18th Street Brewery, lead by entrepreneur and brewer, Drew Fox, has earned local and international standing as a start-up in Gary, Indiana. Initially built through crowd funding on Kickstarter, the brewery has gone on to win “Best New Brewery in Indiana” from Ratebeer.com, collaborated with some of the world’s most creative brewers, and appealed to a local audience that stretches from downstate Indiana, to Chicago and the NW Indiana corridor, and audiences as far away as Denmark. Now, Fox and his team have found themselves on the verge of an incredible new chapter in the future of the business.
“Because of the local support we’ve gotten over the past couple years, we’ve been able to turn our hustle into a significant business and cultural opportunity here in NW Indiana. I’m still sort of shocked it’s all happened, but I’m not going to push pause now. It’s time for us to turn all that support into something significant for the community,” says Fox. “We’ve learned a lot of lessons since we started this thing, and one of the most important lessons is in maintaining your independence as a business, and making sure you’re looking far, far ahead."
Fox and his team have been incrementally expanding the business at their current location on the corner of Miller Ave and Lake Street in the Miller Beach area of Gary, Indiana. They’ve knocked down walls, built a beer garden, opened up more interior space and even taken over the adjacent building for a barrel-aging program. But all that work and improvement created a property with rents rivaling some of Chicago’s best neighborhoods and out of touch with why Gary, Indiana was an important location for them.
“We chose this area because there was a chance to make a real impact,” explains Fox, who lived in Gary, Indiana for 10 years. “But now, we’re sort of a victim of our own success. So now it’s time to think about the best ways to invest in my own business and my team’s growth for the long-haul. We’re getting ready to take control of our own future by buying a building further down Lake Street, more central to the rest of the business district, with a blank slate we can really develop a long-term vision in."
The current location was attractive to drinkers from near and far because of it’s location near the regional train, but it was somewhat isolated from the rest of the street, and there was little spill-over to nearby businesses, something that’s important to Fox. By pushing further down Miller Street, even just a few blocks, the brewery plans to be more integrated with small businesses and shops working hard to bring growth back to the community. “That’s still our number one goal," says Fox, “to show people that you can create world-class businesses right here in Gary and NW Indiana. By purchasing this new building out-right, all the effort and money we put in to it will benefit our business in the long-run. I’m so thankful we’ve had the support we’ve had that enabled us to get to this point, where we can stand back and ask ourselves what we want the future to look like."
The new building will enable the team to design the brewpub experience from scratch, with a 3bbl system on-site where Fox and his brewers can make some of the experimental and ambitious beers they’ve become know for. It’ll also feature a new kitchen, larger dining room, and a special lounge area in the basement for the Local One Eight club, which are Fox’s earliest backers of the brewery via Kickstarter.
“We’re lucky we’ve had the support we got in the first few years. And we did it by making some kick-ass beers that few other brewers were really wiling to try for a NW Indiana crowd. We proved to them all that you don’t have to underestimate your audience to succeed here."
In order to serve the audience that they’ve helped create in NW Indiana and beyond, the brewery needed production space where it could continue to make some of its most popular beers, without tying up the smaller brewpub system. To that end, Fox and his team set out on a search in the nearby area and found a major opportunity with a building in Hammond, IN.
“This building is large enough that it can future-proof us for a long time to come," explains Fox, dwarfed by the cavernous interior. "And again, we’ll own it outright. And the city of Hammond was in a position to help us get up and running quickly, which is something we appreciate about that location. We were done with small moves. We wanted to make a leap into the future."
The 32,000 sq ft building can be easily sectioned off and structured to support the business over time, enabling the team to take calculated steps towards production growth, without having to over-extend the business from day-one. It also enables them to maintain a separate focus in both the Gary and Hammond locations.
“Gary is our first home, and that’s where we want people to experience the hospitality we’ve become known for,” says Fox. “Hammond will be much more focused on our distribution and packaged business, with a tasting room and beer garden that will give 18th Street fans a completely new experience as well."
The city of Gary offered the brewery funds to help them expand the entire operation in the city, but ultimately, Fox decided to spread the business a bit further on his own. “We’re so proud that we’ve been able to show the value of an ambitious business in Gary, and that’s helped open some eyes, and opened doors for a lot of others. But we’re in a position now where we’re prepared to take the next steps all on our own, which means that the investments the city is interested in making can go to support some other great businesses that are also ready to thrive here in Gary. It’s a win-win for everyone and I’m excited to see what happens with the capital investment plan that’s in the making. I can’t wait to be surrounded by some other ambitious people."
Craft beer has helped revitalize many small Midwestern cities in the past ten years, bringing culture, highly-skilled labor, and tourism to communities that had all but lost their appeal to residents and outsiders. But breweries like Three Floyds, Sun King, and Upland have helped the state of Indiana win mindshare with many young people who are increasingly proud to call it home. “We think this is our chance to be that number four brewery,” says Fox. “If we do everything right, we can be an anchor in the Northwest, serving cities like East Chicago, Schererville, Calumet, and Munster in a deeper way. That’s what this move is all about — doing it right. It’s a huge goal, but we’re ready to give it a shot."
By splitting the operation, owning its own real estate, and meticulously planning their growth phase, Fox feels the brewery will be in a strong position to own its future. “We outgrew our current space in 6 months,” he recalls. “Now, with a better brewpub in Gary, a future-proof production space in Hammond, and with the space to grow our barrel program and improve our overall quality, we can finally start toward the future that so many of our supporters hoped for, and we hoped for. We want to be in a position to compete with national brands here at home, and that means better logistics, access to market, and production systems for our beer. Being in two Northwest Indiana communities, each with their own advantages, will go a long way in accomplishing this. Now it’s all up to us — and that’s a position we’re excited to be in."
18th STREET BREWERY
18th Street Brewery, lead by co-founder Drew Fox, was named "Best New Brewery in Indiana" by Ratebeer.com in 2013. Since then, they've gone on to become an anchor in NW Indiana beer culture, as well as build relationships with ambitious brewers around the world. Learn More >>
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