Fountain Square brings science to the art of brewing

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When it comes to brewing beer, passion for and dedication to the art form certainly go a long way in contributing to one’s success. However, more and more breweries are excelling based on their breadth of knowledge in the field of science. Indianapolis-based Fountain Square Brewing is a glowing example as its three partners each have brought their own expertise in various scientific disciplines to the table.

While the brewery opened only a couple of years ago, the building blocks of the operation began way back in the 1980s when co-workers Bill Webster and Jeff Gibson began talking about starting a business together but couldn’t come up with an idea that would sustain. Gibson would later move out west, but the two kept in touch and would continually come back to brainstorming ideas for their joint venture.

A full-time microbiologist and self-described “backyard engineer,” Webster had homebrewed for many years and, after brewing a batch of a Belgian pale ale in the summer of 2010 that had neighbors raving, had a light bulb go off in his head to turn his hobby into a business. Both Gibson, a chemist, and Webster’s neighbor, Justin Brown, an automation process engineer, were on board with helping to fund this startup.

After a handful of unsuccessful attempts at landing used brewing equipment, Webster finally caught a stroke of luck when someone called about local Alcatraz Brewing Co. going out of business. From there, the buildout was put in motion.

From the get-go, Webster knew he wanted his business to be in Fountain Square, an area just southeast of downtown Indianapolis. He had driven through this town for years on his way to work and witnessed its gentrification into what is now described as a “funky, artsy and retro neighborhood.” It would be the perfect spot for a brewery that treats its product like individual works of art.

Webster brought in a 15-bbl brew house that includes two 30-bbl and five 15-bbl fermenters. He also relies heavily on his two 30-bbl lagering tanks, which are laid on their sides for “better and faster conditioning.” This is evident in Fountain Square’s Workingman’s pilsner, which is their best seller. As a whole, the brewery focuses on true-to-style beers that are extremely drinkable, while striving for quality, consistency, shelf stability and automation in their brewing processes. This is where the three partners’ scientific backgrounds really come into play.

The laboratory is impressive for a brewery of their size, and the list of tests Webster rattled off was nearly impossible to keep up with. Hop acid analysis, moisture content levels, water purity profiles, yeast purity and pitch numerations were just a few he and Gibson perform. “Once these are nailed down, we don’t have to test all of the time,” he said. In addition to testing, Brown has worked wonders in automating the brewery’s older equipment and helping their bottling operation achieve up to 5000 fills per week. Fountain Square’s distribution currently reaches only southern Indiana but will cover the entire state by year’s end.

Fountain Square’s taproom is spacious with a handful of seating options as well as a large view into the brewery. The influence of the town’s artistic sensibilities is evident throughout – even up to the ceiling (see images in slideshow below). Plus, every other month, the works of a new local artist are featured on their walls. While a kitchen is not on the premises, they have a partnership with a local pizzeria that quickly delivers to hungry guests.

The brewery has also connected with the local community through a handful of fun, unique events at its tap room and adjacent parking lot. “Hop Your Face,” held October 5 this year, is an annual festival (“a Grateful Dead environment,” according to Webster) that features bands and the release of a single batch of their Imperial IPA. Every Good Friday, Fountain Square holds “Peep Show,” where their saison made with marshmallow Peeps is served, dancers cavort, and guests are challenged to make their own devices to use in a Peep-shooting contest. You can also find the team pouring at a handful of upcoming festivals, including Beers Across Wabash, Dig In-A Taste of Indiana, Hoosier Hops & Harvest and Art Squared. Check their online calendar for all events.

All parts of their equation have led Fountain Square Brewing to become one of the most popular breweries in the growing craft beer market that is Indianapolis. In fact, its sales have placed it amongst the top four in the city. Despite his business’ steady growth over the past couple of years, Webster, who still works full-time as a project manager for a local company, has vowed to not add too much capacity to the brew house though. “We’re treading slowly due to the recent and ongoing boom of the industry,” he said. “Everyone knows and talks about the ‘bubble’ in the craft beer industry. It’s only the three of us who have funded this business, and we want to be able to weather any storms that may come.”

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