09 February 2009

The Hoosier Beer Geek Six Pack: Jon Myers, Brewer/Owner Powerhouse Brewing Company

1) Who are you and where do you work? I am Jon Myers; I work for Power House Brewing Co.

2) What got you into the brewing/bar business?
I have worked in the restaurant industry off and on since I was 17 years old. When I was in college, at Ball State University, I began working at the now defunct BW-3 in the village. I started as a cook and eventually worked my way up to General Manager. One of the owners, Mike DeWeese, had a passion for beer and had several great beers at BW-3. I also lived three blocks from the Heorot, a great beer bar in downtown Muncie. I had always had an interest in beer, like it was in my blood. My dad used to give me sips of his Stroh’s when I was a kid, and I thought it was the best thing in the world. When I turned 21 the first bar I went to was the Columbus, which I now own. I asked the server if they had any “imported beer.” I had until that point only had whatever swill beer I could get my hands on as a teenager, and I had always heard beer from Europe was superior to American beer. The first beer I had there was a Newcastle Brown Ale.

After graduating from college I moved to the downtown Indianapolis Buffalo Wild Wings (BW-3 had officially changed its name). The downtown location was also owned by Mike DeWeese and the beer selection was even better. Naively I thought I could make better use of my education than work at a restaurant. So I resigned from Buffalo Wild Wings and began looking for a “real job.”

This was right after the dot com bubble burst and there was a lot of competition on the job market, so the “real job” never materialized. I moved back to my hometown of Columbus, Indiana in 2001. My father had some rental property for sale so I bought them and moved back. My lease was up on my apartment, my roommates were not sticking around and I had been working as a bartender in Greensburg, IN so there was no reason for me to stay in Indy. I moved into one of the rentals. It seemed I couldn’t escape the restaurant industry. I took on the rental properties thinking I could sustain myself from the rental income. After six months it became evident I needed a job so I got a job bar tending in a new restaurant in downtown Columbus, (also defunct). There was no good beer to be found in Columbus. The lack of beer took me by surprise, I had been spoiled working around good beer and living in an area where good beer was available. I began home brewing. My interest in home brewing led me to visit the great brewpubs in Indianapolis and Louisville. I realized there was an opportunity. While I worked for BW-3 my dad had entertained the notion of investing in a BW-3 franchise. I convinced my dad we should start our own bar in Columbus focusing on good beer.

We opened the bar in 2003. Things did not go well for us and in 2005 my dad sold the bar and got out of the bar business. While working at the bar I befriended my current business partner Doug Memering. One day Doug mentioned how he thought Columbus needed a brewpub. I agreed and we began to put a plan together as to what that brewpub may look like. In 2005, after Dad sold the bar, I learned the Columbus Bar was for sale. This is the first bar I went to when I turned 21. It has been in operation since 1939, it’s a beautiful and historical civic icon. We decided the Columbus Bar would be a good “Pub” side of the brewpub and in 2006 we took possession and remolded the Columbus Bar.

3) Was there a beer that you bench marked your own against? How did you know your beer was good enough to take to the general public?
There are several beers I had in mind as I began brewing my own beer. I was inspired by brewers like Bell’s and Three Floyd’s. I liked breweries that had a theme, but respected each style. Breweries where you knew the beer would be good without ever having tried it.
People who tried my home brews liked them, even the beers I was not entirely happy with people liked. I was pretty sure I could sell my beers in a “brewpub” where no other beer was offered, in a town like Columbus where this was a new concept. However, when we took over the Columbus Bar it would be a year before we started brewing. We added 20 draft lines and vowed not to have a bad beer on any of them. Between this and the bar I operated with my dad I had opened a market for craft beer in an area where it did not exist a few years before. So when we added our beers to our tap rotation it was up against the finest beers in the world. They were up against Bell’s and Three Floyd’s. They were up against breweries I loved and regarded highly. Needless to say I was nervous. It was not until our beer was on tap and sold as well as other great beers that I was sure our beer was ready for the public. It wasn’t until the 2007 Indiana Microbrewer’s Fest when thousands of people tried our beer and said, “this is great,” that I really knew we had what it takes to make great beer.

