Thursday, January 9, 2014

All Tied Up With Figure 8 Brewing

Recently, Figure Eight Brewing had a tap takeover at Tomlinson Tap room and the Barrons were invited to come enjoy their beers and hang with their head brewer, Mike Lahti.  I tried to remember where I had consumed their brews before, as they have had only a peppering of taps in Indy.  Then I remembered that somehow, through the gossamer daze that was the Microbrewers Fest this summer in Broad Ripple, I had liked their beers enough to drink two of them... out of the 55 I had that day.

The best part about writing about beer is that most people in the industry are exceptionally charismatic, or contain that "I'll do what I want" cowboy attitude that usually comes off as genuine, not asinine.  Figure 8 and Lahti are a wonderful example of when those two attitudes of passion and fuck all come together and express them perfectly in the brews they make, and the culture they create.

"Everyone squat low so that Lahti looks tall!"
I started with the usual brewer first pitch.  What did you do before you became a brewer and how did you get started?  Lahti's answer was surprisingly interesting.  He began his career as a Wildlife Biologist specializing in wolves.  Epic.  Home brewing was not the usual gateway for him as it is a lot of guys these days.  "I've probably home brewed maybe three times?  It's just not something that interests me." he explained.  A true brewing professional, he cut his teeth at breweries around the US and locally at Upland before heading up Figure 8.  Lahti brings a clean professionalism made obvious in his beers.

This naturally led into a discussion of where he felt F8 fit into the brewery belt buckle that wraps around Lake Michigan and that Northern Indiana is lucky to be apart of.  He elaborated on about how awesome it is to be in that path and how with new and exciting breweries popping up in Michigan as well and NW Indiana, a "Beer Trail" similar to the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky has formed.  "Just from Chicago to Grand Rapids, you can hit twelve solid breweries." Lahti explained.  Despite this regional coagulation of craft breweries, Lahti is looking elsewhere for future collaborations.  Lahti explained it well,  "I'm looking to collaborate with breweries out of state.  Bring new, awesome beer here and bring our name into another state."

Given the Midwest's German brewing heritage, to follow, or not to follow style is always the question.   "I make beer that I want to drink.  I haven't won any awards, or medals, but my sales numbers and production numbers are telling me that I am making good beer." Lahti told me with his index finger emphasizing the well made point his excited eyes were making.  "I'll look at the style guides and I'll follow them... and then I deviate."  This fiery, Grateful Dead lovin' brewer won me over with his "no fucks given" attitude.  It exuded from him as more of a confidence in his craft and a pride in his artistry and business, which was totally backed up by the beers I was drinking between Lahti's smiled filled answers.

The crew at F8 are a warm and welcoming bunch
With cans becoming more prevalent in the brewing world, the question of "Cans or Bottles?" has become the brewers equivalent of "Boxers or Briefs?"  Lahti was very eloquent about his reasoning.  Right now they're bottling, but they want to switch to cans because he likes the light-fastness and because of their proximity to Dunes State Park, where glass is not allowed, it would mean people could take F8 beer with them to their beach excursion.  Working with that same fact, Lahti is trying to get Nalgene growlers at the brew pub so that people could even bring growlers, not just bullets, to the park.  Great to see the Wildlife Biologist has never left his heart.

The future is bright for F8.  New production ideas, and creating out of state connections to make more awareness of other low flying breweries are all adding up to what looks like a great few years for F8.  Lahti, who confesses that Belgians are his favorite to drink and brew, bolsters his passion and genuine pride by spending a majority of the conversation praising other brewers and breweries in the state and abroad.  When asked who his personal favorite brewer in Indiana is: "Liz (Laughlin) at (Rock Bottom) College Park.  Hands down best brewer in Indiana."

The crew at F8 are a warm and welcoming bunch.  Bolstered by their great beers, the conversation was easy and jovial.  I don't know how many times, in the midst of laughing, the phrase, "That's off the record." was uttered.  Figure 8 has definitely left an impression.  Those from the North I'm sure already know this, but I cannot wait until F8 beers like Ro Shampo or Raven Tor start to penetrate the already saturated and competitive Indianapolis market... and succeed.

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