While beer has been beloved possibly since 9,500 B.C., it has seen significant evolution and intensified passion in recent years.
With 19 breweries and counting, the Indianapolis metro area is living proof of the craft beer revolution. As its popularity has grown, so has interest in homebrewing.
Anita Johnson recognized that trend, and in August, opened her second Great Fermentations location, this one at 7900 East U.S. 36 in Avon. Her first, on East 65th Street in Indianapolis, opened in 1995.
“Back then it was us and a bunch of geeks, pretty much,” Johnson said. “The last five years, it’s gone mainstream. It’s crazy.”
Johnson chose Avon because of its demographics and a dedicated core of visitors to the Indianapolis store.
“We looked at our existing customer base, and knew we had a good base here,” Johnson said. “The Avon and Westside customers were the most vocal about complaining about going to our other store. They really pushed us out here.”
Johnson’s storefront is a one-stop cornucopia of beer- and wine-making supplies and literature, where aspiring homebrewers can get started for as little as $75.
While the process can seem daunting to the uninitiated, part of Johnson’s job is to show how uncomplicated it is.
“I liken it to cooking,” Johnson said. “If you can boil water, follow a recipe and be clean and sanitary, you can do it. We explain what they need to know and try not to bore them with all the science.”
The basic necessities are water, hops, yeast, grain, a fermenter, a pot, sanitizer and bottling supplies.
The hops, of which Johnson has a diverse selection of flavors and hints in pellet form, add bitterness and aroma.
“If you didn’t have hops, it’d almost be like rock candy,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s impressive inventory includes around 60 different grains and yeasts, both providing a wide spectrum of taste profiles. It also features Great Fermentations’ extensive kit series, which its staff has created through experimentation over the years. Each kit has the ingredients and directions to make five gallons of homebrew, with over 50 labels, such as Heady Nugs IPA, Witless in Indianapolis, Chocoholic Porter and Mr. Gorbachev Berliner Weisse.
The kit selection mirrors the industry’s taste transformation.
“It’s growing all the time, because people are creating new styles of beer,” Johnson said. “There are 24 different categories right now, with multiple subcategories under each.”
Winemaking is also a major part of the enterprise. Johnson offers wine kits out of British Columbia that she rates as competition-grade, and that couldn’t be much easier to use.
“If you can stir, or hit cereal with your milk in the morning, you can make wine, and good wine,” Johnson said.
For those interested in a detailed walkthrough in either beer or wine homebrewing, Great Fermentations offers monthly classes at both of its locations.
“Most people come in with two basic questions – ‘How hard is it, and is it any good,’” Johnson said. “We show them it’s a lot easier that you might think, and the product can be excellent.”
Johnson is happy with the Avon store’s turnout so far, and expects bigger things in the new year, as craft beer further entrenches itself locally and across the U.S.
“We’ve seen a lot of people who are curious, tire-kickers,” Johnson said. “We’re happy we’re here, and we’re committed to the area.”
– Great Fermentations is open Monday through Friday 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday 12:01-4 p.m. More information on the store and classes is available by calling (317) 268-6776 or by logging on to www.greatfermentations.com.