Fort Wayne was once home to several small breweries, but they dwindled away until only one was left. Now, as craft beer becomes increasingly popular nationwide, more microbreweries are popping up in the area.
This week’s segment of NorthEATS Indiana is about the new microbreweries set to open in Fort Wayne.
Like many microbrewers, Mark Burton’s path to making craft beer started with a home brewing kit.
"Without my mother-in-law, without Valerie buying that Christmas gift for me years ago, I would have never have started homebrewing most likely,” Burton said.
Burton is opening Olde School Brauhaus in Fort Wayne and he hopes to be in business by the end of the year.
But what is a craft beer?
“Depending on who you ask, it will be different every time. And there is no legal definition for craft beer,” says Neil Davey, a spokesman for Mad Anthony’s.
Mark Burton has more of a dictionary definition.
"What craft beer is just a beer that is made in the style of the brewer's choice, so it's basically their craft,” Burton said.
Most people see craft beer as synonymous with a microbrewery, although technically a microbrewery could be making something other than craft beer. Some macrobrewers, like Anheuser-Busch, have started making more craft-style beers.
Microbreweries must meet certain criteria determined by state laws. Indiana changed the requirements for microbreweries this year, and increased the maximum number of barrels a microbrewery can make in the state from 30,000 to 90,000. A barrel is 31 gallons, so that means a microbrewery can now make about 1.8 million more gallons a year.
For comparison, Mad Anthony’s brews two thousand barrels, according to Davey.
Davey says microbrewing is becoming more popular because people want local products, and microbrewers know the flavors their customers want.
“It’s really great that you get that, sort of, feedback firsthand, instead of… making up what you think the customer will want, you’re actually there, actively trying to make a difference,” he said.
Currently there are two microbreweries in Fort Wayne that have permanent locations: Mad Anthony's Brewing Company and Summit City Brewerks.
There’s also Chapman's in Angola, and Birdboy Brewing Company, which distributes to some locations in Fort Wayne.
In the next year, Fort Wayne will see an increase in the number of microbreweries in the area.
Trubble Brewing will be on Broadway and Olde School is opening on Harrison. Two others, Junk Ditch and G & G Brewing Companies, also have plans to open permanent locations in the coming year.
That might seem like a lot of breweries opening at one time, but Burton says it's nowhere near what a city of Fort Wayne's size can handle.
"I hope within the next 10 years that there's 20 or 30 microbreweries in Fort Wayne because we really could put Fort Wayne on the map,” Burton said.
Competition doesn’t appear to be an issue for these brewers. Burton says he's gotten help from other microbreweries in Fort Wayne, and he’s trying to help others start their businesses as well.
"It's great that all of us get along so well,” he said. “We're almost like a band of brothers. None of us are considering each other the competition. The more the merrier."
Tiffany Pryor is a spokeswoman for Mad Anthony's, which at one point was the only brewery in Fort Wayne. She says there's no concern about other breweries stealing customers because each beer is unique.
"With craft beer, everyone brings their own voice and perspective to it,” Pryor. “No brewer's going to brew something exactly the same way, so everyone has their own flair and it's really going to appeal to different people."
Will Long is a co-owner of Summit City Brewerks, and he says a lot of his customers have never had a craft beer. He hopes that when a person tries one, they'll want to try others.
"I'd say on an average night, probably at least half of our customers are there for the first time and when I talk to them, they're all people that are usually somewhat new to craft beer,” Long said. “It's almost like a new cultural experience."
Although there are several new microbreweries coming to town, brewing isn’t new to Fort Wayne. Berghoff Brewing, now located in Chicago, started in Fort Wayne in the 1800s. Mark Burton says it was the city's German ancestry that brought craft beer to Northeast Indiana in the first place.
"When we had people that came to Fort Wayne and founded this city, there was a huge (influx) of Germans, and within that there were enough of them that brought the heritage of their family ancestry for making great beer,” Burton said.
The name of his brewery, Olde School Brauhaus, is spelled in the classic German way, to pay homage to the city's history.
Burton also says other local breweries closed during Prohibition, or began making other goods.
A couple of other brewing operations have come and gone in recent years. The Oyster Bar brewed for a few years until 2004. Warbird closed in 2009 after operating for five years. But these closures don’t discourage microbrewers like Burton from opening their doors.
"We're right now as far as Fort Wayne is concerned barely breaking the bubble on being able to have enough for the demand that is out there,” he said.
Fort Wayne brewers are also optimistic these establishments will attract tourists to the area who are looking to try some local flavor in the golden age of craft beer.