Taxman Brewing Co. toasts its success
Given the amount of goodwill and name recognition Taxman Brewing Co. has garnered around central Indiana since opening the doors to its restaurant and brewery facility in Bargersville less than three years ago, one might assume its founders, Leah and Nathan Huelsebusch, were thinking on a grand scale from the beginning. But the reverse is true: The Huelsebusches actually started off thinking small.
In its earliest form, Taxman started in the aughts, when Nathan and Leah were living on Clemmer Avenue in Cincinnati.
“I made a kit, which, if you’re not familiar, it’s a malt syrup. You don’t do the full mash process like you do in a brewery,” Nathan says. “It turned out well enough and created alcohol, but the end product wasn’t terribly good. My friends humored me and drank it while we played cards, but it wasn’t really enjoyable.”
Although Nathan’s home-brew efforts weren’t successful, the Huelsebusches’ love of craft beer and their “thinking small” were reinforced when they moved more than 4,000 miles away to Brussels, having transferred there from Nathan’s position as international accountant with Deloitte, a multinational professional services firm.
They spent their downtime visiting breweries throughout the Belgian countryside, taking diligent mental notes. “Those tiny breweries in the middle of nowhere were so neat,” Leah recalls. “We really just made the most of our time there. We saw a lot.” The couple had traveled all over not only Belgium, but also around Europe, getting plenty of stamps on their passports before Cummins Engine Co. recruited Nathan in 2010. The Huelsebusches would pack up and head back to the States, to an area the two buckeyes had never before explored.
“We picked Greenwood from a map while we were in Belgium because it was in between Columbus and downtown Indianapolis,” Nathan says. “It’s just weird how it comes together.”
After relocating, Nathan went to work for Cummins and so did Leah, who landed in the company’s corporate communications group in the Indianapolis office, responsible for public relations and digital marketing, before heading on to do pharmaceutical sales for Novartis.
But the memories of Belgium crept up on them; in Greenwood, they missed the feelings they had in the Belgian brew halls.
“In Belgium, the town congregates in a brew hall. They meet their neighbors there,” Nathan says. “I think one of the difficult things for us, moving from Brussels, [was that] we were right downtown near the center of the city. We didn’t spend a lot of time in our apartment. And then we moved to Greenwood, which was farther away from Indianapolis. You kind of feel isolated.”
Taking inspiration from their Belgian exploits, the Huelsebusches approached the now-defunct Cutters Brewing Co. in Avon for permission to try a few recipes using the Cutters brewing equipment. They would test the market with what would become some of their best-sellers.
“It was hard going out to Indiana stores and restaurants and getting them to buy this Belgian-style beer,” Leah says. “A lot of people hadn’t heard of the styles like the Belgian dubbel. But I think once people started tasting the beers and seeing how approachable they were, it made it a very easy sale. Our first sale was to Twenty Tap in Broad Ripple.”
Hopping to it
While Leah and Nathan were creating a buzz throughout the Indianapolis craft beer market, Nathan’s sister, Kirby, who serves as Taxman’s chief financial officer, struck up a relationship with Colin McCloy, a home-brewing enthusiast who had obtained a certificate in brewing technology from the Siebel Institute in Chicago. Nathan and Leah had found their brewmaster, and all that was needed was a facility to call their own.
Taxman had become a family affair, a setup that at times mystifies onlookers. Leah jokes that, although the couple have been married for nine years, they truly became married when they started Taxman.
“It’s funny because, even yesterday somebody said, ‘I could never work with my spouse. I love them, but I don’t know that I could ever do it,’” Leah says. “For us, it kind of was a motivating factor. It definitely has its challenges, but we are best friends, and we have complimentary skill sets that work well together. I think sometimes we are harder on one another because we can be, but we also know we can rely on one another, and there’s a level of responsibility in that that I don’t think you can always get from just anyone that you’re working with.”
