Black Acre Brewing Co.- Historic Irvington’s Heartbeat

Let me take you back to 1850 where a new town was developed east of downtown Indianapolis, in between existing farmland. Irvington was actually established as a “suburb”, an oasis of sorts, named after famous American author, Washington Irving (“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”). It was home to artists,  business leaders, politicians and academic types. It is the original home of Butler University and the mansion of the infamous D.C. Stephenson.

Present day Irvington remains the home of proud, organic, artistic and eclectic people who are the most civic-minded and community-oriented folks in the city. This is where you see dog walkers, porch sitters and neighbors talking to each other over their backyard fences.

IMG_0239In between the quaint shops and restaurants on E. Washington St. is where Black Acre Brewing has nestled. The five partners are Justin and Holly Miller, Steve Ruby, Jordan Gleason and Matt Johnson. Like a basketball team made up of five point guards, or like five lug nuts on a wheel, the partners fit perfectly together with each other.

As the brewers for Black Acre, Steve and Justin are the ultimate odd couple. One is creative and ready to go balls to the wall without any hesitation. The other is steady and measured, employing thoughtful consideration before making a decision. One is the yesterday’s t-shirt and hoody-wearing guy while the other prefers a nice, clean, buttoned-down shirt. One is bald and bearded, with laser-sharp eyes and is the guy you are thankful to have beside when you’re about to get an ass-whoopin’. The other is clean shaven with a friendly smile and he’s the guy that will patch you up afterwards.

Whether or not this entirely or accurately describes Steve and Justin, I don’t know for sure. Whatever their apparent physical differences, there is no doubt that these two friends have a synergistic union of minds. Really smart minds. Steve says they are “hyper-function” guys and together they make the delicious brews at Black Acre.

Three of the partners (Justin, Steve, Jason) met in law school and the connection between them all was home brewing beer. While they constantly brewed, it wasn’t long before they began crafting plans to open a brewery.

Black Acre carved a niche in Historic Irvington sort of the grass roots way, just the way Irvington likes it. I met Holly, Steve and Justin there recently to hear their story and how they settled into Irvington.

Holly says they fell in love with the neighborhood and its people, saying, “I have never met a more loyal group of people to their neighborhood…it is actually amazing.” She further insists, “even if we don’t become some huge, hot, craft beer-whatever, we know we can survive in this neighborhood.”

Brewing out of a 3 bbl system, Black Acre enjoys the flexibility of “playing” with recipes and flavors, often changing their taplist. In addition to not wanting to drink the same things over and over again themselves, this is easily solved because the beer flies off the taps.

To hear more about Irvington and Black Acre, I met with Miss Margaret Banning, Executive Director of Irvington Development Organization. She said that Black Acre has been “key to helping push the neighborhood to further development.” Black Acre also brings in a younger, “hip” crowd, which also is important for the resurgence and sustainability.

Margaret shared the story that when  the “street-scape” was added in the center of Washington St., it was accented with period   streetlamps. However, the new lighting came at an additional cost  of $12,000 a year to Irvington.

Miss Banning says, Black Acre is taking their community commitment “to a whole new level”, by “spearheading” new development just two blocks south in what is called The Coal Factory.

Margaret said that one day, Justin Miller contacted her and said he was making a new beer called “Street Lamp Blonde”, and wanted to donate one dollar from each pint sold to this cause.  Margaret said this was “totally unsolicited” and that about every six months or so she receives a check from Black Acre. To date, Black Acre has donated several thousand dollars to the community.

Now, Miss Banning says, Black Acre is taking their community commitment “to a whole new level”, by “spearheading” new development just two blocks south in what is called The Coal Factory. A new “B’s Po Boy” restaurant will be moving in and the Pennsy Trail, which meananders right in front of the businesses, enhances the walkable aspect of Historic Irvington.

The partners said they were quickly running out of space and expansion was inevitable, and as they looked close by they found an old abandoned warehouse. Justin soon acquired this 55,000 sq. foot warehouse, part of which will be leased for Black Acre’s production facility. They will add a much larger 15 bbl system with 30 bbl fermenters and before long, they will be able to satisfy the daily requests from bar establishments eager for their beer.

Additionally, Black Acre also has taken over the vacant propertyIMG_0237 next door and they will soon be expanding the taproom. True to Irvington’s heart, the brewery obtained some old, wooden pallets for the original build-in that have been re-purposed into the taproom. Holly painstakingly cobbled together the planks on the brewery floor until she had them sized perfectly to fit into the bar area’s ceiling and wall. Now, she’ll get to do it once again for the expansion!

How about the beer:

The most popular beer for BA is their delicious, flagship rye IPA, “Saucy Intruder”, which Justin and Holly began brewing way back in their undergrad days at IU. Brewed with Falconers Flight, Mt. Hood and Columbus hops, it comes in at 75 IBU and 7.2% ABV. It is my favorite Black Acre beer and is simply of the best beers in Indianapolis.

I recently enjoyed this flight of beer:

  • IMG_0234“Street Lamp Blonde”- a nice, light and zesty ale made with fresh lemon peel.
  • “Groundskeeper” Scottish Ale- a great name touching on Scotland’s golf history, caramel and toffee notes work with it’s malt sweetness.
  • “Glass Half Empty” Rye Stout-an American stout with loads of rye malt.
  • “Coffee Bitter Life” IPA-their regular Bitter Life beer is infused with Bee Coffee Roaster’s Tanzania Peaberry Blend.

The best way I can describe the beer at Black Acre is this: Do you have a favorite music album where each song is fantastic and is better than the one before it? For me it’s Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run”. Here, Steve and Justin have marvelously balanced their beer and whether it includes rye or infused coffee, they have hit it perfectly.

Don’t just take it from me because a quick look at all of the Indianapolis area breweries with more than 100 ratings in Beer Advocate, you’ll find that Black Acre has the highest rated beer around. The group always believed in themselves and their beer but when they saw their first favorable review on Beer Advocate, Steve said hilariously, “bricks were s*at!”

Steve relayed the story of meeting with an ad agency and telling them “15” when he was asked about their advertising budget. “Oh, 15,000?” they asked. He deadpanned, “No.  Like, uh, fifteen dollars.”

Twice Black Acre has received the A-List Award for the best brewery in the city and just last fall, BA was named the #1 New Brewery by Indianapolis Monthly magazine. Now, consider this; BA doesn’t advertise and has no accounts throughout the city, so the only place to get their beer is at the brewery. It’s amazing that this has been done just by word of mouth-mouths of very satisfied beer drinkers in their taproom.

Steve relayed the story of meeting with an ad agency and telling them “15” when he was asked about their advertising budget. “Oh, 15,000?” they asked. He deadpanned, “No.  Like, uh, fifteen dollars.”

Want some secret Black Acre news? They may be canning beer in the near future, with the Saucy Intruder artwork already in place. Also, would you like to attend a bourbon barrel festival in their new production facility around Halloween? Stay tuned!

Being “cool” is not unfamiliar to Irvington so if you haven’t visited in awhile, come back and feel the vibe. With its diverse residents and businesses, and the community involvement and consciousness, Black Acre is a perfect fit for Irvington. Remember, you have to come here to get it!

Cheers!

Rick

Black Acre Brewing Co. is located in Historic Irvington at 5632 E. Washington St. Plan now on attending their 3rd Anniversary party on Feb. 21st! 

You can contact Rick Burkhardt @Indybeersleuth on Twitter and at indybeersleuth@gmail.com