10 Jan Valparaiso – A Craft Lover’s Courthouse Square Like None Other
by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap
Walter and I took a trip up north this past weekend to make our first visits to a brewery (Gnosis Brewing in Merrillville) and tap room in downtown Valparaiso. It was a heck of a day because we got to see several friends, drank some great beverages, had some amazing food, and learned a bunch of things about Indiana and its people.
Two things about our trip stuck out to us and we think they are worth discussing. One is fairly plain and can be taken advantage of by craft beverage fans far and wide, while the other more esoteric and seems to be an observation which will require more pondering. The obvious point – Valparaiso has a downtown that is a mecca for craft beverages. The more subtle observation – it seems that craft beverage fans don’t limit their love of craft to just beverages; craft is something they seek elsewhere as well.
We have discussed previously how craft beer, wine, and spirits are a result of the melding of art and science. The science is what produces a product, while the innovation and imagination are what turn that liquid into a craft product. It seems that people that appreciate craft beverages extend that love to other forms of craft as well. Perhaps some paint or like viewing art. Others do metal or wood working or seek out metal or wood craft pieces. The extension of one craft to others (beverages to other things or other things to beverages) indicates to me that these people live their lives on a slightly higher plane.
Here are some examples of my point, even if they’re just anecdotal. 1) The Pub Knitters is a group of men and women that meet at a different Indianapolis area every other Sunday to enjoy craft beer and do some communal knitting/crocheting, 2) I know of three local craft beer people that have expanded/changed their focus to baking. 3) Multiple people in Indiana craft beer are also accomplished artists, including those that do labels, like the Craft Brew Doodle Crew. 4) A member of the craft beer community has just begun doing forged metal works, and a craft beer fan I know does several types of metal working and wood working. 5) At least one person who used to work in craft beer now does jewelry making. Finally, 6) witness all the artsy events that are held in taprooms and tasting rooms (paint your pet, plant night, adult coloring, etc) that bring in craft fans.
While these examples show that many people in the craft beverage industry and amongst those who love craft beverages crossover to producing other types of craft products, but there are those of us with less talent who nonetheless love craft beverages and expand our love of craft by collecting art works, commissioning works of art/craft, or visiting museums and the like. While Walter is great with her hands and can produce all kinds of fiber art…..I ask artists I know who work(ed) in craft beverages to produce things that I can give as gifts.
I think I have made a good argument that people who like crafts/art are drawn to craft beverages, and people that like craft beverages are more than likely fans of other craft/art. Now I can move on to a list of ways that courthouse square in Valparaiso is a craft lover’s dream. You can find some many unique craft experiences within a half block of the courthouse square in each direction, from beverages to art to food. I can count ten different experiences within the courthouse square immediate area. That’s not even counting how picturesque the courthouse square and Central Park Plaza areas are; they’re fun for window shopping and architecture appreciation as well.
I’ll start on the southwest corner and work my way around north, then east, then back to the west – check out the map below. After reading the description, you tell me if there is a better square block for craft beverages, food, music, and fiber crafts in Indiana (I think Fountain Square comes close, but isn’t its equal).
1) Craft Beer, 2) Spirits, & 3) Sushi – Blockhead Beerworks is a great place to hang out, have a housemade beer or Indiana artisan liquor, and enjoy some food. The vibe is fantastic, and the conversations at the bar are always enjoyable. Blockhead Beerworks beer has a great following and Rusty makes quality beers of many different styles. We had everything from a bock to a hazy to a dessert porter on our Saturday visit.
Walter tried the new Blockhead Stillworks vodka and a craft cocktail featuring Indiana and Kentucky artisan spirits. I did two rolls of sushi (as always), but you can do other things from their Japanese fusion menu – Walter did noodles. It’s a great combination (artisan alcohol and sushi) that we should see more often, I can think of Blockhead and Ruhe 152 as the only examples in Indiana. In addition, you can find more sushi/sashimi on the north side courthouse square at a place called Furin.
4) Music – The Northwest Health Amphitheatre at Central Park Plaza is home to the Valparaiso Summer Concert Series – with music being a true form of art/craft.
5) Brewfest – Central Park Plaza, just half a block west of courthouse square is the venue for the Valpo Brewfest each September. There are a lot of vendors at the festival, and tickets sell out very early each year.
6) Wine – While they don’t carry Indiana wines, there is still a good selection of wine at Pikk’s Tavern directly north of Central Park Plaza on Lincolnway. Neither Walter nor I are wine drinkers, but we recognize that some people are, and we’re happy to point out that you have a good wine list at Pikk’s. You can get some Indiana artisan wine at Aftermath Cidery (will discuss more below), but unfortunately the true wine bar just off the square (Elements) closed last month (they’re hoping it comes back under new ownership).
7) Fiber Craft – I’m including this for Walter. If the phrase, “She who dies with the most yarn, wins,” has any validity, then Walter is bound to be a champion. Sheep’s Clothing, about half a block west of the square on Lincolnway, is a great yarn shop according to her. They have yarns that go beyond wool (Walter is allergic to wool), and the staff are friendly and helpful.
8) Craft Beer Taproom – One of the reasons we made the trip north Saturday was to visit the Washington Street Tap Room and our friend Chris Pearson (Beerson). We loved the patterned tile floor and the aluminum ceiling, and the beer list was fantastic. There are draft beers galore, as well as bunches of cans for onsite consumption or for carry out. Even better, his list is color coded to identify those beers that are going to run out soon. We love what Chris is doing and we’re sure to make it a stop every time we’re in town. As for elsewhere on courthouse square in Valpo – if Washington Street Tap Room doesn’t happen to be open, try Valpo Pour House just back toward courthouse square on Washington Street. We haven’t visited yet, but I like the list I saw for them on Untappd.
9) Cider & Wine – Aftermath Cidery is two doors north of Washington Street Tap Room and is a great place for cider, wine, specialty cider cocktails, and food. They have a great motif, with all their ciders named for types of storms (Aftermath, get it?), and they like doing some great flavor combinations (blueberry and hot ginger, for instance). We had a great conversation with Asst. Manager Mandy, next summer’s seasonal ciders (including Strawberry pie and cotton candy), their new two way license which allows them to serve some local beer, how to line up a cider flight (dry to sweet), and their Running Vines Winery tasting room located in Chesterton. We have visited both sites previously, but we got some additional insights about each on Saturday. Plus, we did a good amount of their cider in a couple of flights.
10) Mead & Cider – Our last stop as we rounded the courthouse was Misbeehavin’ Meads on the east side of the square. This is a venerable operation that has been around for years and has been a regular stop for us for quite a while. Their meads are award-winning, including the barrel aged caramel apple that has medaled at FOBAB more than once (this latest batch is fantastic – what a great barrel). Walter tried the March to Buzz sparkling mead as well, which is a nice variation from the still meads. The Grita Cider was also great, and we had a wonderful talk with the bar staff about of all things – beer (thanks for the Moderne Dune from Duneyrr Brewing).
There you have it – a craft paradise in the area the size of a couple of football fields. Downtown Valpo has craft beer, sushi, artisan spirits, wine, taprooms, cider, mead, yarn arts, music, and a beer fest. Craft beverage fans can explore their loves, and expand to other kinds of craft/art at the same time, all within one great looking downtown. Add in that you have more craft beer just to the east with Ironwood Brewing, the coming Journeyman location, and Four Fathers Brewing, and it’s a wonder we aren’t up there every weekend. Plus – every craft beverage producer mentioned in this article will be pouring at Shelf Ice Brewfest on February 25 in Michigan City, get your tickets at this link.