A lot of craft beer lovers start homebrewing, master the art and then open their own craft breweries to sell beers they make themselves.
Steve Martinez took a different path.
Martinez, his business partner, John Pruzin Jr., and junior partners Matt Melton and John Amatulli recently opened Region Ale Taphouse and Eatery, one of Northwest Indiana's largest craft beer taprooms. They want to showcase craft beers others have made in Northwest Indiana and across the state.
The 5,000-square-foot bar and restaurant at 1080 U.S. 41 in Schererville has 50 taps, with a heavy focus on Northern Indiana craft breweries. Region Ale dedicates about 20 taps to craft breweries across Northern Indiana, and has a secondary focus on craft beers from central and southern Indiana. It carries a wide array of styles of craft beers and ciders, including rotating seasonals like Octoberfest and pumpkin beers, and has two taps for sours and two for nitro stouts.
Martinez, a longtime fan of breweries like Three Floyds and craft beer bars like Beer Geeks in Highland, wanted to create a taproom in Northwest Indiana like The Tribes Alehouse in Orland Park and the legendary HopCat that started in Grand Rapids and since has spread nationally.
"It's based on the local growth of microbreweries in Northwest Indiana," he said. "I've been to taprooms in Grand Rapids, Indianapolis and Chicago, and liked what I saw. I wanted to create something like that here, but that's Region-centric first."
Northwest Indiana now has more than 20 craft breweries as younger drinkers have come to favor more complex, sophisticated beers than the light domestic lagers that traditionally dominated the market. While overall beer sales ticked down 0.2 percent in the United States last year, craft beer sales grew by 12.8 percent in another year of double-digit growth, according to the Brewers Association.
Region Ale's 50 taps is nearly tops in the local market, edged out by Doc's BBQ and Craft Bar in Dyer, which has more than 60 taps.
"I thought it would be great to have more of the Northern Indiana brews in one place," Martinez said. "We've talked to all the local craft breweries and have crafted relationships with them. We want to feature their small products that aren't available elsewhere. We'll do special things with them like exclusive beer releases and other events."
Schererville's new craft beer bar, which employs about 50 people, also has 14 taps dedicated to "anywhere beyond the Region," but the focus is so local it even gets most of its wines from Indiana. Chef Josh Melton, who was most recently sous chef of T.J. Maloney’s Authentic Irish Pub in Merrillville, also tries to locally source as much of the food as possible, such as from area bison farms.
Melton uses the craft beer as an ingredient in dishes, making a cheese fondue with Wildrose's Big Sexy American Pale Ale and a chilli with Devil's Trumpet Night Goat Coffee Stout.
An eclectic menu features flatbreads, sandwiches, chili, salads, a hummus flight, and entrees like wild mushroom risotto and crab ravioli.
Region Ale seats more than 160, has a private room for parties and is located in the Boulevard Square Shopping Center on a busy stretch of Indianapolis Boulevard. The craft beer is available in flights for drinkers who might want to sample a variety of styles.
Martinez hopes it stands out in a busy commercial corridor dominated by chain restaurants, and has added local flourishes like a 19-foot-tall brick wall with signage listing 70 different Region terms.
For more information, call 219.322.BEER or visit regionaletaphouse.com.