Fort Wayne and the surrounding counties have seen a tremendous growth in the interest in local craft beer to suit almost any taste.
Leading the way for 21 years has been Mad Anthony Brewing Company. When they began brewing craft beers more than two decades ago, taking over the restaurant that many continue to refer to as the Munchie Emporium, they were the only game in town.
But now they find themselves sitting among many, and they set the tone for what has been an incredibly congenial business competition.
Granddaddy of them all
“I heard someone refer to it as ‘co-opetition,’” said Josh Volz of Mad Anthony. “We were doing our thing, and then Summit City Brewerks and Trubble popped up a few years ago. There have been a lot of new ones since, and we all talk to each other at some point. We discussed things, and some of them have come to us for help.”
That spirit of cooperation is what led to the Northern Indiana Beer Trail, a paper passport that can be printed and taken to breweries throughout the area for the opportunity to sample and earn modest swag along the way. Even as many of the new breweries have opened, they have found themselves welcomed into the community.
“The craft beer community is very collaborative,” said Tom Carpenter, owner and brewer at 2Toms Brewing which opened in July 2018. “We are trying to win more people over to flavorful beer brewed independent and local. It is important that the community understands the value of locally produced beer.”
“The brewing industry is like a big fraternity,” said Peter Shuey, managing partner of Hoppy Gnome’s brewery Gnometown. “We all work hard at our craft and put so much love in to what we do on a daily basis that that respect for what you do transcends everyone. It’s really cool to hang out with like-minded folks who love what they do and are passionate about crafting great product. Beer, at its core throughout history, is the great common denominator for social gatherings, so that helps, too. But really, it’s that respect for one another and the amount of time and effort we all put in that I think draws us together and makes it easy to ‘help a brother out.’”
Collaboration is the motivation
The collaborative effort is not only between breweries but within them.
Shuey credits brewmaster Mike Flaherty for the beer itself, and while some of the owners are themselves brewers, some have been a means for collaboration between owner and brewers.
For other breweries, there has been a diversification within their own organization. Mad Anthony expanded to include locations in Auburn, Angola, and Warsaw, and also founded the popular barbecue restaurant Shigs In Pit which now has three locations.
Similarly, Junk Ditch Brewing Co., which recently celebrated its third anniversary, has connections to other local establishments.
“Some things that distinguish our restaurant that’s a part of the Affine Hospitality group would be our partnerships,” said Katie Jo Dilling, sales and marketing manager for Junk Ditch Brewing Co. “We share space with the food truck Affine and the bakery GK Baked Goods. This past year we partnered with Country Garden Organic Farm. They grow produce exclusively for us and our sister bakery and food truck. We purchase local as much as we can.
“We host a food truck rally on our lawn on the first and third Tuesday of the month in the summertime. During the event our bar is open for beverages and we host four to five food trucks. This event is family friendly and the community really seems to enjoy it.”
Trending toward family friendly
Summit City Brewerks and Trubble Brewing created the first of the major wave of new breweries, establishing tried-and-true events like Trivia Night while finding their own highlights among their beer and food selections. Both recently became family friendly as well, something that began as a new trend when some of the more recent breweries, like Hop River, were opening up their business to a more all-ages approach from the time they opened in February 2018.
“Hop River Brewing Co. was founded on the idea of using these four basic ingredients to create unique varieties of local, true-to-style, craft beer,” said Mary Corinne “M.C.” Lowenstein, director of marketing at Hop River Brewing. “We offer a traditional, German beerhall-style taproom with rows of communal tables, shelves of board games for all ages, and pinball tables. We have a lively outdoor patio with picnic tables, fire pits, corn hole, and local music most weekends in the summer. We value our welcoming and relaxed family-friendly atmosphere during the day, which transitions into an adult scene playing Jenga in the evenings six days a week.”
Each brewery has established its own ambiance, often finding older buildings in established neighborhoods to create a welcoming environment for their establishment.
“I think what distinguishes ABC from other businesses and breweries in the area is our atmosphere,” said Emma Metcalf who with husband and head brewer Josh own Auburn Brewing Co. “We spent a lot of time making sure the look and feel was just right. We’re located in a 1920s service station, so we wanted to capture that while making it a very comfortable space you can feel like you can just hang out in.
“We have live, local music every Friday and most Saturdays as well as food trucks. We have 13 of our own beers on tap plus a local Conjure Cold Brew and Lunar Infusions Kombucha. Our tap list changes almost weekly. We have indoor and outdoor games for people to play and relax while hanging out and drinking beer. We just renovated our outdoor patio and doubled the size of it.”
Explore the brew trail
In addition to the breweries already mentioned, the list of breweries participating in the Northern Indiana Brew Trail include the following:
- Chapman’s Brewing Co. in Angola, Columbia City, Huntington, and Wabash
- Man Cave Brewing in Syracuse
- Guesswork Brewing in Albion
- LaOtto Brewing
- Birdboy Brewing in Roanoke
- Orthocity Brewery and Steakhouse in Fort Wayne
August brings two new breweries to Fort Wayne with Trubble opening a second location in the new Promenade Park and Fortlandia Brewing opening soon on Spring Street.
Sam Snyder, owner and brewer at Fortlandia, thinks that the current trend toward more breweries reflects the passions of both beer drinkers and brewers in our area.
“I think it is because we recognize the beer drinkers’ desire for variety in beer and venues,” Snyder said. “We want to work together to put on great events and help each other create great beers to make Fort Wayne a beer destination. I think it has exploded because people have, for years, been exploring the different styles available, fueling a thirst for the newest thing, making the beer market a more vibrant and exciting place that is attractive to beer drinkers and brewers alike.”