What's Brewing?

By+Kathy Jonas

Craft Breweries Offer Michiana Residents Tasty, Full-Bodied, Local Beer

To brew or not to brew? That is the question.

The answer in southwestern Michigan and northern Indiana is a resounding yes as craft breweries have sprung up like weeds in a vegetable garden.

For those of us who are not beer aficionados, the question remains: what is the big deal? Could I give up my glass of pinot for a pint of beer?

There is a new bible out there for anyone who wants to learn about beer: The Oxford Companion of Beer – a 920-page book edited by Garrett Oliver, who is one of the foremost experts in the world. In it he writes: “Beer does not so much resemble wine so much as it resembles music. Beer predates human civilization and may well have had a hand in creating it.”  Great writing organized like an encyclopedia.

The journey begins online. I quickly discovered that there is so much information out there it is almost overwhelming.  Did you know that beer should never be served in frosted mugs as it affects the foaming and taste? Three great websites are perfect for the yeast neophyte : Brewers Association, the not-for-profit trade association of craft brewers (www.brewersassociation.org), the Brewers of Indiana Guild (www.brewersofindianaguild.com) and the Michigan Brewers Guild (www.michiganbrewersguild.org).

 

What is a craft brewery?

According to the Brewers Association, craft breweries are small, independent businesses producing less than 6 million barrels a year.  Just this year, the number of operating breweries in the United States exceeded a new level and hit an all time-high – 2,000.

Some of those proprietors started as home brewers, some as engineers, like University of Notre Dame engineering graduate (’63, ’65) Oscar Wong, who has operated a very popular brewery in Asheville, NC, Highland Brewing Company, since 1994. It has grown to become the largest beer producer in Asheville. Wong, who emailed me from a tour of Scotland with five staff members, said the movement began several years ago when people started wanting more taste and variety in their beers. 

He said the craft beer scene got started in the late 80s with Sam Adams, Anchor Steam, Sierra Nevada and others “and was only meeting the pent up demand for tasty, full bodied, LOCAL beer.”

Wong started Highland as a “hobby” 18 years ago and it has grown and won many awards, including two silver medals at the Great American Beer Fest for his Black Mocha Stout and the brewery was named one of the “12 Breweries to Watch in 2011” by Draft Magazine. 

He said more women are coming onboard the beer wagon. “The flavor profile for beer is a lot wider than for wine and continues to surprise the ladies as well as confirmed male wine drinkers.” He even spent time with Ben Roule, who started Four Horsemen in South Bend.

The New York Times has called this phenomenon an “explosion.” It quoted Ed Sealover, who writes about beer for the Denver Business Journal. “People want to go to their neighborhood brewery so long as the beer is good.” There are 18 breweries in Denver alone, which is kind of the epicenter of the craft brewery world. In Colorado, craft breweries are one of the fastest-growing industries in the state. (Oregon is another stronghold and Michigan is gaining respect).

Sealover told me that part of the attraction in Colorado – and across the country – is that the consumer is very interested in the locally-made products. “Craft beers are one of the most affordable luxuries that they can get from a locally made standpoint.” 

Sealover wrote the book Mountain Brew in which he traveled across Colorado and described the varied breweries in the state. Since that time, he said 20 new breweries have opened and only two listed in the book have closed. “I think that people out here like their beer a lot, they like supporting local businesses. And if the local breweries make good beer, they like that even better.

 

LOCAL RESEARCH (OR - IT'S A TOUGH LIFE)

Okay, craft breweries are popular. Let’s move on to some exploring and discover what’s out there in Michiana.

 It seemed a road trip was in order. If you go to the Brewer’s Guild of Indiana web site there is a neat little feature that allows you to plan a trip.  And everything is within about an hour of South Bend.

