Is Indy Really A Craft-Beer Boomtown?
If you’re the sort of person who enjoys a cold beer and keeps track of all the great breweries opening in Indy lately (guilty), you’d swear our craft-beer boom was reaching a frothy head. At the end of 2013, Hoosier imbibers could bend an elbow at 63 craft breweries from Bloomington to Gary (22 in Indianapolis alone)—about 1.4 breweries per 100,000 adults, according to the latest data available from the Brewers Association, a Colorado-based trade group for microbreweries. Visit the association’s list of breweries, and you’ll find five more “Breweries in Planning” in Indy.
But is the city really the craft-beer destination we’ve hopped it up to be? According to Bart Watson, the association’s staff economist, Indianapolis—and really, the entire state of Indiana—is just a bit player. “Every state has its special characteristic, but this is a national movement,” Watson says. “The localization of production is happening all over the country.”
Indiana’s 63 breweries in 2013 ranked us a modest 20th nationwide for a total number, and we were a middling 14th for our craft breweries per capita—not bad, but not as dominant as we might think. Meanwhile, neighboring Illinois had 83 craft breweries, ranking 11th nationwide. And while we soundly beat out Kentucky (15 breweries, 39th), Michigan had us over a barrel with 131 (5th).
But surely, with Hoosier breweries popping up at a rate faster than we can visit them (at press time, the number was almost 100), Indiana’s growth rate must earn it some street cred, right? Wrong: Alabama, North Dakota, and West Virginia grew fastest over the last year, according to the association.
Even so, many locals have wondered how many more of these places we can sustain. Plenty, Watson says. In June, he surmised, the nation’s 3,000th craft brewery opened somewhere in America. By comparison, there are roughly 8,000 wineries nationwide. For him, having that many craft breweries across the U.S. is entirely plausible. “We consume more beer than wine,” he says.
Skip DuVall, owner of Chilly Water Brewing Company—which just opened in Fletcher Place in June and isn’t even the city’s newest brewery—bets that Indy isn’t close to reaching the saturation point. “Indianapolis is bigger than Portland, Oregon,” DuVall says. “They have an ungodly amount of breweries, and most of them are succeeding.”
The real question is whether Indy’s breweries will make the cut when it comes to quality. On that point, DuVall isn’t so certain. Out of 252 medal-winners at the Great American Beer Festival last year, only four were from Indiana. “Every brewer will tell you: The beer’s got to be right,” he says. “It’s got to be clean and balanced. A lot of guys right now are coming out of homebrewing into a commercial setting, and it’s not the same. There’s a big difference.”