While you can get People’s Brewing Co. craft beers at bars and carryout stores around the state, a stop in its taproom at 2006 N. Ninth St. in Lafayette, Ind., adds a little more flavor to the experience. With a dozen taps, seating for almost 50 and a charming décor, People’s Brewing delivers what a sign on the wall promises: “If you tap it they will come.”
Aberrant Amber carries notes of grapefruit and tangerine. Mr. Brown, a great cold-weather beer, delivers a complex malt character and warming alcohol flavor. People’s Pilsner, the Procrastinator, Rail Jumper Stout Nitro, and Moundbuilder, its best seller, are among other favorites brewed by People’s Brewing Co. “We are a production micro-brewery, crafting handmade ales and lagers,” stated Brewmaster Chris Johnson. He founded the business in December 2009 with his brother-in-law, Brett Vander Plaats, who handles administrative and back-office matters.
“It’s been great,” Johnson says of their entry into brewing and business. “Right from the get-go, we had interest from local bars and retail owners, and it quickly spilled over into the community. We have a good local following.”
Its production area covers 6,000 sq. ft., and in the front of the house, a 1,000 sq. ft. taproom seats 49, with about 10 beers on tap every day. And the business is about to grow.
“Right now, we are making about as much beer as we can in this space,” Johnson said. “This year we are expanding our production abilities, adding 4,500 sq. ft. to the production side, which will give us room to grow for the next several years.”
Now a 20-barrel brew house with 40-barrel fermentation, People’s can make about 1,600 barrels, or about 50,000 gallons, a year. “We are adding 120-barrel tanks. Then we will be able to produce 250,000 to 300,000 gallons annually. We’ll grow into that, not do it all at once.”
Johnson’s favorite among the beers? “Usually the one in my hand,” he says. “It’s hard for me to pick one. It would be like picking a favorite child.”
He currently does most of the formulation and head brewer Sean Manahan is getting involved in some of the formularies. “He’s very passionate about the brewing,” according to Johnson.
For its success, growth and community involvement, People’s Brewing was named the February Small Business of the Month by Greater Lafayette Commerce.
Johnson came to Lafayette from LaGrange in 1997 to study computer graphics at Purdue. He was already a home-brewer then, and from 2000 to mid-2008, he worked for another local brewer, solidifying his interest in the craft.
“I grew up in farming, so I like hands-on work,” he stated. “The creativeness of brewing really intrigues me. There’s a basic set of ingredients, but you can do a lot with those ingredients. That’s what drew me in, creating something unique. I like the physical labor part and the art mixed with science.”
Even though he works 10- to 12-hour days, Johnson says, “I’m excited to come to work every morning. I just love it.”
Its first year, distribution covered Lafayette. During its second, People’s spread out across the state. Four of the company’s beers have won medals in the Indiana Brewers Cup.
Today the business employs 12 people, four of them full-time. Vander Plaats, Johnson’s co-owner, works elsewhere in information technology and for the brewery part-time. Another part-timer is Johnson’s wife, Jessica, who also works in the Vander Plaats family business, The Trails, in Lafayette.
“We have a really good group of employees, which makes things easier on us,” Johnson noted.
People’s Brewing Co. gets involved in local events, from Taste of Tippecanoe to Beers Across the Wabash, the Tippecanoe County Historical Association’s River City Grapes and Hops Fest, Wolf Park, and others.
“When I moved here from LaGrange, I really fell in love with this community,” Johnson said. “We looked at a lot of different communities to build the brewery in, but we kept coming back to Lafayette. We felt like we could do something great here, getting local beer out into the town by being a production brewery, not just serving in-house.”
Each year, the business hosts a hog roast at the brewery to raise money for local charities. “We work with many different community groups to help build a better hometown for us and others,” Johnson noted.