This weekend, friends will gather and raise a glass to Elkhart's newest and oldest brewery.
Iechyd Da Brewing Co. is a year old. The first anniversary tent part is from 3 to 11 p.m. Saturday, June 8.
Owners Chip and Summer Lewis are in awe of what the first year has brought.
“For me, what sticks out the most is how much people have acclimated to this place and already made it their own,” she said.
People questioned not having beverages other than their own soda and beer. They questioned not having servers. And they kept asking how to say the name. (It's “yacky da.” Or make it rhyme with “hockey.”)
But mostly the customers filled the place and asked for pints and growlers to be filled.
I've seen the place packed and loud on Saturday afternoons. I've seen it full for happy hours. And I've seen it nearly empty from time to time too, but not for long. “Once it starts filling up, it just keeps going,” she said. And Chip points out, “If it was bigger, we would have run out of beer faster.”
He's the brewmaster, the guy who shows up at 4 a.m. Thursdays to brew.
He's been the guy trying to make enough beer to keep the taps full.
They hoped to sell 350 barrels of beer in the first year. They'll hit 525 instead — 50 percent more. (A barrel is 31 gallons.)
They've sold close to 50,000 pints, more than 12,000 pizzas and nearly 4,000 pub pretzels. (It's a magnificent pretzel with either house-made mustard or cheese.)
Local Blonde is the biggest seller, but most of Chip's beers are mild, session beers, not heavy, high-alcohol brews. Breakfast Cookies Milk Stout, a sweet dessert beer that was paired with a Mini Delights cupcake, was also a hit and will go away for the summer, they said.
On the food menu, aside from the pretzels, the muffuletta sandwich and Cardiff Carne pizza sell well. The Landimore Garlic pizza does too, Summer said. My favorite food item there is the pretzel, followed by the Red Dragon Reuben.
They are selling more food than they expected, but also planned to expand the offerings faster. They hoped to distribute to other establishments locally.
“We had a lot of big ideas going in. It's been a dead run just to keep up,” she said.
So this summer, Summer said they'll add some fresher, lighter menu items and “play with vegetables.” They also plan to add some wraps and more chicken dishes.
Will they do outdoor seating? Not for now. Because of a house to the north an alley to the south, they could only go on the roof and don't want to spend $250,000 to make it happen, they said.
Will they do distilling? Maybe eventually. “Thought crossed our minds,” Summer said, but Indiana law requires being in business three years. “I can't say I wouldn't mind having Elkhart-made bourbon,” Chip said.
What will Chip brew next? You never know, but he wants to do lagers and steam beer styles. “There's still a lot of styles I haven't done,” he said. But he likes making mostly session beers and having a captive audience to drink them.
Will they get bigger? They already added two more seven-barrel brewing tanks to the three started with. They have capacity now to keep up and stay ahead. But they don't know what's next. They like brewing on premise and being there most of the time.
What's not likely to change is their popularity. This is a place where people gather. And then bring friends from Colorado, Wyoming or Oregon.
This is a key place for Elkhart. Summer said she often hears the same phrase. “People say, 'Elkhart needed this.' Shocks me to hear it, but we hear it a lot.”
And it's true in many ways. Even if you don't drink alcohol, you can enjoy Iechyd Da. And it gave people a place to gather that was both different, but grown out of the community. “It makes you feel good. We're pretty proud for sure with what's happened in the first year,” she said.
It's been wild, but the place is well-loved. And a lot of people are thanking them for opening it. It's made Elkhart more interesting, more fun. And I'm proud that Elkhart has a brewery like Iechyd Da.
I'm hungry. Let's eat.
Marshall V. King is managing editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth. You can reach him at email@example.com, 574-296-5805, via Twitter @hungrymarshall or the Dining A La King Facebook page.
If You Go
What: Iechyd Da Brewing Co.
Where: 317 N. Main St., Elkhart
Fare: Microbrewed beer and soda as well as pub food
Hours: 3 to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 8 p.m. Sunday
Details: Handicapped accessible; carry-out beer and food available; credit cards accepted; open seating without servers.
First anniversary party: Tent part is from 3 to 11 p.m. Two bands will play in a beer garden outside. Cash only on beer outside. Growlers will be filled inside from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Regular menu inside and hog roast outside.
On the web: GreatLocalBeer.com