In a few words, what makes a beer garden a beer garden? Beer, charcuterie, communal seating, drinking and walking, entertainment, gardens and over 130 other words and phrases collected by Joshua Ratliff, a Certified Sommelier and 16-year hospitallity industry expert and now Director of Hospitality at the Indianapolis Museum of Art has created the first IMA Beer Garden. Indiana is fast to the market with over 90 craft breweries in the state, so why not bring those craft beers to one of the loveliest gardens in the state located right on the grounds of the IMA.

The new Beer Garden (set to open April 1st at 11am) presents beautiful scenery in a garden oasis located just outside the Elder Greenhouse. Visitors are submerged into nature with opportunities to sip on beers from Sun King Brewing Co.or root beer fromTrition Brewing Co.while noshing on Pat’s Philly Pretzels.

We caught up recently with Josh to talk a bit more about what inspired this idea and what the public should expect when they attend the IMA and the new Beer Garden.

EI: Josh, what is your background in hospitality and how did that spark the idea for the Beer Garden at the IMA?
Josh Ratliff: I had planned to wait 2 years before building anything for the IMA. When I started everyone was planning Spring Blooms and one afternoon I was touring the grounds. I saw the pergola at the greenhouse and it just clicked. Garden, Beer, Garden, Beer. I called a friend of mine who lives in Germany and said: What makes a Beer Garden a Beer Garden? And told him to answer the question as exhaustively as he could. His answers were so great, that I (I’m a dork and 6 sigma green belt) decided to launch a full Voice of the Customer exercise. I created a stakeholder matrix with 10 diverse voices, and asked each that same questions. People answered the questions 141 different ways. So I just selected the answers that I could afford and started the project. (I dug up the output from that exercise and attached it, so fun to look back at…:)
My first job was awesome, still my favorite ever: Busboy at Red Lobster.

photography courtesy of the IMA

EI: Who are you targeting with the Beer Garden?
JR: I want to operate this as an exhibition, a tiny oasis of curated excellence for central Indiana.

EI: What is your ultimate goal with the Beer Garden this year and even into 2018?
JR: To have a beer with 10,000 people, listen to what they say and design the next thing with them in mind.

EI: How has the culinary scene in Indiana inspired the upcoming events with food, cocktails and art?
JR:The culinary art scene here in the hoosier state is young, wild and free. We have a lot going for us <hospitals with gardens, experienced teaching chefs, young sous chefs taking chances, real estate developers that care about F&B operations, emergent punk cuisine, great young masters of beer and meat, pockets of proper bread and coffee> BUT largely the state rejects this as trendy along with fashion runway food. Hoosiers still desire “real” food which is quick, filling, hot, dense and cheap. Unfortunately this food doesn’t help us out of the serious health problems plaguing our state. I look at this picture comprehensively and position my programing to fill unmet needs, and move the needle in a positive way.

In Josh’s words “From a young age, I have been intrigued by unfamiliar cultures, big events, and anything that involves gathering around a table.” – Josh, we can’t wait to see what is next up on the canvas of the IMA.

Indianapolis Museum of Art | 4000 Michigan Rd. | Indianapolis |

Joshua Ratliff, Hospitality Director of the IMA: Joshua Ratliff, Director of Hospitality at the IMA. Photography courtesy of the IMA.

Subscribe today!