Is there a better way to spend a three-day holiday weekend then to head north for a brewery tour? OK, maybe we can think of a few things that aren’t suitable to print here, but a brewery tour still ranks pretty high on the list. For our group, making this trek has been an occasional outing that used to involve a stop at Three Floyds before leaving Indiana behind and heading into the brewing Mecca of Michigan. But through recent beer festivals and other tastings, we’ve learned that northern Indiana has a lot more to offer than a mere diversion on the way to Bell’s or Founders. So this Labor Day weekend, we designed an itinerary that focused heavily on visiting some new Hoosier favorites in the burgeoning northern Indiana scene. Armed with insatiable thirst and cheap hotel reservations, Indy reporter Nathan Compton, Lafayette reporter Jason Cook, and the gal with the friendliest smile in the Midwest, Miss Poppi Rocketts, headed on our way to what we all hoped would be an epic Labor Day weekend. Our first stop was……
Three Floyds (Munster)
You might have heard of this place, we’re told a few people like their beer. OK, so we’ve been stopping off here since Three Floyds was selling growlers straight out of the brewery with a lemonade-stand style setup. Attempting to learn from our last attempted visit, where there was something like a two hour wait to get in, we planned to hit the brewpub about a half-hour before opening. Traffic on US30 turned that into about 20 minutes, and we arrived to a full parking lot and a healthy crowd already arranged outside the door. To say we waited in line would be a misnomer, as that would give the patrons credit for line-building skills they clearly lacked. We correctly judged our spot would still gain us admittance before capacity was reached, and a table was claimed in the back room overlooking brewery operations. For those who have not walked through the legendary brewhouse, tour signups are still offered when you enter the brewpub on Saturday. We skipped this option and headed straight for the beer and food. While it’s difficult to pass up Arctic Panzer Wolf straight from the source, we focused on the rarer offering that were available on our visit. Razor Hoof dry-hopped Saison easily topped the list with an American hop character that perfectly complemented, but never overwhelmed, the Belgian yeast character. Side note: Bombers of Razor Hoof should be released to Central Indiana soon. It depends on your tolerance for price, but I’d recommend giving it a try if it can be found around $10. Evil Power was billed as a straight-forward European Pilsner that actually was somewhat overpowered by a decidedly un-European hop character. An Imperial pint of this beer grows on you nicely, but ultimately doesn’t rank in the upper echelon of what this brewery is capable of producing. Likewise, the Annica IPA (a collaboration with Chicago’s Half Acre) was good, but not the mind-blowing experience one might expect at the salty price of $5 for a half-pint. The brewpub food menu had changed quite a bit based on our recollection from past visits. One new item for us was the homemade sausage plate, featuring sausages flavored with red curry, maple, and spicy bacon. This plate, especially the red curry, was just as freaking epic as a pile of meat at Three Floyds should be – highly recommended. Decidedly less epic was paying $6 for a relatively modest portion of spiced caramel popcorn. But when Poppi is in the house, spiced caramel popcorn will be on the agenda. Be forewarned if you go – our server mentioned expecting a long line out the door all day. After departing and sitting in more traffic on 80/94, we questioned if making this a destination was ultimately worth the hassle. Maybe we’re just not “crowds are fun” types of people. Maybe the playing field in the area has been leveled more than the faithful realize. The cult that has become Three Floyds was well earned, but we enjoyed spending time at other places like……..
|9750 Indiana Parkway|
|Munster, IN 46321|
Try these beers: Razor Hoof, Arctic Panzer Wolf, Zombie Dust, heck…..you know the rest
Bare Hands Brewery (Granger)
It’s not often that you expect a new brewery to steal the show at one of the largest beer festivals in the state. But that’s exactly what happened at this year’s Winterfest when Bare Hands earned a special mention from everyone on our staff with their Mole Bride, Peanut Butter Chocolate Stout, and Thai P.A. The brewery/taproom is located just northeast of South Bend in the town of Granger. So with Bare Hands on our “must-visit” list, and the taproom closed for a special event on Sunday, we bypassed several options to head straight there from Three Floyds. While the bigger, unique beers may have initially caught our attention, the taproom featured a nice mix of styles and alcohol strength ranging from a 5% Session Pale to the 10.2% Russian Imperial Stout. Several standout were found in between, including an outstanding Oatmeal Stout style that is too rare of a find in craft breweries these days. The Galaxy DIPA is like Flat 12 Walkabout on steroids, a great showcase for this increasingly popular Australian hop. But the Thai P.A. is probably their signature beer. Just when you think a craft brewery can’t put out something truly different than anything you’ve ever had, along comes this remarkable twist on the ever-popular IPA style with ginger and lemongrass. While we weren’t looking for food at this point in the trip, sandwiches and munchies are also available to complement the beers on your next visit. We had the opportunity to chat with brewer Chris Gerard and were very struck by the infectious passion he has for the craft. Bare Hands clearly shows a tendency to push the envelope and there are a few new special projects for beer enthusiasts to look forward to in the near future. There is an interesting relationship of mutual respect between Bare Hands and nearby Iechyd Da, as Bare Hands has experimental leanings while Iechyd Da focuses on doing traditional styles well. Which is a nice segue to……..
