to be part of a company that helps out wildlife. It also called to the beer-lover in her as well.
Not only will Metazoa be friendly to animals through donations, but while you catch up with old and new friends over a pint of Release the Monkeys (a fan favorite banana kolsch) and grab some grub from one of the food trucks that will be making their rounds at the brewery; your faithful pooch can join you and have a drink of water and maybe some treats.
If you plan, like I do, on being a regular; make sure and join the mug club. For $50, you'll receive discounts, attend special events, and get your own personal mug that will hang out behind the bar, waiting for your arrival. Katie explains this to me at the bar — it still has cardboard across the top for the time being — as I'm double-fisting a Red Devilicious and their cream ale, Nap In The Hammock. She then motions to the large, glass garage doors that will be open during the warmer months. I'm listening, but I'm still focused on one of the dozens of construction workers up on the bar applying a fresh coat of stain to the mug club shelving area. I look around the place, and maybe it's the beer getting to my head, but I can't help but think about what Aaron said.
The Midwest will define the character of beer (hell, we define the character of this country). It's amazing to look around and see the seemingly erratic action going on, and to think of all the ideas and human hands working in unison in this one building to create something that will bring people together. It's a great concept: Metazoa as a place that will be full of friends, not-too-long strangers, laughter, cheers, man's best friend, and at the center of it all, good beer made by good people. The fact that it will help the animal kingdom is just an added bonus.
Metazoa Brewing Company will have the grand opening on April 1. (I promise it's not an April Fools' joke.) For more information, head to Metazoa.beer.