Northwest Indiana and Southwest Michigan have become a national hotspot for some of the country's favorite beers and wines. So many breweries and wineries call our region home that no matter your preference, these dedicated winemakers and brewmasters work long hours to perfect their craft and offer something for everyone.
So what arouses a passion for making wines and brews? Winemakers and brewmasters throughout Northwest Indiana and Southwest Michigan weigh in on their profession.
Joe Butler, Butler Winery, Chesterton, Ind.
Joe Butler was three when his father opened Butler Winery in Bloomington, Indiana.
“We lived above the winery so were never very far away,” he says. “We planted our first rows of grapes—vignoles, a hearty white grape, outside by the road. I spent early years planting, pruning, digging posts and whatever. We prune twice a year, after the last harvest and in the spring.”
Butler is a home wine enthusiast and he also helps his father with wine-making. His younger brother lives in San Francisco and is becoming a wine maker.
It was the Chesterton European Market which convinced the family to open up a wine shop and tasting room in the town. Butler was living in Merrillville where he was working on a degree in geology.
“In 2006, I asked if we could bring Butler Winery to the market,” he says. “It was very successful so we did it again in 2007 and then the next year we opened the winery.” Currently Butler is also working with several other region wineries in developing a local wine trail.
Steve Mazylewski, Crown Brewing, Crown Point, Ind.
At age ten, Crown Point Brewery Brewmaster Steve Mazylewski already knew what he wanted to be.
“I remember telling my middle school counselor that I wanted to brew beer,” says Mazylewski whose father was a social studies teacher with a passion for beer can collecting. “We were always visiting breweries when I was a kid during summer vacation because my father was a social studies teacher.”
Though his counselor didn’t know much about what was needed to become a brewer, he located a school for Mazylewski to attend when he graduated high school—the Siebel Institute of Technology, located in Chicago, which has been teaching how to make beer since 1871.
“Back then there were mostly big breweries so I figured I’d be wearing a lab coat and walking around in huge rooms with gigantic vats,” he says.
Instead, he chose the microbrewery business where he’s crafted beers for the last two decades.
“No one is ever going to beat Budweiser at what they do, but more and more people are experimenting and finding out what they like,” says Mazylewski who did his lager training in Germany. “When Crown Brewery first opened in 2008 we were like the 15th brewery in the state. Now there are over a hundred with 30 more in planning.”
Christian Moersch, Round Barn Winery, Distillery & Brewery, Baroda, Mich.
Christian Moersch didn’t realize he wanted to be part of the family-owned business started by his parents when he was a youngster. He thought he’d enough of the hard physical work of growing grapes and making wines.
“I couldn’t wait to get out of there,” he says. “But the first fall when I was in college, I’d always be calling home and asking how are the grapes, how are they doing.”
Upon returning, he worked more on the marketing piece of the business (his brother Matt is the winemaker) but then, after the family business expanding into brewing and that grew into the Round Barn Public House and Brewery, Moersch stepped into overseeing the brewery—a job that included developing recipes for their artisan beers.
“I had the background in fermentation from the winery,” he says. “Beer is fermentation as well. It’s weaving the base and knowledge of flavors and having a strong grasp on the process. It helped make the transition.”
There’s always something new and currently they’ve just released their Grape Expectation in six packs and are also working on sour beers which are made by introducing a strain of bacteria which ultimately consumes any of the sweetness overtime.
“They’ve been out there, but they’re really gaining steam,” he says. “When we put the first one we sold out in a day and a half.”
Drew Fox, 18th Street Brewery, Miller Beach, Gary, Ind.
“It begins with ideas that come about from sitting around the brewery and having an open discussion on what beers we like to drink,” says Drew Fox, head brewer/founder/CEO at 18th Street Brewery, explaining their collaborative team work when creating recipes for their handcrafted beers. “Since we have been gaining more notoriety and popularity we have greater access to different varieties of hops and are able to formulate recipes using those. Our goal is to get it right the first time and not have to tweak beers but occasionally with new hops and malts being used some alterations need to be made in order to produce a product I am satisfied with. If the body or flavor profile is not what I envisioned for the beer, we will make as many adjustments as needed to get the perfect beer.” Collaboration extends beyond 18th Street.
“As a brewery we are selective with who we collaborate with,” continues Fox. “We collaborate with other breweries in which a relationship and a friendship has been established. We gravitate towards breweries that have established themselves in the beer scene as well as share our philosophy in the beer making process.”
Dan Lehnerer, New Oberpfalz Brewing, Griffith, Ind.
A home brewer for ten years, Dan Lehnerer, owner and brewmaster at New Oberpfalz, was a regional salesman for several food companies.
“I traveled all the time,” he says, “so I was always on an airplane or sitting in a hotel room. I’d bring technical books on brewing beer and I visited a lot of breweries all over the country.”
Lehnerer also had a coterie of friends who were home brewers and so the group shared beer recipes and talked about what did and didn’t work. He also was a member of the Chicago Brewers Association which he joined so he could get tickets to beer events and drink great brews.
“Someone gave me a $25 beer kit and I started brewing,” he says. “About 50 per cent of my beers were Helles, the great granddaddy of every American lager. I started liking them when I visited Germany and drank some. But you couldn’t get as good of Helles as you could in Germany. So I started making them.”
Mike Merchant, Tabor Hill Winery, Baroda, Mich.
Starting work as the vineyard manager at Tabor Hill Winery in 1980, Mike Merchant, who has Bachelor of Science degrees from Michigan State University in Crop and Soil Science and Horticulture with an emphasis on growing grapes, took over as the winemaker ten years later.
“I quickly realized that the wine maker is the one who should be calling the shots in the vineyard,” says Merchant who grew up in St. Joseph, Michigan. “The quality of the grapes pretty much determines what goes in the bottle.”
But even before he graduated college, Merchant was spending time at Tabor Hill along with several roommates who were involved in viniculture. Because Tabor Hill was one of MSU’s research areas, Merchant and his friends would spend time trellising and shoot positioning the grapes there.
“Tabor Hill was just some barns and a tasting room at the time,” he says. “We’d bring sleeping bags and spend the night, toast some marshmallows and imbibe.”
Chris Boggess, 3 Floyds Brewing Co., Munster, Ind.
In 1994, Chris Boggess was waiting tables at the Rock Bottom Brewery in Houston, Texas after graduating from college.
“An assistant brewer job opened up and I jumped on it,” says Boggess.
Flash forward two decades and Boggess is the head brewer at 3 Floyds Brewing Co. which last year was named the world's fourth best beer in 2014 according to the popular craft beer website RateBeer--it earned the best in the world rating in 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 and number three in 2013.
Creating recipes for their craft beers can be somewhat random, says Boggess.
“There might be a new hop we want to try or a yeast we want to use,” he says. “Or if Nick Floyd wants to make a brew he will give direction as to the general style or flavor profile and we go for it.”
Boggess says they have a couple of new sour beers in the works along with a handful of band beers that will come out later this year.