10 Jun Charlie’s Brew Tour: St. John Malt Brothers
“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.
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.
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.
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: