13 Dec What Do You Do With A 1930’s house in Northwestern Indiana? You Turn It Into A Brewery, Of Course!
“I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a place quite like this” – Barbara Kehe
In a small, 1930s-era bungalow located near Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, a one-
owner/one-brewer brewery is making award-winning beer inside a repurposed garage, now
known as the brewhouse. While breweries and brewpubs come online regularly in Indiana,
Ironwood Brewing has a unique twist on the brewpub environment and beer that merits a visit.
Brewmaster and owner Barbara Kehe has been brewing beer since the 1980s. In the
beginning, she, her husband and another couple decided to brew beer because it was cheaper to
brew than to buy canned domestic beer – and she’ll be the first to tell you that they “made some
really bad beer at first.” After a few years, she says the beer was good enough to share with
friends and since those early days of beer-experimentation, she has worked at four different
breweries (including her own) to hone her skills and learn the art and science of commercial beer
making. Open since August 2013, Ironwood Brewing now has seven to eight beers on tap
regularly, ranging from a gluten-free mead to porter. Although Ironwood’s roots are in the
homebrew world, Barbara says she has refined and revisited each of her recipes over time to
ensure mass appeal of her beers, using a malt-forward approach.
Ironwood’s tap room is situated in the former living room of a house Barbara
affectionately calls “Becky’s house,” an homage to the former owner of the home that Barbara
remodeled for nearly 16 months. Additional seating is located in a former bedroom of the home,
while the former kitchen serves as the brewery’s lab and quality control area. To call it a unique
repurposing of a single-family home does not adequately describe how well the brewery concept
fits within this space. Seating, while limited to 25 patrons, is ample, with space for eight
barstools at the bar and another twelve around the main taproom area. The former bedroom
space now offers another five seats, with a pass-through area to the bar and a distinctive
Ironwood Brewing mural on the wall. Outdoor seating in summer on the patio allows for even
more patrons to experience Ironwood’s beers.
The Food & Merchandise
With a wink-wink, nudge-nudge to Indiana’s laws governing the sale of tapped beer,
Ironwood offers such refined menu choices such as a can of condensed chicken noodle soup, a
frozen pizza, instant coffee, powdered milk and soft drinks. On Friday nights, a caterer has
provided beef sandwiches for purchase and many Saturday nights, there is BBQ provided by a
local purveyor. Needless to say, the phrase “B.Y.O.F.” – Bring Your Own Food – is included on
their menu and if you are so inclined, the restaurant across the street will gladly take your order
and deliver it to you at Ironwood. Thus, the best of both worlds – a brewery focused on beer and
a nearby restaurant to cater to the brewery’s patrons in search of other food offerings. As
Barbara said, the restaurant across the street has longer hours, delivery service and a much wider
menu than she could ever prepare in her limited space – so why not support other local
businesses and concentrate on the beer?
As for merchandise, Ironwood offers beanies, t-shirts and stickers, along with a truly
unique set of items: a bag and wallet. What is particularly interesting about the wallet and bag is
that they are made from repurposed grain bags that Ironwood would have ordinarily discarded
following use. The bag would be good for groceries or other like items, while the wallet is a
zippered pouch perfectly sized for a phone, credit cards and keys.
Award-winning Beer and Flavor Shots (?!)
About that award-winning beer – the Indiana State Fair awarded Ironwood Brewing a
bronze medal in the Alt beer category in 2014 for Henry Baker Brown, a German-style beer
made with a nod to Ironwood’s neighbor, Valparaiso University. Henry Baker Brown was the
founder of Valparaiso University and as with many of Ironwood’s beers, the names reflect the
area, people and influences around the brewery itself. The medal hangs in a place of honor
behind the bar, around a picture of Henry Baker Brown. Barbara plans to enter all of her
standard beers in the Indiana State Fair judging again this year, although she acknowledges that
while she may not medal again this year, she appreciates the judges’ comments so she may
improve her beer. She has a current sour barrel in which she is making a Sour Henry Baker
Brown for release soon – another addition to the sours she has been known to make and make
Another aspect of Ironwood Brewing which flies in the face of conventional brewing is
their willingness to experiment with their beers – after brewing. Yes, you read that correctly:
after brewing. At Ironwood, there is the opportunity to add “flavor shots” to your beer for a truly
individualized drinking experience. These flavor shots, Montmorency Cherry, Raspberry,
Woodruff, Crème Brulee and Habanero, are added to an individual’s beer as a flavor additive – a
way to truly personalize one’s beer from “just” a porter, to a Montmorency Cherry porter
without the commitment by the brewery to a full keg of Montmorency Cherry Porter and a
Other Hoosier Breweries & the Future of Ironwood
Barbara, with her many years in the home-brewing and commercial beer making realm,
has connected with many of giants of the Hoosier beer industry. She notes that Flat 12 has been
helpful in hops procurement, while Crown Brewing has been her source for yeast. John at Broad
Ripple Brewpub and John at Triton are friends from her earliest days in commercial brewing.
Finally, she notes that 3 Floyds Brewing was extremely helpful during what she termed as a
“yeast emergency” during a brew cycle. Since that fateful evening, she has had her 3rd
on tap on Dark Lord Day at 3 Floyds. She says she’s been thankful for the friends she’s made,
such as Chuck at Backroads Brewing, and spends many happy hours in “beer research” at
breweries around the state and country.
To expand Ironwood is to move the brewing facility to another, larger location as the
current space is land-locked and cannot be expanded without compromising parking or the
structure itself. At this time, Barbara plans to continue brewing at the current facility and would
keep the current location as a taproom, even if brewing is moved offsite. The location is ideal,
with its proximity to the Valparaiso University campus and close to downtown Valparaiso.
Barbara would love to see her brewery be part of a larger beer tour promoting Northwest
Indiana’s breweries. Please add Ironwood Brewery to your “must-visit” list on your next trip to
Northern Indiana – you won’t want to miss it!
not championing her home state, actively seeking out Indiana breweries and trying new beers,
she writes on topics related to public management, public policy, politics, financial management,
and organizational development. She can be contacted at email@example.com.