5 Questions With Taxman Brewing Co-Owner Colin McCloy
To mark this year’s pandemic-extended July 15 Tax Day, we talked with Bargersville, IN-based Taxman Brewing Company‘s co-owner and chief production officer, Colin McCloy. Normally the brewery hosts an annual Death & Taxes Day festival around April 15. However, much like the IRS, the brewery had to delay the festival. This year’s festival is planned for August 29, 2020.
Taxman’s Belgian-style Ales and farm-to-table restaurant menu reflect the owners’ love and passion for Belgian culture. Their enthusiasm for beer also extends into American Farmhouse Ales and Midwest Saisons, along with a strong barrel-aging program. The brewery operates a 20-barrel brewhouse plus several satellite restaurant/taprooms in central Indiana.
Taxman also self-distributes throughout Indiana, so their beer should still be available in liquor stores and to-go. A word of caution: We don’t necessarily recommend doing your taxes after downing some beers!
What’s behind the Taxman name?
Taxman Brewing was founded in part by tax accountants who were very familiar with the stodgy stigma of the profession and looked to lighten it up. Taxes played a large part in the Belgian theme, as four of our founders met while on assignment in Brussels and bonded over Belgian beers and culture. After returning to the U.S., they wanted to recreate the unique beer and authentic, small-town experiences they had enjoyed. Thus, a Belgian-style brewery was born in rural Bargersville. The Taxman logo came naturally from the same tax theme, personifying the famous Benjamin Franklin quote “…in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
Your motto is “Belgian Inspired, American Crafted” and you’ve cited the influence of yeast in your focus on Belgian styles. What’s so special about the yeast and do you propagate your own?
We noticed that many Belgian-style but American-brewed beers used Trappist strong ale yeast, featuring overpowering bubblegum/banana esters. Those are great in moderation, but we sought to limit that character in many of our beers and to offer a broader perspective on what Belgian beers could be. We focused instead on citrus and dark fruit for our abbey-style ales and pepper & wine-like character for our saisons.
Our house and seasonal offerings have used a wide variety of yeast, but most are readily available on the market. Our sour program, known as the Reserve Series, uses a proprietary mixed culture blend we’ve been building for over four years now and can be enjoyed in beers like our three-year turbid mash lambic-style Sour Broker and our Flander’s-style blended brown Balance of Sour.
You have an extensive barrel-aging program; which combinations of Belgian-style beers and wine or spirits barrels work the best?
Having a strong aging program was always important to us given our Belgian focus. At any given time we’ll have between 250-350 barrels in our Reserve Series sour and wild program and our Vault Series clean barrel-aging program.
Dubbels and Quadruples are born to age in bourbon barrels, showcasing their stonefruit and caramel notes. One of my personal favorites is our mezcal-barrel Tripel, which has an incredible citrus, smoke and vanilla profile. We’ve also had great success aging our “Evasion” Imperial Stout in maple-syrup barrels, earning top accolades at the World Beer Awards last year.
In our Reserve Series, we’ve really enjoyed the results of zinfandel-aged Brettanomyces Saisons, which add a grape must complexity to notes of pepper and citrus. The rest of our Reserve Series does benefit from some wine character, though we primarily keep focused on fermentation flavors rather than vessel character.
Indiana doesn’t have the automatic association with brewing that places such as Milwaukee do, yet has produced a number of highly-regarded craft breweries. What do you think lies behind that?
The Indiana brewing community as a whole is close-knit, incredibly focused on quality and consistency, and has a “rising tide lifts all boats” mentality so it’s no surprise to us when you see Indiana right next to the usual beer-Meccas in national quality competitions. It’s been particularly exciting to see the Indiana beer scene receive attention for Belgian-style beers recently.
As to lacking an automatic association, perhaps one reason is that most breweries here don’t widely distribute outside of Indiana; our own state motto labels us the “Crossroads of America,” epitomizing a drive-through-state mentality rather than a destination location. Indiana will just have to keep making great beer and give those passing through a reason stop. Maybe next time Indy will be their end-point.
Taxman has multiple locations, all with restaurants. Tell us more about the decision to focus on food and expansion and how have things changed in light of the pandemic-mandated closures?
Our team has truly believed that breweries who provide experiences beyond just great beer are the future, be it a restaurant or some other offering beyond a standard taproom. These outlets give an additional opportunity to tell your story and express yourself. In our case, we focused on rehabilitating century-old buildings to create rustic and welcoming farmhouse-style venues. The restaurants allowed us to pair our beers with classic Belgian-inspired cuisine like Liege waffles, mussels and steak frites. We truly wanted to bring a taste of what our ownership team loved about Belgium to Indiana. These elements allowed us to create robust, authentic experiences for our communities to enjoy and to build destinations worth the journey.
We’re currently several months into the COVID-19 pandemic and like most breweries, we had to adapt our strategy multiple times to make it through. Closing our restaurants down for months required us to pivot hard on our packaging side. It certainly tested our experience-based model, but we also were very fortunate to receive a surge of support from our local communities to get us through the shutdown. Contactless carry-out, online stores and socially distanced dine-in have been challenges and opportunities that we’ve had to embrace and learn about rather quickly and some of those lessons and elements will remain in our model going forward. We’re looking forward to the end of this pandemic someday to see the full benefits of dine-in experiences again; in the meantime, we’ll be working to keep everyone safe, the lights on and the beer pouring.
All photos by Taxman Brewing Company.
Note: The original 5 Questions With Taxman Brewing was published April 10 for traditional Tax Day. This version includes updates that reflect the rapidly-changing situation for breweries in the current pandemic-impacted business environment.