You’ll not find a more affable fellow anywhere. Sort of like the gentleman you would hope to run into at an English pub and share pints with the rest of the day. But younger. It’s in the “living room” of MashCraft Brewing where a guest was warmly welcomed to talk about beer. It’s where Andrew Castner appears to be right at home.
“Teach me something cool everyday” and in return, Andrew promised he would work his butt off.
Owner and brewer at MashCraft Brewing in Greenwood, Castner wasn’t always a craft beer fan and in fact, was a light beer drinker through his college days. Following graduation from Indiana University and a two year employment there, Castner returned to his hometown of Indianapolis in 2005 start his own media company. But while he was a server at the Oaken Barrel restaurant he spoke to the head brewer about a new job opening. “Teach me something cool everyday” and in return, Andrew promised he would work his butt off. Thus began his transition from yellow fizzy beer to the world of craft beer.
After working his way up to assistant brewer under Mark Havens (now at Quaff On) at Oaken Barrel, Andrew left in 2010 to accept the head brewer job at The Ram, back when brewery jobs were rare in Indianapolis. Surprised at how “accomodating” The Ram was for a corporation, he again was allowed to do things his way, garnering awards at the Great American Beer Fest and many other Indiana events.
However, mentally preparing business plans and brewing plans since his days at Oaken Barrel, Castner left The Ram in 2013 as he crafted his latest creation-his own brewery-MashCraft.
Andrew’s philosophy at MashCraft was to make a wide variety of beers and a lot of different styles. He said, “I think a lot of craft beer drinkers are looking for a different beer every week.” He settled on three core beers and vowed to constantly rotate seasonals, based on his tastes, the weather and ingredients available.
Andrew said he had yet to work at a place where they made an American style blonde, so he made MashCraft’s “Gold” with this in mind. With very little malt component and a little bit of citrus hop, it is light, dry and crisp, reminiscent of an American lager.
The Mashcraft “Red” was an “odd ball” he said, which he felt he didn’t get right until batch number four. This was being released the following evening so I went back later to visit, and I’m glad I did. This is a very nice amber, toasty and caramely (huh?), and I believe may have been brewed with a small amount of black malt.
For the MashCraft “IPA”, Andrew did not want a malty or sweet version, instead wanting more of a west coast IPA. Using a simple 2-row grain and wheat mixture, and from there, “it’s all about the hop character.” He insisted on a balanced and drinkable beer and except for some minor hop tweaking, he hit it right from the beginning. Andrew compares balanced brewing with cooking, seeing how the ingredients play off of each other and this beer does that particularly well.
Looking back on his beginning, Castner said that there is a reason that a lot of brewers branch out from the Oaken Barrel and that is its “looseness of the environment” and the freedom given to brew. He began recipe formulation before he was actually prepared to do so, and was able to learn from “screwing things up.”
Where Andrew once would spend days preparing the recipe and all of the variables, it was this brewing background that produced a comfort level within. Correcting his mistakes and fine-tuning his technique brought forth an arsenal of recipes that now range in the hundreds, where he can prepare something in his mind, and sit down and create it within a half hour.
On this particular day, that is what happened. Andrew had been considering a dark “mild” for awhile and knew he had the necessary grains and yeast that were needed. So as I visited, MashCraft’s newest beer was in full brew, something that you could smell from even outside the brewery’s door. As we spoke, he had to make several trips back and forth into his “kitchen”, if you will, to check on the beer’s progress.
Brewed in the traditional sense of the English mild, Andrew created this only with a few different grains, just as it was years ago. Many different grains were not available back then, so the grain bill for this beer he said is simply Maris Otter, which is a high-quality English malt, Crystal 50-60 malt and chocolate malt. He said the mild will have some nice nuttiness and though Maris Otter costs more, it is less malt than they would typically use. Weighing in at 3.8% ABV, this too is how it traditionally was brewed.
This brought forth another question. Just days after Andrew and business partner John Lee opened MashCraft in May of 2014, I visited and was intrigued by the Scots Ale, having a small 3.3% ABV. I was absolutely floored to taste a beer that had exceptional flavor with such a puny alcohol content. So I wondered, 1) how did he do it? and, 2) how much grief did he catch from some beer drinkers who believe that good beer=higher ABV?
Andrew acknowledged there a lot of push back and found that the beer was being unfairly compared to a couple of other local, Scottish-style beers that have a much higher alcohol volume. He reasoned that his was the more traditional Scottish beer and I wondered how many drinkers mistakenly thought that the lower alcohol was not by design.
As with their current beer. “Lil’ Bit” (be careful when ordering, a “Who’s on First” routine might break out!), a delicious hop-forward beer at 3.7%, Andrew seems to have mastered producing complex flavors from quality ingredients, with lower alcohol content. Um, ok. Session beers. There, I said it.
Actually Andrew believes that there is a “huge, huge” future in session beers and obviously relishes in owning it. In order to achieve a lower ABV, less grains are used so “it’s all about brewing technique,” Andrew said. And with less grains, any flaws in the beer can be more easily exposed.
Few breweries seem to produce session beers and do them well, and having his own brewery has enabled Andrew to do things that he could not do at his other stops. Where once everything seemed to go towards the extreme for so long, he believes there will be a “rubber band effect” and more drinkable and balanced beers will come back around. Additionally, Castner said that since less ingredients are used, and if he does it well, he believes he has an advantage in offering a price point that is competitive with Bud/Miller/Coors.
John and Andrew, a proud Roncalli H.S. grad and perhaps the nicest guy you’ll ever meet, hope to grow MashCraft’s presence on Indy’s south side and in Greenwood. They have a larger brewing capacity than originally needed so growth can easily come without any brewhouse changes. Hoping to have 30 accounts in early 2015, Andrew insists that quality has to be there and the beer has to sell. “Success on premises is completely related to how passionate the owner of the bar and the bartenders are.” He does not expect MashCraft to can or bottle at this time unless it is in a “special” format, since he prefers fresh, draft beer.
-Andrew announced the new, English mild-later named “Roadie”- on Twitter and asked for suggestions in naming the beer. A spirited debate ensued between two passionate individuals regarding Mild vs. Session definitions. (Look for more here on that at a future date).
-In November when “Mr. Wicked” was released, breweries from all over Indiana and neighboring states participated in MashCraft’s Imperial IPA competition. Andrew hopes to have a stout competition early in 2015 though probably not with Imperial stouts.
I urge you to slip in to MashCraft and feel at home, while enjoying their delicious offerings!
MashCraft Brewing is located just south of S.R. 135 and County Line Rd., at 1140 N. St. Rd. 135 in Greenwood, In.