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Iron Hops: An Interview With Crooked Ewe Brewmaster Andy Walton

When it comes to craft beer in this area of the country, most people immediately think of Michigan and the many outstanding breweries all across the state. In the past several years, though, Indiana has really started stepping up our craft beer game. South Bend’s Crooked Ewe has only been around for a couple of years, but they’ve already made quite the mark for themselves, and not just locally: their Glasgow Butcher Scotch Ale won a Bronze Medal in the 2016 World Beer Cup. Their food is outstanding as well – they have full menus for both omnivores and vegans, and they locally source their ingredients whenever possible. Plus they’re located right along the St. Joe River, so the view from the bar can’t be beat. If you’re a beer lover and ever find yourself near the Bend, a visit to Crooked Ewe is pretty much essential.

Crooked Ewe’s Brewmaster Andy Walton was good enough to answer a few questions for us about brewing and the trials and tribulations involved in opening a brewpub.

Indy Metal Vault: I’m guessing that you were a home brewer before you made the leap to the brewpub world. When did you first catch the home brewing bug, and how did your brewing career evolve from there? 

Andy Walton: I started home brewing in 2007… reluctantly. I had some buddies that made an attempt in the 90s that did not speak well for the hobby. After a couple months of prodding by a close friend, I decided to give it a shot. I brewed a New Castle clone that was not terrible. I brewed a couple more not terrible batches and decided to dig in. I joined a local home brewers club, the Michiana Extract & Grain Association, which was key to being involved in the craft beer community. With MEGA I was able to participate in many beer related events, promoting home brewing and pouring samples. I really enjoyed talking to the different people that I met within the craft beer community/industry, and started considering the possibility of a career change.

I had been mocking up different brewing equipment configurations and scenarios in a notebook for a while, and was looking for a location. Then one day I get a text from my now partner that read “ever think about going pro?” After many beer-laden conversations, we determined that we were pretty much on the same page as far as what we thought a well done brewpub should be like, and started looking for a location. I’m still not really sure how we landed where we did. We originally made an offer on a different building that fell through… luckily. It was so much smaller. It would have been much more difficult. The building we are in had been vacant and for sale for several months. I knew about it, but it was just so whipped looking that I just blew it off. Ultimately, the allure of a riverfront property was too much to resist. We bought the building in 2012 and started demolition almost immediately. It was a long haul through the renovation (did I mention the building was whipped?), but we finally opened in 2015. Now instead of brewing 10 gallon batches, I’m brewing 310 gallon batches. It’s rad.

IMV: One of the things I love about Crooked Ewe is that you’re one of the few places where a vegan or someone with a gluten allergy can go for a beer and a meal and not feel like they’re imposing on the staff because of their dietary restrictions. Most (if not all) of your beers are brewed with gluten allergies in mind, right? How is reduced-gluten or gluten-free brewing different than the normal brewing process? 

AW: Well, we just want everyone to have a good time. The beer being gluten reduced is a cool by-product of an enzyme I use to clarify it. There are other clarifying agents, but I thought it would be cool if even one person who previously couldn’t drink beer now could. I mean, no beer? What a bummer. We’ve gotten lots of positive feedback, so it really does help some people… and it makes my beer pretty, so yay enzyme!

IMV: You do a Randall release pretty much every Monday, right? For those not familiar with the term, can you explain what a Randall is? What made you decide to make Randall releases one of your trademarks?

AW: “Case of the Mondays” is usually a Randall’d beer with a food pairing of some sort. It’s also Mug Club day, so it’s a good day all around. We came up with the idea during construction when we realized that it was fairly common for no one to show up on Mondays. There is only so much that we were capable of, so we usually went somewhere to cry into our beer.

A Randall is a device fashioned from a household water filter housing. The purpose is to infuse beer, inline as it’s poured, with whatever will fit in the housing. Coffee, chocolate, mango, Skittles, whatever. It’s fun to play around with. It’s pretty amazing how some ingredients can play in a beer. The Randall idea isn’t ours, it’s something that Dogfish Head came up with years ago, and I used as a home brewer at pouring events.

IMV:  So for the past few years, it seems like IPAs and barrel-aged beers have been the big trends in brewing, but I get the sense that might be starting to change. What do you see as the next big thing? I’m seeing more sours and fruit beers on the shelves – is that where brewing is heading?

AW: Weed beer. No, not really. Well… maybe. Sours though for sure, lotsa folks getting foeders installed these days. Session IPAs. East Coast juicy IPAs.

IMV: The Ewe has been around for a couple of years now, so I’m guessing you’ve had a bit of time to reflect on the process of getting it off the ground. What’s the one thing you wish someone had told you about opening your own shop before you got started?

AW: Don’t be your own general contractor. It’s nightmarish.

IMV:  What’s next for the Ewe? Any plans to distribute–either on tap or bottles/cans–elsewhere in the state?

AW: Maxing out the capacity of the property. I believe I can squeeze in a few more tanks, both serving and fermentation. Family dining will open upstairs this spring/summer, and also exterior seating on the rooftop deck. We will distribute at some point. Not in the immediate future.

IMV: Last question: if you could only drink one beer for the rest of your life (that you yourself didn’t brew), what would it be and why?

AW: Bell’s Two Hearted. Definitely my go-to, and it never disappoints. I went to a Homebrewers Association rally at Bell’s several years ago, 2008 maybe, and it was a huge inspiration. Love ’em.

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