A few months ago, I was walking through a Crown Liquors when a six-pack of beer caught my eye. I looked at it, and it said “Clay County Coffee Stout.” That’s not right, they don’t make beer in Clay County. I am FROM Clay County. I was born in Terre Haute, Indiana but I grew up in Harmony. I went to school and worked (until I moved away to go to college), in Brazil. Sure enough this beer was from Brazil, Indiana. They currently have three different beers to choose from (they are working on more), and two of them use ingredients from Indiana. Their coffee beans come from Greencastle and their honey comes from Martinsville. Small world! So I got online, went to their website, and contacted them for a brewery tour. While I was there I sat down with Mark Snelling, the head brewmaster and we talked about beer, beer making, and even his favorite brew. It’s my pleasure to introduce you to Mark from the Beer Creek Brewery in Brazil, Indiana.
How did you get started in making your own beer?
I was thinking about that the other night. In 1992, I made my first batch. I was an engineer in the Navy, and I had a friend that was curious about making his own beer. He was married, and lived on the base. He didn’t live in the dorm like I did. He got the kit, and we made beer in his spare bedroom. We made a couple batches like that. He was an engineer with Anheuser-Busch for a while.
The very first beer I made was an ale. It was nothing real fancy. I remember it not being very good. I didn’t drink too much of it. My buddies ended up drinking all of it.
I first saw your product in a Crown Liquors up in Noblesville. Then I saw it for sale at a couple of different restaurants and bars in Indianapolis. How did you get your product in these stores and restaurants so quick?
One of the things is we have a small brewers permit. In the state of Indiana, one thing it allows you to do is to distribute. The others have to go through three tiers. We don’t have to go through all that. We can load the truck and take it to Indianapolis, Terre Haute, and Bloomington. We can sell it ourselves. We did that for a while until it became a hassle. I used to load up my car and deliver thirty cases to Bloomington. We then started getting requests all over the state. Logistically it became tough. We are going to have to create a shipping department!
We use World Class Distribution and have been with them since September.
I love the logo and your overall package design. Who did all of the design work?
We came up with that. My dad actually drew up the bee. He is retired but he does a lot of carving. He’s artistic.
From the bottles, we told them the general idea. We gave them the name of the beer and the background. We picked stuff that matched. The first one had bees on it. It has woods now. I still have one of the very first bottles ever made. That might be worth something one day. For the coffee stout, we wanted to have coffee beans on the bottle.
We have the Indiana map on one of them. We try to keep things local. We have just followed through since the first one. We want to keep the labels the same so you can find it! We have had a lot of negative comments on it, as they are “not that detailed”.
We tried to make ours simpler so it would stick out a little more.
What’s your personal favorite type of beer?
I would say I like Scottish ales the best. I like the malty stuff, not the hoppy stuff. They are opposite extremes. Although the hoppy stuff is starting to grow on me. I had never made an IPA before, but they are really popular. I am starting to get a taste for those too.
Your Hoosier Honey Wheat is made with Martinsville honey. Your Clay County Coffee Stout (my personal favorite) is made with coffee from Greencastle. Do you use any products that are not from the Hoosier state?
Like I said, we try to keep things local. We try to use as much product we can from the Hoosier state.
So why did you choose Jamison coffee for the coffee stout? Did you actually go look at different styles of coffee before you started making the beer?
They brought us a whole bunch to try. That was our favorite.
Tell me a little bit more about Home Brewer Club.
There was no home brewer club in Terre Haute. We got a couple of requests. Mogger’s Restaurant & Bar is the only microbrew in Terre Haute. People asked them if they knew any brew clubs. We learned up in Indy about it. We talked to a manager at Mogger’s and he came up, and asked if I knew any. We talked about it and I thought that would be something good to try. We have been meeting for like four months. We started with four members and one meeting we just did had fifteen people show up.
If you go to our website, you can get more information. Also, people can feel free to email me for times and locations.
Do you sell the beer anywhere outside of Indiana? Do you plan to?
We don’t right now, but we want to. We have had requests. We want it flooded in Indiana before we go anywhere else. It costs $1,000 a year to be able to sell it outside of Indiana.
