In a story that’s repeating across the country right now, local craft breweries are making great beer, expanding seemingly endlessly, winning awards, and then finding that they have to almost start over each time they hit a new market. The brew boom is making competition tight, which is a good thing. All we want in the end is good beer and hopefully, good beer will prevail.
Indeed Brewing Company opened in August 2012 in Minneapolis, and has since claimed a host of local awards along with a 2014 silver medal from the Great American Beer Festival. Keeping up with customers’ demand for beer and their own demand to stay creative is a tightrope, and Paste sat down with head brewer Josh Bischoff and founder Nathan Berndt to discuss how the process plays out as they move out of the Twin Cities and into wider distribution.
Indeed produces three year round beers (Day Tripper American Pale Ale, Midnight Ryder Black IPA, and Dandy Lager). They also produce many popular seasonals and limited offerings including the new wild/sour Wooden Soul series of barrel-aged beers.
Indeed doesn’t want to take over the world, but they’d like their beer to be sought after. “How often did we all have friends that, when we went to Colorado, said, ‘Bring me back some New Belgium?’” Nathan Berndt said. “Hopefully when it’s Minnesota their friends will say, ‘Bring me back some Indeed,’”
You just added even more fermentation tanks. Where is all this growth taking you?
Berndt: It seems that expansions are always happening, they’re not really pegged to a certain date anymore. Stuff comes in, we fill it, we sell it.
Our philosophy has always been to stay ahead of demand with capacity so we could do some fun things but not have to worry about it affecting other beers that we need to make and to sell.
What are you up to, capacity-wise?
Berndt: I think it’s around 25,000bbl capacity. We’re not at that [capacity] sales-wise. This year we’re projecting around 14,000-16,000bbl in sales. The numbers have come back a little bit because the timeline for some distribution has come back. A year ago I thought we would maybe be in Fargo but those things take time. I think best case right now for western Minnesota and Fargo might be end of September. That would get a lot of Minnesota, parts or maybe all of North Dakota, then I see South Dakota and Wisconsin following the same path. Maybe parts of Wisconsin in the first part of January-February.
Is the expansion opening things up for more quantity or more variety?
Bischoff: A bit of both because it’s freeing up some of the other tanks for one-offs. The biggest tank we have right now is a 210bbl so the 30 tanks are where we get to play and see if people really like something. Then we’ll think about adding it to a new package.
Berndt: We definitely don’t have the scalability of the Wooden Soul beers to make them widely available even within our own Twin Cities market. That would be one aspect that we would try to scale up so we could make it more readily available to the rest of this market and then possibly package them in bottles or some other way and start spreading them out to different distribution points.
The Twin Cities area is further along in its craft beer scene. The markets that we’re entering into aren’t as far along, so we’re focused on building our flagships and seasonals and peppering in some of these Wooden Souls or specialty beers to let them work towards developing demand for it.
What is the plan with Wooden Soul?
Bischoff: Adam Theis, one of our brewers, does Wooden Soul. We talk about it beforehand and implement it with the bigger tanks. That leaves more time to spend with the smaller ones.
We’ve been working with kettle sours lately. We have good funk in Wooden Soul but we don’t always have the acidity we want. For Wooden Soul, a lot of the things take more time to develop, six months or even years. So with the kettle sours we’re looking to get it puckering in the acidity more quickly. It takes 36-48 hours so we’ve usually done it on a Friday. Sunday we’ll boil it like normal but we’ll add lactobacillus to it and it will drop the pH and give acidity. It’s a better environment for the bacteria too. We boil and ferment like normal.
Is there any kind of schedule?
Berndt: It’s always changing as we discover something new that gives us more ideas. #1 will probably be regular. I think it’s due for a real name and it will be in regular rotation.
They’ll depend on the beer if it’s a one-off. #1 is an example of us finding a beer where we can consistently produce the same feel and taste. Barrel aged beers can run a wide gamut.
Bischoff: We have a lot going on in the brewery so it’s nice that we can do #1 more quickly. It buys us more time to let other things develop. Having those and the kettle sours is nice.
Berndt: I was at Crooked Stave last week [and thought] “Wow, you guys have 20 sours! When did this all start, because it takes a lot of time to get to that.”
[Our sour program] is something that should have been started five years ago. What’s exciting is the demand is starting to pick up in the Twin Cities market. Hopefully in two more years we’re going to have a much larger volume of that beer available.
Is there an effort to turn seasonals and one-offs into rotation beers that are easier to replicate? Where do you focus your identity between specialty and flagships?
Berndt: We’ve started discussing what the value of a flagship is. Is it just one, like Bell’s Two-Hearted?
I think what we’re known for here is the breadth of the beers that we have. It’s a pretty wide range now. There are maybe 20 beers in our portfolio, and 13 of them were seasonal. There are the three-year round, and four specialties, and not counting the one-offs and Wooden Soul.
Bischoff: I spent most of my career in a brewpub so…I’m usually more interested in creating the beer than figuring out how to mass produce it later. Which maybe is not the best way. That also keeps it exciting, I guess. Hopefully that’s what people are coming to expect from us. I don’t get out much, but in my mind that’s what I like to think.
As you move further away from Minneapolis, does it change your focus?
Berndt: We’ve done some redesigning of our packaging. We wanted to make sure that Indeed was up front and that the beers could be tied to us. Before people might have known Day Tripper and Indeed but they’ve never been in the same spot as far as can packaging goes. Even our tap handles: we have very distinctive orange colors but there’s no orange on our tap handles right now at all. That’s another thing we’re working to improve. We’re fine tuning as we get further away where people might not have heard of Indeed before and it’s their first [exposure].
How much familiarity do you find when you visit a new market?
Berndt: It’s all over the place. People who are transplants are the one’s wishing Indeed was there, people who have moved to Milwaukee or Madison or Denver. Meanwhile there’s people in Rochester who have no idea that Indeed is in Minneapolis. It just takes time to develop awareness, even in our own market. Some of that is because we haven’t had our packages tying Indeed to a beer name.
Do you see the same recognition (or lack thereof) in the beer nerd crowd, or do festival awards and the like help to get your name out there?
Berndt: It’s probably more on the industry side.
Bischoff: I don’t go to review sites that often. I think if people are coming from out of the area, we’re usually on people’s lists. That certainly helps when they go back to their home market that they had an enjoyable experience.
Berndt: An observation in this market is that I see people will talk or write more about the taprooms themselves as the experience and not so much the beer. I think for Indeed we’re starting to be talked about for our beer and then the taproom. That’s really important to me that the beer is first.
With craft beer growing everywhere, how hard is it to enter a new market where you compete with their local breweries too?
Berndt: With the local movement people want local beer. Indeed going into, say, California: it’s not local anymore. It doesn’t mean anything to them.
We could do it in specialties. Rum King, one of our most sought after beers, could probably get into those markets and sell but I don’t know that we could come in and sell Day Tripper because there are thousands of pale ales to choose from.
How do you describe Indeed?
Bischoff: Overall, we haven’t reinvented any craft brewing philosophies. We generally make what we want to taste and hope we’re not the only ones out there who feel that way.
Fortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case. People are with us most of the time. We maybe don’t brew the quantity because it maybe doesn’t appeal to everyone, but it appeals to us.
With LSD, lavender is a pretty polarizing ingredient sometimes. I read reviews and people are like, “I didn’t like the beer but I hate lavender.” Well, I could have told you that. That’s generally why I don’t read reviews. We should be our own harshest critic.
Do you go for a uniform or connecting piece between your beers, or is it more just focused on individual beers?
Bischoff: It’s what we’re going for in a specific beer. I’d like every beer to be its own creation.
Berndt: I think we have a baseline that we put our own unique spin on it. We’re pretty aromatic and use unique ingredients.
Bischoff: In general I’m not a very true to style brewer. There’s enough breweries out there if you want a true to style place. Someone else is probably going to do it better than me, so they can have that. I like to make some adjustments.
What do you have in the works right now?
Bischoff: So far it’s making sure we have enough Dandy Lager for the launch as the third flagship. Being a lager it takes more time in the tanks.
Berndt: New brands. The seasonal Let It Roll IPA. Let It Ride and Let It Roll, each one will be six months and we’re introducing another seasonal on draft this year called Berryswell Pale Ale. Both Let It Roll and Berryswell are based off of two beers that we had in the taproom last year, called Derailed—those are beers that our brewers do. One was the rye and one was the blueberry mosaic ale. So Berryswell will be a draft only release and probably next year find its way into cans.