NUVO caught up with co-owner and head brewer Tyler Hutchison at the 2017 Brewers of Indiana Guild Winterfest:
NUVO: Elm Street Brewing is enlarging the Muncie craft beer scene — what do you especially bring to the mix to make Muncie a destination place as well as a 'local must go to'? What is your brewing specialty/philosophy?
Tyler Hutchison: First off, I'd like to say that we're extremely happy to be a part of the scene in Muncie. There have been many other local establishments that have come before us with great success that showed us that our concept would work here. We, the partners, are Muncie locals that truly love this town and are doing our part to help change the perception of Muncie in our own small way! To directly answer the question, we put a lot of thought, time and effort into making this a place that people could call a 'destination'. We wanted to make people travel to Muncie rather than away from it.
In our early marketing efforts, the term 'Embrace the place' was used often. We feel that our space is unique, not only to Muncie, but to Indiana. Being in an old, brick building which was originally built as an Ice House in 1892, we've tried to create an inviting and cozy, yet eclectic space that draws people in and sparks conversation. The design of the building, with its quirks and textures, really drove where we could go on the brewing side of the business.
So far, we've offered a completely rotating menu of one-offs. We don't handcuff ourselves to any particular styles and have so far run the range that goes from the hazy, New England style DIPA's, to extremely sour Florida Weiss (I'm from Florida), to Maple Syrup Rye Whiskey Barrel Aged Breakfast Stout with coconut and barrel-aged coffee, to new styles like a Graf [a malty, slightly hopped cider, sometimes with Belgian yeast to impart a spicy character; referred to as a cider-beer combination]. We feel comfortable in any lane, so I would consider our specialty being, not a particular style, but the philosophy: Which is to always push the flavor boundaries of what can and should be considered beer. Just as we've heard "This place doesn't feel like Muncie", we hear "This doesn't taste like any beer I've ever had" — and that's a great thing.
NUVO: Craft brewing is a passion, craft and art, along with a lot of hard work — what is your personal story toward the opening of a craft brewery?
Tyler: I always tell people that first and foremost I'm a craft beer drinker, and have always been an adventurous one. That led me to try my hand at brewing several years ago with the idea of trying my own flavor combinations. After a couple of early extract batches and thinking I had this brewing thing all figured out, I started heavy all-grain experimentation.
I had quite a few failures back then, as I was still learning the basics while trying techniques that were way out of my capabilities at the time. Being self-taught, it seemed like every hour that I wasn't working my very unfulfilling job in sales, I was reading and trying to learn as much as possible about everything related to brewing. I really had no intention of it ever being more than a hobby, but that's not how life goes sometimes.
Through a mutual friend, I met my eventual partners Bill Lett and Eric Jones, who had been kicking around the idea of a new brewery. I offered my services in any way I could help, only hoping to be able to scrape out the mash tun on occasion or mop the floor when it was needed. I let them try some experimental brews I was working on at the time and they believed that I could be their brewer and eventually offered me the opportunity for partnership. From there, we moved quickly towards where we are now.
That's my story, but I truly can't take credit, as I was only the last piece of the puzzle. I absolutely could not be doing any of this if it wasn't for Bill and Eric. We all have our own complimentary strengths in the business, which I think (hope) will take us somewhere in this industry.
NUVO: Pretty much 'out-of-the-gate' after opening, you brought your beers to share at WinterFest 2017. What is special for you to be attending and interacting with patrons coming from far afield?
Tyler: At Winterfest, we had just crossed the two-and-a-half month mark in the business. In that amount of time, we had already moved through about 25 different beers in the taproom (we're on a 5BBL system). I was personally excited to show the diversity in our brewing to a market that's a little more accustomed to experimentation. We brought with us some beers with a lot of extreme flavors that draw a 'love it or hate it' reaction. That's what excites me as a brewer, though. Even the 'hate it' reactions are welcome, because I know that the beer has sparked further conversation and intrigue. We may hear that our New England DIPA was their favorite of the day but they didn't care for the Imperial Smoked Stout with Ghost Pepper, or vice versa. Love it or hate it, we hope that interest was created and people will want to come to Muncie to see what else we're doing. The reaction of, "Wow, I've never heard of you guys. We have a reason to come to Muncie now!" is extremely rewarding.
From my standpoint as a beer fan, I was able to meet people that I've looked up to for quite some time. Having conversations with other brewers and brewery owners was a bit surreal, as I still have the mentality of the new kid that's standing on the corner. The industry is so welcoming and congratulatory that we really got the feeling that we were welcome and are doing the right thing in this business. I really look forward to making more relationships within the Indiana brewing scene and cultivating the ones that we've already made.
Tyler: Our atmosphere has facilitated bringing in people from all age ranges and walks of life. We have a lot of large tables that encourage community seating and conversation. Beer brings people together in very positive ways given the right environment. We like it when we see strangers talking to one another and learning about each other. We're doing little things to advance that, such as upcoming trivia nights on Mondays and live music on Thursdays.
