If you are lover of craft beer, there are few better places to be than Northwest Indiana, where nearly every sizable community has its own craft brewery — some have more than one.
There are more than two dozen within Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties. So turn your next staycation into a beercation and make plans to visit a few of the many tasting rooms to get your fill of lagers and porters and ales and IPAs and stouts and sours — and all the other varieties that Region brewers are preparing.
If you reside in the area, you’re probably familiar with at least one, but there are many to visit and much to taste. A good place to start is the South Shore Brewery Trail that can be accessed through the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority’s website.
On the website (southshorecva.com/ssbt) or the free app, you can sort through the area’s craft breweries alphabetically, by keyword or by town and view a map of locations.
“The South Shore's brewery scene is vibrant and constantly evolving,” said Erika Dahl, director of communications for the South Shore CVA.
“Each brewery offers a unique experience and an exciting way to ‘taste’ the region.”
In the earlier days of breweries, you’d go in and have a pint or a flight, but if you were hungry, you were limited to bowls of pretzels at the bar or could bring in your own grub. However, many of the breweries in the area now offer an impressive menu.
St. John Malt Brothers is one such spot that has evolved into a full-service restaurant.
“We have a wide range of burgers, cheesesteaks, chicken and waffles, wings, shrimp and some eclectic foods that you can’t find anywhere else,” said Jim Estry, president of St. John Malt Brothers Inc.
“The NWI craft-brewing industry is maturing nicely. The beer just keeps getting better and better. The area went through a huge growth spurt a few years ago with several new breweries opening in a short amount of time. With a few years under our belt now, we have honed our craft and have become a destination for craft beer enthusiasts.”
One of the busiest breweries in the Region, 18th Street, has expanded quite a bit since it began in 2010. The original location opened in Gary and a second location later opened in Hammond. In 2014, it started brewing a sour beer.
“It was a side project and due to its popularity, it needed its own location,” said owner Drew Fox. The Sour Note Brewing tasting room opened last year in June.
When they first began brewing the signature “Sour Note” beer at 18th Street, Fox said there weren’t a lot of that style in the area at the time. They now have some core sour brews — a cherry, a blackberry, a blueberry and some IPAs.
“Our brewer is now doing a pastry sour. It’s really fruity. It has tartness and some sweetness from the fruit,” Fox said. That pastry sour, Cheddar King, was released in late April on draft only, with can production following a few days later.
Boldness, creativity mark NWI beer scene
Justin Verburg and Scott VanderGriend were home brewers when they learned about a vacant building and the availability of equipment when Lansing brewery One Trick Pony was expanding and Verburg said, “Things just sorta fell into place.”
Soon they opened Windmill Brewing in Dyer. “I worked in the tech industry and was looking for more of a creative outlet,” he said.
In the few short years since opening, Verburg said he’s already seen shifts in what people are drinking.
“There are definitely more breweries now than when we opened, and tons of variety available,” Verburg said.
“When we opened, IPA was king.” Now he said that many more varieties of IPAs are available, and lagers are gaining popularity.
Cold brew coffee with beer is something that Windmill Brewing has been offering on occasion.
“We have a great relationship with both Smalltown Coffee Co. and Dagger Mountain Roastery, so we love to feature their coffees any way we can, whether it be black coffee in the tap room, cold brew or a coffee-infused beer.”
There also seems to be more of an environment of camaraderie among Region brewers than of competition, and there’s a lot of support amongst one another.
“We really love New Oberpfalz,” Verburg said.
“They made a really bold move when they opened to feature primarily German lagers, and it's paid off. Also, 3 Floyds really continues to drive the beer scene around here. They have amazing food, continue to add awesome beers to their menu and everyone over there is really helpful to us 'little guys' if we ever have any questions.”
“We’re seeing a natural growth of progression and it seems like now every town has a brewery in the Region,” Fox said.
“It’s continued to increase with a couple each year. It think it’s good for everyone involved. The Region is becoming a big destination for craft beer. It’s so centrally located. We see growth and hope it continues.”
95ate5 Brew Pub, St. John
18th Street, Gary and Hammond
Back Road Brewery, LaPorte
Bulldog Brewing Co., Whiting
Bulldog on the Lake, Portage
Burn ‘Em Brewing, Michigan City
Byway Brewing, Hammond
Cognito Brewery, Merrillville
Chesterton Brewery, Chesterton (opening Summer 2019)
Crown Brewing, Crown Point
Devil’s Trumpet Brewing Co., Merrillville
Fenwick Farms Brewing Co., Rensselear
Figure Eight Brewing, Valparaiso
Four Fathers Brewing, Valparaiso
Hunter’s Brewing, Chesterton
Ironwood Brewing, Valparaiso
New Oberpfalz Brewing, Griffith
Off Square Brewing, Crown Point
Plat 35 Brewery, Porter
Pokro Brewing Co., Griffith
Shoreline Brewery, Michigan City
St. John Malt Brothers, St. John
The Sour Note Brewing, Hammond
Three Floyds Brewing Co. and Brew Pub
Wildrose Brewing Co., Griffith
Windmill Brewing, Dyer
Zorn Brew Works, Michigan City
Upcoming NWI Beer Festivals
Crown Beer Fest (June 15 at Lake County Fairgrounds)
Pints in the Park (Aug. 10 at Wicker Park in Highland)
Valparaiso Brew Fest (Sept. 28 at Central Park Plaza)
Munster Ale Fest (Oct. 12 at Centennial Park)