Things Are Looking Upland: For Bloomington Brewing Company, Craft Beer And Local Food Go Hand In Hand
It's a rare and delicious thing when a brewery gets its beer and its food right.
Upland Brewing Company, the craft brewery and restaurant based in Bloomington, is such a place, where the macaroni and cheese is as revered as the Wheat Ale from which it's made.
There is an ever-widening circle of ways to try Upland's beer – sampled at Upland's tasting room in Indy near Broad Ripple, pulled from the taps at Lucas Oil Stadium, offered at bars and stores throughout the state – but there is just one place to taste that union of beer and food: at the brewpub in Bloomington.
Upland executive chef Seth Elgar relies on relationships with local growers and farmers to steer the menu when possible. The menu spans pub favorites like breaded pork tenderloins and entrees such as enchiladas with mole sauce, plus specials like Korean-cut short ribs.
"Not everything needs to be deep-fried to be beer friendly," Elgar says.
INDEPENDENT AND IRREVERENT
Founded in 1998, Upland brews seven year-round beers – including the popular wheat and IPA – and more than a dozen seasonal and special beers that are sold, in bottles and on draught, in Indiana, Louisville and southern Wisconsin. It also has a line of Belgian sour ales, whose signature tart flavors come from fermenting with a variety of yeasts and bacteria in oak barrels for a year or more.
The company's name comes from the Norman and Crawford uplands – geologists' terms for two of the southern Indiana areas that glaciers didn't flatten. Nestled in Bloomington's rolling hills are the original brewery and brewpub, on 11th Street just a few blocks off the downtown square.
The Upland crew is serious about making exceptional beer and food. Head brewer Caleb Staton is an Indiana Artisan, a designation for the premier food and beverage producers and artists in the state.
But they have plenty of fun too. Case in point: the smile-inducing name of their brown ale, Nut Hugger. The label features a squirrel sipping a pint.
"We don't want to lose being independent and irreverent," says Dayhoff, one of the members of a small partnership group that bought the business in 2006. "We don't want to lose the part of our character that makes us special. That's what's enabling our growth."
GROWING UP AND OUT
Over the last 5½ years, Upland's business has tripled. In 2011, Upland produced just under 10,000 barrels of beer.
Its beers have snagged a variety of awards and make cameos on "Parks and Recreation," the NBC show about a fictional Indiana town––when the characters drink beer, Upland bottles are in their hands. Now as popular as it's ever been, Upland is expanding, a move that will make the beer company a regional player.
This summer Upland is shifting production of its traditional ales and lagers to a refurbished 37,000-square-foot plant on Bloomington's west side. At first the new brewery will have an annual capacity of about 18,000 barrels, but there will be room to expand further and produce up to 50,000.
The 11th Street location will be renovated late this year or early next. A larger kitchen and additional seating will serve more customers, and a new outdoor music pavilion will host large events. Upland will also build a barrel cellar and increase production of its sours.
"Normally, when you grow you have to compromise," Dayhoff says. "On both the beer side and the restaurant side, we've said not only that we won't compromise, but we'll get better at our values and authenticity than before."
Those values include being sustainable and buying local.
FROM THE FARM
Seth Elgar became Upland's executive chef in early 2011. A farmraised Hoosier whose culinary education took him to Chicago's Kendall College and to France, he's strengthened Upland's commitment to local sourcing.
Upland gets produce from Heartland Family Farm in Bedford and Sun Circle Farm in Paoli, herbs and spices from Harvest Moon Flower Farm in Spencer, cheese from Capriole in Greenville, beef and pork from Fischer Farms in Jasper and poultry from the Butcher's Block in Bloomington – to name but a few.
Each week Elgar shops at Bloomington's farmers market, but he's also trying some new, more innovative sources. On the roof, near the water-heating solar panels, Upland is starting a garden. And, this spring, the brewpub began buying pigs from WE Farm that were fed Upland's fruit and vegetable scraps.
The innovation continues in the kitchen.
Diners sitting inside or on the patio can get tried-and-true breaded tenderloins, but they can also order a seitan tenderloin. And pretzel twists from the Bloomington Bagel Company, served with Wheat Ale cheese sauce and Helios Pale Ale mustard. And porter chocolate cake, made with Upland's Bad Elmer's Porter.
Elgar and his staff experiment with weekly specials and seasonal items, too. After an Upland employee returned from a trip to Kenya, the restaurant served Kenyan specials for two weeks.
CHEERS TO COMMUNITY
When Teresa Birtles, owner of Heartland Family Farm, goes to Upland after the Bloomington farmers market, she enjoys seeing farms she knows on the menu.
"It's just delightful to feel like you're a part of other people's lives," she says. "It builds cohesiveness in the community."
Upland also builds community by sponsoring events like festivals, concerts and fundraisers for causes like the Sycamore Land Trust. At the annual Tour de Upland, scheduled for Aug. 18 and 19, attendees gather in Brown County for a weekend of cycling, beer, food, music and camping. And Upland will host two Oktoberfest celebrations this fall, one in Bloomington and the other in Indy's Military Park.
"Beer, music, being outside – they're all things that go well together," Elgar says. "We try to do that whenever we can."