|12804 Sandy Ct.|
|Granger, IN 46530|
Try these beers: Thai P.A., Oatmeal Stout, Galaxy DIPA, Session Pale
Iechyd Da (Elkhart)
The location of Iechyd Da in downtown Elkhart makes it a convenient 20 minute drive from Bare Hands for your own mini-brewery tour. On our more convoluted route that included stops in Michigan, Iechyd Da was the first stop of the day on Sunday. Named after the Welsh (brewer Chip Lewis’ heritage) saying that translates to “Cheers”, Iechyd Da focuses a bit more on sessionable, English-style ales than most craft breweries. While this may limit the “wow” factor that many are hoping will make their beers stand out, Iechyd Da featured arguably the most consistent level of quality we found in beer flights on this trip. True to their mission, two English-style beers were standouts in the flight. ESB (Extra Special Bitter) is a style often difficult to find in craft breweries these days and one that has seems to have a difficult time finding an audience in distribution. Iechyd Da’s Garden Gnome ESB is an outstanding example of the style, nicely balancing rich caramel malts with floral English hops. Possibly the best craft example since Arcadia’s now defunct Lake Superior ESB. Likewise, the Big Pit Porter is an exceptional example of the easy-drinking English Brown Porter style with lower bitterness and rich toffee and chocolate flavors. The Revolution IPA and 13 American Black Ale prove they can also do big American styles, as their Gumption Imperial Red did at this spring’s Bloomington Craft Beer Festival. The food menu focuses on creative pizzas and sandwiches. We started our day with The Kidwelly pizza featuring ham, mozzarella, smoked gouda, balsamic vinegar, and a healthy layer of arugula. It was a winner in our book, but several of the others sounded good as well. Overall, the laid-back atmosphere and high-quality beer and food were a great way to kick off our day after a long Saturday night. So feeling ready to jump back on the horse again, we headed off to…….
|317 N Main St.|
|Elkhart, IN 46516|
Try these beers: Garden Gnome ESB, Big Pit Porter, 13 American Black Ale, Mohawk Steam Cali Common
Greenbush Brewing (Sawyer, MI)
We’re cheating a little here by throwing in a Michigan brewery, but Greenbush is worth a mention as it sits near the Indiana border; just 15 miles up I94 in the town of Sawyer and easy to work into your own brewery tour. Sawyer is a very small harbor town (population 1619 in the 2000 census) that includes an old-fashioned hardware store and scattered specialty shops along the main road. In case you’re not sure where to go, one of these buildings prominently displays “BREWERY” in big block letters above the entrance. In this quiet little town, we were surprised to walk into a completely packed house and wondered where all these people came from in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. We were about to find out why Greenbush has become a local destination. If session beers are the future of craft brewing, someone needs to get the memo over to Greenbush ASAP. With nearly 15 beers on the taproom menu, not a single one (even the Cream Ale) weighed in under 6% ABV. The short beer names are eclectic and interesting without relating much to the style. Some appropriately set the mood such as Anger (Black IPA), Closure (Pale Ale), Retribution (Belgian Hybrid), and Unicorn Killer (Pumpkin Ale); while others like Starchicken Shotgun (IPA) and Cabra Perdida (Imperial Blueberry Cream Stout) will just make new visitors scratch their head. The brewery earns special bonus points from Jason for applying a Twin Peaks reference (There are Owls in the Roadhouse) to their Imperial Raspberry Porter. The beers in our flight ranged from decent to outstanding, but mostly trended towards the latter. While the multitude of fruit beers were a bit hit or miss, the big hoppy beers including Anger, Dunegras IPA, and Starchicken Shotgun were consistently exceptional (and how cool is “Anger” for a beer name anyway?). Another standout was the Red Bud (Copper Wheat Ale) that had an interesting malt profile while maintaining a refreshing character that fit well on a warm day. We ultimately walked away with a 6 pack of Dunegras for Jason, a 6 pack of Anger for Nathan, and a feeling that Greenbush had easily earned a recommendation for your next foray into Michigan.
