We’re So Grateful For A Saturday Back on the Road – Why Not Start At the Top?

We’re So Grateful For A Saturday Back on the Road – Why Not Start At the Top?

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

A gorgeous day deserves some gorgeous beers. With the quasi-relaxing of the state’s restrictions (I’m still upset about the mid-June openings for taprooms), Walter and I decided to get in the car head out to some brewpubs. We drove north to see friends who we haven’t been able to visit in a while, and so we could end the day at what may be the best brewpub in the state.

Our trip allowed us to try a wonderful variety of beers and have a variety of experiences, doing beer inside and out, eating and drinking at places we’ve really been missing, and unfortunately missing out on one new place. We picked up information on coming attractions and peoples’ plans for reopening, and of course there was our plan to end the day strong.

I very rarely say one place is better than another; I enjoy almost everything every brewery does in the state. My job is to tell you their story and what they do well so you’ll be enticed to go support them. However, there are times when one place is so different, their beers are so good, and the experience is so enriching, that you have to just state it as so – Harry Stuff Brewing in Wawaka is one of the top two or three brewpubs in the entire state, maybe in the entire Midwest.

image credit: South Bend Brew Works

But first things first. Walter is the only person I know (other than me), who has visited every brewery in Indiana. We had hoped to stop in at the new Lakeville Brew Crew new taproom for some carryout on our way north, but the timing just didn’t work out this time. They’re doing carryout beers on weekend afternoons, but we passed Lakeville just after noon, three hours before they started filling growlers that day. Don’t worry, Walter will make sure we get there soon, probably next weekend when we make our first visit to Escape Velocity Brewing in Lafayette.

We got to South Bend around 1:00 and headed straight for the Greenbush Brewing taproom on the south side in Erskine Plaza. This was Walter’s first time at the new taproom; they haven’t started brewing on site yet, so it wasn’t like she had missed an existing brewery. We talked to GM Ray Akers and he assured us that the plans are still in the works to put a small batch brew house right out there in the open, so I guess we’ll have to make another visit to try some of the Indiana Greenbush beers when they start flowing.

Greenbush was open this weekend because they have food available from the Martin’s Supermarket deli and kitchen next door, but we just did a flight of a couple of IPAs and a couple of big beers (the 1825 Belgian Golden Strong and the Krampus VI barleywine), and then we headed downtown to South Bend Brew Werks.

We have been talking to SBBW a good deal lately, from profiling Erin, the 24 year young assistant brewer there to talking to Steve about the trials and tribulations of reopening after the shutdown. As a thanks for their help, we wanted to drop off a couple of beers we had picked up during the curbside phase of May and to throw back a couple of drafts from SBBW.

The Viking Artisan Ales Watermelon Hard Candy was on Tap at Hop Station for exactly 15 minutes before it blew. image credit: Hop Station Craft Bar

First off, it was great that we had to wait for a table when we got there. All the indoor and outdoor seats were full – meaning that they were half full. On a normal Saturday, half full wouldn’t be so great, but coming out of the shutdown, it was nice to see that people were coming back out and were willing to wait for a spot at their favorite places.

Walter had a lunch of pesto hummus and chips along with a great nut mix (I could go for the spicy mix by the pound), while we did a lemondrop hop blonde, a red rye IPA, and their great Big Brock saison – I like that beer so much. We took off in what we thought was time to watch the Spacex/NASA Dragon liftoff at our next stop, Hop Station Craft Bar in Mishawaka, but we missed by about three minutes so we pulled over and watched it on our phone.

When we did get to Hop Station, it was nice to see a good group of patrons there too. One of the reasons for the trip was to say hi to DJ and Casey, but also to pick up a howler of Viking Artisan Ales Watermelon Hard Candy Berliner weisse that they had put on draft. Oh my, is that good. And yet the stop kept getting better. We ran into Brandon Townsley there.  He was sharing some great beverages that he had brought by. You might remember Brandon as the first brewer at Studebaker Brewing; now he’s getting ready to open his own place in Michigan – Niles Brewing Company.

