On June 29, 2017, Off Square Brewing opened their doors for the first time, and by all accounts, they’ve hit the ground running, with strong word-of-mouth street cred seemingly building by the day. Adding to the positive vibes, the brewery also recently won the Favorite Brewery Trophy at Pints in the Park, the annual beerfest held at Wicker Park in Highland.
The brewery, located just off of 109th Street in Crown Point, is the realization of a life-long dream held by the brewery’s co-owners and co-brewers, Dave Hellewege and Phil Logan. The seed for the brewery first took root in Phil’s garage about two and a half years ago, when the two men first started brewing together. The goal that day wasn’t to start up a new brewery, but rather, one brewer coming over to help out another, as brewers are wont to do.
In this case, Dave, a long-time homebrewer with 20+ years of experience, had come over to help Phil finetune brewing on a new “mack daddy” one-barrel system that Phil had just purchased. Phil, who had homebrewed some years ago, had just resumed homebrewing, and the new system represented a definite step up in class for the two homebrewers. And as things go, as the two kept brewing together, their common interest in owning a brewery started to take form, and at a certain point, it was decided: if they were ever going to pursue their dream, now was the time. And the die was cast.
And to be sure, if was no easy decision, as both would be leaving established careers in their respective fields: Phil, a construction superintendent for Core Construction, and Dave, a bio-chemistry major, working in pharmaceutical sales for Lupin Pharmaceuticals. Dave admits to a few sleepless nights regarding the decision, but when pressed on taking the plunge, the response from both was an emphatic “because it’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”
The first major decision was where to locate the brewery, and their quick realization was that the available commercial real estate in Northwest Indiana would require massive re-engineering to accommodate a brewery. They briefly considered opening up in the old jail building on Lake George in downtown Hobart, and in fact went so far as to create a corporate entity (Angry Betty Brewing, Inc.) based on a beer that would be brewed there: Angry Betty, their 6.1% ABV coffee stout. (For the curious among you, Angry Betty was a fictional prisoner at the jail, dreamed up by the pair as they brewed.) But the costs to redevelop in that location would prove to be too high, and so they decided to build new from scratch.
Finding a site “off square” in a developing industrial park in Crown Point to their liking, they broke ground in August 2016. As Dave tells it, the construction process went smoothly, owing largely to Phil’s construction expertise, and “knowing all the sub-contractors”. The resulting 10,500 square foot metal-clad industrial building is large enough to easily handle their new state-of-the-art three-vessel 20-barrel brewing system, as well as four 20-barrel fermenters and a brite tank, but also has ample room for planned future additions to their brew system as demand warrants, and also adding a canning line, without them “bumping into the walls.”
But don’t be mislead: the industrial design of the building doesn’t carry over into the 2,700 square foot family-friendly restaurant and bar. The space is warm, with drywall walls extending up to the elevated cathedral ceiling, and a roll-up garage door opening up the space to an inviting patio. The room is anchored by a 37’ long ash-slab bar, set against the south wall of the building, with views of the wood-fired pizza oven that is the foundation of their food menu just behind it. A roll-up door to the brewery offers views of the tanks, with an overflow space in between the two that will be used for private events as well as live music.
The duo knew that they would need to operate a restaurant in order to survive (as well secure financing for the venture), but while they both knew how to brew beer, they knew they didn’t know the first thing about operating a restaurant. That problem was solved by hiring Trey Matson as Executive Chef. Matson, with over 20 years of restaurant experience, worked for a time at The Lighthouse Restaurant in Cedar Lake, as well as at restaurants and country clubs in Florida, Illinois, and Pennsylvania.
The focus of the kitchen is on wood-fired pizzas, of course, but the menu includes a variety of appetizers, sandwiches and burgers, chicken wings, and salads. Weekly specials also spice up the offerings. Chef Matson prepares all meals from scratch, right down to the Dijon mustard and ketchup. The ground beef and lamb used in their burgers is hand-ground on premises, and no frozen food (other than in their jerk shrimp appetizer) is used in their food offerings.
But what about the beer? As an avowed hop-head, Dave promises that the beer list will always include their flagship beer, Long Day IPA, but they will venture into any and all styles. In fact, their naming the brewery Off Square is a play on their not-on-the-square location, but also an out of plumb view about brewing. Currently, their 20-tap bar includes the usual suspects (a solid set of five ales and IPAs), but also includes a saison, a kolsch, two stouts, a hefeweizen….you get the picture. Add in guest taps on occasion, and wines and ciders for those so inclined, and you have something for everyone.
Phil’s original one-barrel brewing system (which I think should be named “Angry Betty”!) is also in use as the brewery’s pilot system, where the two fine tune new recipes before brewing on the larger system. Future plans do include canning, but for now, the focus of the brewhouse will be to roll out a new and different beer each week, with the majority of the beer to be sold in-house only. Fans of the dark arts will be happy to hear that 12 wine barrels are in route to the brewery, soon to be filled with sours, with an additional 12 bourbon barrels destined for a date with their-Angry Betty stout, which will be called Angrier Betty.
Thanks to Dave and Phil for sharing their story with us, and congratulations on achieving their shared dream. We wish them continued good brewing, and recommend that you go check them out, and stat! Off Square is easy to find – the building sits like a beacon just south of 109th St. (E. North St.) on Delaware Parkway, just west of I-65. The brewery opens at 11:00 AM seven days a week, with children welcome until 9:00 pm.
You can find them here offsquarebrewing.com or on your preferred social media site.