4) What beer are you proudest of? Which of your beers is your personal favorite? Why?
I am most proud of Diesel Oil Stout. I knew I wanted to give the people of my hometown something to be proud of. I knew I wanted to make beers that evoked the local spirit, history and culture. Columbus is home to Cummins, Inc., manufacturers of diesel engines. My business partner Doug works for Cummins. My dad retired from Cummins. The majority of our customers work for Cummins. I had the idea for “Diesel Engine” Stout. Later my business partner Doug called in “Diesel Oil Stout” by mistake and I thought that was a better name. I knew what I wanted out of this beer. I wanted a black black stout with a dirty brown head, but I wanted the beer to be drinkable, to be a session beer. I didn’t want to make an over the top stout. Since then Diesel Oil Stout has become our flagship beer.

I do not really have a favorite beer, it would be like having a favorite child, it’s just not fair. I will tell you two of my favorite moments with our beers. After the 2009 Winterfest I had some Wee Heavy Scotch Ale left over so I took a growler home. My wife, Robin, and I sat by the fire and sipped this beer and I have to say I enjoyed it and felt proud.

The summer of 2007 we were brewing Workingman Wheat. I bottled a few by hand and took some home. This is a little over a year since we took over the Columbus Bar and we had just started brewing. Work was very stressful, getting a business off the ground is not easy, it takes a tremendous amount of dedication, strength and support from friends and family. To ease stress Robin and I like to work in our garden. That summer we were working in the garden, it was a beautiful day. I took a break and poured myself a Workingman and drank it on our back patio in the sun. That was a perfect beer moment. The beer was perfect and I was so proud of it.

5) With the size of your operation, how do you decide what to make next, or what is your creative process for making a new beer?

We try to keep Diesel Oil on all the time. We brew 20 gallon batches and that is really small. Basically we brew one keg at a time. There have been moments where we did not have any of our beer on tap at all. We decided Diesel Oil had the most customer support so we would make Diesel Oil all the time to keep it on tap. Whenever we get a few kegs stocked up of Diesel Oil we will make another beer. This Christmas we had four of our beers on tap, a new record.
When we started brewing we would brew a different beer every season. Workingman Wheat in the summer, Columbus Common in the fall, White River Brown Ale in the spring and Diesel Oil in the winter. We still try to follow the seasons. We have Diesel Oil on all the time, but we put our porter on and our 1436 Dark Wheat on in the winter. This summer we will brew more Workingman Wheat.

When we come up with a new beer we think about the style of beer we want to brew. For example, during the winter of the hop crisis I decided to make a Scotch Ale, because there is a low hop profile and it was winter and Scotch Ales are great winter beers. I reflected on Scotch Ales, asked myself, what I like about Scotch Ales, what makes them good, what makes them unique. I also enjoy a good Scotch whiskey with a good in your face peat profile, and I wanted to give our Scotch Ale a little of that characteristic. From there I put a recipe together using a little of whatever hop I could get my hands on and a great beer was born.

My fellow brewer, David Baugher came up with the recipe for 1436 Dark Wheat Ale. It was summer and we had been brewing Workingman Wheat. Batch after Batch after Batch of Workingman Wheat. David wanted to brew something else, change it up a bit. Inspired by Dunkle Weiss [style] he put together a unique dark wheat beer. We tried it and it was a hit, people ask for it all the time.

6) Which beers outside of your own do you enjoy? What beer do you wish you came up with? Why?
I love a lot of different beers and beer styles. I’m a big fan of Belgian ales, specifically abbey and doubles. I like pale ales and IPA’s with a great hop character that have a strong malt backbone. Founder’s IPA is a great example. In the winter I like a good barley wine with a couple of years on it, and in the summer I’ll have a pilsner or a hefe-weizen.

There really isn’t any beer I wish I had created that I didn’t create, there are several that I enjoy.

We sincerely wish to thank Jon for taking the time to answer our questions. If you are in the Columbus area, or shopping at the outlet mall, stop by and have a few pints and some good food. Here is a link to their website.

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