Flat 12 Bierwerks located in Indianapolis, Indiana
I had been enjoying Pogues Porter and a few other beers from Flat 12 Bierwerks since last fall. I discovered them on one of my many business trips through Indianapolis. So I was a bit apprehensive when Flat 12 Bierwerks invited me over for a visit. Would they open their doors and be friendly? My fears evaporated as soon as I called their phone number, with my car parked nearby on the street. A guy named “EZ” from the back of the brewery had picked up the phone. I told him who I was and that I had an appointment “hey cool, come on in” was his response. It doesn’t get much more midwestern friendly than that.
I was immediately introduced to Sean Lewis the head brewer. He had a journey to beer that started with an education in radiology and happened to coincide with homebrewing. He then joined the team at Flat 12 by working for free and earning his stripes by cleaning, organizing and doing what I imagine no one else wanted to do. His skills as a home brewer had to help his pedigree, as he soon became head brewer. I learned that Sean has a penchant for pushing the beer limits and drives cutting edge innovation in a very matter of fact way.
Sean had a beer in his hand when I walked in the door and it wasn’t long before he handed me a sample of something called The Bricks. A Red IPA with lactose sugar. Wait, what? Lactose sugar in a Red IPA? I told him I was a “hophead” before he gave me anything and Sean knew I would like this beer. I did, it was delicious. But lactose in an IPA? Sean explained that his inspiration was the milk drunk after an Indy race by the drivers…. Palm slap on my forehead – of course.
Then things got really interesting.
We walked into the cold room where the barrels are stored. It’s a happy place full of bourbon barrels with names imprinted on the them that match the bourbon bottles in my bar. I didn’t want to leave this happy room and would still be in there frankly if hadn’t been so freaking cold. Sean educated me as best he could on how he performs barrel management. Barrels that have never had beer in them can season a beer relatively quickly, in a few months. On the second pass it may take 6 months. In the warmer months he brings the barrels out of the cooler to allow the wood to interact better with the beer. He had barrels from bourbon distillers but also had been experimenting with mead, wine and tequila barrels. I had walked into some sort of beer R&D lab.
Factoid: Sean admires the Jolly Pumpkin brewery in Ann Arbor MI and marks it as one of his favorites.
Turns out that certain types of barrels are used to match certain types of beer. A few of samples of beer were handed to me that had been aged in mead (raspberry), tequila and wine barrels for 3-6 months. It was interesting to learn that barrel aging adds one ABV point (1%) to the beer as the liquid evaporates out of the wood. I tasted all of the beers given to me and tried my best to recognize all of the complex flavor notes. The Flat 12 barrel aged beers that Sean let me try will long be remembered as some of the most as complex and heavenly beers . How many layers of complexity can I even comprehend? Sean had even given me a comparison beer to compare barrel aged vs. no barrel. The difference was astonishing, Just between you and me Sean, when you bottle that stuff call me. Let everyone else line up for the flavor of the month craft beer, I’m getting these beers.
Sean mentioned a neat project that was in the works with another local brewery. The “competing” brewery made a beer and was aging it. Flat 12 would then brew the same recipe age it and the two breweries would mix their respective products to make one marketable beer. I marveled at this. Breweries working together. I really hope the craft beer industry remains this supportive as the years pass. In my heart I know it will, especially for the independents.
Factoid: Flat 12 recognizes different people have a stronger sense of beer notes than others. New batches are given to a select number of employees at the brewery known for their ability to detect these aromas and flavors.
Rant: I’ve talked about this many times before, but it is brewers like Sean from independent breweries that will keep our craft beer industry alive. Not every new beer is a homerun and they know this but they have the courage and drive to keep trying and innovating. That kind of passion and risk taking does not exist in a corporate owned brewery. Corporations tend to be risk averse. That said, I’m not worried about the Budweiser corporate mergers that continue to hit the news. We simply have too many beer entrepreneurs and pioneers that continue to emerge onto the market.
When Sean walked out briefly to gather some samples I had a chance to talk to the rest of his team. I met “EZ” a brewer himself that lives close enough to bike to work. He was the guy I talked to on the phone. Like the rest of the members of the team he has worked there for a number of years and loves his job.
As we walked through the back of the brewery I saw Sean and his team interact. They supported each other, goofed on each other and had fun together. It was evident that they have positive team culture at Flat 12. The environment felt genuine and heck, I wanted to be on the team. Suddenly, a worker came up from behind and gave me a friendly back slap, Now I was on the team! I like this place and that is precisely what I want my brewer/brewery to be.
On my way out I grabbed a hoagie (sub sandwich). Made the old way with oil dressing and seasoning, I highly recommend it. I also grabbed a six pack of their Lacto-matic and wish I bought a case. Rich and flavorful without being over the top, perfect for a warm spring day….or summer when I hope to get back to this brewery.