30 Jan A Day in the Life of an Indiana Craft Beer Explorer
Finding craft breweries, visiting them, and talking to the people who put their hearts and souls into making and delivering beer to us is a great way to spend a day….or a week. The more you visit, the more friends you make and the more unique stories you get to hear. The list of unvisited Indiana craft breweries for Walter and I has shrunk to an even dozen given the amazing day we had this past Saturday. However, the number twelve attached to our to do list might be wrong – there could be breweries we don’t even know about, and this is exactly what we found out on Saturday. It gives one the feeling of being an intrepid explorer, diving into a previously unknown region and finding Solomon’s mines, or at least a good porter.
The plan, as we loaded the car with empty growlers, separator boxes for pint glasses, and snacks to keep us within a budget, was to visit the three craft breweries in Griffith, and then perhaps hit Route 2 Brews in Lowell as we snaked our way back south to Indy. Four breweries in a day – that’s a solid outing. We’ve made more stops in a single day, but they are few and far between. We have come to believe that four is a nice round number, enough to learn about a region, but not so many as to stop noting differences amongst the last breweries or beers.
Well, four breweries wasn’t how things worked out on Saturday. Word of mouth from the natives turned us into a modern day Lewis and Clark, with Walter acting as navigator and lead explorer, and me in charge of transportation and calculating the tip. I have to tell you, discovering a brewery that you didn’t know existed, especially when this is what you do for a living, is both an amazing and scary feeling. How many more are out there that we don’t know about?
Here is a brief synopsis of our day, complete with items that we had expected and things that were completely unexpected. Our first stop was New Oberpfalz in downtown Griffith (121 E. Main St.). It opened the earliest, so it allowed us to get a good running start on our day, especially since we gained an hour on the drive up. Daniel “Gus” Lehnerer was on hand when we arrived at about 12:30 local time, and Charlie Evans was behind the bar with lots of good local beer lore. The only beers from New Oberpfalz we have been able to get in Indy are the Russian imperial stout variants, but we found out that they do so much more.
Being named for a region in Germany (Upper Palatinate or Oberpfalz), we should have expected that they would make some good lagers, and New Oberpfalz did not disappoint. The Elucidator doppelbock was stunningly good – liquid bread with clean toastiness and a big mouthfeel, but it didn’t stop there. The Helles lager was so brite and clean that it fairly jumped out the glass, and the schwarzbier was crisp as well. We didn’t do food on this visit, but the menu was very inviting, including lamb meatballs and a french onion soup made with the helles lager (we’re big on appetizers), so we will probably eat on our return visits.
Our next stop was Wildrose Brewing just down the street (1104 E. Main St.). The place was packed for early on a Saturday, and the talk with the locals was stimulating. It was unfortunate that all the owners were participating in the Big Barn Beer Fest in Hobart, since neither Walter and I have met them yet. But the beer was great. Walter isn’t a huge fan of rye beers, but the Cascadian dark rye (Hop Side of the Moon) was a stand out for her; nice peppery notes. I was more partial to the Stewheat wheat beer, which used hop blends to give it a fruit flavor, while the unfiltered wheat provided haze. I can’t believe that this beer isn’t rated higher on Untappd.
Our third stop was where the plan for our day started to change. The first shift in blueprint wasn’t huge, but provided a great surprise. Like I mentioned above, we brought food to keep our bills to just beer and not bust the budget, but Pokro Brewing (back downtown in Griffith at 311 N. Broad St.) is a Polish establishment that has pierogi – well, that blew our strategy. Walter loves pierogi from way back, and won’t turn them down if offered. While she noshed, I tried the Plum Krazy blonde and the Racecars and Unicorns – nice beers to be sure. But all I heard was the yummy noises Walter made while devouring bacon and kraut pierogi. Obviously she thought they were good; I may never know for myself.
This final stop in Griffith brought back a question that we have asked before; how does a town of 6,000 people get three craft breweries? Beyond that, how do they also warrant a craft beer arcade bar, Twincade? It must be the huge residential areas around Griffith, because to us it looked and felt like a small Indiana town in a rural area. However it happened, we’re glad it did.
While at Pokro, we were clued in on how close Dyer and Windmill Brewing (2121 Gettler St.) were. We hadn’t planned on stopping there, but OK, we could explore a bit. Five breweries isn’t much more than four. We drove about ten miles west and checked out the brewery next to the Franciscan Hospital. Owner Scott VanderGriend told us that it’s great being next to Franciscan; it gives the expectant fathers some place to go instead of just pacing back and forth. The meme series beers weren’t a large portion of the tap list Saturday, but we did try some great beers. The blend that Scott served us, a mix of the berliner and the apricot saison was so much better than anyone might have expected. It should be a flagship beer – now, to just think of a name for it. That might be the hardest part.
Our last intended stop was Route 2 Brews (141 Harding Dr.) in Lowell. As you might guess, Route 2 runs right past the brewery, but it was still a bit of a find. Chris Fast, owner and brewer, was on hand to talk beer with us, and we discussed issues that brewers have to deal with. Walter and I would mention breweries we liked or reminded us of Route 2, and that brought out that it is the brewers themselves that have the least amount of time to visit breweries; reason number 97 why I will let Walter brew and I’ll just stick to drinking. We tried the Stacked DIPA while we jawed about how much good beer was in the northwest corner of the state. We mentioned Crasian Brewing in Brookston, and low and behold, Chris had actually been there. Then he dropped the bomb – had we tried Fenwick Farms Brewing in Rennselaer? Um…….what? Excuse me…..what?
Yes, here was a brewery that Walter and I had never heard of, and even worse, we had driven right past it on our way north on I-65 that day. This is something that would have to be remedied. We thanked Chris immensely, only slightly embarrassed by our ignorance, and made our way to downtown Rensselaer (219 W. Washington St.). The place was packed by 7:00 pm and they had live music going. The kitchen was hopping and the beer was flowing, but co-owner Kenny Vanhouten was still nice enough to take time and show us around. Open since August of 2017, Fenwick Farms has already put out bottled beer (a winter warmer called Snow Angel and a pumpkin beer called Imperiak) and has taken the town by storm.
Though they are only months old, the crowds at Fenwick Farms are indicating that an expansion is going to be necessary very soon. Kenny showed us next door, which they will soon be busting through to expand the kitchen, taproom and brewery, and they may very well push through two doors down as well – yet word of Fenwick Farms hadn’t reached us in Indy. Heck, Walter and I were just the fifth account to like Fenwick Farms on Untappd. Let’s all help out Ron Fenwick, Kenny, and co-owner Sam Yacko with their marketing – word of mouth should be enough to get people from all over the northern half of the state into Rennselaer. The small town feeling and comfortable attitude of this craft brewery are things that should be experienced.
As we drove home, Walter and I marveled at our good fortune in having found this new brewery. How could we have not come across word of Fenwick Farms since August of last year? Michele at Crasian – did you know about this or not let us in on the secret? We have to learn to ask more questions. It was a nice feeling as we wheeled home having met new friends, tried new beers, and with the knowledge that we were privy to some secret Indiana craft beer knowledge that we could spread to everyone. This must have been what it was like to discover the source of the Nile or be the first to witness Machu Picchu….maybe not.
Walter’s Words of Wisdom – Whether it’s an IPA or a football team, New England sucks.