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Chapman’s – a brand that’s about to come of age

Jan 12, 2024

In my experience, smart, successful, driven people usually give off a certain vibe. Whenever I meet someone who has earned the application of those adjectives, and who is exuding that energy, I usually find my internal voice muttering, “How the hell do these people have so many talents? Sickening, isn’t it?”

When – at 38 years old – the Indiana native, trained electrical engineer, MBA, stockbroker, software developer, business founder/owner, college Dean, vineyard owner and CEO Scott Fergusson sold his software company to Broadridge Financial Solutions, he hadn’t even conceived of Chapman’s Brewing. Fast forward to 2024, and Chapman’s is on the brink of opening a flagship facility at the center Fort Wayne’s much vaunted Electric Works (EW). A few days ago I had the pleasure of talking with Scott to learn all about the imminent opening of the new brewhouse and restaurant, and to catch up with the story of Chapman’s beginnings in Angola, IN.

Scott’s resume is as diverse as it is impressive. Chapman’s (named after the birth name of Johnny Appleseed) origins can be traced back to his role as the Dean of the Business School at Trine University in Angola, IN. It was 2012 and Scott wanted to dig deeper into the economics of the brewing business. Working with several of his students, he developed a plan to open a cidery in Steuben County. The first product was a Graf (a beer-cider hybrid) in October of 2013. After some production issues with that particular beverage, Chapman’s quickly switched to a purely beer portfolio, and the brewery journey had truly begun.

“Pivot” and “grit” are two of Scott’s favorite words, and his original vision of operating a completely wholesale (not retail) business reflects the first of them. He explains that once he realized that the hospitality part of the business was what he was really drawn to, things changed rapidly. Along the twelve year journey there have been plenty of hiccups. Scott is happy to declare that, “If there was a mistake to be made, I’ve made it”, but like most mature businesses the missteps have ultimately stood him (and Chapman’s) in good stead. For example, various satellite locations and outlets have come and gone. At one time or another Chapman’s had a presence in Huntington, Wabash, downtown Fort Wayne (at Fortezza Coffee), and in the southwest of Fort Wayne at their Coventry taproom. Each one of those enterprises are now closed for various reasons, and the lessons learned have allowed the brand to emerge leaner and stronger.

Chapman’s new EW location is set to be the jewel in the crown that will complement the original Angola brewery and taproom, the incredibly popular Columbia City taproom, and the Fort Wayne International Airport bar. Scott says that the lesson he has learned most acutely is that being able to control the brand is central to success. That should not be confused with being a control freak, rather it’s an understanding that if any aspect of the presentation of your product to the consumer is compromised by an external factor, no matter if that factor is out of your control, it reflects poorly on the brand as a whole. Being able to tighten up every part of the process that sits between the beer leaving the tank and meeting the lips, will likely lead to better protection of the Chapman’s name.

So, what of the brand spanking new Chapman’s at EW? Put succinctly, ‘It’s impressive’. The 3.8 million dollar facility is based on a typical, industrial chic brewing atmosphere that’s pretty familiar. You’ll see some of the usual accoutrements and surroundings that one would normally associate with such a space, but Chapman’s at EW seems lighter and more airy than some similar installations. There are clean, modern lines that keep the rough and ready at bay, and I found there to be a warmer feel that I’ve experienced in analogous spaces in the past.

The 10 bbl brewhouse is ‘right there’, adjacent to the incredibly spacious dining room and bar area that has a maximum occupancy of 300. Scott’s plans involve seating a significantly smaller number of patrons at the beginning simply to ensure that the level of service and customer experience that he demands can be met as the new location beds in. When the weather relents there will also be outdoor seating for 70 available.

I’ve been in a million brewhouses before, and if I’m honest they are usually much of a muchness. However, there’s no denying that some of the kit in this one stands out for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Scott has engineered a remote system of monitoring various aspects of the brewing process that will allow the tweaking of each via Bluetooth. Don’t misunderstand me here, it’s absolutely not the Bluetooth capacity or the wonder of the electronics that’s the most impressive (or the most important) thing. As Scott explains, the idea here is to get each beer dialed-in, so the product can be (a) refined to the greatest possible degree, (b) to allow for consistency at scale. The latter has always been the thing that independent brewers most admire about the truly big brewers, with the consistency of national brands being a highly desirable trait.

Secondly, a Perlick Draught Guard system has been installed to help with keep the lines clean. An elaborate, underground highway of lines will feed the taps, and as anyone who knows anything about beer is familiar with, the build up of biofilm in the lines is the death knell for great tasting, fresh beer. The task of cleaning lines is a laborious but necessary one, but the new state-of-the-art electronic system will ease that burden considerably; once again with a view to better, fresher, more consistent beer. The brewery is fitted with seven fermentors and seven brite tanks which will allow the production of an impressive variety of beers. That’s going to be a necessary function of the new brewhouse if Chapman’s is going to fulfill the promise of 24 unique taps.

In addition to their core brands (Englishman an English Brown Ale, Valiant an American Stout, Enlighten a Kölsch style, and Undaunted their flagship IPA) you can expect to see beers that continue to pay homage to their Roulette series, a whole range of new beers never before seen at Chapmans called the Brewer’s Series, along with NA and gluten-free options. To complete the beverage portfolio there will be both draft and bottled wines, and a ‘to-go’ license to allow patrons to take their purchases off the premises. At the helm in the brewhouse will be brewers Casey Dazey (Chapman’s) and John Kuker (Junk Ditch, Summit City Brewerks and Tapistry). In addition to the bar, dining room and the brewhouse that are immediately visible, there’s a four-man kitchen and a private dining room tucked away. The whole place has a footprint of around 15,000 sq ft.

In all of our discussions about various aspects of the business, Scott remained at great pains to focus on the beer. This is true in every aspect of our conversation whether it be about the menu of burgers and similar that is designed specifically to complement the beer, or his absolute insistence upon the need to have traditional styles dialed-in and humming along before there can be anything significantly experimental on the tap list. When he speaks about the need to produce beers that are in line with style guidelines before they can be taken seriously and/or critiqued, then it’s as if I am listening to myself talk! In that regard Scott and I are very much on the same page. He has an absolute commitment to keeping Chapman’s beer on the straight and narrow, and I wish him nothing but the best in that regard. Scott’s ideas about tradition, and the broad adherence to stylistically correct beers are born from him drinking a lot of imports back in the 1990s. For the most part the broad category of ‘imports’ often equated to old world styles, and certainly not toward much (if any) experimentation. This of course doesn’t stifle creativity as many in the US falsely think, rather it offers intelligent, reasoned consideration of beer in terms of what the palate can expect, which elevates the conversation about it.

Scott Fergusson (right) and John Kuker in the brewhouse

There is no doubt that the new Chapman’s at EW is very much a ‘big boy’ facility. Physically it has very little in common with their Angola or Columbia City taprooms, and it will offer a whole new beer and food experience that one wouldn’t necessarily associate with either of those locations, but even in these swanky, new surroundings, Scott Fergusson remains committed to the same traditional, stylistically correct beer that one can drink in those more humble venues, and that launched the brand.

With the birth of the Electric Works brewery and restaurant, Chapman’s is brand that is certainly ‘all grown up’, but Fergusson will not allow the company to forget its roots.

As of January 12th, 2024, the new Chapman’s brewery and restaurant at Electric Works is slated to open in February of 2024.

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