A lot of people love craft beer, but Justin Case is such a fan he has a 3 Floyds logo — the skull with a crown, gold tooth, mash paddle, shovel and all — tattooed prominently on his right forearm.
Case is the owner and head brewer of Viking Artisan Ales, a new production craft brewery in Griffith that's looking to open a taproom somewhere in Northwest Indiana by the Illinois border next year.
3 Floyds helped inspire him to become "a beer nerd" in 2006.
"I grew up in Hegewisch right by the Illinois border," he said. "Everybody who's into craft beer in south Chicago or Northwest Indiana has some sort of tie to 3 Floyds. I met my girlfriend while she was working in a restaurant that had 3 Floyds and told me to try this beer. I thought, 'wow, that's pretty wild.'"
He's long been a member of a homebrew club in Chicago and ended up starting a craft brewery because his girlfriend loved fruit-heavy Florida-style sours and no one locally was making them at the time, so he began brewing them himself.
Case opened a production brewery at 305 N. Colfax St. in Griffith that he financed with a membership program of 200 members, after building up a following at local craft beer festivals. He plans soon — no later than late November — to start releasing bottles to the public at the brewery at about 3 p.m. every other Saturday.
"We're just a production facility with no taproom," he said. "We hope to have a taproom by late 2020, but we're just a small operation right now. We have no business loan or investors. We're financing this ourselves."
He's also planning to distribute kegs to venues like Brewfest in Highland and Hop Station in Mishawaka and said he is in talks with Tomato Bar in Schererville and Doc's Smokehouse and Craft Bar in Dyer.
Viking Artisan Ales, named after Case's Scandanavian heritage, is the third craft brewery in Griffith, joining New Oberpfalz Brewing and Wildrose Brewing. It would have been the fourth, but Pokro Brewing on Broad Street closed earlier this year.
The brewery specializes in "palatable sours" that include traditional Berliner Weisses, Lambics and Goses, as well as beers that taste like Jolly Rancher candies, Orange Dreamscicles and marshmallows.
"We have really fun stuff," he said. "We put three pounds of raspberry in some beers to make it in your face. We try for fun flavors that appeal to everybody, even people who don't like beer. These are fun beers that could get your grandmother or uncle into craft beers."
Viking Artisan Ales has a five-barrel system and plans to brew about four barrels a week, selling about 800 16.9-ounce bottles directly to consumers out of its garage door every other week.
"When we sell out, it's gone," he said.
The brewery also will make coconut, vanilla and other stouts, as well as India Pale Ales, barleywine and other beer styles, when it eventually opens its taproom next year. But the decision to focus on sours is partly strategic, a way of differentiating the brewery.
"IPAs in general are pretty saturated in the Chicagoland market," he said. "It's a tough market."
Case plans to do collaborations with some of his friends in the craft brewing industry, including Windmill Brewing in Dyer and Boneflower Craft Mead. He's looking to distribute in Northwest Indiana and Illinois but plans to keep the operation small.
"We're going to be a small family business, not something the size of Toppling Goliath," he said. "Those breweries put in the work, but we just want to have the freedom owning a small business gives you and to make beer, have fun and live the life we want to live."
Much of the beer will be sold on-site, out of a potentially Viking-themed taproom. Case hopes to locate it somewhere in Griffith, Highland, Dyer or another barrel community.
"The further you go into Northwest Indiana, the less likely people from Chicago will drive there," he said. "We want to be by the border."
He hopes to help popularize sours locally, which The Sour Note in Hammond also makes but which is seen by some as an acquired taste.
"If you're a sour beer drinker or not, we try to make our offerings palatable to everyone," he said. "Sour beer can be an acquired taste or one you grow into as a beer drinker, but our product is palatable to the everyday consumer."
For more information, visit vikingartisanales.com.