Evil Czech expanding to Mishawaka, growing own local hops for 'wet' brewed offerings

First things first: the Evil Czech Brewery, at 530 South Ohio in Culver, is not leaving town, contrary to some rumors making the rounds.
In this case, the rumors aren't limited to Culver, but spread to -- or perhaps originated in -- Mishawaka. That's understandable since, according to Shawn Erikson of Evil Czech, the microbrewery is indeed expanding (as opposed to moving) to the same city which has become home to a somewhat similar expansion: that of the popular Corndance Cafe in Culver to the highly successful Corndance Tavern on Grape Road in Mishawaka.

Both Corndances and the Evil Czech are the work of George and Tammy Pesek (Evil Czech, of course, takes its tongue-in-cheek moniker from Czechoslovakia-born chef George, who carved out his initial reputation as a chef in Chicago to famous folk like Hilary Clinton, prior to coming to Culver over a decade ago).

Erikson says the original plan was to hold off on announcing the expansion until the location of what might be dubbed 'Evil Czech II' was a sure thing. And while the new locale isn't finalized, he says, it's expected to be on Main Street in Mishawaka, "next to the Putt Putt." Renovations are expected to be "as close to a reconstruction (of the building) as can be," he adds.

"Our business is growing so quickly, we can't sustain it in a seven barrel (brewing) system," which is what Evil Czech in Culver contains, Erikson explains. "There's no space to expand here in Culver, but our operation will include this one and another facility for larger production."

The new system is expected to include 20 barrels, which is necessary due to another big announcement for the firm: they're expanding distribution of Evil Czech's locally-produced craft beers from an already-impressive range in northern Indiana, into the remainder of the state.

"Eventually you can get Evil Czech beer anywhere you go, on tap," Erikson says. "If anybody wants it, they just have to ask their bartender and he can order it through any distributor in Indiana. This is a big jump for us."

The hope, with expansion underway, is to push sales outside of Indiana to surrounding states as well.

Draft beer sales are "great," he adds, when compared to the size of the brewery (which can boast of existing in the smallest town in the United States to host a microbrewery), and in fact production is currently close to capacity on draft beer production alone.

As another sign of the times, Evil Czech will be a presence at a couple of craft beer festivals in Indianapolis in the near future, including one which hosts 60 to 70 breweries, a first time appearance for them.

"We're come a very long way in one year," Erikson notes.

The expansion is such that the Culver operation has hired a new general manager to oversee the pub, and put Erikson in charge of its ever-expanding distribution operation.

The Mishawaka Evil Czech will add a canning and full packaging line to the operation, and could feature the addition of a beer garden. The Culver Evil Czech menu will be "tweaked," he says, and 12 to 14 Evil Czech-produced beers are expected to be on tap, with four to six guest taps as well. The new Evil Czech, he explains, "will be very similar in many ways and very different."

Another upcoming enhancement to the operation will hopefully go into effect this fall: the utilization of locally-grown, fresh hops for Evil Czech's brewing process.

The move is a logical continuum of sorts of the Corndance "farm to fork" model of using vegetables, eggs, and other naturally-grown products harvested from the Peseks' farm near Culver in their restaurant items.

Planting took place this spring towards the brewery's first crop, which will take hops "directly from the vine as opposed to a standard beer which uses pellets or dried, whole flour," Erikson says. "Wet is fresh so there's a lot of flavor; those others break down the older the hops gets. Wet hops are super flavorful. It will really change the flavor of the beer."

The age-old "wet hops" style has gained popularity around three to four years ago, he says, and up to now securing the needed hops hasn't been feasible, especially given reduced supplies of hops in general, let alone the wet, fresh variety.

The fresh, local hops currently in production are not planned for sale on their own, but should facilitate enough to generate a few beers here. A few different producers -- including the Peseks' own Rooster Hill Farms -- are growing the hops now, and they should enter production in October if all goes well, Erikson explains.

And speaking of squelching rumors, Erikson also clarifies that Evil Czech is not spearheading a craft beer festival at nearby Bass Lake, after a Culver park board decision not to allow the company to hold such a festival at the park this past spring.

"We didn't want to do a festival unless it was in Culver," he says, though he adds that's not intended as any slight against Bass Lake. "We said we'd be involved in a beer fest in Bass Lake, but not in charge of it. We are in Culver and we want to bring people in here."
While he acknowledges the decision not to allow the festival in the town park, which generated a fair amount of controversy in the community at the time, was "hard," Erikson also thanks the many people in Culver who expressed support for Evil Czech and the festival itself.

"We've done more in this town than we ever imagined, and it's continued to grow," he says.

Unfolding news and upcoming events at the brewery may be found online at www.facebook.com/evilczechbrewery.

All of these changes, including expanded production and distribution opportunities for Evil Czech, are hoped to "help Culver," Erikson says.

"We think this will be really great for Culver. Our roots are here; it's where we started. We hope to bring a lot of people to a great restaurant and town with a beautiful lake, who might not have been here before."