Something’s brewing in Bartholomew County. And it tastes of barley, wheat and hops.
Hawcreek Brewing Co. recently opened just north of Hope, the fourth microbrewery in the county — and the third that opened here this year.
With four microbreweries — Hawcreek, Powerhouse Brewing Co., Zwanzigz, and 450 North Brewery — the county already has more breweries than any of Indiana’s other 92 counties — except Marion. And at least one more brewery in Columbus is in the works.
The local mushrooming of microbreweries serves as a microcosm of a national trend. The past five years have fermented a national brewery surge that might even make Al Capone blush.
The number of American breweries spiked from about 200 in 1990 to more than 1,500 by the decade’s end. In the first five years of the new millennium, the number of breweries declined slightly before rapidly growing again in the past few years.
This summer, the nation boasted 2,126 breweries, according to the Brewers Association, a trade group. That’s a year-to-year growth of 350 breweries, or 19.7 percent.
And in 2011, when America’s overall beer production fell 1.3 percent, craft brewers saw their volume rise 13 percent.
“Beer-passionate Americans are opening breweries at a rate faster than at any time since the day Prohibition ended,” Paul Gatza, the Brewers Association’s director, said in a report about the state of beer in America.
Columbus Bar’s Powerhouse Brewing Co. was first to the local tap, launching locally made brews in 2007, including the White River Brown Ale, Jack the Bum Pale Ale and the Diesel Stout, “dedicated to the hard working men and women of Cummins,” according to the brewery’s website.
Early this year, Zwanzigz Pizza doubled the seating capacity of its restaurant and added a brewery. Simmons Winery recently opened 450 North Brewing Co. and a restaurant offering everything from appetizers to sandwiches, pasta and brick-oven pizza.
And four business partners in Hope just opened Hawcreek Brewing Co. The county’s newest brewery is open primarily weekends. Hours typically are posted via Facebook and Twitter, said co-owner Jacquie Carman.
Hawcreek typically produces 32 or 64 gallons per weekend, Carman said, and customers can pick up the brew, including a wheat, pale ale, IPA (India pale ale) and brown ale, in 22-ounce bottles or 64-ounce growlers.
Carman and Kurt Zwanzig, co-owner of Zwanzigz, said they believe the local popularity of beer brewing is a result, in part, of the popularity of home brewing and the brewing process’s nerd factor.
“Craft brewing is a blend of creativity, science and art,” Zwanzig said via email.
“The number of styles of beer, the types of hops, the brands of grain and the strains of yeast are growing and improving all the time,” he said. “This provides the home brewer with almost infinite opportunities to experiment and innovate.”
Carman, a full-time IUPUC student who also owns a photography business, said the local brewing popularity makes sense “when you consider the science and engineering behind the making of craft beer.
“From creating and engineering a home brew or larger brewing system, to crafting the flavor notes, desired color and other characteristics in a beer, it seems that the entire process is all about science and formulas,” she said.
People with an interest in brewing typically share a desire for learning, for the application of science and for well-crafted beer from a local source, Carman said.
Lee Smith, executive director of the Brewers of Indiana Guild, said south-central Indiana is emerging as a craft beer region.
A cluster of breweries, much like a cluster of wineries, can bring additional tourists to an area.
From breweries in Bloomington, to Big Woods in Nashville, to the three breweries in Columbus and Hawcreek in Hope, the region is just right for a beer trail, Smith said.
“Wouldn’t that be a lovely way to spend a weekend, meandering through these breweries?” she asked.
Zwanzig said his brewery has offered more than 20 beer styles, including a recent pumpkin ale that patrons garnished with spices and whipped cream. A red amber ale, Reindeer Red, will be offered soon. A Belgian Tripel also is in the works.
Zwanzig also recently bought a bottling and labeling machine and soon will be able to deliver six packs in addition to pizza and growlers. Zwanzig said he expects the brews soon will be sold at regional retailers.
If that happens, Zwanzig said, the brewery will reach capacity, and he and his wife, Lisa, will consider expanding.
While Zwanzig said some microbreweries will not live beyond their novelty stage, today’s ale aficionados have more choices than ever.
“Things couldn’t be better for the craft beer consumer,” Zwanzig said. “The local retail liquor establishments and even some supermarkets are carrying increasing numbers of beers from craft breweries all over the world. Local bars and restaurants are also offering more craft beer choices.
“Now people in the Columbus area, both residents and visitors, can enjoy beer crafted right here in our area.”
Chef Daniel Orr has proposed opening another brewery in Columbus at the location of the former Columbus Pump House and later the Bartholomew County Senior Center, 148 Lindsey St.