It is a Wednesday afternoon at Brugge Brasserie in Broad Ripple. Normally, the crowd would be sparse as most people would be at work. But today, there are over 50 people filling the dining room and bar. Some are still in their business attire, but a select number are wearing blue and red jerseys. Those in blue support Chelsea, this year’s runner-up in the English Premier League; those in red support Manchester United, this year’s Premier League champions. The two clubs are playing each other in the UEFA Champions League final, and Brugge is a common gathering spot for soccer fans to take in games of this magnitude.
In the dining room, a young Chelsea fan is standing up against the wall, wearing a blue jersey sporting the name “Miller” on the back. This is Hunter. He is the son of Brugge co-owner and brewmaster Ted Miller, with whom we will be meeting after the game.
Mike leans over to me and asks, “Why in the world is he a Chelsea fan?”
I shrug my shoulders, unaware of the inner workings of the boy’s mind. But I jot it down as one of 11 questions I want to ask Ted. Maybe he can shed some light.
It would be a while before we could talk, as the match goes into penalty kicks. But Man U finally wins, and most of the crowd disperses. It quiets down inside Brugge, looking like it normally does on a late weekday afternoon. Ted eventually sits down with us.
“I have a list of questions to ask you,” I say.
He says to bring it on.
“So what’s the deal with your son being a Chelsea fan?”
“Really? That’s one of your questions?” I show him my list. “That really is written down! Okay. Well, he likes winners. It’s like when I was a Cowboys fan in the 1970’s.”
“So why not cheer for Manchester United?”
“They are the Patriots or the Yankees of the Premiership. Evil.”
As a Colts fan, I can really appreciate that.
So who is Ted’s team? “Everton,” he says. Everton is the English Premier League club where first string USA goalkeeper Tim Howard plies his trade.
That Brugge has become a gathering spot for soccer fans is not an accident. With its Belgian beers and European gastropub cuisine, the restaurant has a bit of a European flair to it. So it is a natural fit for fans of European soccer.
But Ted and his partners are big soccer fans as well. In fact, after he saved my note book from falling on the floor (it was sitting on my lap while I was trying to snatch the last mussel in the pan; the notebook was saved thanks to Ted’s “cat-like reflexes”), we found out that he played soccer.
And by playing soccer, I mean he was on the national World Cup qualifier team as a goalkeeper. Twice. And he spent several years playing professional soccer in Asia. These days, he spends more time dealing with his kids’ sports activities than his own (just don’t ask Ted about the waitress in Lexington, Kentucky, with whom he chatted while traveling with Hunter’s soccer team; that’s between Ted, Hunter, the waitress, and the Hoosier Beer Geeks; we’ve been sworn to secrecy).
After his soccer days were over, Ted turned his energies to beer. He spent some time working for John Hill at the Broad Ripple Brewpub, where he really cut his teeth on brewing.
He then spent several years globe trotting, installing and starting up microbrewery systems all over Asia. He was in Taiwan working with a couple of bar owners. These publicans told a mutual friend about the great beer recipes that Ted was producing for them. Ted met their friend Charlie Midgley in 2001.
Charlie was in Taiwan working as the sales and marketing guy for an upstart Taiwanese telephone company. He was born and raised just outside of New York City, on the New Jersey side of the river, and had spent time in Dallas and Los Angeles. He was offered a job with a $30 million a year marketing budget in Taiwan. Immediately, he was taken in by Asia and its culture.
“It’s good to get old in Asia,” Charlie says, eventually joining us for a few beers. “Over there, age doesn’t matter. Thirty, forty, fifty, seventy, a hundred. It doesn’t matter. There, I’m a young man. And I like that.”
The expatriate community in Taiwan was small, but really tight. And Charlie and Ted hit it off.
Ted and his wife Shannon wanted to move back to Indiana when their first child Hunter reached school age. They told their friends of their plan to open a restaurant and start a brewery. They spoke about it all the time, to the point that Charlie says he “gave [Ted] money so he would go away and shut up about it already!”
In April of 2005, Ted and Shannon’s dream came true, with a little help from their friends, of course.
They knew it wouldn’t be easy to succeed. And we all know the three secrets to success in business: location, location, location. Before opening Brugge Brasserie, Ted called his former mentor John Hill about suggestions for locating his new restaurant and brewery.
“Ted told John he was looking at downtown,” says Charlie, “But professionally, John is like a father to Ted, and John told him, ‘I want you to be within walking distance from me.’” They decided to set up in Broad Ripple. Not on the main drag with the college-student style bars, but a bit off the beaten path.
“When we opened this,” Ted says, referring to the restaurant and brewery on the first floor of 1101 East Westfield Blvd., “we had $47 in the bank. All of our money was invested in this space, and we needed it to open fast.”
Between the restaurant, the bar, and the patio, Brugge seats 74 people. Given the unique menu and specific style of craft beers they produce, 74 seats seemed like a lot of seats to fill in 2005. Today, they have two hour waits on weekends.
Upstairs in a former computer café space, the expanded Brugge Brasserie will have a second kitchen and an additional 101 seats. Because they are doing so well downstairs, this time around, they can afford a softer launch. They are hoping to start opening around
“Upstairs will be very similar to down here. Same feel. Same tables from Mexico. What people come to expect of the original will continue upstairs,” Ted says.
