Friday, September 28, 2007

A Visit to Bloomington & Upland Breweries

"Goodness is the only investment that never fails." ~Henry David Thoreau

September 23-24: Drove from Lexington, Kentucky to Bloomington, Indiana. As I drove the limestone showing through where the highway was cut changed from shale-like to granite-like. The clouds were beautiful, numerous and fluffy white, just like they were in Kentucky. More of the trees were turning brown, with many leaves falling from the trees and tumbling across the highway in front of me. Across southern Indiana I found a lot of Country Music radio stations and had to keep searching for classic rock.

I arrived at the home of Bloomington Brewing Company's Owner/Partner Jeff Mease in the early afternoon. We connected right away and talked our heads off about brewpubs and restaurants.

Jeff got his start in the restaurant business by dropping out of college at 20 and starting his own pizza delivery company. He learned quickly at the College of Hard Knocks, and grew his pizza company to a regional (citywide) chain of five Pizza Express companies. More locations than either Dominos or Papa Johns has in Bloomington, a vibrant college town of about 80,000 people.

Jeff is very progressive and is passionate about sustainability. He's got one emission-free electric delivery vehicle, and plans to get another one within a year.

The photo above, at left and at right show Jeff, his electric delivery "truck," and me in the driver seat. I didn't actually drive it, but I can tell you it was a fairly quiet ride. The truck's top speed is about 20 miles per hour, and it is licensed to go on any city street with a 35 MPH speed limit or less.
In 1994 (not sure of the year as I memorize the info - I'll repost the correct answer later), Jeff opened Lennie's restaurant with his then-wife. Later he added the Bloomington Brewing Company and pub next door.

I asked Jeff if he had problems as a restaurant owner, selling beer to other restaurants. He said a few but not many. It helps that Jeff is a huge supporter of the local restaurant association and has built solid, positive relationships with the other restaurant owners.

Plus he's low key with his brewery signage in Lennie's. You may notice in the photo at the top of this page that the name "Bloomington Brewing Company" is not listed anywhere on the external signage. The tap handles are plain black without logos.

We went to the brewpub for dinner. It's connected to Lennies. Lennies has a more upscale feel, and the brewpub has a casual feel. While we enjoyed our beers and dinner, Brewmaster Floyd Rosenbaum dropped in. Photo at left is of Floyd and Jeff.

After dinner we wheelied in the delivery truck over to Upland Brewing Company to visit Lead Brewer Eileen (Ale-Leen) Martin. Eileen has 15 years of professional brewing experience. It just amazes me that there are women brewers out there with that depth of experience that I never heard of. Eileen had heard of me. I make a lot more "noise" out in the brewing world (writing articles, this blog, etc.) than she does.

Eileen is a petite blonde with a self-deprecating sense of humor and a lot of passion for brewing. (Photo at right.) Eileen spent most of her brewing career in Louisville, Kentucky. She's been at Upland in Bloomington, Indiana for the last two years.

Eileen gave me the full tour of Upland's brewpub. Upland is currently the largest brewery in Indiana, producing 5,000 barrels a year in bottles and kegs.

I was shocked to see how the management/owner team at Upland refused to separate the brewery and kitchen space. It wasn't just the serving tank cooler sharing space with lettuce and chicken breasts; all the brewery space was shared with the restaurant and kitchen. The staff's "break table," was right in the middle of the brewery. I can't blame Eileen; she's as much in favor of separate spaces for restaurant and brewery production as I am.

Eileen produces a full spectrum of beer styles and sent me packing with a beautiful 750-ml bottle of wood-aged Blueberry Lambic, refermented in the bottle. Then Jeff and I electrically motored back to his house.

Jeff recently bought a 69 acre farm with his ex-wife and current partner, Lennie. (She's now happily remarried.) I think it's great that Jeff and Lennie have a healthy post-divorce business partnership.

Jeff has big plans for his future farm(house) brewery and country restaurant. He wants to produce organic food for the restaurant, and some barley and hops for the brewery. We brainstormed "energy independence" for the project as well as other sustainability issues. We talked until 1:00 am. That's how much fun we had talking and brainstorming!

The next day I blogged from Jeff's big farmhouse-style dining room table until it was time for me to motor off to St. Louis, Missouri.

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