Alumni Tap into Growing Craft Beer Business

Monday, February 06, 2017

Centerpoint Jonathan Robinson FI

Starting Point: Peter Argiris (left), a 2001 chemical engineering alumnus, and Jonathan Robinson, a 2003 mechanical engineering graduate, turned their interest in home craft beer into Indianapolis' Centerpoint Brewing. Not pictured is the company's other owner, Jeff Ready, a 1996 computer science alumnus.

Americans spend more than $100 billion a year consuming beer, and here's the sudsy truth: they're not all drinking the national brands. Craft beers made by independent breweries are booming in popularity. As a result, the number of U.S. breweries reported by The Brewers Association grew from 2,500 in 2012 to nearly 4,300 by 2015. Those in the business say there's still room for more, and several Rose-Hulman alumni are doing their part to satisfy the thirst.

Peter Argiris, Jeff Ready and Jonathan Robinson tapped into the expanding marketplace late last fall, opening Centerpoint Brewing in downtown Indianapolis' up-and-coming Circle City Industrial Complex, around the corner from the trendy Massachusetts Avenue district.

Argiris, a 2001 chemical engineering alumnus, had an itch to launch a business of some kind, and by 2013 got Robinson, a 2003 mechanical engineering alumnus and veteran home brewer, involved in working on a business plan to turn their avocation into an entrepreneurial venture. At the same time, Ready, a serial entrepreneur, already had done some business planning for the craft beer business.

With so many local breweries sprouting, distinctiveness is the key. "First and foremost, we're trying to make a selection of craft beer that has a broad appeal," says Ready, a 1996 computer science graduate.

Sun King Brewery Andy Fagg

Brewing Up Business: Alumnus Andy Fagg is the primary investor and executive vice president of Sun King Brewery, a successful Indianapolis-based enterprise founded in 2009.

Centerpoint's plan for steady growth involves building a small stable of brews that are always available, while mixing in other varieties for customers wanting to try new things. Many varieties will be available only at the brewery, while some beers have already found their way through keg sales onto the menus of local bars and restaurants. The next step is canning the most popular brews for consumers to take home.

That was a similar approach undertaken by Sun King Brewery, founded in 2009 in Indianapolis by a couple of veteran brewers and now the city's biggest craft brewery. Andy Fagg signed on as the company's primary investor and serves as executive vice president. Sun King, he says, brews a wide range of different beers, and its canned Cream Ale, Wee Mac and Osiris brands have become very popular. The company recently expanded its brewing capacity, and now sells more than 30,000 barrels a year.

Fagg, who earned bachelor's (1991) and master's (1994) degrees in applied optics, finds the craft brewing business "a refreshing change from the world of science and industry," where secrets are jealously guarded and competition is often cutthroat. "This is a collaborative industry. Everyone wants to help each other out. We got a lot of assistance from breweries bigger than us, and we do the same for small breweries now," he says.

Centerpoint Brewing and Sun King Brewery showcased some of their popular beers at Rose-Hulman's 2016 Homecoming alumni tailgate party, and Centerpoint is hosting alumni events for central Indiana alumni.