I did the Cherry Fandango from Toppling Goliath as well as spread the love by bringing the Stubers a Dystopian Game Show from Black Acre Brewing and a great NE IPA from Cushwa Brewing in Maryland called Synonymous. In exchange, we got to taste the barrel aged root beer mead from Boneflower Craft Mead – we can’t wait until this place opens. It was here we learned that the old owner and brewer from Hydraulic Ale Works in Elkhart are getting ready to open a new brewery on the same spot, called Brass Elk Brewing. Look for them to open the doors later this summer with Ryan Thompson back on the mash paddle.

Yes, breweries have been hamstrung by Covid-19, but Bare Hands has still been putting out new and innovative beers. image credit: Bare Hands Brewery

We had intended to make our way southeast after Hop Station, but DJ started talking up the new IPAs at Westwind Brewery in Elkhart. We jumped in the car to try to get there before they closed, but realized we weren’t going to make it, so we turned north to hit a tried and true favorite of ours, Bare Hands Brewery in Granger. Normally, Walter and I aren’t patio drinkers, but Bare Hands was so crowded, we felt lucky to get a spot at one of the picnic tables out front. We ordered a Fools Gold Tooth and a Spirit Breaker with the intention to move on after we finished, but everyone was having such a good time that we bought a four pack of ThaiP.A. and spread the love around on the front patio.

We intended to stop in to say hi to Jesse at Goshen Brewing Co. as we made our way southeast to Harry Stuff, but when we pulled into the parking lot we got confused. There were enough people there to suggest they were serving indoors, but everyone was in line at the downstairs window. We got the idea that they were doing just carryout, which didn’t work well for our cooler situation at the moment. Therefore, we got back in the car after a short walk along the river and headed to Harry Stuff in Wawaka.

Wawaka isn’t a big town, and Harry Stuff is located outside of town on the family farm, so you really need to know where you’re going in order to end up there (see here for a profile of the brewpub). The point is – you need to end up at Harry Stuff. The location is gorgeous, a bucolic slice of heaven with the sounds of wildlife instead of cars and people. The food is stunning, with Louisa Stuff making corn based empanadas and many more offerings from her native Columbia. These two factors alone would make Harry Stuff a great restaurant destination for anyone in Indiana, but they make beer too.

The location is great, the food is greater, but the beer is perhaps the greatest. Ehren Stuff does such an eclectic group of beers, and there isn’t a miss among them. I really don’t want to call one brewery the “best in the state,” but every time we visit Harry Stuff the reasons not to become smaller and smaller. His Italian puncheons let Ehren build some nice wild and mixed cultures and make complex American wild ales. But they also allow him to free up fermenter and brite tank space in order to do some fantastic lagers – true 3-4 months lagered beers.

The Tropical Flamenco at Harry Stuff. It’s amazing on its own, but it pairs with the beers just so well. image credit: Harry Stuff Brewing

The puncheons also give Ehren the ability to brew some true oenobeers, hand picked grape ales that are on the leading edge of craft beer right now. And yet, Ehren also makes clean and New England IPAs as well. I shake my head every time a true beer fan says they haven’t heard of or visited Harry Stuff.

On Saturday I did a dark lager (called Von Catenstein) that was so crisp and yet so full of body. Walter first had a session IPA called Rhizomatic that we couldn’t possible drink more than a dozen pints of. But then came the reason for the day’s trip, the Barichara Barrel Aged Apricot American mixed fermentation beer. It has so much flavor and funk, yet isn’t so far out of the comfort zone that a non-beer geek couldn’t really enjoy it. This is just one of the many mixed fermentation beers that Ehren is putting out (and canning for package sales, by the way).

Walter did a plate of different empanadas for dinner while I did the Tropical Flamenco pizza (pineapple, chorizo, caramelized onions and Spanish olives). The food alone – fantastic. The beer alone – some of the best in the state. But the food and beer together – hands down the best combination within a 250 mile radius.

So I ask you – have I made my point? Getting back out into Indiana beer is a welcome return, but the thrill of getting back to Harry Stuff almost made the shutdown bearable. Location, food, and beer – there are few place that can rival what Ehren and Louisa are doing right now. You haven’t had their beer or food because you haven’t visited; it’s the only way to try them, but the experience is more than worth the effort. Get out there and experience the best of what Indiana has to offer – they need you now more than ever.

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