Bee Creek Brewery: Specialty Beers from Clay County

What do you get when three medical professionals bring together their love of beer and all things Hoosier? Bee Creek Brewery, a labor of love and talent out of Brazil, Indiana, west of Bloomington in Clay County. 
Bee Creek Brewery is known for its three staple brews: Hoosier Honey Wheat, Bee Creek Blonde Ale, and Clay County Coffee Stout. Of the three brews, Honey Wheat is the best seller at Bloomingfoods.

Bee Creek Brewery grew out of a home brewing hobby. “My wife’s brother Mark is an old submariner who’s done self-brewing for several years,” said Dr. Frank Forster, co-owner of the company. “He was in the Navy and whenever they were in dock he’d practice home brewing. Basically, we brewed more and more over the weekends, with more and more expensive equipment, until the business was born.” Forster co-owns Bee Creek Brewery with his wife Julie and her brother, Mark Snelling.

Today, Frank takes care of managerial responsibilities, Julie is in charge of logistics, and Mark manages the technical end of things. “Mark completed classes at the Siebel Institute, a brewing school in Chicago. When not working as a quality engineer in Spencer at Boston Scientific, he might be busy working on a new Bee Creek recipe,” Frank said. Julie is a neonatal nurse, and Frank is a geriatric neuropsychologist.

Bee Creek Brewery is known for its three staple brews: Hoosier Honey Wheat, Bee Creek Blonde Ale, and Clay County Coffee Stout. Of the three brews, Honey Wheat is the best seller at Bloomingfoods, where it surprised East Store beer buyer Amelia Williams with its hoppy-ness.

“When I think of honey beers, I think of honey brown, which is a syrupy-sweet beer. Bee Creek’s Honey Wheat does have a touch of sweetness from the honey, but it has a really nice hoppy finish balancing the sweetness,” Williams said.

“Honey Wheat is pretty unique in that it is a ‘high gravity’ wheat beer. That means it’s a little sweeter than most wheat beers, with a little higher alcohol content. Not many brewers out there are making a beer like that,” said Mike Clarke, beer buyer for the Near West Side.

Bee Creek Brewery Coffee Stout is an East Bloomingfoods staff favorite. “This beer is a little chocolaty, with a creamy feel to it, and a nice coffee ending to the flavors. This is a very solid stout,” said Matt Beall, who works in grocery.

Bee Creek Brewery is about more than beer, however: it’s also a way to help the local economy. The people hired to work in the facility were largely wiped out by the recession, and Bee Creek has helped them get back on their feet. “Everybody that’s out here was in a world of trouble before the brewery went full-time,” Forster said.

Besides, Forster added, “If the people in Indiana don’t have jobs, they won’t be drinking any beer!”

It’s guaranteed that Hoosiers will be drinking beer come St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th. Bee Creek Blonde Ale would be a good choice for the holiday, and stout is also a longstanding favorite.

“I always make sure I drink at least one glass of stout, and usually some kind of Irish-style red, because those are the most traditional beers,” said Jason Hill, wine buyer and store manager at the Near West Side.

Hill anticipates the arrival of Upland’s Ard Ri, a Scottish red ale produced at this time of year. “It’s an Imperial Style, so it’s a high gravity beer, very rich and full bodied, with a malty sweetness and a strong hop presence,” he said.

Mike Clarke is looking forward to Bock lagers, which start showing up in March. “Bocks are great in the spring because they are a little malty, but not too heavy. They usually have a little bit of a kick to ward off any winter chill that’s still around. Right now we have Breckenridge Pandora’s Bock and Spaten Optimator in stock, but we’ll soon have Bell’s Consecrator DoppelBock, my favorite American version of this German classic style,” Clarke said.

And you can always be the lookout for Bee Creek’s most recent concoction. “We have a new one coming out -- it’s probably going to be kegs only -- called Happy Jesus. It’s an extremely hoppy double IPA, over the top. Jesus didn’t turn wine into water, he turned water into wine, and he was a construction worker -- so we’re pretty sure he’d be a beer drinker today. And we think he’d want something hoppy,” Forster said.

by Laura Gleason