Barehands Brewery, Granger, IN
My husband Bill, and I  began our journey on a Friday night with Barehands Brewery in Granger, located at 12803 Sandy Court. The place is tucked way back off Princess Way. While it is kind of industrial looking on the outside, the inside was full of people standing and sitting around a space that resembles someone’s family room. We shared a big dining room table with some other beer enthusiasts and I sampled the Thai.P.A.  and Bill had a Double  Pale Ale. While it was crowded, it was a very relaxed, fun atmosphere. Anyone who bumps into you apologizes and has a smile on their face. This establishment is cash only.

The Shoreline Brewery, Michigan City, IN
At a little before noon the next day, we headed out for an afternoon of exploration. With the sun shining and Bruce Springsteen playing in the car, what could be better?

Our first Saturday stop was The Shoreline Brewery, 208 Washington St., Michigan City. We forgot about the time change, so browsed around the nearby Riverside Market. That’s one of the side benefits of the brewery tour: you get the chance to stop in nearby shops, restaurants and art galleries. 

The Shoreline is a very large space with a great menu and entertainment on the weekends. Owned by Dave Strubeck, it has won two silver and bronze medals in 2006, 2008 and 2012 in the World Beer competition (think the Super Bowl of Beer) for its Beltaine Scottish Ale. - the number one selling beer at Shoreline. Beltaine celebrates the Scottish rite of spring and, according to the menu, it was the time when pagan festival-goers ran around communal fires naked. While this did not happen while at Shoreline, it’s a good story.

Favorite beers: Foggy Loggy Lager and Batch 400. It was at this point that I realized I could enjoy a dark beer and it would not be heavy or bitter (a common misconception among the novice beer drinker).  The Batch 400 is a German-style Dunkleweizen –  described as an easy-drinking dark wheat. 

Back Road Brewery, LaPorte, IN
Next stop: Back Road Brewery, 308 Perry Street, LaPorte. This place is named “Back Road” for a reason. It is a little hard to find – use your GPS. It is tucked away in an old brick building and boasts that “It put LaPorte on the beer map.” It opened in 1996.

(As the Brewers Guild of Indiana notes: Craft beer is a lot like love: it’s a gift of life to be enjoyed responsibly-abuse it and lose it. Please do not drink and drive).

While this establishment is a microbrewery and not a brew pub, it is a small space with no frills, just the kind of place popular with Great Britain native and LaPorte resident Howard Jones who was having a beer with his wife and friends visiting from England.  “This reminds me of the old-time pubs in England,” Jones said, adding that many of the pubs so traditional in the UK have become similar. 

Jones said they just love Back Road for its small-town flavor and the fact that it is so popular with LaPorte residents. “People who come here are like the ‘Who’s Who of LaPorte,” he said.

Part-owner Jim Hannon said he got into the business with brewer Chuck Krcilek as a labor of love and not to make money. “If it gets to be work, I’m out of here,” he said with a laugh. 

Why the popularity? He said people are enjoying craft beers because they are so good. “People don’t come here to buy a 30-pack for $11,” he said. “They come here to have a good time talking with people.” Some popular beers include: the LaPorte Saison, Blueberry Ale and American Pale Ale.

Greenbush, Sawyer, MI
Last stop: Greenbush, 5885 Sawyer Road, Sawyer, Mich. We got there about 4 p.m. and this place was hopping (no pun intended). We sat a little bar where you could watch the brewery behind a glass enclosure.  Located next to Fitzgerald’s Restaurant, Greenbush has an upscale feel to it, as evidenced by all the Illinois cars in the parking lot. Its logo “Greenbush….good beer wins” is on employee t-shirts.

Owned by Scott Sullivan, one of the popular beers at this brewery includes the Distorter, described as “robustly blurring the lines between a porter and a stout. Have a bottle or get therapy.” The Anger beer is called  “a haughty black India Pale Ale with a bit of pent up attitude for those “special” days.”

The food menu is extensive and the bacon and meatloaf sandwich and the Texas-style barbeque are popular.

