St. John Malt Brothers, the 5-year-old craft brewery whose beers are distributed widely across Indiana, has acquired the town's other microbrewery, 95ate5.
The two businesses are located in the same industrial park, where Malt Brothers is installing a new production brewery.
The sum was undisclosed.
"This is a true merger," St. John Malt Brothers President Jim Estry said. "This isn't like the Boston Beer Co. and Dogfish Head."
The deal comes at a time when St. John Malt Brothers is looking to expand across the state, and as it faces being kicked out of its home on Wicker Avenue in a few months to make way for the new Shops 96 retail development. The brewery plans to take over 95ate5 and increase its seating capacity, keeping 95ate5's menu and small brewing operation going, instead of going through with its original plans to move into Shops 96.
"At the end of the day there are lots of breweries out there, and you don't see any in an upscale commercial development," Estry said. "In the light industrial space, we're getting twice the square footage for half as much money. It's an important project for the town, but you just don't see craft breweries in that setting. It's just not a good fit."
St. John Malt Brothers plans to run two taprooms simultaneously for now. 95ate5 will be rebranded as Malt Brothers at 95ate5 with a combined menu and 25 taps featuring both breweries' beers. Its existing taproom and restaurant, located in the former Rascal's Pizza space that it acquired last year, should remain open until at least July before it will be razed to make way for the 171,000-square-foot development similar to Shops on Main in Schererville.
The craft brewery will then consolidate operations at 9585 N. Industrial Drive in a business park just east of Wicker Avenue. It will have one brewery inside the brewpub for on-site sales and a second production brewery a few hundred feet away making beers like its Game Over Man Kolsch and the Deviant Vector West Coast-style IPA for distribution to its more than 400 accounts in Indiana and Illinois.
95ate5, which opened in 2015, will continue brewing its own beers on its separate brewing system to be served on-site in the taproom and restaurant.
95ate5 owners Jack Mix and Bev Mix are retiring, but their son Bill Mix will remain general manager of Malt Brothers at 95ate5.
St. John Malt Brothers will end up with more than double the space for brewing. It will still have an annual brewing capacity of 21,000 barrels per year, but will be able to double its fermentation capacity from about 1,400 barrels to 3,000 barrels. The new system it's installing should help improve quality, Estry said.
"We are making some of the best craft beer in Northwest Indiana," he said. "3 Floyds is obviously phenomenal, and there's a couple of breweries making very, very good beer, but I would match our beer with any of them. We're just going to continue to get better with the new production system. We'll start with much better water. We're committed to Northwest Indiana, and we just want to offer great beer, great food and great service."
It plans to significantly expand the 185-seat capacity at 95ate5 Brew Pub, adding another room and a new bar area.
"This allows us to have a full-service restaurant we hope will be a signature destination for Northwest Indiana," he said.
The craft brewery also is eyeing expansion to markets where its beer has been selling well and it's established in the marketplace, including West Lafayette, South Bend and Indianapolis. Estry is now looking for real estate in West Lafayette, where he hopes to open a taproom within a year.
"It won't have a restaurant, just concession stand food," he said. "So many people at our brewery are associated with Purdue. There are a couple of good breweries there, and it's a relatively small market, but I was in Longmont, Colorado — a city of 80,000 — that's home to 12 breweries, including Oscar Blues and Left Hand."
Estry is bullish about craft brewing's growth prospects.
"What's going to happen over the next few years in Northwest Indiana is more people are going to drink local and eat local," he said. "You've seen a precursor of it on the West Coast, and more people are going to want to drink a local product. Northwest Indiana has its own flavor."