- Associated Press - Sunday, May 11, 2014

FRANKLIN, Ind. (AP) - Indiana’s craft beer scene is overflowing.

As recently as 2008, Indiana had fewer than 10 craft breweries. But as craft beers have become more popular, more and more small-batch brewers are selling their creations to the public.

By the end of April, 71 breweries were in operation in the state, with another 32 planned to open this year. Local enthusiasts sell double India pale ales and bourbon-barrel stouts, Belgian dubbels and fruit-infused lambics.

Johnson County is catching up. Three craft brewers are open in the county, with another coming online by the end of the month.

Beer lovers are ecstatic about the choices; and though concerns exist about the market supporting so many craft brewers, those making the beer see plenty of room for everybody.

“The state itself is going through a huge boom, and Johnson County is starting to catch up,” Andrew Castner, head brewer at newly formed Mashcraft Brewing Co., told the Daily Journal (http://bit.ly/1kDhbP6 ). “There’s no reason, with enough of us, it can’t lead to tourism down here.”

Craft brewing, or producers who make less than 186 million gallons per year, is flourishing across the country.

Outside of Prohibition, U.S. brewing reached its lowest point in the late 1970s, when only 89 breweries were operating domestically, according to the Brewers Association, a craft-brewing trade group. Most of those were the large-scale facilities owned by Anheuser-Busch and Coors.

But as regulations on home brewing and small-batch production eased, more people became involved. By 2000, about 1,500 U.S. breweries were operating. As of last year, that number had reached 2,538. About 97 percent of those are craft brewers, according to the Brewers Association.

“It’s been fun to watch because it had been a gradual growth. But then it started shooting up, and it’s really skyrocketed in the past few years,” said Jason Larrison, one of the contributors of the local beer blog Hoosier Beer Geek.

Larrison has been involved with craft beer since about 2000 but started seriously following it about nine years ago. He’s watched since the first brewpubs in the area grew into a nice niche market.

“People started looking at what is local and looking at what is independent. Just like that, people started looking differently about where they buy their food. People started looking at beer the same way,” he said.

In Johnson County, the craft beer pioneer was Oaken Barrel Brewing Co. The brewery and restaurant opened in Greenwood in 1994. At the time, it was one of the first microbreweries operating in the state.

It’s flagship beers - Indiana Amber, Gnaw Bone Pale Ale and Razz Wheat - are available in bars and carryouts throughout the state. Head brewer Alan Simon continually plays with new variations and recipes that can be purchased at the facility’s tap room.

Until recently, Oaken Barrel was the only craft brewer in Johnson County. But in the past two years, that has changed.

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