Iechyd Da Brewing, Elkhart, IN
New addition: Iechyd Da Brewing, 317 N. Main St., Elkhart. This is pronounced Yah-key-Dah and is based on Brewer Chip Lewis’ Welsh heritage, according to his wife, Summer, also a brewer.  It means “good health.” The place has been packed since opening in May. Summer said they are focusing on lower gravity English-style beers. They have eight beers on tap and two sodas. Most popular have been the 13 American Black Ale, the Maiden Voyage and the Prosperity Pale Ale. Don’t miss their pizzas, which are made with fresh ingredients such as artichokes and goat cheese. 

Future Research
More road trips in my future: Three Floyds in Hammond has been rated one of the best in the country. Bell’s in Kalamazoo is legendary and there’s Upland in Bloomington - a far cry from the beer served at my college keg parties.

 

GRANITE CITY

A Restaurant with a Brewery, not a Brewery with a Restaurant

Carlos Robles, manager, explained that Granite City differs from other breweries in that they use a central brew house in Iowa to make “Wort” and then transport the product to their 28 different locations to be fermented at each site. This patented system provides the most consistent and fresh product that they can create. “Wort” is the liquid extracted from the mashing process during the brewing of beer.

“We are more consistent batch to batch and store to store,” said Robles, who added that they’ve had people from Ireland come in and say that the stout is as fresh as the Guinness they get back home. 

Adam DeGiorgio is the Brew Manager at the Mishawaka location. His job is to monitor the beer production cycle, filtration and taste of the beer being produced. The fermentation process takes about 30 days, depending on the type of beer.

DeGiorgio, who has worked in the restaurant business for many years, said he likes his job because he is “constantly learning.”

Granite City has six beers on tap at all times and offers various seasonal beers such as the Blueberry, Summer White, and Brown Ale, which is reminiscent of a nut brown ale served in England (to complement the Olympic Games in London). The beers on tap include Northern Light Lager, Brother Benedict’s Bock, Duke of Wellington IPA, Broad Axe Stout, Two Pull and Wag’s American Wheat. 

An Oktoberfest celebration is being planned for October 8 for members of the Granite City Mug Club. Members will be able to enjoy a beer garden with German food, entertainment and special t-shirts. The mug club is a discount program offering points and rewards on food and beer. 

Robles said the restaurant features fresh ingredients and homemade recipes with beer pairings to complement the food. While some breweries don’t offer food with the beer,  he said Granite City wants to offer both and do both well. Some of the food is even made with beer: the Northern Light Cheddar & Ale Soup and the Adult Mac and Cheese (spiced up with the Brother Benedict’s Bock) are examples. 

Some food and beer pairings suggested include the Asian Chicken Salad with the Northern Light Lager, Grilled Chicken and Asparagus Linguini with the Wag’s American Wheat and chocolate cake with the Broad Axe Stout. 

Members of the Brewers of Indiana Guild, Robles said there is a common misconception that because Granite City is a chain, it cannot offer good quality beer made on site.  The restaurant produces 16,364 gallons of beer per year in Mishawaka.

Brian Smith and his wife, Stacey, and their 14-year-old and 20-year-old are big fans of the place. Brian said he is partial to the Brother Benedict’s Bock, a German-style lager, because it is so consistent. “I’m sure other breweries have good beer, but I love the consistency at Granite City,” he said.

The fact that it is kid-friendly and the staff treats them so well makes the restaurant stand out, Brian added. He also likes the scratch-kitchen so that he and his family can change up the menu whenever and order exactly what they want. “If I want a burger well done with broccoli, that’s no problem.”

 

ALL IN THE FAMILY

Ben Roule and Chris Moersch have a lot in common: they are both in their 30s, both run breweries alongside their brothers and fathers, and both have a passion for their family business.

Roule’s family owns the new Four Horsemen Brewery at 710 S. Fellows Street in South Bend. The Roule family owned Metro Beverages Inc., a beer distributorship in South Bend for many years. Moersch’s family runs the brewery at the Round Barn Winery in Baroda, Michigan. Moersch’s family has run Round Barn since 1992 (formerly called Heart of the Vineyard Winery) and his father, Rick, was the winemaker at Tabor Hill prior to that. 

