The idea of a farmhouse brewery often conjures up thoughts of rustic ales, spontaneously fermented concoctions, and tranquil yet complex recipes that force the drinker to slow down a bit and consider what’s in the glass and beer’s place in the world. However, this is 2019, and the old rules of beer no longer apply.
“The way that we’ve built our brand in the past few years has led us to being sought out by traders,” says McKinley Minniefield, director of sales and general jack-of-many-trades for 450 North Brewing Company (Columbus, Indiana). “They are an important part of where we see ourselves in the future. My personal belief is that is where the industry is going. The three-tiered system has pigeon-holed some craft brewers, and I think trading is sticking it to The Man and lets people do the beer promotion for us. Of course, we need to keep making a quality product so that people want to keep drinking it.”
First Came Wine
David and Brenda Simmons own a farm in Columbus where the family spent generations growing produce such as sweet corn and peppers. They also grew culinary grapes, but on visits to local farmers markets, David Simmons noticed that the grapes didn’t sell quite as well as the other items, so he started making wine.
“Simmons Winery took off in the area and became a staple of the local wine community. As the Simmons children grew and started to play a bigger part in the family business, they added a brewery, taproom, and restaurant about 6 years ago,” says Minniefield. The family winery is still popular and attracts wine lovers from across the region. Likewise, the 20-tap taproom has become a destination for good beer, pizza, and fresh growler fills.
The Shift to Hazy
About 2 years ago, 450 North released their first hazy IPA. Being flexible with brewhouse schedules, they were able to start experimenting and adding new releases to their taproom menu.
“Hazy IPAs weren’t a big thing that a lot of breweries were doing in the area at the time, so being an early adopter helped us. After we did our first big release in April 2016, things just blew up for us,” says Minniefield.
A rebranding brought a new level of cache to the brewery. They updated from a traditional beer label–look to a modern, cutting-edge art and in-cans vibe. Minniefield says the brewery has been able to get into new locations with their core hazy lineup, which includes Fountain of Juice and 450 Nugs. As people have become more acquainted with their hazy IPAs, they’ve ventured out to the brewery for the rare releases of triple and imperial IPAs, which typically feature less commonly used hops, such as Vic Secret, or experimental varieties.
Some drinkers, even the most savvy of haze, are polarized by such “big” IPAs, says Assistant Brewer Brian Pine (a former homebrewer). Working at 450 North is his first professional brewing job, and he’s been getting a lesson in consumer palates. If Heady Topper encourages customers to “drink fresh,” Pine is more of the “drink fresh, if you want” school of thought when it comes to their big, boozy IPAs.
“Some people like them fresh and as hops-forward as possible and are opening them immediately,” he says. “Others like to let them sit for 2 weeks, or even 4 weeks to mellow out some of those characteristics. The beer can do both.”
With the move to hazy, the brewery hasn’t lost all sight of its roots. The core beers—the ones such as Copperhead Amber Ale, Scarecrow IPA, Honey Kölsch, and Ironman English Ale that kicked off the brewery lineup—are still available in the taproom. Their can labels have a new look that is different from the more artistic new-generation IPA cans. But the beers are still classic and appeal to new-to-craft customers with approachable, relatable flavors.
Pine has made “some tweaks and adjustments” to the recipes since joining the brewery 2 years ago and says that he enjoys the flexibility of jumping back and forth between classic styles and the hazy IPAs.
“In both cases, it’s the same. I start with the end result in mind and work backward with the ingredients and processes I need to get to where I want the beer to be.” One such recipe that Pine tweaked in 2018 was the recipe for one of the first hazy IPAs released, 420 Juice—it was hopped with Galaxy, Citra, and Mosaic.
On release days, traders and enthusiasts line up early, and 450 North tries to roll out the red carpet, says Minniefield. Special releases are usually limited to twice a month, but even on the other days when folks show up, it’s not uncommon for brewery staff to open something special from personal stashes for travelers who have come a distance.
But, it’s on the official release days that the whole place turns into a bottle share that then goes into an extended lunch at the pub, where pizzas are the house specialty. “We encourage beer trading here, and sharing as well,” says Minniefield. “It’s why we’re here early. Folks usually line up hours before a release; we provide them with coffee and water.”
A New Place
Based on the success of the IPAs, the brewery is building a new brewery and restaurant on the family property, further cementing its place as a destination brewery, not just for locals but for beer travelers as well.
“The original focus was to just supply beer in our taproom and never leave the premises,” says Minniefield (they now distribute throughout Indiana and into parts of Tennessee). But based on the recent success of their IPAs, the brewery is getting ready to double in size. They will soon be replacing the original 10-barrel brewery with a 20-barrrel three-vessel system and putting in several 40-barrel fermentors that will join the existing 20-barrel and 10-barrel fermentors and bright tanks already in service.
And for Pine, it means getting deeper into the professional realm, now that he’s worked out some of the kinks from the transition from homebrewing.
“In terms of recipe development, that’s really been the biggest shock,” he says. “Things don’t scale up linearly when you use the brewing software that’s out there. A lot of it doesn’t handle recipes in the way we’re using hops today.”
Festivals Far and Near
That their beers are being included in trades around the country has only led to an increased cache for the brewery. They’ll be at Cigar City’s Hunahpu Day in March and at some other invite-only festivals. They are hoping the exposure will bring more people to their annual Corn Maze Beer Fest, held each October inside a corn maze. As attendees make their way through the field, they arrive in crop circles, now called hops circles, where breweries are pouring beer. 450 North has been hosting this for several years and last year sold 5,000 tickets. As a bonus, each attendee walked away with a mixed 4-pack of beer.
“We’re at a really cool point right now, looking forward to the future and sharing good beer with a lot of people in a lot of places but hoping they come visit us as well to see what we’re all about.”