ST. JOHN | Homebrewers practice their passion in basements and garages, experimenting with different recipes they find online or come up with on their own through trial and error.
But no matter how well crafted the end product, few people will ever taste their beer outside of a circle of friends, family and maybe fellow members of a homebrewers' club.
A new St. John brewpub will give homebrewers in Northwest Indiana and the Chicago south suburbs a much wider audience.
95ate5 Brew Pub, "inconveniently located" at 9585 N. Industrial Drive a half mile east of Indianapolis Boulevard, will offer a rotation of four draft beers homebrewers brewed in a brewing studio in the back, in addition to a variety of craft beers in bottles and cans, as well as a selection of locally made craft beers on tap. 95ate5 Brew Pub plans to routinely offer beers from St. John Malt Brothers Brewing, Crown Brewing in Crown Point, Devil's Trumpet Brewing in Hobart, 18th Street Brewery in Gary, and Wildrose Brewing, New Oberflalz Brewing, and Pokro Brewing, all in Griffith.
95ate5 Brew Pub also will serve a major educational role, making homebrewing videos that aspiring homebrewers can watch to learn the craft, offering cooking classes on culinary techniques, and having a homebrewers' roundtable that will videotape people's reaction to beers they blindly sample so homebrewers can get more honest feedback than they might be able to in person. Instructional videos, designed to answer common questions that novice homebrewers have, will be available online at homebrew.pub.
Chef Jack Mix, a banquet chef who cooked for Villa de Bruno in Lynwood before founding Comfort's Catering in St. John, is looking to diversify his business to set it up for success when he retires and passes it onto his son Bill. Comfort Catering employs about 65 to 70 workers to cook for gatherings of 100 to 200 people, such as corporate events or church gatherings.
"It's time to plan for turning it over to the next generation," said Mix, whose handlebar mustache inspired an early name idea that was scrapped to avoid confusion with the Handlebar in Chicago. "This has to work. This is my retirement."
Mix handcrafted the woodwork in the bar, which replaces a family-style restaurant when it opens today. He worked for nine months building the woodsy bar, which features floorboards salvaged from Michigan City construction projects, etched-glass panels behind the bar, and reused stain glass from Benton Harbor, Mich. An ash tree hangs horizontally over the bar, holding up a row of softly lit Edison Lights.
The focus is on craft beer and homebrews, but the bar also will offer handcrafted cocktails, including some aged in whiskey barrels at some point, and high-end whiskeys that can be purchased in flights. Mix said it would be a good way to sample different whiskeys without spending $70 or $80 on a bottle.
Once it's established, new beers will be on tap at least twice a week. Members of the Illiana Beer Rackers Unions and Brewers of South Suburbia homebrew clubs will brew beer back by the commercial kitchen — eventually up to four times a week. Since it's only brewed in five-gallon batches, the brewpub should go through it relatively quickly, Mix said.
Unlike other craft breweries that might offer just offer a charcuterie board or have food trucks stop by outside, 95ate5 will put a major emphasis on food. The menu will constantly change — such as from Cajun to Mexican to Chinese — based on what catering gigs the business has at any particular time. The opening night menu for instance will include porchetta, as well as jambalaya and red beans and rice in honor of Fat Tuesday. The brewpub will also have a regular bar menu featuring high-quality, cooked-to-order burgers, including one with egg and bacon.
Beer lovers will get to enjoy a variety of Northwest Indiana craft beers all in one place, as well as frequently changing offerings from homebrewers, who can be even more adventurous and experimental than craft brewers, since they brew smaller batches and don't stand to lose as much from a bad batch.
"It's people with a passion doing what they do best," Bill Mix said. "Brewing, food, bourbons, wines — all it is is people who care about something and try to make it better. We bring the people in and give them an outlet to showcase it. Don't just keep it in your garage if you've got a good beer. Get it out to the world."