Microbrewery opens at site steeped in racing history

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A microbrewery and tasting room, Guggman Haus Brewing Co., opened late last month at 1701 Gent Ave., on a site with ties to Indianapolis racing history and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Wilbur Shaw.

The property, northeast of the intersection of West 16th Street and Indiana Avenue, is a former home of Boyle Racing, whose cars won the Indianapolis 500 several times from the 1920s through the 1940s. The team's owner was Chicago labor leader Mike Boyle.

Guggman Haus takes its name from the combined last names of the two couples who own the business: Courtney and Derek Guggenberger, and Abby and Ryan Gorman. Courtney and Abby are twin sisters, and all four are 31 years old.

For now, Guggman Haus is running its brewing operations, plus a tasting room, out of a newly renovated 2,500-square-foot house built in 1916. 

“It’s a great place to kind of get started and for people to get to know us before expanding into a bigger structure,” Courtney Guggenberger told IBJ. The establishment, which has its grand opening June 15, is limited to customers 21 and older.

The long-range plan is to move into an adjacent 20,000-square-foot structure that formerly housed Boyle Racing, along with a variety of other businesses over the years. Renovations are expected to start on that space in earnest this summer and take about a year.

The building will also house a special events center and a museum area featuring racing memorabilia, including a recreated Maserati race car and a restored Diamond T truck that Boyle Racing used to transport its cars to races.

Right now, the former auto shop has been cleaned up and stabilized, but the site is in very primitive condition. It consists only of three standing walls that are open to the elements, with no roof and no floor. 

“I wish we could have preserved more, but it was just too far gone,” said Jeffrey Congdon, the treasurer of the Boyle Racing Headquarters Foundation Corp. “When we took the property over, the roof had already caved in.”The foundation owns both the house and the former Boyle Racing headquarters and is leasing its property to Guggman Haus.

The foundation, a not-for-profit organization, formed about three years ago for the purpose of saving the Boyle Racing property. By the time Indiana Landmarks acquired the property in September 2015, the building was so unsafe that the city had issued a demolition order. After it had secured not-for-profit status, the Boyle Racing foundation acquired the property from Indiana Landmarks.

The house where Guggman Haus now operates was also in rough shape, having been vacant for a decade or more. “I was advised by people to demo the house because it was too far gone,” Congdon said.

But Congdon, who has an interest in preserving old buildings, saw both buildings’ potential, and their historic value. He estimates that the renovations will cost about $2.5 million.

Boyle Racing hired some of the best drivers of the era, including Cliff Woodbury, Ralph Hepburn, Billy Arnold and “Wild Bill” Cummings. The team also employed famed mechanic Cotton Henning.

The team’s most famous driver was Wilbur Shaw, a Shelbyville native who won the Indianapolis 500 in 1937, 1939 and 1940. Shaw was driving for Boyle when he won the 1939 and 1940 races.

Shaw is also credited with helping save the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which closed during World War II and fell into disrepair as a result. Owner Eddie Rickenbacker had put the property up for sale, and Shaw convinced Anton “Tony” Hulman Jr. to purchase the speedway in 1945.

Shaw became the speedway’s president and general manager, with Hulman as board chairman. Shaw died in an airplane crash in 1954, a day before his 52nd birthday.

Guggman Haus has decorated its temporary space with historic black-and-white racing photos from Boyle Racing’s heyday. The bar was built with glazed bricks from the racing shop, and the entire interior has a cozy feel meant to emulate a private home, with cushy couches and houseplants alongside wooden tables and chairs. Renovations included the addition of a wraparound deck that offers outdoor seating.

“We have the beer—but the space is not an afterthought by any means,” Guggenberger said.

The Guggenbergers and the Gormans have been working toward opening Guggman House for some time now.

The Gormans installed a home brewing operation in their basement several years ago, with the goal of fine-tuning their recipes and someday opening a commercial microbrewery with the Guggenbergers.

One of the microbrewery’s six house beers is a German-style hefeweizen, a nod to the year that the Guggenbergers spent living in Germany after college.

The four owners have divided up their roles at Guggman House to correspond with their career experience.

Derek Guggenberger, a mechanical engineer by training, is the head brewer and operations manager. Courtney Guggenberger, who previously worked in product marketing for a tech company, handles marketing, events and community relations. 

Ryan Gorman, who works remotely as a business analyst for a Denver-based company, oversees the brewery’s finances and its taproom, and he is also involved in brewing the beer. Abby Gorman, a speech therapist at Riley Hospital, handles a variety of tasks as needed. 

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