Muncie has really taken to harboring and advancing the local arts community. They promote the First Thursday Art Walks, where local Downtown businesses will pair with local artists of all kinds to bring the community together and encourage people that there is value in art. We are trying to do our part, with the live music as well as locally curated art. As new parts of our building are completed, we will offer a much larger, rotating display of local art.
We have our first charity event planned for March to benefit the Muncie Civic Theatre's Capital Campaign, which goes to maintaining the Muncie staple that has entertained the city for over 100 years. We hope to continue using our business as a platform for collaborative successes in Muncie, which will continue to drive us towards a community destination. We want you to come for the beer, or for the arts, or for the food, and to stay for everything else that we have to offer. We can only succeed in that effort by helping one another and supporting one another.
That mindset extends to our beer scene as well. From our amazing craft beer bars to our fellow brewers, we have a relationship of collaboration rather than competition. Again, we can't do this on our own and any ones successes translate into success for the rest of us. At the very least, we push each other to constantly be better than we are.
Tyler: We're buying all of our base malts from Sugar Creek Malt Co. in Lebanon. They're a fantastic company that really cares about their clients and the advancement of the industry. They work harder so that we can make better beer through better malts.
We have people approach us all the time with interest in getting into the hops industry. While not candy-coating the challenge, we absolutely encourage the endeavor.
We want to keep every part of the process as close to home as possible. Muncie has long been known as a city of industry that's ripe for a reintroduction as such. Craft beer and its many sides may not be the industry that people expected to come back to our city, but it's a thriving one with the ability to draw in more industry. We try to source, even forage, ingredients for the things we're creating. We're heading to a local maple tree farm to pick up 150 gallons of maple sap.
Tyler: We're located in the Downtown area of Muncie, two blocks off of Walnut St. (Downtown's main street). We don't currently distribute, but you may see us in the Indianapolis market in limited quantity soon.
We currently have 13 of our own beers on tap and five guest tap lines (typically includes a cider and a mead), as well as wine. We're actively in the process of moving towards a full kitchen, so for now we offer the standard bar fare or allow you to bring in food. We expect the kitchen to be completed this spring, at which point we'll offer eclectic dishes that match the flair of everything else you'll find here. We offer growler fills on most beers and hope to add a Crowler machine soon for a quicker 'to-go' option.
I’m a native of Central Indiana and grew up in a family full of entrepreneurs. My first job at the age of ten was working the front of the house at small family restaurant owned by my parents. I can remember making milkshakes and ice cream cones for my friends. At the time, I often wished to be out enjoying myself with them but I realize today those early years formed the basis of my work ethic and entrepreneurial skills.
Bill [Lett] and I have known one another for many years and I remember being shocked that he had chosen to purchase the old Muncie Ice and Coal building for his national construction business. I’m the least artistic of the three brewery owners [Bill Lett, Eric Jones and Tyler Hutchison], and my first tour of the space left me less than impressed. Week after week, Bill and his construction crew began experimenting with new building techniques, and soon the front half of the space was transformed into a beautiful showroom for his construction business.
We began spending more and more time in the renovated space. Eventually, what began as small group hanging out became a large gathering of friends and family on Friday evenings. We began to realize that Bill and his wife Robin had created a very special space and that we should consider opening some type of business. I’ve always had a strong entrepreneurial drive and was really excited that Bill was open to a partnership. We developed a business plan that matched our skill set and the concept of Elm Street Brewing Company was born in late 2014.
Tyler [Hutchison] took the initiative to get know us through our Friday evening gatherings. It didn’t take us long to realize that he has a very special ability to understand flavor profiles and the science behind brewing. We were really impressed with his natural ability to create what we believe are world-class beers.
At the time we started considering the brewery, I was working as a manufacturing executive. The manufacturing world taught me a great deal about sales, marketing and controlling costs. Little did I know those three skills would lend themselves perfectly to the brewery environment. My role generally centers on the business side of the brewery and, as a group, our skills are very complimentary.
I’m really enjoying the fraternity of the brewing community and being part of something special in Muncie. We are community focused and want to be a destination that provides a little break from the daily grind. The Muncie community has spent years building infrastructure and creating one of the best arts scenes in the region. We hope to be one more reason for those in the Midwest to give our town a second look.
Thr3e Wise Men Brewpub opened 2016 at the new Courtyard Marriott Hotel at 625 High St., downtown Muncie; serves beers brewed in Broad Ripple.
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Twin Archer Brewpub opened at 117 W. Charles St. with select beers from New Corner and Guardian and other Indiana craft breweries; their future plan is to brew their own small batch beer to serve along with guest beers.
There is nothing that cannot be discussed and worked out over a beer. Join me as I explore local beer, breweries and how they can civilize us.
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