While craft breweries have sprung up due in part to an interest in home brewing, both of these young entrepreneurs value their family history and business acumen as the key to success. 

Four Horesmen

“We have a passion for beer,” Roule said of Four Horsemen. “With our history, this business is just engrained in us. We care a lot about the beer business, the beer industry – it is our legacy.” His father, Robert, and brother, Sam, also owners, were involved in getting the brewery started. Sam handles all the operational aspects of the brewery while their father, Robert, although retired, has a very important role as consultant to the business. Ben oversees all the sales and marketing activities with the help of his cousin, Tom Ebert, who is the Sales Manager/co-owner.

The Roules opened Four Horsemen a little more than a year ago in an industrial space near downtown South Bend. While it is a little bit hard to find, he said local craft beer enthusiasts have likened it to a “speakeasy” atmosphere and appreciate the quirkiness of walking down a hallway past the offices before reaching the tap room.

He said they purchased equipment and the Four Horsemen logo from the former Mishawaka Brewing Company. He said they did lots of research before opening and have had their share of ups and downs, like most new businesses. They hired Stephen Foster,  master brewer/co-owner who trained at the famed Bavarian State Brewery Weihenstephan School of Brewing, a 1,000-year-old brewery in Germany, who has been “key” in coming up with a consistent, quality product.  Two popular beers have been the Irish Red and the English Pale Ale.

Roule said their knowledge of the beer distribution business has been critical to knowing how to get the beer to market. “We know the consumer, the retailer and we have a business background.” Roule is an Indiana University graduate who has a Fine Arts background, but said growing up in the business had an impact on him and he wanted to pass on what he had absorbed along the way.

The tasting room, which features 9 beers on tap, is only open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, but Four Horsemen beer is distributed throughout the state. He said they launched it in Chicago this summer and will include more spots in Michigan in the future. 

Four Horsemen can be purchased in local grocery stores and liquor stores.

He said food and beer pairings are becoming more and more well known and Four Horsemen has done a few beer dinners. Some ideas: Irish Red with a rib eye steak with a spice rub; Pale Ale with fish or chicken; IPA with spicy foods, and Stouts as a dessert beer with ice cream, making an unbelievable float.

“Beer is less formal than wine,” Roule said. “We offer a more casual atmosphere. That is appealing to people.”

Round Barn

“Moersch, 36, of Round Barn, remembers calling home from college his freshmen year at Western Michigan and asking how the vines were doing. Not a typical question from a college freshman. “When I was 18, I didn’t think I wanted to be in the vineyard, but when I got away from it I realized I really did like it and cared about it.”

He started working there 11 years ago after doing a stint with a major wine distributorship. Round Barn started making beer about six years ago following the moving of the actual “round barn” from Rochester. His brother, Matt, his parents Rick and Sherrie, and his wife, Nicole,  are all involved in the business – whether it be the winery, the brewery or the distillery.

“Our family has been doing this for 33 years in this region,” Moersch said of Round Barn. “We take so much pride in what we do. We have everything invested in this.”

Round Barn is going to be moving beer production to a new location in downtown Baroda shortly and hopes to open a little brewpub there by next summer. The location would include an extended tap system.

At this point, they make 11,000 cases if beer a year compared with 700 cases the first year in business. It is about 15 percent of their business and is growing every year.

Some of their most popular beers include Kolsch, Bob’s Your Uncle , Cocoa Stout and the Oaked IPA. 

Round Barn Brewery is located in the midst of the serene acreage and vines of the winery. Moersch said they stand out from other breweries (some who offer very little ambience) because of their 42 acres. A large beer garden is nestled among the beautiful scenery and live entertainment is available throughout the summer and fall season.

Moersch attributed the popularity of craft breweries to the fact that people want do try different quality beers and go different places to drink them. “It is part of the local, sustainable food movement. People don’t want the same old things. They are looking for more flavor, different unique beers that are affordable.”
















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