- Associated Press - Monday, January 5, 2015

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - More brewers are pouring into the market for craft beer - in the South Bend region and nationally - to satisfy drinkers who want brews with unusual ingredients, an extra-hoppy bite or some other experimental edge.

But don’t call it a trend.

“One of my pet peeves is when craft beer is called a trend,” said Chris Stuck, the craft-beer consultant for Chalet Party Shoppe stores in Elkhart County. “Craft beer has been around as long as beer has been around. Craft beer was the original beer.”

So, maybe it should be called a comeback instead.

Back in the 1870s, the United States had more than 4,000 breweries, according to the Brewers Association, a national organization based in Colorado. Then refrigeration, Prohibition and consolidation changed the industry. As a result, fewer than 100 breweries were operating nationwide by 1984.

Now there are almost 100 breweries in Indiana and more than 3,000 nationwide. They’re making beers in small batches and showing how many different flavors can be concocted from water, malted barley, yeast and hops.

Those numbers are why Stuck has his enviable job title. He coordinates craft-beer orders for the Chalet stores, communicates with brewery representatives and keeps an eye on the industry’s movements.

“It’s a challenge at the store to fit all of those beers in with what we already carried, but we’ve dedicated more space to it, too,” he told the South Bend Tribune (https://bit.ly/17d964z ). “When an establishment sees it’s a good decision to stock craft beer, they will make room to stock it.”

There are plenty of examples of independent breweries in north central Indiana and southwest Michigan. No fewer than 20 are up and running in the region, and all but a handful of those have opened in the past four years. Several more are planned.

South Bend Brew Werks is one of the newcomers.

The brewpub opened in September in a storefront at The State theater in downtown South Bend.

Brew Werks owner Andrew Elegante said people have become more conscious of what they eat and drink in recent years. They’re attracted to things that are artisanal and made locally. Craft brewers also welcome experimentation, with independent breweries putting out traditional ales, porters and stouts as well as beers that may taste like peanut butter, Thai spices or coffee.

“We saw a similar thing happen with the wine industry,” Elegante said. “We’re seeing that happen in the craft-beer scene now.”

Another brewpub, Crooked Ewe Brewery & Ale House, is on track to open yet this winter in South Bend. Work is ongoing to convert a former Veterans of Foreign Wars post on Lincoln Way East into a space that will include a brewing operation, taproom and restaurant - plus outdoor decks with views of the St. Joseph River.

Crooked Ewe’s owners, Andy Walton and Sean Meehan, aren’t worried about competing for craft-beer drinkers.

Walton has been brewing beer since 2007, and he’s been president of the Michiana Extract & Grain Association - a local brewers’ club - so he follows the market closely. Meehan, who co-owns Fiddler’s Hearth in downtown South Bend with his parents, isn’t new to the bar-and-restaurant business either.

The bottom line is: Americans are not drinking more beer, but they are drinking different kinds of beer.

While overall beer consumption has declined slightly, sales of craft beer increased 17 percent during 2013 and continued to show double-digit growth in 2014, the Brewers Association reported. And craft beer still accounts for just 8 percent of the U.S. beer market’s total volume, indicating there is room for its rise to continue.

“There’s still tons and tons of room for growth,” Walton said. “We’re all in the business of stealing customers from Anheuser-Busch, essentially.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean success is guaranteed for new breweries. Four Horsemen Brewing Co., for example, opened in 2011 in the Monroe Park neighborhood southeast of downtown South Bend and closed about two years later.

Remnants of large-scale brewers still stand in older city neighborhoods, too.

There’s the crumbling Drewrys brewery near the corner of Elwood and Portage avenues on South Bend’s northwest side, and the South Bend Brewing Association plant along Lincoln Way West. In Mishawaka, the Kamm & Schellinger Brewing Co. buildings were renamed the 100 Center and reused for stores and restaurants.

A company with local ties resurrected the Drewrys brand in 2013. Dan Blacharski, spokesman for Drewrys Brewing Co., said it’s available at 100 stores in Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.

The premium lager is being brewed in Wisconsin for the time being, but Drewrys’ owners want to move production to the former Inwoods Department Store building on South Michigan Street in downtown South Bend. Blacharski said they’ve raised about $30,000 toward the $100,000 project by selling shares of stock in the company.

“Drewrys has such a long and fascinating history,” Blacharski said. “We’re looking at reclaiming some of that former glory and recapturing some of that territory.”

Local farmers are looking to get in on the action as well. Several in southwest Michigan have started growing hops to supply local brewers with the cone-like flowers that give beer its bitterness and tang.

Dan Nitz, whose family has been growing grapes for four generations near Baroda in Berrien County, planted 10 acres of hops five years ago. He’s getting ready to plant another 60 acres on two parcels. He also has a processing facility to dry the hops and mill them into pellets, the form brewers use when making beer.

“Every time you turn around, there’s a microbrewery popping up,” said Nitz, who owns Arrowhead Vineyards and Hopyards LLC with his parents. “Hops grow well in Michigan, so why not get on the bandwagon and supply them?”

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, https://www.southbendtribune.com

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