We like to say our Craft Beer to Cross the Border for series is a guide for your next beer-inspired road trip. This time we just went ahead and mapped the damn thing out for you.Odd as it seems, a small, nondescript town just across the Indiana border can lay claim as a bit of a craft beer capital. Kinda.
The tiny town of Griffith, Indiana – just six miles from the state line – is home to three breweries. That’s one brewery for roughly every 6,000 residents. Or one brewery for every 2.5 square miles the town covers.
Best of all, the town is reachable by a paved biking path from Illinois.
It’s the kind of place where a complete stranger next to you – a local, a regular – buys a round for everyone at the bar, just because.
So while this regular feature is called “Craft Beer To Cross The Border For,” beer geeks are starting to realize that Griffith is a town worth crossing the border for –standing out as something unique even among the booming craft beer scene happening in Northwest Indiana.
To be clear, there is no storied history of brewing to be found in Griffith, no founding fathers with the last names of Pabst or Stroh. In fact, all three breweries are in their infancy stages.
The sleepy, blue-collar, bedroom community simply had ideal spaces in the form of vacant storefronts, as well as town leaders willing to open their arms to small business owners and the tax revenues they can deliver. Still, it was certainly nothing planned nor the result of targeted economic development efforts looking to capitalize on the craft beer boom. Instead, it just kinda happened.
A recent Saturday allowed an opportunity to visit all three, take in a flight and appreciate the differences of each. Each seem to still be finding their place, still going through some growing pains, but with solid offerings up and down the lineup. And worth the drive (or ride) to explore.
The breweries are a short distance from each other in and near downtown Griffith, just south of Interstate 94’s Cline Avenue exit. It’s also a stop on the Erie Lackawanna Trail, a paved bike path stretching from right near the state line in downtown Hammond, south to Crown Point (home of Crown Brewing, if you care to continue the ride.)
Pokro Brewing Company
311 N. Broad St.
(W-F 4-11; Sat 12-11; Sun 12-8)
Coming from the north, Pokro would be the first stop. A former martial arts and Zumba studio has been converted into a cozy, friendly brewpub. (Perhaps as a nod to the past, they do offer beer/yoga classes.)
It’s the kind of place where a complete stranger next to you – a local, a regular – buys a round for everyone at the bar, just because. The kind of place where the bartender not only talks about their beer, but gives you good advice on what to order at the other breweries in town. A place to unwind and laugh with new friends. Make your way back to the bathrooms, though, and you’ll find a jukebox, darts, bags, all indoors and making what is likely a lively evening atmosphere.
Pokro specializes in Belgian and English style beers, but brewmaster Joe Pokropinski hasn’t lost touch with his Polish roots, as they occasionally have a Polish-focused food menu and bands. And did I mention friendly? A little fresh-popped popcorn, some pretzels and even directions to the next brewery on our journey came free of charge.
The flight was fun – a real assortment of styles and friendly, informed guidance through the tap list. My favorites were Dwarven Assassin, a solid Belgian IPA that was a bit sweet and a bit spicy, with the Monkey Assassin a close second. That Double IPA popped with mango, papaya and pineapple and really stood out. And while I’m not usually a fan of brown ales, their Caveman, an English Brown, left a lasting impression, as well.
New Oberpfalz Brewing
121 E. Main St.
(W-F 3-10; Sat 12-10; Sun 12-6)
Making your way south from Pokro, you’ll find New Oberpfalz on a corner lot in a 3,000-square foot building that used to be home to an antique and resale shop. The brewery was started by former West Loop resident and Chicago Beer Society member Dan Lehnerer, who named it after a district in Bavaria, translating to “Upper Palatinate.” No surprise that they specialize in German ales and lagers, but they also have some experimental styles on tap. Even then, though, those experimental offerings feature German and Austrian hops.
Wood dominates the decor, including the upstairs loft area, with communal picnic tables for enjoying the beer. On my visit, unfortunately, the staff seemed either distracted or just not very engaged. I didn’t get a chance to talk about their beer or learn more about them through casual conversation. But there seemed to be regulars at the bar, and they’ve brewed a collaboration beer with the acclaimed 18th Street Brewery in Gary, so maybe this was just a one-time thing.
The beers, many of which are available in bottle shops around Northwest Indiana, were highlighted by Toad Storm, a refreshing German-hopped DIPA bursting with citrus flavors. And while I’m not usually a fan of smoked malts, the Robust Smoked Porter – with German beechwood-smoked malts – was a solid choice. And I’d definitely recommend their Michigan Cascade: Whirl Pale Ale, a smooth and refreshing ale made with Michigan hops.
Wildrose Brewing Company
1104 E. Main St.
(T-Th 2-10; F-Sat 12-11; Sun 12-8)
Fun. That was my take-away from this new brewery, located on the outskirts of downtown, just east of New Oberpfalz, with a 7-barrel system occupying a former warehouse. With an industrial feel and garage doors opening to a patio area complete with bags, there wasn’t much I didn’t enjoy about my visit here.
TVs were tuned to a baseball game and a crowd of friends gathered in a comfortable lounging area with a TV to themselves. Exposed pipe and graffiti-style logos on the wall add to the industrial vibe and there’s a walk-up kitchen with BBQ sliders and other food to bring back to your spot at the 2,000 square foot bar.
As for the beer, the folks at Pokro recommended I try the coconut milk stout, Mad Cow. Great recommendation. A lighter milk stout, a bit sweet and just the right amount of coconut. My flight also included the memorable, citra-hoppped Big Sexy APA, which was smooth and citrusy, and Indiana Summer APA, a quality, traditional pale ale.
Wildrose, opened by a group of homebrewing friends who all live on Wildrose Lane in nearby Schererville, doesn’t scream “home of beer geeks.” With sports on the TV, bags being tossed outside and barbecue available at a pick-up window, it feels like a place where Miller Lite could be served. That’s not an insult by any means, it’s simply that it’s a place where just about anyone – beer geeks or the uninitiated – would feel comfortable and have a good time. It’s a fun place to hang out and drink good beer.