When the time came to launch their headquarters in 2014, one year after officially establishing Taxman as a business, the founders immediately saw potential in Johnson County. “I think the people in Bargersville have really come to appreciate having a place for the community to come together,” McCloy says. “Bargersville has that farm-town quality, and it goes along well with our Belgian-style design and the way we want to present ourselves.”
The Taxman team soon decided that becoming a community focal point meant offering more than just a brewery. A few months after their brewing facility on South Baldwin Street was completed in September 2014, the team unveiled an on-site, farm-to-table gastropub they felt would mirror the quality of their beers. Everything in the kitchen is made from scratch daily — no freezers are used — and the menu changes seasonally to incorporate ingredients from several Indiana farms and businesses, including Heirloom Acres, Amelia’s Bakery and Gunthorp Farms.
As for the beers themselves, the flavors are as distinct as their names, many of which are tax-themed in honor of the owners’ various accounting backgrounds. Current best-sellers include the Exemption, an abbey-style tripel; the Gold Standard, a light, dry abbey blonde; and the Deduction, a mild dubbel. The official Taxman logo is similarly inspired: The image includes a skull decked out in a top hat and bow tie, and was prompted by a Benjamin Franklin quote: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
Taxman brews currently occupy coveted shelf space in several major chains and Indiana groceries, such as Target, Kroger and Big Red Liquors, not to mention a presence at a lengthy list of Hoosier restaurants, including the Stacked Pickle, Stone Creek Dining Co., Revery, Jockamo Upper Crust Pizza and many more.
“We’ve expanded over 100 percent year after year,” McCloy says. “We’re a completely self-distributing company, so anytime you see a bottle or can on a shelf somewhere, someone from Taxman put it there. So trying to do the right amount of beer and the right mix of our selections is one of the challenges on the brewing side.”
Expanding the suds
Taxman’s newest venture, a brasserie-style eatery with Indiana-sourced ingredients, represents another example of a company venture that started small but grew naturally over time. In 2016 a friend of one of
Taxman’s investors offered to lease a building he owned in downtown Fortville, hoping to facilitate a business that would help bring together the local community.
After initially declining the offer, the Taxman team began to see the potential of doing in Fortville what their Bargersville business continues to do: provide a unique, welcoming dining space for local residents to come together. “Fortville has a lot of the same things as Bargersville,” McCloy says. “It’s an area where there’s a lot of people around it, and it’s an old-style town and there aren’t a ton of restaurants.”
At more than 12,000 square feet, the facility, which opened in late July, includes a family friendly dining space and a 21-and-over tasting room. Like the Bargersville restaurant, all the menu items are made in-house from scratch.
“Originally, we were going to do just a little 40-seat restaurant, but the general contractor purchased the building next door, and we eventually bought that building, and it became a much larger project,” Leah says. “Upstairs we have an additional bar area that can be used for general seating or special events, and then we have a private event space that’s about 3,000 square feet.”
To Leah, the enthusiasm with which southside residents have taken to the Taxman Brewing concept is still a pleasant surprise after almost three years. “The restaurant has been busier from the onset than we ever expected to be, so that has been a challenge in a good way,” she says. “The people here are genuine, hard-working and kind. The open-mindedness of the southside community to something that’s definitely new, like Belgian-style brewing and the farm-to-table concept, has been great.”
The Huelsebusches spend their off hours, such as they are, hanging out with their Boston terriers as they hike and bike around the southside. The couple travels together, indulging their shared passion for all craft products, including a trip to Vermont, during which they toured farmers markets, craft breweries and restaurants.
“We found in Belgium and now that we’ve been back that breweries and craft-focused restaurants really make for a great trip,” Leah says.
For Nathan, although his focus and his company’s focus are locally produced consumables, the world should be open for exploration.
“I think there’s beauty in exploring,” he says. “Go out and experience the world, experience the things that are out there. If you see something during that time that you think is truly special or fantastic, recreate that. Try to bring home and connect with what makes an experience great. I think that’s what we’ve done with Taxman.”
—By Jon Shoulders // Photography by Angie Jackson