Editors note: Indiana’s craft beer industry has been synonymous with sustainability since John Hill opened Indiana’s first brewpub in 1990. In this series (see April’s issue), we’re highlighting the diversity of brewing green, region by region.
Sustainability is as much a people passion as it is a product choice for Back Road Brewery in LaPorte, Shoreline Brewery & Restaurant in Michigan City and Figure 8 Brewing in Valparaiso. All three reside in old buildings with a storied community connection that locals like to reminisce about. These businesses were rehabbed into breweries by their founders, laboring alongside family members and friends using locally sourced materials.
While each has a different business model all three grow out of the cultural history of the region, including names to reflect a local character, event or way of life.
“Naming the beers is region-related,” says owner/brewmaster Sam Strupeck. “Nobody asks about the origin of our Region Rat Red Ale if they’re from here. If they’re not, we can give them the story… associated with Porter and Lake counties in general. I believe it comes from the steel mills starting the term ‘Mill Rats.’”
Smokestack Porter honors the architectural feature jutting into the skyline. Imperial Heirloom Raspberry acknowledges the local farm growing the berries and the distinctive heirloom vegetables used in the food menu.
Rock climbing is the basic story behind Figure 8’s brew names with a personal tie-in for owner Tom Uban and brewer Mike Lahti and their family and friends. Now customers share their connections as well so names have personal meaning.
In 1997 when Back Road founder Chuck Kricilek moved from homebrewing into operating a production brewery, he looked for a name to reflect his philosophy. This makes for an interesting story of brand name ownership. His original “Brick” Road idea didn’t irritate anyone connected with the Wizard of Oz, but it did offend a similarly named brewery in Canada, so Kricilek, he says, went with “‘Roads’ [as] a way to take you into the future.”
Kricilek personally distributes bottles and kegs to retail stores and restaurants in the northwest region. If you stop by the brewery on a day when Kricilek is brewing he’ll stop to share a taste but generally you come upon a selection of Back Road’s brews, such as I did, with a visit to STOP 50 Wood Fired Pizzaria.
STOP 50 owner Chris Bardol says he “looks for [brewers] with the same dedication to their craft as we have to ours, which is the authentic Naples Style Pie prepared just as it was 168 years ago in a brick oven.”
Like brewers, Bardol sources his products regionally, including pizza ingredients and specially seasoned wood for the fire.
Sustainability and wood are equally significant to Shoreline, which buys used bourbon barrels to age some its of beer, after which the now twice-used barrels are broken up for firewood for locally-based Lange’s Meat Market to use for smoking meat that Shoreline buys for its restaurant.
You’ll also be savoring the distinctive flavors of locally grown and harvested hops for each of the breweries’ seasonal harvest ales. And while all three give spent grains to farmers for animal feed and compost use, Figure 8 retains a portion to use in their own kitchen to make beer bread and pretzels, and for 4-legged friends, a special treat of dog biscuits.
Visit the Art & Earth Trail to learn more about breweries and brewpubs.