Even in the midst of the craft beer boom, it’s still easy to separate the suits from the brewers. The guys behind Indianapolis’ Bier Brewery are brewers—a little rough around the edges and fiercely independent—and, surprise: They don’t care who knows it. “We just had an article printed in the Indianapolis Star, which is our paper out here, and the headline was ‘Bier Brewery Does It Their Own Way,’” says Corbin Elliott, Bier Brewery’s brewer and director of sales. “That’s basically our way of saying we are going wherever the Bier takes us.”
Their Way, Not the Easy Way
Darren Connor’s interest in brewing stemmed from a desire for beer before others would sell it to him. “In college, everyone was buying fake IDs,” he says. “I had the bright idea to get a homebrew kit because those fake IDs were going to get taken eventually.”
But what was once a youthful folly transformed into a full-blown passion. Connor continued to brew at home and eventually became a manager at a nearby homebrew supply store. As Connor’s interest in beer grew, it became clear that the Indianapolis beer scene was ready to flourish in the same way it was in other metropolitan areas around the country. Connor was not the type to follow anyone, so he decided he would blaze his own trail while there was still a trail to be blazed.
“I just got sick of the choices of beer in Indianapolis, and I thought, You know what, I think we can do this,” Connor says. “And if we don’t do it now we’ll be on the back of the train. I wanted to be on the front of the train, because I knew it would explode—the beer scene here in Indy.”
Connor and his father, Jerry, opened the brewery in the fall of 2010 with around a quarter of a million dollars. While the money represented a significant personal investment on the parts of both men, it also meant Bier Brewery was not beholden to banks or investors demanding profits. Not surprisingly, it’s been a constant and demanding labor of love. “I’ve worked 80-hour weeks for the past three years,” says Connor. “My wife doesn’t like it much, but we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to get it done.”
As You Like It
When Connor founded Bier Brewery in November of 2010, he did so on little more than a glorified homebrew system: a 55-gallon setup that quickly revealed itself as inadequate. Luckily, Connor was friends with John Blichmann, the founder of the eponymous homebrew supply company. “I’ve known Blichmann for probably 10 years or so,” Connor says. “I kept bitching at him that, Dude, we need to make more with what we’ve got, so figure it out for us. He came up with these kettle extensions that allowed us to go from 40-gallon batches to 80-gallon batches.”
But even with the Frankenstein kettles and mash tuns that nearly doubled Bier Brewery’s production, it was still a struggle to meet demand. Just about everything brewed on the system was headed out the door of Bier’s northeastern Indianapolis location. “For the first year, our sales were only centered in the taproom itself,” says Elliott. “We would brew anywhere between eight and 10 times a week just to keep up with demand. All that beer that was brewed would be sold in the taproom with free samples and growler sales.”
Once again, it was time to upgrade. Connor took a peek at the market for used brewhouses, but the reality of operating a startup brewery on a limited budget meant that the standard route of purchasing a new or used brewhouse from a traditional manufacturer wasn’t really an option. When Connor saw the prices advertised for used brewhouses, his response was simple: “Fuck that.”
Instead, he found brewing equipment where others saw only scrap. “I basically found some old barbecue-sauce mixing tanks, and I was looking at them and said, Why the hell can’t we turn this into a brewery?” Connor recalls. With the help of a local welder, Connor turned those tanks into an 8-barrel brewhouse that currently serves as Bier Brewery’s main production equipment, while the smaller system is constantly in use as well.
Brewing To Their Own Style
In certain ways, Connor is a traditionalist. The beers he brews are generally recognizable as strong examples of a particular style. On the other hand, Connor loathes doing things the same way as everybody else—so even though Bier Brewery will roll out a series of Pale Ales or a traditional Hefeweizen, they will still find a way to defy absolute categorization.
“I really don’t like the word ‘flagship,’” says Connor. “We have four Pale Ale recipes, but we always rotate them. You’re going to see one of those four. We have six IPA recipes, and they usually rotate. We’re not brewing one thing all the time. The ones that sell more like Pales—we’ve got a Hefe called Weizengoot—we’ll rotate those in on the 8-barrel system as needed.”
The result is an ever-modified chalkboard in Bier’s taproom. Connor says that the list of beer available on-site, which is where the majority of Bier Brewery’s beer is sold, has never been the same for more than two weeks at a time.
Bier Brewery’s brewhouses, both the 8-barrel system and the modified Blichmann system, are active to the tune of 25 barrels a week—barely enough to meet demand. Although Bier Brewery has put in approximately 900 batches on its small system alone in nearly three years of operation, “there’s definitely a rhyme to the reason as far as what we’re brewing,” says Elliott. “The biggest factor in that is which yeast strains we are running at a time. We usually try to run anywhere from eight to 11 yeast strains at a time, depending on the year.”
Connor and Elliott might have a low tolerance for bullshit, but so do beer advocates, and according to them, Bier Brewery is the real deal.
8-bbl system crafted from old barbecue-sauce mixing tanks
80-gallon system custom-designed by John Blichmann
– Six 42-gallon Blichmann conical fermentors
– Two 85-gallon custom-designed Blichmann conical fermentors
– Two 85-gallon Stout conical fermentors
– Four 4-bbl conical fermentors
What’s On Tap
PDG Pale Ale: Short for “Pretty Damn Good Pale Ale.” 5% ABV
DFG Imperial IPA: Short for “Damn Fucking Good Imperial IPA,” this is PDG’s big brother. 9% ABV
Weizengoot: A traditional German Hefeweizen and a big crowd pleaser. 5.25% ABV
Sanitarium: A GABF-award-winning Belgian Quad released around Thanksgiving or Christmas. 12–13% ABV
What He Said
“Whenever people call that want me to market with them, my question is: How much do you want to pay us? They say, What? and I say, Yeah, dude, we’re doing you a service by being in your magazine. How much do you want to pay us? They usually don’t like that.” —Bier Brewery founder and co-owner Darren Connor ■