Tin Man Brewing Co.

Brick & Mortar by | May 2013 | Issue #76

Passion comes in different packages. In Nick Davidson’s case, the package is made of tin, steel and circuitry. “Growing up as a kid, I was super into robots,” he says. “All the toys I had were robots, and if anybody ever got me a gift, it was a robot.”

Logic might dictate that Davidson, 33, would grow up to study robotics. Instead, in November 2012, he opened a brewery in his native Evansville, Ind. But he didn’t leave his beloved robots out of the equation. Tin Man Brewing Company, named after one of Davidson’s first toy robots, occupies a three-story, gray-painted brick building in the historic Lamasco neighborhood.

Originally built in the late 1800s as a boarding house with a first-floor tavern to quench the thirst of locals, boarders and workers from the nearby train depot, the 20,000-square-foot building has gone through various owners and uses—a used furniture store and a printing company among them. Davidson says that according to a local he chatted with in the bar, it was once a liquor store owned by Evansville’s police chief at the time.

After Davidson decided to open Tin Man, he contracted local graphic designer Matt Wagner to help develop the branding and the interior design of the tasting room. “When Nick acquired the building, we went down and looked at it. It basically was a total gut job,” Wagner says. “But when you walked into this historic building, you could feel the history in it. You could sense all the people that had been in the building.”

The wood flooring on the first story was in poor shape, Davidson says, and had to be torn out. But a use was found for it. “We ended up building all the tables out of the wood,” he says. “The tables, technically, are over 100 years old even though we just built them.”

But what about the robots? Well, there is one.

A local artist, Corey Krietenstein, was commissioned to build it. Standing at 6 feet, 7 inches tall, the titular Tin Man comes with bendable arms, flashing eyes and “batteries” made from Tin Man cans. Picture a steampunk “Bender” from the animated series Futurama, and you’ll be close.

“The robot’s in there, and people like to have their picture taken with it.” Wagner says. “Nick and his staff have a lot of fun with him. When you come in, he’s always posed a different way. His arms move and his fingers move. They put things in his hand or they have him pose a certain way. So it kind of changes up the space a little bit.”

The robot theme more subtly permeates the tasting room. It was specifically conceived to impart more of a sense of it being the “workshop of a mad scientist,” Davidson says, where robots are cobbled together. “We wanted to stay away from making it like a ‘Robot Disneyland,’” he says. “We didn’t want that feel. We wanted something a little more complex and more industrial.”

To that end, the bar’s façade comprises a patchwork of old steel patches riveted together. The silhouettes on the restroom doors depict robots of the appropriate gender.

The brews bear names of robot components: Circuit Bohemian Pilsner, Rivet Irish Red, 3 Gear Robust Porter and so on. Similarly, the six fermenting tanks in the brewery where head brewer Sean O’Rear tinkers are named after famous robots such as Bender, Wall-E and Maria, the automaton from the classic 1927 German film Metropolis.

Tin Man distributes its beer on draft and in cans only in Evansville, for now. Davidson says he feels at home in the brewery, where he can interact with his customers. “Evansville is not a city like Indianapolis, where craft beer’s really taken off, so we had do a little bit of educating,” he says. “There aren’t as many craft beer sites here.” 

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