You guys are on Twitter and Facebook. Who runs those two accounts?
Julie runs those.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t Bee Creek run through your property?
Yes, it divides the property. It divides the owners of the brewery actually.
Do you package in anything other than six-packs?
Yeah, we do kegs and six-barrels. When we start seasonals, we might do twenty-two ounce bottles. The bottle machine is setup for twelve ounces right now. For the time being it will be one of those three.
Do you want to expand your selection of beers, or just keep the three you having going strong?
Definitely. We have the IPA coming out, a double IPA that the recipe is finished on. We have two different Scottish ales that we like. We started coming up with a wheat beer also. We have a lot of stuff in progress.
Seasonals are such a big thing right now. We are going to start moving into that. We had an apple-cinnamon seasonal that we released in the fall. I think we are going to experiment with some nutmeg. That is one thing that slows our beer releases; we usually won’t let it go unless it’s perfect.
You have to make it… and age it… it takes us a while. It’s a month from the time you brew it until you can taste.
We saved our first bottle when we made our own at home. Do you save a few bottles of every batch you produce?
We save a bottle here and there. We save that more so we can test it as it ages. I don’t really save anything.
Having so many different styles of beer, I bet you can start to pair them with different types of food. Do you ever just try to make dinner plans based around the beer?
We have never worked with anyone, but we have had two restaurants call us since they are doing that. They feature your beer over several courses. We did one with Union Jack up in Indianapolis. Here we have played around with it a little bit.
The best thing is pairing our beer with ribs; with the honey wheat. You bake them in the beer, cook them on the grill… they are great.
What are your futures plans with this brewery? Where do you want to end up?
We have several directions. We want to get bigger, and move to a bigger location. We want to move to a location that has a tasting room, maybe somewhere in Terre Haute. I like the I-70/59 north area. We could do production in the back, brewpub in the front. It just takes money.
When bottling beer, you have to buy bottles, labels, caps… where do you even begin looking for a distributor?
We use World Class Beverages for our beer distribution. For suppliers, to bring the stuff in, we try to go local if we can. The bottles, the dividers and the cases, the cartons too… those come from Crown Package from Merrillville, Indiana. They are great up there. They are very nice to work with. The bottle caps come from Atlas, and that’s actually out of Kansas. That’s just due to price. You could do them locally, but you are talking 5-8 cents a label, but there it’s 2-3 cents a label. They do a lot of labels for a lot of breweries. Somewhere local would have to be a custom setup.
The packaging is like 2/3 cost of the beer. If you take the total price, the package costs twice the price of the beer inside of it. The more you buy at a time the cheaper that becomes. The bigger you get, the cheaper the beer becomes.
I prefer my beer out of a glass. Do you guys have any intentions on getting pint glasses with your logo printed on them? (We like to collect pint glasses from the breweries we go to.)
We do have some glasses out there. We have plastic cups, and even some laser engraved bottles.
So a six-pack of your beer is $10.99 in Indianapolis. Do you set that pricing, or do you just sell to the distributor and then let them charge what they want?
By law, we have to sell it the same price to everyone. We sell it to World Class, they mark it up and then the place that buys from them marks it up.
I think World Class sells it at the same price to everyone. They can do specials, though. They have to do it for everyone if they do. It killed us going to a distributor. Before, we did all of the deliveries, and we got all the profit. Now we have to increase just to stay afloat. Everyone wants a little piece out of it. It makes it hard.
You have quite a few testimonials on your website. Not sure it’s possible, but has anyone ever said anything bad about your beer?
Oh yeah! You go to those festivals, get lots of feedback. Beer is personal. There are some people that have never had a microbrew. 99% good feedback, maybe 1% is negative… if that. Not many people will tell you that though.
So I let all of the bands and DJs that I interview get the last word. Go.
Looking ahead, we are still very small. We have some new equipment to expand production, and have several new beers in the pipeline. We are hopeful that a year from now, a lot of people who haven’t heard of us yet will have sampled our beer. Our goal is to grow to where we are on equal footing with a lot of these other places.