Charlie’s Brew Tour: St. John Malt Brothers

Charlie’s Brew Tour: St. John Malt Brothers

Picture

By Charlie Sasse

“Where the hell is St. John, Indiana?”  That is what I said when I first bought Hoperidium from St. John Malt Brothers (SJMB).  I heard and read about the brewery, but still had no idea where it was located in our state.  That being said, Hoperidium made me want to go out of my way a couple weekends ago on a trip to Kalamazoo, Michigan, and it was not a waste of time!

The name St. John Malt Brothers was chosen because the owners wanted to be associated with the town.  The partners love their town and saw a need for something new.  A brewery with a brewpub was definitely something new, and being a few minutes away from 3 Floyds showed there should be enough business to support SJMB.  This was enough to encourage the two engineers (Dan Cox and Dave Witt) and an experienced restaurant manager (Jim Estry) to move forward with a plan to bring great beer to this little town in Northwest Indiana. 

As I arrived at SJMB I could smell it was a brew day!  There was malt in the air and about to be beer on my pallet.  When I entered, Jim—one of the owners who runs the day to day operations—greeted me and was happy to tell me about the place and the beer.  I walked around and took pictures of the bar area, patio, and homebrew shop while we waited on Dan C. to arrive.  SJMB has a very refined interior, without being off-putting.  You can be in a polo shirt and slacks, or a T-shirt and shorts, and still feel comfortable and welcome.


Picture

The story behind SJMB homebrew shop, Kennywood, began when their favorite local store closed.  The original owner of the homebrew shop received a transfer to the west coast from his day job.  Because Jim, Dan C., and Dave had spent so much time and money at the store, they received first right of refusal to purchase the homebrew shop.  Jim had cultivated a relationship with the previous owner when SJMB consisted of three buddies brewing beer in a backyard and cellared it in Jim’s basement.  The store was originally reopened at an off-site location, but soon after SJMB acquired more space and folded the store into the same location as the brewery.  This made sense in more than one way.  As Dan C. said, “What homebrewer comes in for supplies and doesn’t have a beer?”

Dan C., Dave, and Jim know a lot about the homebrew life.  The neighbors had been brewing together for three years, using the time to write and perfect recipes for what would be the house beers at SJMB.  Jim, the newest to craft beer, developed a knack for creating really good beer recipes.  Some of the beers created during the homebrew days are still found in the SJMB taproom are Hesperidium (IPA), Burnt Bottom Brown (Brown Ale), and Blow Out (DIPA).  The partners went on a “Brew Mission” to create these beers and ensure they could brew them consistently.  I tried them all and found three very enjoyable beers with solid flavors that I would order again and again.  It doesn’t hurt that delicious horseradish cheese dip and pretzels come with the beer… FOR FREE!!!

Another Dan, Dan Breed—Head Brewer—runs the day to day brewery operations.  He had been homebrewing for twenty years, taking a short break to coach baseball when his kids were old enough to play.  He began working at the brewery shortly after they opened on February 1, 2015, serving beer and cleaning floors.  Dan B.’s theory was if all his money was going to be spent drinking SJMB beer, the money might as well come from them.  He previously worked in the television and radio broadcasting industry.  Dan B. stated while working in broadcasting it was common to have to think on your feet and improvise, this is valuable experience when brewing beer.  Also, he grew up on a dairy farm and said he noticed the equipment was very similar to what he used on the farm.  For Dan B. this was like coming home again.

Picture

​The heart of SJMB is a 15 barrel system pumping the hoppy golden lifeblood into the taps.  The brew house also contains two 30 barrel fermenters, a 15 barrel fermenter, and a 30 barrel bright tank.  While this is a large system for a small brewery, I learned they are currently juggling beer through the current tanks into kegs in order to keep up with demand.  After a year in business, SJMB wants to expand and is looking for space.  Ideally, they would like to keep taking over space in their current location.  There is a small pilot system in the back where both Dans, Jim, and Dave work on new recipes.  This is where the beer—Hoperidium—that lead me to the city of St. John, was created.  Everyone knew they had a winner and began canning and bottling the hoppy beverage immediately.  Here is where I have to give a shout out to all of our mobile canning friends as without them we as drinkers would miss out on a lot of delicious beer from smaller breweries.

When you walk in and look at the board you will find fourteen taps of standard and rotating beers brewed by SJMB.  You also find two taps dedicated to beers brewed on the pilot system.  The pilot brews are specialty one-off beers that could eventually make it to the big system.  My favorite beer on tap was El Cedron, an IPA aged on Spanish cedar.  This beer is sold in bottles around Indianapolis, and I bought some at Big Red Liquors in Brownsburg, IN.  The cedar is very prominent in the nose but works well with the citrusy hoppy aromas.  While it takes over the nose, the Spanish cedar is lighter on the pallet.  It is still very noticeable but allows the hops to shine throughout the pallet.  The mouthfeel is slightly creamy but the carbonation cuts through it a bit, which helps the hoppy bitterness break through the cedar flavor.  Even if you have not found a cedar aged beer you like, try this one, it may change your mind.


Picture

My favorite question to ask anyone working at a brewery is what beer started their love affair with craft beer or their Epiphany Beer.  Dan C. lived in Chicago for several years while working as an engineer and spent quite a bit of time visiting Goose Island.  After talking through several beers and struggling to nail one down, he smiled and said Goose Island’s Oktoberfest had a big impact on him.  Jim’s answer was easier to come by.  Since he is the newest to craft beer, Jim is still discovering new beer profiles.  He stated while on a golf outing with Dan C., he found his Epiphany Beer: 3 Floyds Pride and Joy. It’s his golfing beverage of choice and the beer which changed the way he saw beer from that point on.  Dave was working his engineering job that day and wasn’t available.  Head Brewer Dan B. talked about 10 different beers before settling on something I would never have thought of.  Years ago when he was homebrewing he was trying different beers and credited Killians Irish Red for changing his pallet.  I remember drinking a ton of this beer not only because it was cheap, but also because it had flavors I had never tasted in a beer but enjoyed.  I love knowing what beer brings someone over to the dark side.

From what I saw, the dynamic of this group is something you are going to find when you go to your buddy’s house for a homebrew session. They enjoy drinking beer together, working together, and throwing some good-natured ribbing at each other.  This reminds me so much of the way myself and some of my best friends are together.  This explains a lot about the flavors and quality of the beers being brewed at SJMB.  They recently started a barrel aging program using barrels from Journeyman Distillery.  Oh, that scotch barrel aged barleywine…I wish I would have bought a case of Kilter B.  Imagine everything you like about barrel aging, scotch, and barleywines and you are getting close to how good this beer is.  I was a fan of the beer before I visited and now I am a fan of the brewery.

I really enjoyed my time at St. John Malt Brothers. From the horseradish cheese dip to the wings with homemade blue cheese sauce, the food was great and paired well with the beer.  The beers were fun and had interesting flavor profiles. Everyone who works at the brewery was very friendly, even Jim.  There were lots of jokes about Jim being an old codger, but he seemed like a guy I could really enjoy having a beer with.  When I asked him about writing recipes and developing new beers he quoted Ray Kroc stating the brewery is either “green and growing or ripe and rotting”.  I believe this tells you all you need to know about St. John Malt Brothers.  

Keep drinking great beer and talking about it, I know I will!

To learn more about SJMB check out this video made by Lakeshore Public Media:



No Comments
  • Chip
    Posted at 09:20h, 12 June Reply

    Well done Charlie! You always make me want to go and visit the spots that you hit! Keep the tour tales coming!

Post A Comment