David Waldman told his guidance counselor at Elkhart Memorial High School he wanted to make beer when he grew up.
It took him a couple decades of working other jobs, but he got there. He said every job he ever had prepared him for the one he has now, the one he loves.
He’s founder and director of operations at Triton Brewing Co. in Indianapolis. His beer is making its way to his hometown of Elkhart and you’ll start seeing more of the trident tap handle in Elkhart County.
“This was always the goal,” he said in the tap room adjacent to the brewery on the northeast side of Indy.
He went to Mishawaka Brewing Co. with his mother, Cheryl, because she knew the owners with whom she had worked at Miles Laboratories. She ordered one of their craft brews in the mid-1980s way before craft beer was hip. “She tasted it and maybe I tasted it,” he said. And that started the dream.
After graduating from high school in 1989, he studied English and religion at Wabash College. He went to graduate school. His jobs included running a Jewish community center, starting a chain of Irish pubs and working at Indianapolis Athletic Club. “Someone told me a long time ago, ‘Make your mistakes on someone else’s dime,’” he said.
In 2010, he started Triton. “We raised a million dollars to make this happen in the worst economy in history,” he said. He hired Jon Lang as the brewer. He’s been brewing for 25 years, has three Great American Beer Festival medals and more experience than most brewers in Indiana, Waldman said.
They took over a former military mule barn at Fort Benjamin Harrison and did a lot of the demolition themselves. The building is in both Lawrence and Indianapolis, so there were nine agencies with whom to comply.
Triton opened in the fall of 2011 and has already expanded twice and will be doubling capacity again this year. In 2013, they brewed 4,300 barrels of beer and capacity is now up to 6,300 and on its way to 13,000.
The name has to do with the mythological figure who is the messenger of the sea and good water. Triton filters, softens and purifies its water before adding back minerals to brew, Waldman said. To that water, Triton adds a lot of spices, hops and malts. “We’re aggressive, but we’re balanced. We’re spicy but we’re a little sweet,” he said. “It really is about the balance.”
The flagship is Rail Splitter, an IPA in the same style as Two-Hearted from Bell’s or Sawtooth from Left Hand Brewing but with different malts and hops. But other brews are eminently quaffable too. The Bee Java Brown uses a pound of coffee from Bee Coffee Roaster in every barrel. Dillinger’s Extorter Porter has the chocolate and maltiness fine porters do. Four Barrel Brown, which has been on tap at Flippin’ Cow in Elkhart, is a flavorful brown ale. And the surprise is the Three Tine Tripel, which has 11.2 percent alcohol but drinks like a much lighter beer.
When Triton first opened, Marcia Fulmer, former Truth entertainment editor and longtime friend of the Waldmans, brought me some of the brews. I thought they were decent. But the stuff that Triton is doing now is far better.
A craft beer revolution is underway in Indianapolis, where Sun King and Flat 12 are attracting a lot of attention for their brews and other breweries are popping up. Triton doesn’t have as much buzz. “That’s OK,” said Waldman. “It’s not about the buzz.”
Triton is making money for investors such as Fulmer, who doesn't drink alcohol but loves Triton's root beer. And the brewery is planning to distribute more to northern Indiana and hope to end up in six to 10 states. But the quality is important. “We would rather have no beer in the market than bad beer in the market,” Waldman said.
You can likely find Triton at local Chalet stores and Martin’s Super Markets, but also perhaps at Meijer and Walmart locations, Waldman said. Hacienda Mexican Restaurants also has a Triton brew on tap. A new Pink Ribbon Saison brewed with pink peppercorns will be in the market soon, he said.
Waldman is having fun at the brewery he’s dreamed about most of his life. “The worst days here are better than the best day anywhere else,” he said.
And in case you’re wondering, he’s a fan of Iechyd Da Brewing like a lot of others in his hometown. “Love ‘em. I think their beer is exceptional,” he said. He had been worried that “Elkhart would get crapped on” as it had in other ways over the years, but is thrilled for what Iechyd Da has done.
Like Waldman, Chip and Summer Lewis want to make good beer and sell it to the locals. Waldman wants to grow more than the Lewises do. And that’s fine. What I’d love to see is a collaboration brew bringing the former Elkhartan and the current Elkhartans together in a glass. That’d be cool.
I’m hungry. Let’s eat.
Editor's note: The headline on this story misidentified David Waldman as Dan Waldman.