Music is playing softly in the brewhouse of Daredevil Brewing but it may as well be a large orchestra. For five years, owners Michael Pearson and brother Shane, and Bill Ballinger, have consistently brought delicious beer to the delight of Central Indiana. For their 5th Anniversary party Saturday, December 9th, Daredevil will offer all sorts of liquid music, particularly special things they’ve never done before.
Named the 2017 Indiana Brewers Cup Brewery of the Year, Daredevil has seen strong, steady growth since it opened in Shelbyville, In. in 2012. In just 2 ½ years, they moved the brewery from the humble beginnings of Ballinger’s pole barn into Indianapolis’ first newly-built brewery since Prohibition.
For Head Brewer Michael Pearson though, his brewing career is one that almost wasn’t. Experiencing good craft beer for the first time when he lived in Colorado, his first visit to a brewery was not for beer, but for consulting work. The Purdue University graduate and former process engineer worked on canning line controls for Coors Brewing in 1994, with no idea what the future would hold.
After getting into homebrewing, Michael met fellow homebrewer Bill Ballinger and later started the hugely successful homebrew club, MECA (Jim Matt, Rhinegeist head brewer, was also a member). Serving as a consultant to Sun King Brewery while in their planning stages, helped further his interest.
Still, with all of its mechanical complexities, Pearson was most interested in packaging engineering and not brewing. After completing an extensive correspondence program with the Institute of Brewing and Distilling in London, he even turned down a packaging manager’s job with Miller Brewing.
After MECA won the Brewers Cup homebrew club of the year for the fifth straight time, brewing partner Bill Ballinger began pressing Pearson about opening a brewery. Pearson chuckles when he thinks about telling Ballinger, “I’m not sure you really know how hard this is going to be!” He finally relented, drew up a business plan and in 2011 they began taking the initial steps in opening a brewery.
An overnight sensation, several years in the making
It wasn’t that long ago, or at least it doesn’t seem so, when Daredevil began sending Lift Off IPA, their signature beer, throughout the Indianapolis area. Say, do you remember your first pint of a certain beer? I distinctly recall my very first Lift Off at the horse park up the road from the Shelbyville “brewery”, just after it hit the market.
And I even remember social media questions to Daredevil about Lift Off deliveries to various liquor stores and people trying to follow them. For the record; I may have stalked, but I never followed.
Lift Off, which accounts for about 85% of Daredevil’s production, evolved from Equilibrium IPA, a Pro-Am beer that Pearson brewed with Sun King co-founder, Dave Colt, then at The Ram. Preferring to use Lift Off as their one-beer model versus several house beers, Daredevil’s popularity soared.
The still new, majestically warm brewery in the heart of Speedway, was built on the success of that one beer. And together with the already iconic helmeted racer logo – quick, name a more recognizable Indianapolis brand – helped make Daredevil one of the largest breweries in Indiana.
The Indiana Brewers Cup awards spotlight two things
With Daredevil being named Brewery of the Year and capturing Best In Show for its Pils German-style pilsner, two things of note appear: (1) It makes a huge statement about Indiana beer, and the nation as a whole, when a pilsner, not long ago a dirty word, wins best of show in a statewide beer competition; and (2) By being awarded Brewery of the Year, it marked the first time that individual brewers have ever captured professional and homebrewer awards from the Brewers Cup. (Michael and Bill each accepted the homebrew crowns twice – Michael, 2008 and 2011; Bill, 2009-10).
Completely exposed, pilsners are unable to hide behind any flaws and German Pils is a prime example that an emphasis on quality at Daredevil is the driving mission, not necessarily awards.
Putting their money where our mouths are; a commitment to excellence
Like the disciplined coach who despises a sloppily-played win, Pearson seeks perfection. It would be easy to assume that Michael uses his engineering background as a sometimes back pocket go-to but you’d be mistaken. It is simply ingrained in him in everything he does.
To make the point, Daredevil made a choice in investing in the quality of its product rather than pushing out more beer, so instead of buying a new tank, they purchased a costly piece of equipment. The Hach Orbisphere 3100, which measures dissolved oxygen to a level of one-half parts per billion, demonstrates they are totally committed to quality.
(And, now might be the appropriate time to apologize to Michael because someone who leads a successful production brewery is probably never a former engineer. Those keenly developed talents and traits surface daily. Sorry ‘bout that…)
The 5th Anniversary Party and some special barrel-aged magic
Of course you’re familiar with Lift Off and their other hoppy beers but don’t get lulled into thinking Daredevil focuses on only one style. The numerous German lagers are so expertly brewed, they are as equal to the beers I recently enjoyed on a Germany trip. And let’s not forget their stout, Belgian-style golden ale, English porter and dark mild.
Unlike their anniversary “tours” to various bars in the early years, this party will be much different. Daredevil might be blushing a bit because it’s not their nature to point to themselves, but for the first time, Daredevil is releasing multiple variants of barrel-aged beers at the same time.
You’ll find four varieties of J.W.P. American
Stout: one aged in Buffalo Trace barrels, one aged in Weller barrels, and a Buffalo Trace barrel-aged Tres Tico. A nitro oatmeal version is available as well.
But, what I predict will be the hit of the night is the Buffalo Trace Smoked Doppelbock. Pearson said, “It’s a beer I put a lot of planning into in order to align it with this anniversary. We brewed that beer in the fall of last year,” noting that smoked beers age very well. “It’s just a really nice marriage of bourbon character and a smoky lager. It’s a pretty fun beer; I’m really excited about it.”
Moving forward, what’s next for Daredevil
Much of what Michael relishes is the opportunity to mentor and train his brewing team, of which he is enormously proud. He uses the recent Experimental IPA and DDH (double dry-hopped) programs as examples that going into 2018, his role is changing. “Those are all things that are possible because the team is very qualified, very trained, very much in synch, and our communication is strong enough that I can step back and start working at other things that are beneficial at Daredevil,” Pearson said. “Really, to make our craft beer patrons happy.”
Pearson continued, “As we go into the next five years, I think you’ll see us use the taproom as a platform to share more of the creative side of Daredevil. Much more of the ‘Aggressively Fun’ part of Daredevil that we launched the company on.”
Make sure you make come to the Daredevil Brewing 5th Anniversary party on Saturday. Great music will be pouring.
Daredevil Brewing Co. is located at 1151 N. Main St., Speedway, In. Please look for a full Behind The Beer feature with Michael Pearson soon.