HIGHLAND | Brewfest at 8347 Kennedy Avenue in Highland is Northwest Indiana's first self-serve craft beer bar where the customer can pour pints themselves, owner Bob Schwebke said.
Bob and Linda Schwebke, who also own Munster Froyo on Calumet Avenue in Munster, recently launched the technologically unique bar, which offers 20 craft beers that are sourced from Northwest Indiana and across the Midwest. Schwebke liked the idea after seeing it on the "Bar Rescue" show on television. "Robot" self-serve beer kiosks are a growing trend that have come to the United Center and soon O'Hare International Airport.
Brewfest features 16-ounce beers that typically cost $5 from big craft brewers like Goose Island, Lagunitus and Founders, and also Northwest Indiana favorites like Pokro Brewing, St. John Malt Brothers, Wildrose Brewing, Burn 'Em and Devil's Trumpet. Flights are most popular, and visitors get charged the same amount per ounce whether they buy a flight of samples or a full pint.
Tulip glasses, the stemmed glasses with flared rims that were traditionally associated with Belgian ales and but are now often used for any higher ABV beers, are available if desired but not forced upon anyone, Schwebke said.
The 1,100-square-foot craft beer bar, which seats about 70 inside and even more on its outdoor patio, is not like the typical tavern where you walk in and order a drink from a bartender. Instead, you pre-pay or open a tab with a cashier who gives you a card. You then use the card at the self-serve taps.
After two beers, the bartender has to renew the card because you've hit your "responsibility limit" and the cashier has to reactivate it.
That's typically a quick process that takes no more than a few seconds but the goal is to prevent people from overindulging and becoming inebriated, Schwebke said.
"We don’t know if someone's been out at Soldier Field, drinking all day," he said.
Schwebke has been in the ice cream business for 25 years and has seen fads come and go, but thinks self-serve beer should have staying power because the beer is metered out precisely and customers know exactly what they're getting with each pour.
His bar has an industrial look inside and is meant to replicate a German-style beer garden. Much of the seating, which includes 12-foot long tables and church pews, is communal so as to encourage conversation. Some craft breweries like Three Floyds are adamant about never showing sports, but BrewFest will listen to customer input on what goes on the televisions, Schwebke said. The bar will adjust its beer selection and overall experience based on what people say they want.
Highland already has a popular destination craft beer bar called Beer Geeks on 45th Street, but Schwebke said his goal isn't to compete with it since he'll have mainly regional and less obscure craft beers that have been carefully curated. His goal is appeal beyond just deeply immersed craft beer connoisseurs and to educate the general public that there are better options out there than Miller Lite.
BrewFest also plans to sponsor the South Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau craft beer app, and Schwebke said he hopes to be the first stop for many people visiting the Region for craft beer since he's right by the "front door" of the Indiana Welcome Center in Hammond.
The bar will be open from noon until 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and from noon until midnight on Friday and Saturday.
For more information, find BrewFest on Facebook or call (219) 237-2682.