But what about the boob theme?
“The boob theme?” Ted asks.
I point to the lights and artwork on the walls, making note of the sensual styles.
“I’ve heard them called mermaid boobs before. I’ll just say the light fixtures upstairs will be nice and creative.”
Gina ponders out loud if they will be penis shaped to balance with the downstairs boobs.
Ted knows he will have a new challenge filling those additional seats. So while it will be Brugge upstairs, it will also be more.
“Upstairs, we will have six to eight Brugge beers on tap and four or so different taps rotating beers of other styles from other breweries. There will be 20 to 40 different varieties of bottled beers. It will mean a broader selection. And by broader I mean hoppier. The beer variety will, hopefully, bring in new customers as we’ll see current customers return more frequently.”
But while Ted is supplying the demand for greater beer variety in his restaurant, he is also supplying the demand for more Brugge Beer. Last year, he and some partners purchased the former Champagne Velvet brewery in Terre Haute and now produces all of Brugge’s White, Black, and Tripel de Ripple beers there.
“You know, a lot of people like our beers, but they don’t always want mussels. A Brugge Black goes well with a burger, but you can’t get that here. But if they can get a Black at another bar, then I think that’s good for me, good for the other bars, and good for the consumers.”
Ted is apparently right. Mike DeWeese of J. Gumbo’s at 15 E. Maryland Street in Indianapolis is a fan of Ted and likes having Brugge Beers on tap. “I like the different take Ted has on the classic Belgian styles,” says Mike. “Not all Belgians are alike within their loose style guidelines, but Ted pushes the envelope with each one. I think the Black is a one-of-a-kind beer. People come to us because they can get Brugge Beer without having to travel to Broad Ripple, which is a win for us.”
Mike was one of the first to have Brugge Beer outside of Brugge Brasserie, as was Three Floyds in Munster. “We had Brugge on tap and it went over really well,” says Three Floyds president and head brewer Nick Floyd, “and we need to get more of it! I think they are well made and compare well and exceed many other Belgian-style beers.”
Starting up the brewery and supplying the DeWeeses and Floyds of the world didn’t go as easily as Ted thought it might. “The appeal of the Terre Haute brewery was that it sits on top of an aquifer. We thought we would have a great supply of water. Turns out that the water is incredibly hard. Full of calcium deposits. We couldn’t use it, so we use the city’s municipal water.”
The city water is still hard, and they have to filter it, acid treat it, and boil treat it at the brewery before using it in their beers. So how have the beers turned out using Terre Haute water instead of an Indianapolis source?
“It’s doing fine. The Tripel and the Black can be challenging at times, but it works out. Oddly enough, the one we thought we would have the most trouble with is the White, and that recipe is behaving well.”
Water quality wasn’t the only problem they were having. Brugge Beer couldn’t afford a good marketing and sales guy. Charlie, who had retired (“paid to go away”) from the telephone company, eventually moved to Bangkok. He had invested money in the Brugge dream, but he knew it was time to add some sweat equity. In the spring of 2007, Charlie came to Indiana to handle the marketing aspect of Brugge Beer (as well as occasionally wash dishes at the Brasserie). He still winters in Bangkok, though.
“If you don’t have your beer sales for the holidays and the Super Bowl lined up by November, then you don’t stand a chance,” says Charlie. “That’s why I go back to my apartment in Bangkok in November, December, and January. I’m not really needed at that time.”
Kegs have been making their way out of Terre Haute, and bottles of Brugge Beer should be making it into bars and stores soon (just don’t ask when yet).
But don’t expect the kettles in Broad Ripple to collect dust or seats and tables to take the space where fermenters now sit. “The Pale Ale [that is currently on tap] was made in there. And we have some other funny stuff we are working on. We’ll do stuff that is only available here at the Brasserie.”
And beer is not the only thing coming out of Brugge. They have been making soda. Showing their philanthropic side, Brugge gives 84 cents of every soda purchase to IPS #84 in Broad Ripple. To date, they are pushing five grand in donations.
“They hit three 7’s,” Charlie says of Ted and Shannon Miller’s dream. “They wanted to open a great restaurant that served and supported their brewery. Then they wanted to expand the brewery. And they are now expanding the restaurant. They have done what they wanted to do, what they talked about back in Taiwan.”
And if you think that running a restaurant and brewery is enough, Ted was recently elected president of the Brewers of Indiana Guild, or BIG. “Ted the First,” the title that Nick Floyd gives to Ted Miller, “will take advantage of being in the state capital and he will try to get Indiana breweries the same rights as Indiana wineries.”
“I think Ted brings a little bit different perspective to the BIG board,” says member Mike DeWeese. “He is very aggressive on his vision for BIG.”
With the bigger restaurant, the bigger brewery, and the BIG presidency, Ted Miller has a lot on his plate. But don’t expect quality to suffer with any of these ventures. As Charlie says, “Ted is a quality maniac.”
And he has to find time to be a good family man. Frequently, he had to stop our discussion as one child or another came up, each starting their sentence with, “Mom says…”
Despite having so many irons in the fire at once, Ted demonstrated on Wednesday that he still has his priorities straight, as Ted’s time hanging with the Hoosier Beer Geeks was cut short. It was time to take Hunter home and fix him dinner.