|5885 Sawyer Rd|
|Sawyer, MI 49125|
Try these beers: Anger, Dunegras, Red Bud, Starchicken Shotgun
Hunter’s Brewing (Chesterton)
When mapping out our route to Valparaiso, we were fortunate to learn that Hunter’s Brewing was going to be open on this Sunday afternoon (check their Facebook page for updates, as they aren’t open every Sunday afternoon). Hunter’s is one of the newest nanobreweries in the state, and we had already received a couple suggestions they were worth a visit. Brewing on a one-barrel system that resembles a larger homebrew setup, you can stop by Hunter’s for tasters and pints or carry out a 32 ounce half-growler. The menu on our visit featured a diverse mix of American, Belgian, and English styles. While we’d already heard of Threadsplitter (a very solid American IPA), the standouts in our flight were the Bashful English Mild and Mild Child English Brown Ale. Not quite as mild as the Mild Child name may suggest, it’s a rare treat to find a good craft example of a Northern English Brown (aka Nut Brown) with smooth nutty, biscuit, and chocolate notes. Check out Hunter’s the next time you’re in the area and tell your friends about this up and coming new brewery!
|1535 S Calumet Rd|
|Chesterton, IN 46304|
|Sunday: Variable (check their Facebook page)|
Try these beers: Mild Child, Bashful, Threadsplitter IPA
Figure 8 Brewing (Valparaiso)
Figure 8 Brewing in Valparaiso was pegged as our destination spot to finish up Sunday’s activities. Our last tour featured a stop at the brewery when they had a small place on the outskirts of Valpo best suited for carry-out sales. The opening of their new location downtown with expanded brewing operations and a full brewpub is indicative of the popularity earned on the strength of their products. The facility is located in an old Sears Automotive Center building, with brewing operations spread out in the automotive bays and a basement area for bottling and special projects. The upper-level brewpub offers samplers, snifters, and pints of twelve Figure 8 beers on tap; along with a full menu that covers the gamut of appetizers, salads, pizzas, sandwiches, and entrees. We were fortunate enough to find Date Night, a seasonal Black Barleywine brewed with Medjool dates, available on our visit. A unique twist on their Jumbo Love Barleywine, Date Night is exceptionally flavorful and dangerously easy to drink at 10.8% ABV. Continuing what started at Hunter’s, the Camp 4 Brown Ale is another seasonal that is a nice example of the Northern English Brown style. Our favorites from the brewery’s year-round offerings continue to be the hop-focused Snake Pro Double IPA and the Ro Shampo Imperial Red, which offers a more balanced blend of bold malt flavors and American hops. We tried the Shaun’s Pizza, a spicy mix that features taco meat, black bean salsa, jalapenos, and sour cream on a pita crust; and the Chips & Guacamole – always a great complement to craft beer (or pretty much anything for that matter). In addition to their wide range of year-round and specialty offerings, Figure 8 has a barrel aging program with a number of special projects in the works. The next to be released is a version of their Raven Tor Oatmeal Stout that was bourbon barrel aged for a full year. Bottles of this beer will be available for purchase at the brewery starting at 11am on September 11th.
|150 Washington Street|
|Valparaiso, IN 46383|
Try these beers: Date Night Barleywine (just one if you want to stay upright), Snake Pro DIPA, Ro Shampo, Camp 4 Nut Brown
Crown Brewing (Crown Point)
Crown Brewing was one of our favorites from the last tour, but they were pushed off until Monday out of a matter of necessity. The necessity comes from most places being closed on Labor Day and our need for a good place to enjoy a little food and beer after two long days of visiting breweries. We also had to save a good one for last, as the group’s enthusiasm for drinking more beer would predictably begin to wane at this point. Despite their growing reputation as a craft beer destination, Crown is not easy to spot when you roll into town as their small brewery and tap room is subtly tucked in behind Carriage House Pizza on East Street. The advantage of this for the beer traveler is the opportunity to get great pizza and pasta from Carriage House while enjoying Crown beers. Behind this humble setting, you’ll find a craft brewery that has won World Beer Cup awards for their Crown Brown and Industrial Porter; while also emerging as a serious competitor in the Indiana Brewers Cup with 8 medals in 2012 and another 4 in 2013. Seasonal beers on our visit included DerAler, a very tasty and well hopped American Pale Wheat, and the recently tapped Ignis Fatuus Pumpkin Ale. These new offerings complemented our two flights quite nicely alongside traditional favorites like Special Forces IPA, Java Porter, and Crown Brown. Along with the beer, Carriage House’s Barbeque Chicken Pizza – originally recommended by our colleague Wilk – has proven to be a artery-clogging, heart-stopping winner each time (hey, you only live once). Crown offers the opportunity to fill growlers of any current tap beer, along with carry-out bombers of Crown Brown, Ignis Fatuus, Industrial Porter, and Special Forces IPA.
|211 South East St|
|Crown Point, IN 46307|
Try these beers: Special Forces IPA, DerAler American Pale Wheat, Java Porter, Crown Brown
The trip confirmed what we already suspected – northern Indiana is quickly becoming a craft beer destination in its own right. Thanks for reading and we hope your next beer adventure is as enjoyable as ours. Cheers! Jason, Nathan, and Poppi